Longevity (or the lack thereof) in County Durham Coal Miners.

Longevity (or in my coal mining ancestors, the lack thereof)

Coal mining was not an occupation that promoted longevity in those who worked from before daybreak to after dark, six out of seven days a week, month after month and year after year. Most miners began work down the mines as young as age 8. Back breaking, dangerous and physically exhausting labor, accidents and disease, most often meant that many miners never reached old age. While David Bellis, a Welsh coal miner, and my 2nd great grandfather, lived to the age of 81 and his son, John Bellas (the name is spelled both Bellis and Bellas in the records), my great grandfather, lived to age 78, the majority of their sons and extended family died fairly young. All of them spent their entire working lives in the mine.

Name Year of Birth Year of Death Age at death
John Bellis (3rd great grandfather) 1793 1840 47
John Bellis (2nd great granduncle) 1814 1871 57
Hugh Bellis (2nd great granduncle) 1825 1860 35
David Bellis (2nd great grandfather) 1822 1903 81
John Bellas (Great grandfather) 1859 1938 78
John W. Bellis (1st Cousin 3R) 1860 1883 23
Thomas Bellas (Great granduncle) 1861 1901 40
William Bellas (Great granduncle) 1866 1915 49
Tom Bellas (granduncle) 1888 1933 45

John William Bellis died while working in Etherley Colliery near Escomb, County Durham, England in 1883. John was an Incline Man which was someone who “attended to work on an incline plane”[1]. The Mine Inspectors Report described the accident as “died from the effects of a sprain received on 22nd January last while lifting a tub on the way.”[2] Sadly, John was only 23 years old.

Read any of the historical data on mining deaths in England in the 1800s and you will come across lives lost far too young. The risk of accidental death or disease was high but for many families of Northeast England it was the only occupation open to them.

children miners
Child miners. Photograph in public domain.
“The little trapper of eight years of ages lies quiet in bed…It is now between two and three in the morning, and his mother shakes him, and desires him to rise, and tells him that his father has an hour ago gone off to the pit. He turns on his side, rubs his eyes, and gets up, and comes to the blazing fire, and puts on his clothes. His coffee, such as it is, stands by the side of the fire, and bread is laid down for him…He then fills his tin bottle with coffee, and takes a lump of bread, and sets out for the pit, into which he goes down in the cage, and walking along the horseway for upwards of a mile…He knows his place of work. It is inside one of the doors called trap-doors, for the purpose of forcing the stream of air, which passes in its long, many miled course from the down shaft to the up-shaft of the pit; but which door must be opened whenever men or boys, with or without carriages, may wish to pass through. He seats himself in a little hole, about the size of a common fire-place, and with the string in his hand: and all his work is to pull that string when he has to open the door, and when man or boy has passed through, then to allow the door to shut itself…He may not stir above a dozen steps with safety from his charge, lest he should be found neglecting his duty, and suffer for the same. He sits solitary by himself, and has no one to talk to him; …. For he himself has no light. His hours, except at such times, are passed in total darkness. For the first week of his service in the pit his father had allowed him candles to light one after another, but the expense of three halfpence a-day was so extravagant expenditure out of ten pence, the boy’s daily wages, that his father, of course, withdrew that allowance the second week, all except one or two candles in the morning, and the week after the allowance was altogether taken away; and now, except a neighbour kinder than his father now and then drop him a candle, as he passes, the boy has no light of his own.”
Dr. Mitchell’s report of the Collieries of South Wales, Children in Mines and Collieries, 1839, p38-39. “The History of Mining in Durham & Northumberland”, Newcastle University, (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/outreach/mining/children.php : accessed 17 January 2018).
[1] “Mining Occupations”, Durham Mining Museum, (http://www.dmm.org.uk/educate/mineocc.htm#inclineman : accessed 16 January 2018).
[2] “In Memoriam”, Durham Mining Museum, (http://www.dmm.org.uk/individ0/i06704.htm : accessed 16 January 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Longevity (or the lack thereof) in County Durham Coal Miners.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Susan. Imagine a childhood spent in the dark and cold. I can’t comprehend what that must have been like for these children. And then to go on and spend your entire adult life doing the same thing!

      Like

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