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Coal mines

In parallel with factories, mills and workshops, Victorian legislators also responded to concern about working conditions in coal mines, especially the employment of women and children.

In 1842 a Report by a Royal Commission on the employment of women and children in mines caused widespread public dismay at the depths of human degradation that were revealed. Owners showed a critical lack of concern or responsibility for the welfare of their workers. It was common for children aged eight to be employed, but they were often younger. In mines in the east of Scotland girls as well as boys were put to work. In order to reinforce its message to MPs, the Commissioners' Report was graphically illustrated with images of women and children at their work.

Reform of the Mines

The Mines and Collieries Bill, which was supported by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, was hastily passed by Parliament in 1842. The Act prohibited all underground work for women and girls, and for boys under 10. Further legislation in 1850 addressed the frequency of accidents in mines. The Coal Mines Inspection Act introduced the appointment of inspectors of coal mines, setting out their powers and duties, and placed them under the supervision of the Home Office. The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1860 improved safety rules and raised the age limit for boys from 10 to 12.

By 1870 over 1,000 lives were still being lost in mining accidents each year. In 1872 the Coal Mines Regulation Act introduced the requirement for pit managers to have state certification of their training. Miners were also given the right to appoint inspectors from among themselves. The Mines Regulation Act, passed in 1881, empowered the Home Secretary to hold inquiries into the causes of mine accidents. It remained clear, however, that there were many aspects of mining that required further intervention and regulation.

Related information

Parliament and government both play a part in forming the laws of the United Kingdom.

Historic Hansard

The House of Lords debates the Second Reading of the Mines and Collieries Bill 1842


You can access a biography of

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th earl of Shaftesbury

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Did you know?

Lord Ashley went down a coal mine to see conditions for himself during the passage of the Mines and Collieries Bill in 1842