6E       Who would be a Miner?

A class debate about the life of miners, in comparison with other workers. This is set at around 1820. Snailbeach Mine is at the height of its productivity and employs about 500 workers; miners and surface workers. Life is hard for miners, but then, life is hard for most working people. Some details of three different types of work are provided, to provide material for a discussion about the various different lifestyles.

 

LEAD MINER

FARM WORKER

FACTORY WORKER

Housing

Lives in his own “squatter’s cottage” which he has built and has a patch of land to cultivate.

Lives in a farm cottage provided by the farm owner. Lives rent free.

Lives in terraced house provided by the factory owner, and pays rent.

Water supply

From a stream or a spring. Water has to be carried to the house in buckets.

Well, spring or stream. Water has to be carried in buckets.

Possibly a tap for the line of houses, or water supply to each house.

Heating

Gather wood. Pay for coal if you can afford it.

Gather wood. Pay for coal if you can afford it.

Coal has to be bought.

Surroundings

Isolated cottage, a long way from neighbours and a long walk to the mine.

Cottage close to other farm workers and to work. Plenty of neighbours.

In a row of factory workers beside the mill.

Food

Some grown. Hens, a pig and possibly a cow contribute to the food.

Possibly free milk, eggs, potatoes etc.

Everything must be bought. No land for hens or growing food.

Income

Makes his own contract with the mine owner. Could earn twice what the factory worker makes. Paid every month or two months. Pay could depend on how much lead is mined.

Very low, possibly paid only quarterly.

Probably at least double the farm worker’s wages, but rent, food and fuel all have to be paid for.

Earnings might be

Up to £200 a year if working full time.

£40 a year.

£100 a year less £30 rent on housing.

Job security

Uncertain. Depends on getting a new contract, having a good team of miners, and remaining fit.

A good farm owner might keep some families for life. Other workers might be hired by the half year.

Work for as long as you can. Reasonable job security. Factory work is increasing all the time.

Hours worked

Six hours a day, with an hour for lunch and no work on Saturday or Sunday. One day off after each two months.

Cows need milking every day, and horses etc need feeding. Hours shorter in winter, but very long at hay time and harvest time.

Possibly long shifts of day or night, working six days a week.

Travel to work

Walking over two hours a day. Some miners have to sleep at the mine during the week as they live so far away.

None; the farm animals are next door.

Very little; the factory is nearby.

Time off

Miners have a long tradition of taking reasonable breaks in their heavy work. Time needed for house building, growing food etc.

Depends on the farm owner. Could be practically none.

Sundays, plus an enforced break if the factory closes for maintenance.

Long term health risks

A combination of dust and lead mean that life expectancy beyond 55 is uncertain.

Working long hours in cold wet conditions would lead to arthritic complaints and crippling pains in the joints.

Dry indoor conditions. Could be extremely noisy, leading to deafness.

Health Care

Mine owner provides limited benefits. Miners share cost of medical services.

Not affordable. Reliant on charity and the goodwill of the farm owner.

Save for doctor’s bills, possibly in a club with other workers.

Danger to life

About twice as dangerous as average employment – still fairly low.

Implements and animals make work unsafe.

Machinery is dangerous.

Children

No School. Work at home, helping grow / collect food. Older boys start at mine.

Share farm work with adults. No school.

Employed as cheap workers in factories, and may do dangerous jobs involving work in confined spaces by machinery.

 

The debate “Who would be a miner?” could be extended by looking at a different time, for example 1890 when all the latest machinery was installed at the mine and the railway was built. Conditions could have changed in a number of ways, such as the following.

 

LEAD MINER

FARM WORKER

FACTORY WORKER

Housing

Improvements made if they could be afforded. The mine only provides housing for surface workers.

Possibly little different from 1820. A good employer would improve housing. Still rent free.

New housing has flush toilets in back yard, piped water to the house, and gas lighting. Back boiler may provide hot water.

Income

High, but compressed air drills cause long term damage to health.

Very low

Able to afford rent on more comfortable housing

Facilities

Very few. Chapel, church, pub

Very few. Chapel, church, pub.

Growing facilities of towns and cities. Shops, parks, trams, theatres......

Hours worked

Eight hours a day, with better pay than before. 5 day week.

Long hours every day as before.

Working hours now limited by law. Three shifts per day and 5½ day week.

Travel

Family can afford occasional day excursions by train.

Probably not go beyond the village or occasionally market town.

Occasional day excursions by train.

Danger at Work

Far greater than before, despite new laws.

Largely unchanged, and no legal protection

Laws make factories safer.

Children

Go to school, and don’t work at the mine.

Children don’t go into mining when they leave school.

Go to school, but miss school for hay time, potato picking and other seasonal work.  Girls go into service, and boys start as farm workers at 13.

Go to school, and are not allowed to work in factories. Factory work starts for some at 10 years old.

The Future?

Snailbeach is the only lead mine left in Shropshire. Miners are working in quarries or going to factories. Mechanised mining requires fewer miners.  Production going down.

Farming continues with workers needed to manage horses, milk cows, plough fields etc. in the same numbers. Production remains the same.

Increasing factory work, which is monotonous and noisy.  Production constantly increasing.