Monday, 12 May 2014

52 ancestors - the life and death of a young miner.

Henry Spivey 1849-1873

Poor Henry never really had much of a chance of a good life.  Born illegitimate, he was already working in the mines by the time he was 11 years old, and just 12 years later succumbed to disease brought on by the lethal coal dust.

Henry was born to spinster Hannah Maria Spivey in 1849, when illegitimate children and their mothers were ostracised.  Employers wanted nothing to do with the mothers of illegitimate children, in the workhouse such women were kept separate from others to avoid contaminating them, and even illegitimate orphans were turned away from orphanges for fear their base start in life would somehow have an adverse affect on the legitimate orphans.  As if that were not enough, he was born too late to benefit from previous bastardy laws which would at least have entitled him to some charity from his parish.

Fortunately, Hannah's mother and step-father Sarah and John Eastwood seem to have been the forgiving type, for they took Henry in, and cared for him while his mother went on to build a new life as a wife and mother to five legitimate children.

By the age of 11, Henry was working in one of the 30 or so coal mines in the Kirkburton area of West Yorkshire.   At that age he was likely to have been a hurrier, responsible for pushing or pulling corves (trucks) full of coal to the pit bottom.  This was a tough and demanding job.  The corves could weigh between two and five hundredweight, and in some places the gates (underground railways) were only around two feet high.  Physical punishment was common, and the working environment was dangerous and unhealthy.

A young hurrier pulling a corve full of coal.

At 21 Henry was still living with his step-grandfather (his grandmother died in 1866), and still working down the mines.  I imagine that by this time he had worked his way through the various mining ranks, and was quite possibly a hewer, slogging away at the coalface to fill those same corves he had pulled as a younger lad.

But life down the mines took its toll on Henry, and he died aged just 23 from phthisis.  This was either miners' phthisis, which is now known as silicosis; or perhaps tuberculosis - those working down the mines were more susceptible to this disease.  Either way, it seems a tragic waste of a young life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment