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Swannington’s Child Coal Miners

The following is based on census records, the age they started working is not known but 10 years old is possible.  This section includes the brothers of child miners.

John Gilbert 14

John Gilbert was a 14 year old collier living in Swannington in 1841.  John married Jane Haynes in Whitwick in 1848.  By 1851 he was a coal miner in Wednesbury, Staffordshire and had a son Thomas.   John died aged 27 following a coal mine incident in September 1854, he set a charge of blasting powder and when it did not go off he went to investigate and it exploded.  John died three weeks later.  As well as three year old Thomas there was one year old Elizabeth Ann.  Read a transcript of the 16th September 1854 Leicester Chronicle account of the inquest into John Gilbert’s death.

 

Frederick Kniveton 11

Frederick Kniveton was an 11 year old collier living in Swannington in 1841, born in Boles Hill, Wirksworth, Derbyshire.  He continued as a miner living in Swannington, Snibston, Hugglescote area until his death in 1894.

John Marsden 12

John Marsden was a 12 year old collier living in Swannington in 1841.   He worked in coal mines all his life and died aged 71 after a large stone dropped on him.  He was buried 8th February 1899 at St George’s Church, Swannington. Read a transcript of the 16th September 1854 Nottingham Evening Post account of John Marsden’s death.

The reporting of the death in the Nottingham Evening Post emphasises the links between Coleorton and Swannington and the Nottinghamshire coal mining community.

2 child hurriers pushing and pulling a coal tub underground

Solomon Robinson 16

Solomon Robinson was a 16 year old coal miner living in Swannington in 1841 and had probably been working for some years.  He moved between Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and was still coal mining in 1881.  His brothers were also miners.

Charles Robinson was a 19 year old coal miner living in Swannington in 1841, an occupation he continued while living in Swannington 1851, Packington 1861, Altofts, Yorkshire 1871 and Hugglescote 1881.

Oliver Robinson was a 21 year old coal miner living in Swannington in 1841 an occupation he continued while living in the Swannington and Coalville area until at least 1871.  He lived in several properties near current day Memorial Square.  In 1881 he was the gate keeper at the railway crossing in Coalville, which is now known as Oliver’s Crossing.   The story is that he was lame by that time and slow opening and closing the gates.  Denis Baker’s article for Coalville Heritage Society says “It is understood that he suffered an accident in the pit in the 1870s and was given this duty in compensation.”

A coal train from Snibston Pit using Oliver's Crossing - photo Olivers Crossing Coalville Facebook
Photo Olivers Crossing Coalville Facebook

Thomas Webster 14 and William Webster 11

The Webster boys lived with their widowed father Jacob.

Thomas Webster was a 14 year old coal miner living in Swannington in 1841.  He died aged 14 on the 9th November 1841 and was buried on the 14th November 1841 at St George’s Church, Swannington.

  • Leicester Chronicle 11th November 1841 – SWANNINGTON – An inquest was held here on the 10th instant, before the same coroner, (John Gregory) on the body of Thomas Webster, a driver at No 3 pit, Whitwick Colliery, who was killed the previous morning by the falling of a quantity of “bind” or soft stone from the roof of the pit.  – Verdict – Accidental Death.
  • Leicester Mercury 13th November 1841 – Whitwick. – Two killed. – A fatal accident occurred in No. 3 pit, at this place, on Monday last, by which a driver of the name of Thos. Webster lost his life.  It appeared that one of the colliers named Eggleshaw was finishing loading a waggon with coal, and deceased was standing by, ready to drive it to the bottom of the pit, when a quantity of the bind, or soft-stone from the roof, fell on deceased and killed him on the spot.  No blame was attached to any party, the overseers haring tried the roof several times that morning, and it sounded quite right.  An inquest was held on the body on Tuesday, at Swannington, when the Jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death.”
  • Another fatal accident occurred in No. 4 pit on Saturday evening.  Vincent Kirkham, aged 39, and a man named Bettridge, were engaged in setting a prop to the roof in one of the stalls of the pit, when a large stone, weighing from 8 to 10 tons, and which was supported by a stone wall, slipped from its position, and forced Kirkham against the wall.  The coal on his right side had to be picked away to set him at liberty, which was effected in about 10 minutes.  The fall of the stone was attributed to the pressure of the earth above.  Kirkham was taken home, where he lingered in great agony until Monday night; when death put an end to hit sufferings.  An inquest was held on the body on Wednesday when a verdict of Accidental Death was returned.

 

William Webster was an 11 year old coal miner living in Swannington in 1841.  He was still working as a hewer 60 years later in 1901 at the age of 71, although he had retired by 1911.  He lived in Limby Hall Lane 1861 until his death aged 88.  He was buried on the 6th October 1917 at St George’s Church, Swannington.

John Webster was only 9 years old living in Swannington in 1841 so not working.  He was a coal miner in 1851 and 1861.  He died aged 30 and was buried on the 10th August 1862 at St George’s Church, Swannington.

Rock Fall - the death of 14 year old Thomas Webster - by Christine Davies

Miners At Work

Whether adult or child, male or female, above ground or below ground, working life for coal miners was a tough daily grind.  Below are links to several coal mining films that will help give an idea of 19th century conditions.

A Day In The Life Of A Wigan Coal Miner 1911

Apart from brief periods at Sinope and Snibston No 3 collieries, Swannington’s coal mines had closed by 1877.  Although this Wigan 1911 film was made decades later, many of the coal mining practices would have been the same in that Swannington’s 19th century coal mines would have had:

  • headstocks, winding engine houses and tall chimneys (but other activities would have been in the open air),
  • miners using safety lamps,
  • miners taking a tin of tea underground,
  • a cramped and open cage for going up and down the shaft,
  • hewers in cramped conditions using pick axes to hew the coal,
  • trams (also called tubs) on rails for moving coal,
  • miners loading lumps of coal with their hands,
  • boys working in the mines,
  • wooden pit props.

But there are some important differences

  • so far research has not identified any Swannington women coal miners,
  • conveyor belts were not used for screening as they were invented in 1892,
  • only Sinope and Snibston No 3 collieries built sidings for locomotives next to railway lines, so Swannington mines would have used horse drawn tramways.

 

Other coal mining films

Coal Special, South Wales Miners Go Down The Mine – 1930 – The first sound pictures of a British coal mine

Early Coal Mining Photos From Magic Lantern Slides – Photos from the Keasbury-Gordon archive

On The Discovery Of An Ancient Mine – discovery of an unrecorded coal mine when building the M66 motorway

Child Labour – Mary And The Miners – 10 and 11 year olds use the testimonies of Victorian child miners.

Mining Songs

The Royal Commission Of Inquiry Into Children’s Employment led to the Mines and Collieries Act 1842 that:

  • banned the employment of females underground,
  • introduced a minimum age of 10 years for boys to work underground.

 

The words of 17 year old Patience Kershaw have been immortalised:

 

Other mining songs that describe the tough conditions are:

  • Working Man (Miners’ Song) – About how tough life was underground, sung by Men of the Deeps, former Cape Breton miners in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Lyrics
  • Duw It’s Hard – Max Boyce may be better known for his rugby songs, but songs filled with his poignant reflections on Welsh coal mines are his best work.   Maxwell Boyce was born a month after his father died in a coal mining accident.  Max worked in a coal mine for nearly eight years. Lyrics
  • Trimdon Grange – Maddy Prior singing about the 69 boys and men aged 12-60 who died in 1882 and the children they left behind.