group of balmaidens

Bal Maidens

From the early 18th century women and girls were employed above the ground in growing numbers doing low paid manual work.

The majority of women and girls employed at the mines were involved in the various stages of ore dressing. Known as Bal Maidens or Bal Maids, their work was hard and physically exhausting – breaking chunks of rock into fragments or manually sorting ore from rock.

The term ‘balmaiden’ is found in the accounts of Victorian travel writers in the 19th century. Bal is the Cornish word for mine, but this word was replaced by ‘Huel’ and ‘Wheal’ from the 18th century.

All of the work done by women and children was at the surface of the mine. They worked in all weathers, totally exposed to the elements with little in the way of protection except for basic clothing; a skirt, apron, shirt, shawl and bonnet. Balmaiden’s had very distinctive outfits. A Gouk was a bonnet worn by the Bal Maidens to protect them from the weather and flying fragments of rock.

Women did not work underground at modern Geevor.

Traditionally many miners believed that it was unlucky to allow women underground.    However, by the mid-1990s women were working at other Cornish mines; including 2 female mining engineers at South Crofty. At Geevor women worked above ground in the mill and as secretaries and administrators. In the 19th Century women’s earnings were very little - but often a vital part of the income for a mining family. As mechanisation of tin dressing took place, less labour was required. During the World Wars women and older girls were drafted in to undertake some of the ‘men’s work’, working on the picking belts in the mill at Geevor.

Dress the Miner


Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Royal Institution of Cornwall

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Comment left by jim on 2009-10-12 15:31:02

His website has enlightened me. I now look at everything in a new light. I have inhaled coal dust.

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