Down after the black gold
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William Charles Stentiford and his brother Frank, the subjects of this article, did not choose to go to Wales nor did they choose to become coal miners. Their path in life was set out for them by the Board of Guardians of the Workhouse at Totnes, who had total control of all the young people in their care until they reached the age of 21 - a system which offered no choice whatever to their charges and which  brought financial benefit to the Workhouse. In Issue 52, we told how William Charles and Frank came to be in the workhouse after their father deserted their mother. Now Huw Davies tell us the story of what happened to them next:

 

Map of South Wales

Map of South Wales

The main coal mining areas are shown in red

Courtesy of www.data-wales.co.uk

 

This  is  an account   of   the  early  years   of   two young  men ,  my  Great Grandfather  William Charles Stentiford   and  his  younger   brother   Frank, in  the  South  Wales  coalfield.

After  surviving   the  hell  which  must  have  been  the  Workhouse*  in  Totnes,  William  came  to  South  Wales  with  thousands   of   others  from  all  points  of  the  compass   to  find   another   kind   of   Hell ,  somewhat   closer  to  the  original.

A miner at the end of his shift

A miner at the end of his shift

Courtesy Stanford University

 

Miner bathing in front of the cooking range

Right,  where  do  we   start  . .  with   the  houses is a good  beginning.   All   the  housing   in   the coal mining areas   of  South Wales   at  the   turn  of   the  nineteenth  century (and well into the twentieth) was   appalling .  One of the dirtiest jobs in the world but no  indoor   facilities   i.e. - toilets  up   the  top   end   of the  garden  discharging   into  a   sump,   bathing   in  a tin  bath  in  front  of  the  fire while  the  wife  poured  water,  heated on the fire, into  the   bath   There  was  often  a queue   for  this  bath as  more  often  than  not,   the  entire workforce*  of the  family  worked  in the  pit , children  as  well!

Miner bathing in front of the cooking range

Courtesy Stanford University

 

Caerau Road, Caerau c. 1900

Caerau Road, Caerau c. 1900

The Colliery lies behind the houses at the end of the street

 

Courtesy Maesteg Library and Glamorgan County Council

 

And  on  top  of   all   this  misery  was  the  fact  that   the  Mine  owners   also  had  the  workforce  under  the   thumb  because they  owned   these  so-called   homes,  so  if  you   lost  your  job,  through  an  accident  or ill  health,  then  it was  out  through  the  front  door and on to the street.

 

It was normal for the sleeping accommodation to be "hot bunks" - that is to say, one in  the bed, one out to work. More  often  than  not, the houses were damp ,  so  you  can   imagine what  this  did  for  people's  general  health.  It's  a wonder  anybody   survived  in  these   conditions,  and more  often  than not, to  everybody 's distress,  the  children didnít .** 

 

 

 

* The last two women to be employed in the British coal industry did not retire until 1972. The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1887 raised the minimum age for children to work in mines to 12 and it remained at that level well into the 20th Century in the UK. Throughout the world however, countless thousands of women and children still work in mining, above and below ground.

** Even as late as 1922, Aberdare had the highest infant mortality rate in Britain (see map above).

 

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Last modiied: 25/02/2007