The Nature Of Work
Hurrying with belt and chain c.1842

The Halifax Hard Bed seam is on average 24 inch thick and the Soft Bed around 18 inch. This governed the size of the roadways in the mine and it was considered uneconomic to make them much bigger. As a result the roadways could be as low as 16 inches, with the main roadways around one yard high. The mines used very little timber for support and relied on the natural strength of the strata above the coal. Had they made the roadways higher or deeper it is likely that they would have encountered less stable ground which would have required more timber and increased costs unacceptably. It was due to the restricted height of the roadways that it was necessary to employ teenage children to move loaded corves of coal from the face to the shaft or entrance to the mine, a process known as "hurrying".

The hurriers were not employed by the mine owners but worked directly for a collier who was paid according to the number of corves sent to bank. They hired as many hurriers as they needed and bought candles for them to use underground. Some colliers only had one hurrier but others had two or three who would either hurry singularly or double as was often the case with the younger children, who could exceptionally be as young as eight or nine. A fit strong collier in his twenties might need two hurriers as he could get more coal in a day than one hurrier could move. Some of the boys were from the poor house and were apprenticed to a collier until the age of 18 by the Board of Governors.

Hurrying with belt and chain c.1842
Collier cutting coal in the Halifax area c.1842

As a result of the Childrens Employment Commission an act of Parliament was passed in August 1842 which made it illegal to employ women or girls of any age or boys under ten underground. This did not affect many mines in the Halifax area as only a few of the smaller family run pits employed girls. Many historians mistakenly think that this legislation made a great difference to working conditions but as the following illustrations show changing the law did not change the geology and it is this that governed the size of the workings. Even in the 1920s colliers were still working semi-naked by candle light in a 17 inch seam, and hurriers now fourteen or older were still pushing corves along 36 inch roadways.


Working the Soft Bed Coal at Ford Hill Colliery Queensbury c.1920

(M.Roe after a pencil drawing by J.K.Aked)

A Hurrier at the pit bottom Ford Hill Colliery Queensbury c.1920

(M.Roe after a pencil drawing by J.K.Aked)