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Victorian Coal Mines

Coal was very important to the Victorians because it was their main source of power. They used it for: driving machinery, moving locomotives and steamships, cooking and heating.

The coal was dug out from deep mines underground. In the tunnels, the miners hacked at the coal with picks and shovels.

Young children would work down in the mines, some for up to 12 hours a day with few breaks and no fresh air:
  • trappers opened and closed wooden doors to let air through the tunnels;
  • drawers dragged heavy carts of coal along the tunnels with heavy chains around their waists.

The coal mines were very dirty and dark - the only light came from candles.

The mine owners didn't care about the health and safety of their workers - their profits were much more important to them.

Conditions in the mines were very dangerous and there were many accidents. Sometimes a tunnel flooded or its roof caved in, crushing the miners beneath it. Miners could be poisoned by underground gas. This gas could explode if ignited from a spark from a miner's pickaxe hitting a stone.

In 1838, a freak accident occurred at Huskar Colliery in Silkstone, near Barnsley, when a stream overflowed into the ventilation shaft after violent thunderstorms. The flood caused the death of 26 children, 11 girls aged from 8 to 16 and 15 boys between 9 and 12 years of age.