Interviewing young mine surface workers in 1841

Samuel Tippet was ten years old and worked at the dressing floors of Trethellan Mine near Lanner. His work for the previous fortnight had been ‘washing up’, cleaning the stones in wooden troughs prior to their dressing. Before, he was at the slimes but gave that up ‘because the slimes was knacked’. After this brief glimpse of Samuel’s Cornu-English dialect the account becomes more impersonal:

He lives with his grandfather about a mile off. He pays his wages to his grandfather. Had seven shillings a month on his first ‘spurs’ and now gets ten. He sometimes feels tired when he leaves work; chiefly in the back and legs. He brings potato ‘hobban’ with him for dinner. For breakfast he gets milk and water and bread, barley and wheat mixed. For supper baked potatoes, with pork sometimes. Goes to bed at eight; likes to stay up longer. He goes to school in the New Church (Lanner); has gone to Sunday-school two years. Learns to read and spell. Heard him read the Testament; he reads pretty well.

40 years after Samuel was interviewed Trethellan mine was disused

Other interviews were more revealing of the thoughts and feelings of the workers themselves. Fanny Francis, a 17 year old bal maiden at United Mines, Gwennap, had suffered from fits after a fall when carrying ore three months earlier. She attended the Bible Christian chapel and had been at day school before starting to labour at the mines at 11 years old. Her mother was a widow left with five children, all of whom had some schooling before being ‘put’ to the mines. Yet, according to Fanny, ‘they did not complain of the work’, although one can glimpse a sense of regret at lost opportunities in her final words – ‘but poor people cannot do all they could’.

This is an extract from my From a Cornish Study, page 109.

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