Issue date
12 Mar 2001

The price of coal

THE COAL MINES Regulation Act of 1860 had forbidden the employment of boys under twelve in the mines; but it had done nothing to solve the safety problem. A series of colliery disasters in the 1860s and a sustained agitation by the miners led to the passing, in 1872, of the Coal Mines Act, which decreed that every pit was to be tested for safety daily by deputy overseers, and also gave the miners the right to appoint some of their own people as inspectors.

But the disasters did not cease with the passing of the 1872 Act. In the trade slump of the 1870s, coal became cheap and so - with the resulting pressure to compensate for the low prices by increased output - did miners' lives.

In his book, The Growth of British Industrial Relations, E. Phelps Brown describes the bitter fatalism of those days:

"The Welsh miner who was injured was carried home and laid on the kitchen table top for the doctor to operate on him there. The valley knew when a man was killed, for the whole shift came up, and walked behind his body till it was laid in his front room.

"Accidents might be accepted as part of life, but only because it was a hard life anyhow and there was no justice in it . . .'

 

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