Children in the Mines
In the 18th and 19th centuries children were employed above and below ground.
In 1838, around 5000 children, some as young as seven, were employed in Cornish mines, with a mine on average having 20% of the workforce made up of children. Young children generally started above ground, then progressed to more physically demanding jobs as they grew.
Boys were sent underground as soon as they were big enough – usually between 8-13yrs, first to manually ventilate mine shafts, then moving onto hand-barrowing or hand-drilling. They would often work alongside their fathers or other relatives as part of a ‘pare’ or team of miners.
Girls would generally work above ground with the older Bal-maidens. Their tasks included sorting the valuable tin ore from the waste rock and crushing the ore with a variety of different tools. Other unpleasant tasks for children included cleaning off toxic arsenic soot from the calciner chimneys, with only a face mask or covering of clay to protect them.
Children would be expected to work the same 10 hours a day as the adults, though they would sometimes learn the basics of reading and writing at Sunday school. In 1842, a Mines Act was issued by the Queen which banned women and boys under the age of ten from working underground in mines and restricted work hours for children under thirteen. As this act was enforced, school was later made compulsory, machinery gradually took over the processing of tin, so that the numbers of children in mines gradually declined.