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An interesting aspect of coal mining history rarely alluded to is the changing roles of women in mining. Before the 1842 Mines and Collieries Act, women along with children worked underground alongside men.
In fact they often performed heavy hauling jobs that men refused to do, and for less pay. Often women had no choice but to work, and their income was perceived as a contribution to the family income, rather than an independent wage.
They were employed underground in the collieries of Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Cumbria, Scotland, Lancashire, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Many women faced the real fear of loss of income in a context of lack of alternative work.
Women after 1842 then increasingly began working above ground at the pits, mostly sorting coal or what became known as screening, hence the term "Pit Brow Lasses."
Screening involved the separation of different sizes of coal on a conveyor belt with bars set at fixed distance acting as sieves. Women separated the coal from dirt and other impurities.
The process became increasingly mechanised, and before the conveyor belts women used to use riddles or large sieves, sorting the coal by hand.
In Scotland and Northumberland they often carried coal in baskets on their backs, to climb stairs out of the mine. Elsewhere, they hauled waggons on all fours, by means of a chain around their waste, through low passages.
The action scenes, coupled with the voice-overs of children and adults relating their experiences of working in a pit, are particularly touching and evocative. Witness first hand the "Coal Queen's" from the beginning through to the latter half of the 20th century.
This is a remarkable account, and will touch your heart-strings as we reveal the life of the "Coal Queen's". We also have reference to explosions in and around Tyneside coal mines, due to ventilation problems in the 19th century and with rarely seen sketches and sound effects it brings together the feeling the community suffered with the loss of so many lives
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