I thought it was time I told the story of another ancestor from one of the families I’ve researched….so this article is about William.
Although this family originated in Wales, by the time William was born in 1790 his parents Edward and Mary were domiciled in Shropshire.
As far as I can ascertain William only had one sibling, a sister Elizabeth who was three years his junior….
Coal mining people were mainly an insular community who lived in what was no more than a shanty town – this was a settlement of mining workers who had built tiny semi-permanent shacks for their families to dwell in, and was usually located on the outskirts of a town.
As you can imagine this was not the most salubrious of places for a child such as William to grow up. Children had no official schooling and in most cases couldn’t write their own name- and certainly no peasant child would be taught to read – it’s questionable if any of them had ever seen a book. Illiteracy was widespread throughout the whole of this community.
Up until 1842 when the Miners Act was passed, women and children of any age could be sent underground to work….I’m not certain what age William was when he was first sent down the coal mine but he would only have been a young boy.
One of the easiest jobs a young child would be given was that of a ‘trapper’ – this meant sitting in a isolated dark damp hollowed-out hole, holding onto a piece of string which was attached to a door, and when they heard a coal wagon approaching their job was to pull on this string to allow the wagon to pass through this door. As he got a little older and presumably stronger, William would then probably have become a ‘coal bearer’ which would entail carrying loads of coal on his back in a large basket.
There were very few safety rules down the coal mines at this time and the risk of an explosion or a roof caving in was an occupational hazard. All the coal had to be cut and moved by hand and injuries were commonplace, many a person working down the mine lost a finger or sometimes worse….Hardly any miner would escape unscathed while carrying out this back breaking work.
It’s so hard for us to understand what William and all the other children had to endure in those dark dank depths for twelve hours or more every day. They were totally deprived of what ought to have been a happy carefree childhood.
I imagine these mining people had very little hope or aspiration to find a way out of their endless misery. They weren’t equipped to do any other work as it was the normal practice for a son to follow his father down the mine.
In 1820 when William was thirty years of age he married a local girl by the name of Jane and although still working down the coal mine, he had managed to move out of the shanty town to go and live among the local community.
He and Jane had seven children – the last one, a son was born in 1837 and sadly shortly after his birth Jane died.
Two hundred years ago it was almost impossible for a father of the lower classes to bring up his children alone, in a lot of cases they would be sent to live in the poor house... I don’t know whether it was to save his children this fate, or whether William actually fell in love again, but he married for a second time - to Margaret a very young lady twenty two years his junior… Although she was so young, Margaret proved to be a very good mother to William’s children and encouraged them to make the best of any opportunity which arose.
I’ve found from records that all four of William’s sons when they were old enough left the old Shropshire mine where they worked and moved to work in a new colliery in the County of Staffordshire. This coal mine had much improved working conditions, and it’s the area where all four of the sons married and remained to bring up their families.
I expect William thought he was too old by this time to uproot himself to join his sons, as he and Margaret continued to live in Shropshire for their remaining days....William died in 1884 at the wonderful age of ninety four.
When I see the awful plight some of our early ancestors had to endure, it makes me realise how lucky we are to live in the twenty first century with all it’s technology and modern machinery.