52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 3

Week 3 Prompt – 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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 2

Week Two Prompt: Favorite Photo

Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for us called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. You can learn more about it here and sign up if you think you would be interested. It’s a great way to share some of our data and as I looked through my photographs for the Week 2 prompt “Favorite Photo”, I not only enjoyed a quick refresher seeing some of my favorite photos but it also jogged my mind as to a few things I had meant to do with those photos and hadn’t yet. Thanks, Amy!

It’s not easy picking a favorite photograph. There are so many great ones that I like for different reasons. I finally settled on one that has some of my favorite people in it. It not only has my grandfather in it but also my favorite uncle, who we nicknamed ‘Uncle Snoozy’ as he would come from England to visit us in South Africa and would fall asleep each afternoon lying in the warm South African sun.

JamesThomas1894_photo family all men

This photograph was taken late 1950s/early 1960s and shows several generations of the Thomas/Bellas/Stables family. It was taken either in Shiney Row, County Durham, England or Edmonton, London where the Stables family lived. The original is in my father’s possession and I have a digital copy. I’m not sure what the occasion was but there is another photograph, obviously taken at the same time, with all the wives and children. It looks to be a happy occasion whatever it was.

In the front is my grandfather, James Thomas, who was born in 1894 and whom I unfortunately never got to meet. He served during the First World War with the Tyneside Scottish, attached to the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers and spent his 21st birthday on the front. My father clearly remembers that his father forever hated the sound of bagpipes after the war as it reminded him of going ‘up and over’ the trenches to meet the enemy.

Behind my grandfather is “Uncle Snoozy”, Leslie Bruce Thomas. He was the oldest of my father’s siblings and I knew him well from visits to England and him visiting us in South Africa. He was a lovely man, a talented musician and always kind and loving. He passed away in 2013 but I can hear his voice with its’ Geordie accent calling me ‘Pet’.

Behind “Uncle Snoozy” is his son, also Leslie Thomas. Behind him is my great aunt’s husband, William ‘Bill’ Stables. Next comes another Leslie (a popular name in our family back then), this is Leslie Bellas. He fits into the Bellas side of the family as it was Elizabeth Bellas who married my grandfather, James Thomas. And finally, right at the back of the row, is Thomas Stables. He was the son of William ‘Bill’ Stables and Margaret Bellas (Elizabeth Bellas’ sister). Thomas Stables died in 1962 of renal failure, he was only 21. A favorite multi-generational photograph and one which makes me happy when I see it.