Child Employment at Greenside Lead Mine
by Emma Bray
The Employment of Boys
Lead ore washers
Lead ore washing involved a series of processes from sorting rocks, placing them on gratings to be washed in a stream of water, operating mechanical sieves to sort crushed rock and sifting material from “buddles” where finer particles of lead were separated with water. In 1842, a Commission looked into the employment of children in mines including at Greenside. William Eddy who had been a washer at Alston before coming to Greenside described how the washers’ hands were often cut by the cold. The Commissioner was critical of mines such as Greenside which didn’t provide shelter for the washer boys who would have been soaked through in wet weather. However, his general opinion was that the work of ore washers was not too laborious and the hours not too long. The evidence at Greenside contradicts this. William Marshall, owner of the mineral rights, told the Kinnaird Inquiry that the boys worked 13 or 14 hours a day in order that they could get home to their families on Friday evenings which, he said, “is apparent to anyone is beyond their strength”. Boys who lived locally worked shorter hours, but for six days.
Accommodation in Mining Shops
Because of the shortage of housing in Glenridding until the late nineteenth century, the boys suffered the hardship of living away from their homes during the week. They walked from Matterdale, Penrith and as far as Keswick early on a Monday morning and returned home either Friday evening (if the work was finished) or Saturday lunchtime. During the week, they were housed in communal shops with the working men. William Eddy said these were not “fit for swine to live in”, describing how 16 bedsteads were occupied by 50 men, three to a bed. The ground floor was not boarded in the early days, so was puddled with water and inches deep with dirt and potato peelings. He described icicles coming though the roof and the lack of ventilation. His brother, Joseph, complained of the stench of cooking bacon at all hours of the day and of fleas. He thought that the shops were more injurious to health than the washing work.
The washers started on pay of 4d or 5d a day from the age of 9 and that increased by 1d a day for each year. In the mine, they started on 9d a day and went up to 1s a day.