Digging for your mining ancestors; Martin Rigby buries himself in family history.
VICTORIAN Britain and the industrial revolution was built on coal.
And if your roots are in south West Lancashire, or on any other coalfield, chances are that one of your ancestors had a connection with the mining industry.
Whole communities grew up round the pitheads with the colliery companies providing housing and schools for their employees and their families.
But if the miners had a roof over their heads, the conditions in which they worked were grim. Men, women and children worked in unimaginably bad conditions with pit disasters a common occurrence.
But the development of the industry had far earlier beginnings in Lancashire with the first known mining work taking place in 1521 when Lord Derby granted a lease of mines in Whiston.
Towards the end of the century coal was being exported down the Mersey to Ireland and other mainland ports. Shipments from Liverpool rose from approximately 300 tons a year between 1563 and 1599 to about 1,200 tons between 1611 and 1621, and to more than 4,000 tons before the Civil War.
Coal was initially mined by excavating small pits, but when the extent of the coal measures became apparent, deeper shafts were constructed, up to 120 feet.
In the 18th century even deeper shafts were built in the more profitable seams, and the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century saw an explosion of development in the industry.
The coalfield expanded rapidly from about 1820with more and more miners being employed, until at the peak of the industry in 1907, there were some 320 collieries in Lancashire producing some 26 million tons of coal per year and employing 94,300 workers.
And a glance through the 19th century census returns list plenty of occupations connected with the industry. There were hewers, drawers, coal sorters, engineers, pit prop manufacturers, wagon makers, colliery overseers, engine drivers, truck drivers and stable hands. It was a massive industry.
Colliery disasters (and there were many)were reported with depressing regularity and in great detail by the local newspapers and these are a valuable source of information for the family historian.
As well as vivid descriptions of the disaster and history of the pits, they give details of those who died in the disasters, with full reports of the subsequent inquests.
Many of the disasters and those who died are now available on various on-line sites. Those worth a closer look include:
The Lancashire Coalfields: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/ bernard.platt/INDEX.htm
The Lancashire Mines Rescue Service: www.colsal.org.uk/sites/ lancashireminesrescue/Homepage.asp
Lancashire coal mines list: www.communigate.co.uk/lancs/ coalminingineastlancashire/ page1.phtml
Mining history links: www.mining-memorabilia.co.uk/ Links.htm
SITES FOR SORE EYES: Sutton Manor colliery, Derbyshire Hill, St Helens (above) and White Moss Colliery, Skelmersdale