Sarah

Blantyre's Ain Website

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Poems about Miners

CHILDREN AND WOMEN OF THE MINES
The following poem concerns a little girl named Sarah of eight years of age whose occupation was that of a ‘trapper’. This was the employement given to the younger of the children that worked down the pit, and involved the child sitting for many hours, often in total darkness opening and closing the doors that controlled the air currents down the pit. It was penned at the time of the Shaftesbury Commission of 1842, on child labour in the coal mines of Britain The Coal Mines Act of that year, is often heralded as the watershed in coal mining history. The Act became law on the 10th of August that year, and within three months of that date all female’s under the age of eighteen employed underground had to find other employment.

Those women over that age were allowed to continue till the 1st of March 1843, though the Act still allowed women to continue their work on the pit top. The 1842 Act also forbade the underground employment of boys under the of ten years. In today’s age, one would shriek in horror at the thought of our children and women working in the dark and squalid conditions down in the mines. Yet in the 1800s it was common practice, and indeed encouraged. In many instances, the children and women belonged to the same family, and would supplement the family income by drawing the coals to the shaft bottom. As one might imagine, the 1842 Act was extremely difficult to enforce, for a start, it was to be a further eight years before an Inspector of Mines was appointed. There was also much disapproval among the workforce, there were cries that “These humanity mongers, should have first considered giving compensation, before interfering with the wages of the poor”. The Bolton colliers in Lancashire “Complained loudly of the injury that has been inflicted on their families, by preventing the females accustomed to working underground, from obtaining an honest livelihood”.

In effect the employment of women and children down the pits as to continue for a good number of years. The women simply dressed up in male attire, and passed themselves off as men, the underlookers simply turned a “blind eye”. The poem paints a rather rosy picture of the child’s employment. In many cases the children very often much younger than Sarah, were left without light or companionship save for a glimpse of the passing drawer for a full shift, often in excess of fifteen hours. Samuel Hirst aged nine worked at the Jump Pit in Yorkshire, he told the commission “I sit by myself, I never have a light, I sit all day and do nothing but open and close doors”.
In isolated cases, children as young as three years were taken down the mine. Joseph Gledhill, again working in the Yorkshire Coalfield told the commission “I work as a banksman, I have three sons living, one of them went into the pit with me when he was three years old, and commenced work regularly as a hurrier when he was between five and six. That was at Flockton, another began at between four and five, another between five and six”.

The trapper was often the youngest member of the family working underground. Their job was simply to open and close the wooden doors [trap doors] that allowed fresh air to flow through the mine. They would usually sit in total darkness for up to twelve hours at a time, waiting to let coal tubs through the door. It was not hard work, but was boring and could be dangerous. If he fell asleep, the safety of the whole mine could be affected.

A Trapper Boy’s View

Trapper Boy

Nothing.
Nothing to do.
Nothing to see.
No – where to go.
No – one to talk to.
No – one but the rats,
the passing ponies and
a cold, dark and damp
tunnel for company. I’m
glad I’m not a trapper boy.

These poor Victorian children had to sit in the dark tunnels waiting to open the door to let the coal carts through (pulled by ‘hurriers’ and pushed by ‘thrusters’), and to keep the air circulating around the tunnels to avoid any build up of dangerous gases. Working every day except Sunday, from morning until night a child knew nothing but work and sleep. He or she would only ever see daylight on their day off, which would be over so quickly.

~~~

Sarah

Girl Trapper

Sarah Gooder was a little girl
Of eight, just rising nine
With a choice between the workhouse
Or toiling down the mine.

She did not, unlike some children,
Pull tubs on all fours
But spent a happy childhood
As a trapper on the doors.

She went blithely down each morning
At the hour of half past three
At five-thirty in the evening
She skipped home to her tea.

She said “The darkness scares me
It is a fearsome thing
But sometimes I’m allowed a light
And often then I sing!”

“And then I sing!” Dear Christ above!
Poor little soul starved mite
To find her heart rejoicing
In simple candle’s light.

When Herod slew the innocents
His weapon was the sword
But these babe’s souls were murdered
By strict observance of God’s word.

And so we built an Empire
And forged a mighty nation
The navy was its bulwark
Child slavery its foundation.

An earlier inquiry into the Employment of Children in Factories was conducted in 1833. Mr. E.C. Tufnell stated in that inquiry that; “The hardest labour, in the worst room, in the worst conducted factory, is less hard, less cruel, and less demoralising than the labour of the best of coal mines”.

 

~~~

If you have any Poems… Send them to Bill

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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