WORK down South Yorkshire’s coal mines was hard, hot and heavy work - and no place for a lady...
Well, at least after 1842, that was.
While searching her ancestry, Denise Bates discovered her great, great, great, great grandmother from Barnsley was a miner and that she was in fact among several thousand women working underground.
Denise, who grew up in Heeley, Sheffield, is a chartered accountant, but has a degree in history and decided to investigate what life would have been like for her old relative, Rebecca Whitehead, who lived between 1791 and 1873.
She has now put together a book called Pit Lasses.
Denise said: “I found she was registered as a miner while her husband was a farmer. I spent 12 months researching the topic to find out what life would have been like for Rebecca.
“I found out that there were 6,500 women working below ground alongside 100,000 men. Sometimes, they would work with their fathers or brothers.
“I carried out the research in libraries, on the internet and through old newspaper cuttings.
“Their life was extremely hard and I don’t know how they physically were able to manage. The worst example was a lady moving a truck equivalent to 10 times her body weight.
“There is no evidence to say it shortened their life-spans, but it would certainly have had an impact upon the women’s health.”
Denise believes she has managed to track down a woman she thinks is her four times great grandmother in the archives - although she has not been able to confirm her name.
“At Silkstone, the archives detail a lady who could earn more than the men. Rebecca would have been earning more than her husband, who was a farmer. The archives also say that the same women would often give birth soon after leaving work. Rebecca had eight children.”
Denise’s research found girls as young as nine years old working down the mines.
But they were banned from underground work in the pits in 1842 on moral rather than health grounds.
Denise said: “It was rumoured the women were working underground topless with naked men.
“I found no evidence the women were topless from my research, but it became a national scandal.”
n Copies of Denise’s book are available from Barnsley publisher Pen and Sword books - www.pen-and-sword.co.uk or 01226 734555 - or Amazon. For further information, also search for Pit Lasses on Facebook.