...I was frightened for someone had stolen my bread and cheese. I think it was the rats.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, the British state accepted that children as young as five years old were an acceptable part of the industrial workforce.
Not only management accepted the position but many parents as well. Change had to come and an investigation into the employment of children was begun. Between 1840 and 1842, government inspectors visited the Welsh coalfields and spoke to many child miners. These interviews were presented to Parliament as part of The Commission of Enquiry into the State of Children in Employment. This report not only tells of the horrific conditions that children worked under but also paints a vivid picture of their everyday lives.
Coal Mines in the 1840s
Coalmines in this period were cramped, poorly ventilated and highly dangerous.
There was little attention paid to health and safety and children were injured or killed by explosions, roof falls or being run over by carts.
Children performed a number of important tasks underground - door keepers, who operated the ventilation doors to let coal carts through, drammers, who pulled coal carts to and from the coal face, colliers' helpers who assisted the actual coal cutting, usually alongside their fathers or older brothers, and drivers who led the horses which pulled wagons along the main roadways.
Even the simple matter of getting to their place of work was sometimes highly dangerous. Many mines were 'drifts' driven into the mountainside and children could walk in, others were shafts, which were served by winches or steam engines. The mines in the Llanelli area were up to 500' deep and had to be descended into by baskets or ladders.
Philip Philip, aged 10, from Brace Colliery in Llanelli, was accustomed to the dangers of ladders: 'I help my brother to cart. I can go down the ladders by myself. I am not afraid to go down the pit.'
The inspector who interviewed Philip climbed down these ladders with difficulty. Unlike Philip, he was afraid of the noise and the heavy pumping rods that were very close to the ladders.