Conditions for the Miner

The valleys near Redruth were used for tin streaming but with the onset of the industrial revolution Redruth found itself the centre of new and intensive mining and by the first quarter of the 19th century new houses were being built to accommodate the demands of this increasing population.

The house where I live is in a street of 32 homes that were built about 1826 to provide homes for the influx of workers to the town. The census shows that in 1841 those who lived in the street were copper or tin miners, possibly working at the Pednandrea Mine. Also other trades such as shoe makers who worked at the Cathedral Boot Factory in Drump Road and various other skilled workers.  The design for my house, and others in the area, is puzzling as it looks at first glance like a 9 roomed house but look closer and you will see two front doors together where the house has been divided in two. To compound things further, the 1861 census shows that my house and my neighbour’s houses were not only split in half down the middle but also split again front to back giving each family just 2 rooms. In this street there was no running water so water was possibly delivered by cart and had to be paid for. The outside earth closet, which was still in use in 1976, had to serve 4 families. Other waste being thrown into the open yard at the back. When I carried out repairs to my property I discovered that the back wall of the kitchen had supported a fireplace, possibly for a Cornish Range and cloam oven which would have had to serve 2 families.

Miners traditionally follow the work and I can track my ancestors down a well-used trail  from St Agnes to Gwennap and then on to Calstock. There are other similar trails.  Because the movement of miners was so common, providing lodging to fellow miners was a good way of providing an additional income. Accommodation was likely to be overcrowded and inadequate with no sanitary arrangements to speak of. In some towns, as little as one house in 25 had a privy and people used to relieve themselves where they could.  Everyone would be cramped into two small rooms, like my property, and with the only form of heating being a range. The sanitation, for the fortunate, being a midden privy in the most disgusting condition.  It is no wonder diseases such as typhoid, smallpox, cholera and diphtheria were frequent. Mortality rates were already high amongst the miners through accidents and chest infections and children were particularly vulnerable as maternity services were non-existent and many women, like my ancestor, placed themselves into the workhouse during confinement to obtain medical care – of sorts.  If children survived the first few years of life, and many didn’t, they could start work at the mine. They could work above ground from 8 years of age and underground when they reached 12 years of age.

A mining town like Redruth would have more than its share of pubs and kiddleywinks (Private Beer Shops). Miners often rioted in Redruth in times of hardship and appealed to their masters and the general population for a lowering of the price of goods. The miners in a particular team (‘pare’ of up to 8 miners) would meet in a pub once a month to split the money they had earnt as a pare during their ‘set’ (4 to 8 weeks). The result often led to heavy drinking and even the more sober had to run the gauntlet of pickpockets and prostitutes.

It has to be said that not all families lived this way. The spread of Methodism appealed to the miners and many embraced the qualities encouraged by this non-conformist order. John Wesley, founder of Methodism himself preached in Redruth some 18 times between 1762 and 1789 at Gwennap Pit.  Methodism taught self-respect and promoted temperance against the scourge of the age, drunkenness, and as progress was made, the miner’s lot improved. Still drawing a modest and hard won income, families began to share and take a better pride in themselves.

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