Bal Maidens Interviews
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Children's Employment Commission Report of 1842

Summary of Interviews with Bal Maidens from Cornwall and Devon

Due to growing concern at the plight of children working in the mines of the UK, a Royal Commission submitted a report to the Government in 1842. Dr. Charles Barham (a mine surgeon) collected evidence for the inquiry from some of the Cornish mines. In the course of this work he interviewed 22 bal maidens in 1841, and a record of these interviews appears in the appendix of the report. These interviews are transcribed below in alphabetical order. For explanations of the tasks described see Bal Maidens at Work and the Bal Maidens Picture Gallery.

Eliza Allen, 20 years old (Truro March 10th 1841)

She has been at Consols two years and is employed sitting down cobbing. She worked with her father before. She suffered from shortness of breath and felt her legs go weak, so that she could hardly stand on them from the first. Her wages are 18s per month but she cannot earn half that sum. She finds if difficult to keep her feet dry and always catches cold when she does not. She never went to school and can scarcely read at all. She can sew a little for her mother. (She is a rather delicately constitutioned girl and is now labouring under disorder of the system, for which she seeks my advice).

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Grace Bawden, 17 years 9 months old (Trethellan Mine, Gwennap March 6th 1841)

She has been in good health at the mine, where she has worked for a year and seven months. She was previously employed at straw bonnet making for two years. She gave this up as a consequence of her failing health. She finds that her employment at the mine agrees with her very well. Her work is spalling and cobbing. She would as soon do one as the other.

She lives two miles off, in lodgings. For this she pays 6d (sic) a week which includes cooking her victuals; she is not very comfortable in them. She brings a pasty with her for her dinner. She earns 9d per day. She went to Sunday School at Lanner. (She reads pretty well. I was informed that she was expecting to be married ‘ere long).

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Martha Buckingham, 14 years 1 month old (Consolidated Mines, Gwennap May 15th 1841)

She has been working for about four years, always at this mine. She has been employed ‘picking’ all the time, except ‘carrying ‘ now and then, and ‘griddling’, or ‘spalling’ once in a way to help a pair when they are busy. ‘Carrying’ is the hardest work. This gives her a pain in the back, and now and then she does it for the whole day. She catches cold sometimes, most of the girls do. She has been at home a fortnight together by cold, caught chiefly by getting her feet wet in coming and going. The girls cannot get a pair of shoes to change when they come to the mine. It is hard enough to get one pair to wear. She also 'overheated her blood' from carrying and working too hard, and has a breaking out since.

She usually comes to work at seven in the morning and goes home at half past five, but at sampling, which occurs about once a month, they come at six and stay until eight. They do this for a week and sometimes a fortnight. This is the case now.

She lives at Bissoe Bridge ( three miles distant). She gets her supper after she gets home and goes to bed as soon as she can, at half past nine or ten. She gets up at four. There are seven in her family. She has no father, he died in Scotland about eight years ago and he was a miner. All are older than her except one. All work to mines, except the youngest. One brother is ill. He was working at Poldice in a hot place and then has to fill the kibble in cold water. She gets her own breakfast before leaving in the morning. No time is allowed for crowst (lunch) but about nine or ten they take a bit of pasty when the agent is not looking, holding it with one hand and working with the other.

When they work overtime they are allowed time to stay at home a day when sampling is over. They are not paid anything more than their regular wages. There is not regular work for all in the summer but in winter they all come, or very nearly all. They are allowed half an hour for dinner. They warm their pasties and hoggans at the dry when the weather is cold. They take their dinners under a shed, the girls all together, An anker (small barrel) of cold water is brought for them to drink. No water is to be had except a long way off. She feels very tired to walk home. No tasks are given. They always work till half past five. When they work late on the other days they leave work at half past five on Saturdays. She goes to Sunday School with the Methodists and learns to read and spell with the Catechism. (She read pretty well. Has a cough and a papulous eruption but has the appearance of being generally healthy.)

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Mary Buller, 15 years and 10 months old (Fowey Consols, April 2nd 1841)

She has been working here about six years, generally spalling and cobbing. She has generally had pretty good health. She does not feel the work. She leaves at five on the evening, and never stays later, except once a month. Perhaps once a week she has a task and can get away at three or half past three; ‘most of the girls who I know of, and I know a pretty deal of them in the mine, are strong and hearty’. One of them (whose name she mentioned) ‘is terribly weak and looks very earthy, though she is 18’. She went to a day school for three years and learnt to read and sew and knit. She has forgotten her reading, She has not had clothes to go to Sunday School. Her mother is a widow and could not afford to keep them at school.

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Caroline Coom, 11 years old (Fowey Consols, April 2nd 1841)

She has been here working about two years and is employed picking. She finds it easy and pleasant work and does not feel tired at the end of the day. None of the girls picking complain of anything. They get cold sometimes. She has no tasks and does not leave before five. She has had a fever since she has been working at the mine. She does not know how long. She goes to Sunday School and reads the Testament there. (Reads a little.)

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Elizabeth Curnow, 24 year old (Consolidated Mines, May 15th 1841)

She has been about eight years coming into the mines. She has only worked these last two days for two months. She is taken with a gradual loss of strength and appetite one or twice a year and finds the harder she works the less she can eat. Sometimes she comes to the mine and sometimes she goes into service when her health is more established. She does not find much difference as to her health between these occupations. The work at the mine is harder for the time but when one leaves work there is nothing more to do, she comes at seven in the morning and stays til eight in the evening at sampling. This is once a month and lasts for about a week or a fortnight; more often a fortnight, She is generally employed cobbing. They are paid by the barrow; for six barrows. The half hour is not long enough for dinner especially for those who have bad teeth. They can always warm their dinners if they like. She lives about two miles off from the mine. It is always usual to stay to eight here. She gets very cold about the legs with the broken stones in the winter and the house runs with water. Most complain of it. The older girls generally have pasties. (Rather sallow complexion.)

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Elizabeth Davey, 17 years old (Charlestown Mines, April 1st 1841)

She has been here a year and a half and is employed racking. She was in service before she came to the mine. She finds this employment agrees with her better that service but is liable to take cold. (Has good colour but looks rather delicate.)

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Eliza Evans, 17 years old (Truro, March 24th 1841)

She has gone to the mines from time to time but found even picking too hard for her. The stooping hurts her head and she suffers from headache. Her mother has six children. One girl is older than her and is employed at Budnick racking. One boy of 15 works underground. (Delicate)

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Sally Fall, 19 years old (Truro, March 17th 1841)

She suffers from pain in the left side, palpitation and shortness of breath. She has worked among the Gwennap Mines. She has of late years been chiefly employed bucking. She considers she overstrained herself last Whitsuntide on lifting a heavy weight. She went to work at 11 and did not feel it hard till she was laid up with inflammation in her side when about 13 years of age. She did not go to school and can hardly read. Her mother has six children; one boy is about 17 and he works at Tresavean underground. He went underground about nine years old. His father died of cancer. His death obliged than to go to work early. He reads tolerably in the Bible ad enjoys good health. His mother is afraid his slight living may injure him as he grows fast. A younger boy which is about 10 has worked at the stamping mills for about twelve months and has not suffered. The other children are younger. (Stout and florid, but constitutionally disordered).

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Fanny Francis, 17 years 3 months old (Truro, March 24th 1841)

She works at United Mines and suffers from dyspepsia and has an eruption on the skin. She has worked at the mines about six years and always enjoyed good health till she fell in carrying, about three months since when she had fits. She went to day school before she worked at the mine and has since attended Sunday School. She now acts as teacher once in three weeks at the Bryanite Chapel. Her mother, Martha Francis is 50 years old and is a widow and has five children, all miners. She put the eldest son underground at 12 and the second at 15. They did not complain about their work. All of them went to school but poor people cannot do all they would.

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Elizabeth Hockin, 17 years 6 months old (Charlestown Mines, April 1st 1841)

Her work is spalling. She has been here four years. She has been spalling for three years and was recking before. She found spalling much harder work and still finds it hard. She feels pain in her limbs, sometime in her back. She does not always get rid of it on lying down, She stays up till nine or ten and gets up at half past five. She works an hour or an hour and a half overtime about once a month, She gives her mother all the wages and what she can of extra pay. (A strong ruddy girl.)

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Jane Jewell, 21 years old (Truro, March 27th 1841)

She has worked a fortnight at Consols but found she could not continue. She has always found the ‘bal’ (mine) disagreed with her which she attributed chiefly to the mundic water. The smell made her sick when the water was warm. Her father is a miner at Consols and is in a declining state, and is about 50 years of age.

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Mary Johns, 14 years 3 months old (Tresavean Mine, Gwennap March 23rd 1841)

She is employed at spalling and carrying, the latter the hardest work. She has worked here for about a year. She was in service before. She found it hard work at first but her health has been much better that when in service. She lives at Redruth two miles and half distant. She feels the walk heavy. She suffers from a pain in the back and side the latter increasing particularly in carrying. She had pain in her side before she came to the mine chiefly when sitting. It comes on now about 11 or 12 but passes off with further work. She works out in all weathers and wet at times, but does not often take a cold. She was in day school in Redruth and still goes to Sunday School. (Heard her read tolerably well. She had a healthy appearance.)

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Elizabeth Karkeek, 18 years old (Tresavean Mine, Gwennap March 23rd 1841)

She lives in Redruth. Her work is bucking. She has been five months and two and half years at other mines. She does not feel much fatigue, except pain in the left arm at the change of weather, which she imputes to a sudden strain on lifting too heavy a weight. She does not know of any accidents having happened in the mines from carrying or other work at surface. She is now obliged to buck eight barrows for a shilling. Some months ago the same price was paid for six barrows. When she has earned that sum she usually goes home, often about four o’clock. She went to work first at 14 years and 6 months and before that she went to day school where she learned sewing. She still goes to Sunday School. (Found that she read tolerably)

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Christiana Morom, 53 years old (Truro, March 31st 1841)

She went to work first at about 10 years old in the Gwennap mines. She did not suffer much at first until about 20 years ago when she was seized with lumbago which she imputed to the hardness of the work. She has been affected with this and other pains more or less ever since.

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Christiana Pascoe, 17 years 4 months old (Consolidated Mines, May 15th 1841)

She has come to work about five years or rather more. She has always been at these mines. She was for two years employed picking, then she went to the floors spalling and carrying and she had now been cobbing for seven months. This work is not so trying to the body as working out of doors. She was let in because she was not able to continue the work out. She had pains in her back and was falling into a decline by it, her breathe very short, til she took medicine for it. Cobbing is very cold on the legs. The feet get wet with water coming in and the stones are wet when there is rain. She can ‘cobbie’ six barrows a day for which she is paid 8d. That is all they are allowed to get when they do not stay till eight. She could not do more well, the work is very hard. She can cobbie a barrow and sometimes do overtime. She still has shortness of breath at all times and pain in the back after working a good many hours. She lives a mile off. She gets up at six and does not get to bed until 10 or 11. Her mother being a widow and their being a household and needlework to be done after she gets home. Her father was hurt in the mine (Wood Mine) and brought up blood and fell into a consumption and died eight months ago. (Complexion indicating venous congestion.)

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Mary Ann Roscorla, 12 years 6 months old (Tresavean Mine, Gwennap March 23rd 1841)

She is employed picking. About 30 to 40 children work together on the same floor with herself. She goes to work from her home at six in the morning and leaves at half past five. She takes part of what she brings with her for dinner at crowst at 10 in the morning, when a quarter of an hour is allowed. She never works the regular hour of leaving. She finds she has time enough to eat her dinner with comfort. She does not suffer from cold in the shed at dinner time She has learned to read in the workhouse. Her mother was unable to provide for her. She therefore lives with a man called Reed, who boards and lodgers her and to whom she pays when she gets. He treats her kindly.

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Jane Sandow, 17 years 6 months (Truro, March 14th 1841)

She suffers from gastrodynia. She works at Wheal Gorland. She has three miles to walk to the mine. She found she could not buckie. She is generally employed cobbing. Her mother has ten children, all girls but one. The elder ones are employed at the mines. They generally go about ten years old. All go to school, chiefly Sunday School. They learn to sew and knit a little at dame school.

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Jane Uren, 16 years old (Tresavean Mine, Gwennap March 23rd 1841)

She has been cobbing and has been two or three months at this work. She has been working in the mines in the six years. She lives a mile and a half off and very seldom works overtime. ‘I generally cob a barrow and a half and if this is done often go at five o’clock. I drink water with my dinner.’ She cannot read and has not gone to school lately. Her father has ten children. Five of them are employed at the mines. The older ones can read the Bible.

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Mary Verran, 14 years 10 months old (Consolidated Mines, May 15th 1841)

She has been working here four years, always here. Her employment has been picking. Carrying and other work at sampling time just every day. She feels pain in the back and side chiefly about the middle part of the day. She feels it after she lays down at night. She lives about a mile off and gets up about half past four or five o’clock. Her father was a miner but now goes with the tram waggons on the railway. The wages are better that at the mine. She hears most of the girls complain of pain in the back for carrying. They do not complain much except from the carrying. She finds the half hour rather short for dinner. They are allowed a half day at Whitsuntide, two hours at Midsummer and two hours on Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day and Good Friday. The girls bring hoggans, plum and potato, more than pasties. Not many bring bread and butter. A hoggan is not so good as a pasty. Some are made with barley. She gets fish for supper and potatoes, sometimes a stew, roast potatoes or broth. Sometimes, but very seldom the girls are obliged to give up their work from being faint or sick. Two or three months ago three or four were obliged to be led home. The were employed at outdoor work, griddling or spalling. She went to day school before she came to work and goes to Sunday School twice in the day. (She reads pretty well. Thought John the Baptist had written the Gospel. Had never heard of the Sadducees. She is rather robust in her appearance).

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Anna Wasley, 19 years old (Ale and Cakes Mine, Gwennap March 10th 1841)

She went to work at 13 and suffers from shortness of breath on any exertion and has done so for the past twelve months. She works ten hours a day, from seven till half past five, with half an hour for dinner and has done so from the first. Her mother has seven children, five boys and two girls. They have gone to work at seven or eight years old.

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Martha Williams, 11 yrs 5 months old (Trethellan Mine, March 6th 1841)

She is very well and hearty. She is employed picking which she finds easy work. She has been a year at work here. This was the first place she went to work. She lived at home before with her mother in Redruth and does so still. Her mother takes in washing. Her father has been dead this brave while. He died when she was two years old. She went to day school before she came to the mine and learned to read not to write. She goes now to the Baptist Sunday School. (I put her to read the Testament and she read very badly).

She walks out from Redruth in the morning and back in the evening (a distance of more than five miles a day). She gets milk and bread as much as she can eat for breakfast, pasty with meat in it for dinner, and tea or potatoes for supper. She goes to bed about seven o’clock.

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