01 October 2014

Shropshire Pit Girls and Wenches

If you have ever been to Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, the ghosts of my ancestors will be nearby.  They lived lives of sweat and toil.

Being the descendant of several Shropshire pit girls and wenches is something I truly cherish.  Such ancestors were strong enough to survive great hardships during their early lives.  Several did not reach old age or even middle age.  They only ever earned low wages.

My pit bank ancestors worked and lived in difficult, uncomfortable conditions, both as children and as young adults. They did not have much time to consider how they looked or how they felt about life.  They had little education.  They carried the load for other people's growing wealth.  They were considered to be of low status, and even immoral.

The history of women and mines in the United Kingdom is not only part of my personal heritage. It is part of the world's heritage.  My ancestors were not responsible for the effects of climate change.  They were not the mine owners.  They did not have the means to buy many products created as the output of the Industrial Revolution.  They had no access to electricity, nor even a clean water supply.

Many of my ancestors worked for the mines as children.  Did they think their lives were normal?  Did they believe all children experienced life in a similar way?

Even when my grandmother's family moved to Staffordshire for work, in the Wednesbury coalfield area, the conditions of their lives did not improve.  But at least work was available there.  The mines in Shropshire have long been closed.  There were pit wenches in Wednesbury, too.

In some areas of England, the young women were also known as pitters.  Some were called pit brow girls. The girls were also known as lasses.

Even so, there are many people interested in the history of mining in Shropshire. You may be involved in the Shropshire Mines Trust.  You may even be a member of the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club.  Some readers of this blog may even be participants in the Shropshire Geology Society.  Is your genealogy shaped by geology at all?

You may have found out something about your Shropshire mining heritage from the 1851 census.  You may even have read a diary from the 1870s and 1880s, giving some idea of life in a mining district.

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I especially appreciate historical insights.