Coal-fired steam engines powered England's booming economy, whether in factories or on the rail network. Those in power made huge fortunes from coal discovered under their land.
Conditions in coal mines were terrible. Women and children were employed to pull the wagons of coal from the coal face to the shaft foot - these workers were smaller, and cheaper, than a properly trained horse. Underground work gets very hot, so often people worked more or less naked. Sir Humphrey Davy's safety lamp, invented in 1815, enabled workers to reach deeper levels, but it was taken on very slowly. Various methods of ventilating mines were invented, but none was widely adopted until 1849 when compressed air first became possible. Ten years later the employment of children under 12 was made illegal.
This image shows children working in coal mines. It is taken from a government report compiled by the Children's Employment Commission in 1842.
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