Coal Mining in the British Isles

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Background[edit | edit source]

Coal mining and the usefulness and value of the “black gold” can hardly be discussed without the Industrial revolution. Both grew to be inseparable, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The dependence on coal increased throughout the United Kingdom from when the first coal mine was sunk in Scotland under the Firth of Forth in 1575.[1] Without coal during the industrial revolution, manufacturing factories, shops, mills as well as residential homes would have been idle and cold. “Coal was used to power the massive steam engines to run manufacturing mills and coal was used to create iron. It would take 2 tons of coal to make 1 ton of iron. Mining villages opened in Lancashire, Yorkshire, South Wales, Northumberland, and Durham. Whole populations of towns were dependent on employment from the mines.”[2] “Very little coal was found in the south, but vast amounts were found in the Midlands, the north, the north-east and parts of Scotland. Because coal was so difficult and expensive to move, towns and other industries grew up around the coal mining areas so that the workers came to the coal regions.”[3]

Coal-powered steamships and railroad engines were developed for the distribution of the manufactured goods which were sent to ports around the world. In the mid to late 1800s coal was being used to make electricity.[4]

Map of coal mines across the British Isles

Who worked the mines?[edit | edit source]

Men, women, and even children worked in the coal mines. The working conditions were harsh, and many had to fight for their wages. Miners could most likely find work however, often for low pay. Men and sometimes even women took the coal mining jobs to feed their families and were willing to work hard in complete darkness and in unbearable heat. Coal mining was and is a dangerous occupation where people have lost their lives at early ages by the inhaling of coal dust and the stale air damaging their lungs, and by accidents within the mine shafts and the ever-feared cave in.[5] “In the early 19th century, women and children also worked in the coal pits along with the men. Children as young as 8 could be found working for 12 or more hours a day in complete darkness. Children worked as trappers: they opened and closed trap doors in the pits to allow for air ventilation [many worked in the dark with one candle for light and no one to talk to].[6] “In 1841 about 216,000 people were employed in the mines.”[7] Women and older children were used to move the tubs or wagons of coal out of the mines. They were known as hurries and thrusters. The horrors of these working conditions came to light in 1842 with the Children’s Employment Commission. The commission interviewed children, women, and men who worked in the mines.”[8] This led to the Mine Act of 1842, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which prohibited (banned) all girls and boys under ten years-old from working underground in coal mines.[9]

Where to find ancestral occupations and job descriptions[edit | edit source]

In England, Wales, and Scotland the occupations of enumerated people listed in censuses were recorded starting in 1841. Within the 1851 and 1861 censuses they listed rank, profession, or occupation. Starting with the 1891 census this changed to employer or employed. In the 1901 England, Wales, and Scotland censuses they listed employed, worker, or own account. The 1911 census listed as well as their occupation, the industry in which the person was employed. If employed by a government, municipal, or other public body, the name of that body was listed.[10] In Church records there was not a standard form for any parish until the Hardwick’s Marriage Act of 1753 and the Rose Act of 1812. The latter came into force on 1 January 1813 with standardized forms.[11] Beginning 1 July 1837, occupations where recorded on marriage records for the bride and groom, and for the father of bride and groom as well.[12] Occupations of fathers are also found in Church baptism and burial records. Civil Registration birth, marriage, and death certificates show occupations for England, Wales, and Scotland. Many lives in coal mining were cut short because of accidents and poor health in the coal mining industry. In official records coal miners would regularly give the kind of job they did while working in the mines, though just coal miner may have been listed. Many of these different kinds of jobs associated with their work in the mines gives a better understanding of the kind of life an ancestor might have lived. This information also helps to narrow down your search in finding your specific relative.

Censuses[edit | edit source]

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Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

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Occupations and Job Descriptions List[edit | edit source]

Occupation Description
Back-Overman 1849: A man who has the immediate inspection of the workings and workmen during the back-shift.
1892: Superintends the management of the pit from the time the overman leaves until four o'clock in the evening, when the pit is said to “loose” or stop work.
1894: Foreman of the pit during the "back shift," or afternoon shift, in the absence of the overman
Bailiff 1894: Foreman or overman
Bandsman 1894: Laborer (loader) working with a band of men
Banksmen 1849: A man who draws the full tubs from the cages at the surface, when wound up by the engine, and replaces them with empty ones ; he also puts the full tubs to the weighing machine, and thence to the skreens (screens), upon which he teems the coals. It is also his duty to keep an account of the quantity of coals and stones drawn each day.
1894: Person who controls the unloading and loading of the cage at the pit top, and signals the descent of the workmen.
1925: Those who, at the bank or top of the pit, unhook and empty the laden corves into the carts or waggons (wagons), from a frame or stage.
Banker 1894: (see Banksman)
Barrowmen 1825: (see Putter) 1849: A Putter. One who puts the tubs of coals from the working places to the cranes, flats, or stations, whence they are taken by horses or machinery along the main or rolley-ways to the shaft. Before the application of tramways underground, coals used to be conveyed underground on sledges, and afterwards on barrows, whence the name.
Bottomer 1894: Person employed to attend to bottom of shaft.
Brakemen 1825: Those who are employed to work the steam-engine, or other machinery used in raising the coal from the mine.
Brusher 1894: a) Person employed to cut or blast the roof or floor of a roadway and so give more height b) Person who gets the mineral down by blasting in the working face after it has been "holed."
Buttocker 1894: Miner who gets coal off at a “long-wall” face.
Bye Workman 1894: Underground laborer.
Chargeman 1894: Person in charge.
Chargeman Tunneller 1894: Foreman in charge of men driving a tunnel.
Charter Master 1894: Contractor for working a pit or part of a pit.
Check Viewer 1849: A viewer employed by the lessor to see that the provisions of the lease are duly observed.
Check Weigher 1849: The weigher employed by the workmen.
Clearer 1894: Unskilled laborer who clears away the rubbish etc.
Coal Backer Carrier of coal manually on the man’s back.
Coal Porter At the docks, sack filler measuring and loading on 2cwt bags of coal from ships to merchants’ carts.
Coal Burner A maker of charcoal.
Coal Carrier Same as a coal backer, but also someone who traded coal.
Coal Carman Delivers coal to houses, for Coal Merchant.
Coal Drawer A pit worker in harness who pushed and pulled carts or tubs of coal from face to shaft. Before 1846 could have been females or children.
Coal Getter An early term for a coal miner (generally in open cast mines).
Coal Heaver Same as a coal backer or unskilled laborer unloading or filling sacks, carts delivering to cellars.
Coal Hewer Standard name for miner working the coal face.
Coal Higgler A household coal seller and deliverer of coal.
Coal Meter Weigher or sorter and measurer of coal, usually in the mine, or official checker of weights of bags to domestic premise.
Coal Runner Underground coal mine worker.
Coal Whipper Unloader of coal from ships and barges using baskets and winches, also a man who would steal coal or other items from ships. They would usually work in pairs, one knocking large lumps of coal into the water, another ‘finding’ the coal when the tide receded.
Coalman A man who sold or delivers coal, coke, etc. to customers doors for fuel.
Collier Originally a charcoal burner/seller. Later a coal miner of a sailor serving on a coal carrying ship. Could also be just a miner or a person who sold coal and charcoal.
Collier Proprietor The owner or part-owner of a coal mine.
Corporal 1894: Man in charge of a certain district under the deputy.
Corvers 1825: Those who make the corves, strong osier baskets in which the coals are conveyed from the hewers to the bank.
1849: The corves were made and kept in repair by contractors, named Corvers, who were paid by the score of coals drawn, according to the circumstances of the colliery as to depth, wetness, upcast, downcast, and etc., sixpence to one shilling per score, or from 1d. to 2d. per ton.
Coupler 1849: A boy who couples or connects, by means of the coupling chains, the tubs of coal in order to form a set or train.
Cranemen 1825: Stout lads employed in raising the corves of coals by the power of a crane, from the trams, upon a higher carriage, called a Rolly or Wagon.
1849: A lad 16 or 18 years of age, whose business it was to hoist the corves of coals on to the rolleys with the crane. On the introduction of tubs and flats, a younger description of lads was sufficient, say 15 or 16 years of age; these were named flat-lads; a name which at the stations they still retain. Under whatever name, the crane-man or flat-lad proportions the work, or "places the work," or quantity of coals to be put by the barrow-men among them ; so that each may know to which places he is to go for coals, and the quantity he has to put from each place.
Crutter 1894: A man who drives cruts or stone drifts.
Dataler 1894: Underground workman paid by the day.
Day Wageman 1894: One paid by the day, not by contract.
Deputies 1849: A set of men employed in setting timber for the safety of the workmen ; also in putting in brattice and brattice stoppings. They also draw the props in the workings from places where they are no longer required for further use. There cannot be any fixed rule for the number of deputies to be employed in a pit, this depending altogether upon the nature of the roof and consequent quantity of timber required to be set for its support, also on the greater or less quantity of fire-damp produced by the coal. Upon an average the number of deputies may be stated at 1 for every 7 or 8 scores of 6 tons each.
1892: The deputies go to work two hours before the hewers. Each deputy, during the absence of the back-overman, is responsible for the management of the district of the pit over which he is appointed. Their work also includes that of supporting the roof with props or wood, removing props from old workings, changing the air currents when necessary, and clearing away any sudden eruption of gas or fall of stone that might impede the work of the hewer, or in delegating these duties to others.
Dook headman 1894: Man engaged at the top of an incline roadway.
Dook runner 1894: A person who sends wagons up an inclined roadway and travels with them.
Drawer 1894: A wagoner or person who pushes underground tubs.
Drifter 1894: Man employed in driving in rock other than coal.
Drivers 1825: Boys employed to drive the horses, that draw the sledges, rollies and wagons, from the crane to the shaft. A boy employed in driving the horses on the main road underground. He is usually 14 or 15 years of age.
1849: A boy employed in driving the horses on the main road underground. He is usually 14 or 15 years of age.
1892: (see Rolley-Way Man)
Engine Tenter 1894: Engine man.
Flat-Lad 1849: (see Craneman)
Foal 1849: (see Headsman) 1892: (see Putters)
Fore-Overman 1849: (see Overman)
Furnaceman 1892: Attends to the ventilating furnace.
Gang Rider 1894: Person riding upon, and in charge of a train of underground wagons.
Gin-Drivers 1825: boys employed to drive the horses in the gin or engine used in raising coals from pits of moderate depth.
Greaser 1849: A boy who greases the tub axles at bank. A machine, in passing over which the axles are greased automatically.
Half-Marrow 1849: (see Headsman)
1892: (see Putters)
Hand Putter 1894: Person who pushes mine wagons. (see Putters)
Hanger-On 1849: (see Onsetter)
Hardground Man 1894: person employed in driving in rock other than coal.
Headsman 1849: A lad not strong enough to put alone, but able to do so with the assistance of a little boy, who performs his part by pulling the tub by a couple of ropes or traces attached thereto, called soams. The little boy is called a foal. He sometimes assists the headsman by pushing the tub beside him. When the boys are of the same age or strength they are equally paid and are called half-marrows.
1892: (see Putters)
Helper-Up 1849: A lad employed to assist the barrow-man out of a dip place.
Hewers 1825: persons that hew or cut the coal from its natural situation.
1892: The hewer is the actual coal-digger. Whether the seam be so thin that he can hardly creep into it on hands and knees, or whether it be thick enough for him to stand upright, he is the responsible workman who loosens the coal from the bed. The hewers are divided into “fore-shift” and “back-shift” men. The former usually work from four in the morning till ten, and the latter from ten till four. Each man works one week in the fore-shift and one week in the back-shift, alternately. Every man in the fore-shift marks “3” on his door. This is the sign for the “caller” to wake him at that hour. When roused by that important functionary he gets up and dresses in his pit clothes, which consist of a loose jacket, vest, and knee breeches, all made of thick white flannel; long stockings, strong shoes, and a close fitting, thick leather cap. He then takes a piece of bread and water, or a cup of coffee, but never a full meal. Many prefer to go to work fasting. With a tin bottle full of cold water or tea, a piece of bread, which is called his bait, his Davy lamp, and "baccy-box," he says good-bye to his wife and speeds off to work. Placing himself in the cage, he is lowered to the bottom of the shaft, where he lights his lamp and proceeds "in by," to a place appointed to meet the deputy. This official examines each man's lamp, and, if found safe, returns it locked to the owner. Each man then finding from the deputy that his place is right, proceeds onwards to his cavel, his picks in one hand, and his lamp in the other. He travels thus a distance varying from 100 to 600 yards. Sometimes the roof under which he has to pass is not more than three feet high. To progress in this space the feet are kept wide apart, the body is bent at right angles with the hips, the head is held well down, and the face is turned forward. Arrived at his place he undresses and begins by hewing out about fifteen inches of the lower part of the coal. He thus undermines it, and the process is called kirving. The same is done up the sides. This is called nicking. The coal thus hewn is called small coal, and that remaining between the kirve and the nicks is the jud or top, which is either displaced by driving in wedges, or is blasted down with gunpowder. It then becomes the roundy. The hewer fills his tubs, and continues thus alternately hewing and filling.
Hitcher 1894:
a) Person putting wagons into the cage.
b) Chief attendant at pit bottom.
Hod Boy 1894: Conveyor of coal to mine wagons in the working place.
Hooker-On 1849: The hooker-on used before the introduction of guides, to strike the hook, or hooks, at the bottom of the pit on the corf bows. (see Hanger-On)
Horse Fettler 1894: Ostler
Horse Keeper 1892: Attends to the horses in the pit.
Incline Man 1894: Person attending to work on an inclined plane.
Inspector "1849: A man employed at the surface to attend to the cleaning and screening of the coals. His wages are usually 3s. per day, or 18s. per weeks, with his house and firing free. An underground inspector is required to attend to the working of the coals, and to see that proper pains are taken to make them large and good. He is also required to attend to the straight driving or holing of the places, and to set on compass marks for the purpose. The back over-man, where a colliery is not overcharges with fire-damp, and his time and attention not sufficiently engaged in attending to the safety of the mine, performs the above duties during his shift. The wages of an inspector are 21s. or 22s. per week, with house and firing free."
Jigger 1894: Person who attends the brake of a self-acting incline or jig.
Keeker 1825: An inspector of the hewers, wailers, etc.
Keeper 1849: (see Inspector)
Lamp Keeper 1892: Has charge of the Davies.
Lowerer 1894: Person who lowers wagons down an inclined plane.
Marrow 1849: A partner.
1894: Mate or partner
Master-Shifter 1849: The person in charge of the shifters. (see Shifters)
Master-Wasteman 1849: The person who has charge of the wastemen. (see Wastemen)
Metal man 1894: Person who takes the roof down to give more height.
Miner Man digging out coal, iron ore, copper, silver, lead, tin, etc. at first from shallow holes. Later in deep bored pits underground.
Mine Captain Foreman in a tin mine.
Oncostman 1894: Workman not paid by the day.
Onsetters 1825: Those who hook the laden and unhook the empty corves at the bottom of the shaft.
1849: Men who put the full tubs in and take the empty tubs out of the cage at the shaft bottom, or at any other landing or stopping place. They are usually paid by the score or ton, their average wages amounting to about 4s. per day of twelve hours.
Overman 1825: One who inspects the state of the mine every morning before the men go to work. He also keeps a daily account of the men’s labor.
1849: The person who, beneath the viewer, has the charge of the workings of a colliery where there is no under-viewer. He sets the pit to work each morning and attends to all the detail of arranging the work and getting the coals each man works to the shaft bottom. It is also his duty to see that each working place is properly ventilated and in a safe state. He also keeps a daily account of the work wrought, and of the whole of the underground expenses and wages and gives the colliery office a fortnightly account of the same, the bill containing the amount earned by each man, or set of men if in partnership, and boy during that time. There is one overman to a pit, so that if there are two or three pits at a colliery, there are two or three overmen. An overman is almost invariably a man who has passed through all the graduations of pit work, from the trapper upwards, and who has been raised to his situation on account of his ability and steadiness. His wages in 1849 were 26s. to 28s. per week, with house, garden, and coals gratis.
1892: The duties of the overman consist in visiting the workings every morning, receiving the reports from the deputies, making observations on the air currents, and general management of the underground work. To his office is sent an account of all the work done in the pit, and on the Wednesday before the "pay" he "reckons" with the men - i.e., he compares the account received of their work with that kept by themselves.
1894: Underground foreman subordinate to the manager.
Packer 1894: Person who builds “packs.”
Pikeman 1894: Workman using a pick.
Pony Putter 1894: Driver of a pony drawing a mine wagon.
Putters 1825: Those who fill the corves (strong osier baskets in which the coals are conveyed) and lead them from the hewers, on four-wheeled carriages called Trams, to the crane or shaft. The barrowman pulls before, and the putter putts or thrusts behind. In high seams, horses are used instead of men
1849: (see Barrowman)
1892: The putters used to be divided into trams, headsmen, foals, and half-marrows. These were all boys or youths. Their employment consisted in pushing or dragging the coal from the workings to the passages in which horses could be employed. Formerly the coal was conveyed by the putter in corves or tubs. Now small wagons called trams are generally employed. When a boy dragged or put a load by himself he also was designated a tram. When two boys of unequal age and strength assisted each other, the elder was called a headsman and the younger a foal. The former usually received two-thirds of the amount earned jointly by the two. When two boys of about equal age and strength aided each other they were called half-marrows, and their earnings were equally divided. The introduction of metal plates and wagons in place of corves, however, has almost done away with joint labors of this kind. Formerly the labor of the putter was of the most arduous description. Wilson describes it as having been "the most distressing slavery." "It was," he says, "generally performed by boys, in nine cases out of ten too weak for the purpose, if even the materials had been better than they were over which the trams then passed. What must it have been when a beech-board was a godsend? And, more frequently, they had to drag their load over a fir-deal or the bare thill [the natural floor of the mine], the former too often split from constant wear, and the latter too soft to bear the load passing over it. Now the whole way is laid with metal plates, even up to the face of the workings, so that a man or lad may run the tram before him both out and in, the plates being so formed as to keep the tram in a right direction." It was customary at one time to employ girls and young women as putters. This disgraceful and demoralizing practice, which continued in Scotland and some parts of England until it was prohibited by law in 1843, was abandoned in the county of Durham about the year 1790. Even before that date the custom was more prevalent in the Wear collieries than in those of the Tyne.
1894: Person who pushes mine wagons from the working place to a horse road or mechanical haulage road
Ridder 1894: Person who rakes or rids coal down a steep working.
Rider 1894: Attendant on an inclined plane.
Rockman 1894: Slate getter: a skilled workman who excavates or “gets” the blocks of rock, which are split and dressed into slates.
Rolley-Way Man 1849: A man whose business it is to attend to the rolley-way and keep it in order. It is also his duty to keep away the work, and see that no time is lost in getting the full wagons to the shaft and the empty ones in-bye again. His wages are about 2s. 9d. for 8 hours, or 3s. 4d. if he stands 12 hours.
1892: The rolley-way is a road or path sufficiently high for a horse to walk along it with the rolley and is kept in repair by the rolley-waymen. The driver has charge of the horse. The onsetter transfers the tubs to the cage in which they are raised to bank, where the coal is weighed, screened, and sorted.
1894: Person who repairs the horse roads underground.
Runner 1894: Pusher of mine wagons.
Runner In 1894: Person who puts wagons into the cage at the bottom of the pit.
Runner On 1894: (see Runner In)
Screeners 1825: those who take the small coal from beneath a screen of iron, over which the coals, as they come from the hewers, are poured into the wagons or carts.
1849: Men who pass the coals over the screens into the wagons, and clean them from stones, slates, brasses, &c. They should be paid in proportion to the quantity of dirt picked out from among the coals. Their wages are about 2s. 6d. to 2s. 8d. per day of 12 hours.
Shackler 1894: Person who couples wagons.
Shaftman 1894: Shaft sinker.
Shifters 1825: Men who repair the horse-ways and other passages in the mine and keep them free from obstructions.
1894: Repairer.
Small Leader 1849: A lad employed to put small coals to a stowboard.
Smasher 1894: Person employed in breaking up waste rock.
Stallman 1894: Sub-contractor in charge of a “stall” or working place.
Stoneman 1894: Person who makes excavation in “stone,” i.e., hard strata other than coal.
Switch Keeper 1892: Person who attends the switches or passing places on the underground railways.
Taker Off 1894: Person who makes excavation in “stone,” i.e., hard strata other than coal. (see Stoneman)
Timber Drawer 1894: Person whose work is to remove timber props.
Trams 1892: (see Putters)
Trappers 1825: Boys of the youngest class, employed to open and shut the doors, which keep the ventilation in the workings regular.
1849: A little boy whose employment consists in opening and shutting a trap-door when required: his wages are 9d. or 10d. per day of 12 hours. In 1888 wages were 1s. to 1s. 2d. per day of 8 hours.
1892: They are the youngest boys employed in the mine. They are stationed at traps or doors in various parts of the pit, which they have to open when trams of coal pass through and immediately to close again, as a means of directing the current of air for ventilation to follow certain prescribed channels. It was formerly the practice to send boys of not more than six years to work in the mine as trappers. They remained in the pit for eighteen hours every day and received fivepence a day each as wages. He was in solitude and total darkness the whole time he was in the mine, except when a tram was passing. He went to his labor at two o'clock in the morning, so that during the greater part of the year it was literally true that he did not see daylight from one Sunday till the Saturday following.
1894: Boy attending to a ventilating door.
Tributer’s Lad 1894: Youth working with a tributer or contractor who receives a share of the value of the ore he excavates.
Trimmer 1849: When coals from the wagons are dropped or spouted into the hold of a vessel they produce a conical heap which, unless provided against, would soon block up the hatchway. To prevent this, sheets of iron are laid upon the cone as it rises which cause the coals to slide off in all directions; these are placed by a set of men, called trimmers, who with shovels and rakes still further distribute the coal, or trim the cargo.
Under-Viewer 1825: (see Viewer) 1849: The responsible manager of a colliery in the absence of the viewer.
Viewer 1825: the person who gives directions as to the method of working and ventilating the mine. In large collieries he has a person under him called the Under-Viewer. From the viewers, overmen receive their instructions.
1849: The manager of a colliery; one who has the charge of all underground, and generally of all surface, arrangements.
Wailers 1825: Boys employed to pick out slate, pyrites, and other fouls admixtures from the coal.
1849: Boys employed in wagons to pick out any stones or pyrites which have escaped the observation of the screeners.
Waggonway Corporal 1894: Man in charge of wagonways under the deputy.
Wastemen 1825: persons that daily examine the state of the workings and see that they be properly ventilated. Generally old men, who are employed in building pillars for the support of the roof in the waste, and in keeping the airways open and in good order. Their wages are about 2s. 4d. per day.
1849: A master wasteman has (under the viewer or under-viewer) the charge of the waste, and should be a steady and careful man, and have some skill in ventilation. His wages are about 21s. per week.
Water Leader 1892: Removes water from the horse-ways and other places.
Way Cleaner 1892: Person cleans the rails of the mine from time to time, removing obstructions of coal-dust, etc.
Windroad Boy 1894: Boy who works in wind roads.
Wood Leader 1892: Person who carries props to parts of the mine where they are needed.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. C N Trueman "Coal Mines In The Industrial Revolution" The History Learning Site, 31 Mar 2015. accessed 17 Jul 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Durham County Record Office “A mine of Information” Durham County Council 2018 accessed July 2018.
  4. (First coal-free day in Britain since 1880s) BBC, 22 April 2017, accessed July 2018
  5. Andew Twining, Sandra Twinging (Dictionary of Old Trades and Occupations) Published TWING’S SECRETARIAL 313 Pimpala Road WOODCROFT SA 5162 AUSTRALIA 1995, page 22,23.
  6. Primary Victorian Britain, “Children in Coal mines” BBC 2014 accessed July 16, 2018
  7. Alan Davies “Mines and Collieries Act 1842” 2006, accessed July 2018.
  8. Mary McKee “Occupations: 19th century coal miners” Blog. Headlines from History, 30 August 2017 accessed July 17, 2018.
  9. Alan Davies “Mines and Collieries Act 1842” 2006, accessed July 2018
  10. National Archives UK accessed July 16, 2018.
  11. David Tonks (My Ancestor was a Coal Miner) Society of Genealogist Enterprises Limited, 14 Charterhouse Buildings Goswell Road London EC1M 7BA third edition 2014 page 16.
  12. Family Search Wiki, “England Church Records” accessed, July 16, 2018.