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. 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 broadside reports a terrible explosion in a Staffordshire coalmine in which 25 lives were lost. The accompanying poem renders the scene in horrific, shocking detail: ‘With mangled flesh and broken bones/The air was fill’d with cries and groans’. It draws on Christian rhetoric and uses direct address to the reader, appealing to all ‘Good Christians’. These devices implicate the reader in the miners’s condition and challenge their religious practice – ultimately, urging the reader into action.
Other works of literature appealed to the miners themselves. A large body of Chartist poetry protested against the injustice and called for radical action such as worker’s strikes. In Thomas Cooper’s The Purgatory of Suicides (1843-45) the speaker urges, ‘Slaves, toil no more!’.