Child workers

This guide was last updated in 2009

In the mid 19th century an estimated 5,000 children under the age of 10 worked in coal mines.

By then stories began to surface regarding the conditions endured by children working below ground. In response the Government established a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment. Inspectors were dispatched to examine conditions in the coal fields of Britain, taking evidence from mine owners, the medical profession and men, women and children who worked in the mines.

It was with almost universal condemnation that greeted publication of their report in 1842, when a shocked nation discovered the truth of employing children in the mines for twelve hours a day, often for a wage of two pennies.

Evidence collected in the West Riding of Yorkshire showed the youngest was aged five, while in Halifax one case records a child regularly taken down the mine by his father at three years of age: "It was made to follow him in the workings, there to hold a candle, and when exhausted with fatigue, was cradled upon the coals until his return at night".

In the same year the Mines Act was introduced, outlawing the underground employment of all females and boys below the age of ten. A complete transcript of the Royal Commission of Inquiry reports can be viewed, by region, complete with the names of individual children, on the Coalmining History Resource Centre website

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