Mining children

Before the middle of the 19th century it was common for children as young as 6 to work in the mines often as drawers, pulling carts of coal through tunnels to the surface. This was hard work as the heavy carts full of coal would often have to be pulled through tight or narrow tunnels which were often wet underfoot. Journeys could be up to 600 yards (approximately 549 meters) and the drawers would make many journeys during their 12 hour shift. They would be harnessed to the cart by a chain attached to the cart, passed between their legs and then fastened in front to a belt around their waist. They would then virtually be horizontal on their hands and knees/feet to pull the carts through the tunnels so as to avoid banging their hands and to optimise their muscle strength. Sometimes they would have a younger child helping to push the cart at the back.

Children would also be employed as trappers, opening ventilation doors for the drawers. This required children to sit in complete darkness for 12 hours, waiting to open a ventilation door to allow the drawers to pass through.

Following the Report of the Commissioners (Mines) of the Children’s Employment Commission in 1842 on the Employment of Children in the Mines, the Mines Act of 1842 made it illegal for children under 10 to work underground. It was not until 1901 that it became illegal to use child labour completely for children under 12 years old.