pitlasses cover




Windy Bank Pit

Booth Town Pit

Spencer's Colliery

Day Hole Pit

Spencer & Illingworth's

Clewes Moor

Stock's Brown Top Pit

Denholme Park Colliery

Pit Lasses Research - Halifax Area

Female miners from the Halifax area who gave evidence in Spring 1841 to the Children's Employment Commission. Most were interviewed by government inspector Samuel Scriven. These are their statements and my additional research into their lives.

Ann Ambler

Ann Ambler became notorious because of widely reproduced sketch showing her being hauled out of the mine, topless, sitting across the lap of a boy. If Ann gave evidence no record remains. She was mentioned by her father, and by a colleague William Dyson. In all official records her name is Hannah.

picture of ann ambler
Ann Ambler being hauled from the mine

No 1 John Ambler, aged 35

I have a girl hurrying at Holling Haye in Staniland, thirteen years of age. She began at seven. Staniland is two miles off. I live in Elland. She goes to the pit every morning and come home every night. She never went to a day school but goes to Sunday School.

No 7 William Dyson, aged 14 Holling Hay Pit, Staniland

We have but one girl working with us, by name Ann Ambler, who goes down with us upon the clatch harness. She wears her breeches when she goes down and while at work and comes up the pit cross lapped with us in the clatch harness. When she is down she hurries with us in the same way as we do without her shoes or stockings. I have seen her thrashed many times when she does not please them. They rap her in the face and knock her down. I repeat I have seen this many times. She does not like her work, she does not like that, I have seen her cry many times. The men swear at her often and she says she will be killed before she leaves the pit. I have never seen the boys being rude to her. If they did George Armitage would thrash them. I have heard of girls being ill-treated at Jagger Green Pit which is not now in work. She gets 6s a week and she hurries by herself and has to hurry the same distance and the same weight as I have. There is not a bit of difference between any of us.

Comment by Samuel Scriven

I visited the pit in company with Mr Brook, surgeon, and Mr Holroyd and saw the girl alluded to above, in the manner described, viz, across the lap of a boy. She appeared about 15 years of age and could read and write and had an intelligent countenance and was extremely tender and delicate. I was perfectly shocked at the style of her dress. She was without stockings or shoes, her legs and thighs which were exposed, being black and filthy.

Ann's parents were John Ambler and Elizabeth Clegg, Her siblings were Samuel, Isaac, Eleanor, Pamelia, Sarah, Thomas and Eliza. Her half-siblings were Ruth, Mary and Elizabeth Clegg. In 1851, the census shows the family living at Westgate, in Elland and that Ann was working as a warper in a worsted factory.

I have not been able to trace her after this point as Ambler is a very common surname in the area.

No 9 Margaret Gormley, aged 9 Waterhouse's Pit, Lindley

They call me Peggy for my nickname down here but my right name is Margaret. I am about nine years old or going on nine. I have been at work in the pit thrusting corves for about a year. I come in the morning sometimes at seven o' clock, sometimes at half past and I go sometimes home at six o'clock sometimes seven when I do overwork. I get my breakfast of porridge before I come and bring a piece of muffin which I eat on coming to the pit. I get my dinner at twelve o' clock which is the dry muffin and sometimes butter on it but have no time allowed to stop and eat it. I eat while I can thrusting the load. I get no tea but some supper when I get home and then go to bed when I have washed me and am very tired. I worked in the pit last winter and don't know at what hour I went down as we have no clock but it was daylight. It was six o'clock when we came up but not always. They flog us down in the pit. Sometimes with their hand upon my bottom which hurts me very much. Thomas Copeland flogs me more than once a day which makes me cry. There are two other girls working with me and there were four but one left because she had the belly ache. I am poorly myself sometimes with belly-ache and sometimes a headache. I had rather lake than go into the pit. I get 5d a day but I had rather set cards at 5d a day than go into the pit. The men often swear at me. Many times they say Damn thee and other times God damn thee (and such like) Peggy.

Margaret lived at Aigbrigg was was from an Irish family. Her parents were Patrick and Bridget. Her siblings were Catherine, Dennis, and Mary. No further entries have been found in censuses or BMD records and variant spellings of her surname are an additional complication. Although definite identification is not possible, a servant named Peggy Gormley aged 20 emigrated to New York in 1850. In the US censuses of 1860 and 1870 this person may be a servant named Margaret Gormley.

No 10 Susan Pitchforth, aged 11, Waterhouse's Pit, Lindley

I have been working in this pit for two years. I have been at Sunday School at Elland but never went to a day school and can read only in my A B C. I come to work at eight or before but I set off from home at seven. I live about a mile and a half from the pit. I walk a mile and a half to work and a mile and a half from my work both in winter and summer. I get porridge for breakfast before I come and bring my dinner with me, a muffin. When I have done about twelve loads I eat it while at work. I run 24 corves a day. I can't come up till I have done them all. If I want to relieve myself I go to any part of the pit. Sometimes the boys see when they go by. My father slaps me sometimes upon the head or upon the back so as to make me cry. I had rather set cards or anything else than work in the pit. I have one sister of 14 and she works with me in the pit I am a thruster. I never wore a belt. I got this cut upon my nose in the pit by falling on the shale. My feet are not very sound from having trod upon the coals and stones. They have been crushed. When I go home I get some tea and am very tired. There is plenty of blackdamp in the pit and on Monday the men could not get in from the hurriers leaving a trap door open.

Susan (Susannah) was the daughter of James and Mary Ann Pitchforth Her siblings were Rose (who worked with her), Mary, Elizabeth, and Solomon and the family lived at Elland.

Rose married John Marsden in Quarter 2 1856 and had at least three children, James, Fanny and Albert. Rose appears to have died in Quarter 2 1865.

Susan married William Siswick in Quarter 4 1850. They had a son called John and a daughter Mary Ann. The family disappears from view after the 1861 census.

No 15 Sally Fletcher age 8 Stock's Windy Bank Pit

I have worked here short of three years. I cannot read or write. I never went to any day school of Sunday. I go to work between six and seven o'clock in the morning. I thrust corves with Josh Atkinson who is ten years of age. I sometimes go home at three o' clock, Sometimes six. I don't go home to dinner. I get it at the pit mouth. I have always trousers and jacket on and also my clogs. I am not very tired when I go home at night. We sometimes hurry 20 corves and have 400 yards to hurry them.

No leads have been identified for Sally.

No 26 Patience Kershaw, aged 17 May 15th (Booth Town Pit, Halifax)

My father has been dead for about a year. My mother is living and has ten children, five lads and five lasses, the oldest is about 30, the youngest is 4. The lasses go to the mill, all the lads are colliers and three hurries. One lives at home and does nothing. Mother does nought but look after home.

All my sisters have been hurriers but three went to the mill. Alice went because her legs swelled from hurrying in cold water when she got hot. I never went to school. I go to Sunday School but I cannot read or write. I go to the pit at five o'clock in the morning and come out at five at night. I get my breakfast of porridge and milk first. I take my dinner with me, a cake and eat it as I go. I do not stop or rest any time for the purpose. I get nothing else until I get home and then have potatoes and meat, not meat every day. I hurry in the clothes I have got on now, trousers and ragged jacket. The bald place on my head is made by thrusting the corves. My legs have never swelled but sisters did when they went to the mill. I hurry the corves a mile and more underground. They weigh 3 cwt. I hurry 11 in a day. I wear a belt and chain at the workings at get the corves out. The getters that work are naked except their caps. They pull off their clothes. I see them at work when I go up. Sometimes they beat me if I am not quick enough with their hands. They strike me upon my back. The boys take liberties with me sometimes. They pull me about. I am the only girl in the pit. Three are about 20 boys and 15 men All the men are naked. I would rather work in the mill than in coal pit.

Comments by Samuel Scriven

This girl is an ignorant, filthy, ragged and deplorable looking object and such as one the uncivilised natives of the prairies would be shocked to look upon.

A deplorable object, barely removed from idiocy. Her family receiving £2 19s 6d a week.

Patience is perhaps the most famous of all the female miners because her evidence formed the basis of the folk-song, The Testimony of Patience Kershaw. She was from Northowram, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Kershaw. Her siblings were William, Sarah, Hannah, Alice, Sybil, Caroline, Bethel, Solomon and James.

After leaving the mines, Patience became a wool comber at Illingworth, and then a servant and then a washerwoman. During 1867 she entered the workhouse in Halifax. In December she was admitted to the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, where she died in Quarter 1 1869.

No 66 Betty Sutcliffe aged 8 Spencer's Colliery, Ingham Lane

I hurry for my uncle and have been down the pit apiece of years. I don't know what time I come down in the morning. I go up sometimes at five or six. I get my dinner here while I am hurrying. I like to hurry very well. Father works here with me and brother too. I don't know how many brothers and sisters I have got. I cannot read and never went to day school but go to Ranter's on Sundays. I work with my trousers and waistcoat and chemise on but without shoes or stockings. My feet are hurt sometimes with the coals. They don't bleed.

Betty is thought to be the daughter of Thomas and Mary Sutcliffe of Bradshaw Road, Ovenden. Her siblings were James, John, Joseph, Thomas, Mary.

No 70 Anna Hoile aged 12 Day Hole Pit

I hurry for Stephen Sutcliffe. I don't know how long I have hurried but 'tis nigh four years or so. They call father James Hoile and he does nought and he has never done aught since I went into the pit. He is crippled in his shackles [wrists] and knees. I don't know what that was from. The parish allows him nought but he has tried many times but they say they will give him nought but grandfather may give him half a crown a week but gives him 2s. Grandfather has some houses and rents some land. Mother combs and she has got work every day. I don't know how much she gets a week. I've got an odd sister she does nought, she's a little 'un. I get 3s 6d a week that with what mother earns and grandfather allows is all we have got to live upon. I come to work at seven o'clock and go home at different times, sometimes six o'clock and other times five. I get porridge in the morning before I come, I bring my cake with me and tea and cake when I get home. I never get meat but seldom. I never went to day school but I began for the first time to go to Sunday School yesterday. I cannot read. I have heard of God and Jesus Christ but I can't tell who that was. If I died a good girl I should go to heaven. If I were bad I should have to be burned in brimstone and fire. They told me that yesterday at school. I did not know it before. I intend to go again next Sunday. There are no girls in the pits with me. I do not like it so very well. I'd rather work at top.

Anna was the daughter of James and Martha Hoyle of Ovenden and had a sister called Sarah. In 1851 she was living in Ovenden with her baby, Martha Ann Hoyle and working as a wool-comber. She may have married Jonathan Robinson in Quarter 2 1857.

No 72 Mary Barratt aged 14 Spencer and Illingworth's

I have worked down the pit for five years working in the next pit. I have twelve brothers and sisters, all but one of them live at home. They weave and wind and hurry and one is a counter, one of them can read, none of the rest can read or write. They never went to day school but three of them go to Sunday School. I hurry for my brother, John and come down at seven o'clock about. I go up at six, sometimes seven. I do not like working in pit but am obliged to get a living. I work always without stockings or shoes or trousers. I wear nothing but my chemise. (a shift). I have to go up the headings with the men. They are all naked there. I am got well used to that and don't care much about it now. I was afraid at first and did not like it. They never behave rudely to me. I cannot read or write.

No 73 Ruth Barratt aged 10 Spencer and Illingworth's

I have hurried two and a half years for my father and a bit for Jimmy Sayers. I can't read or write. I go to Sunday School at Round hill, not every Sunday. I don't know what time I come down here in the morning. I don't know what time I come. I get my dinner of cake down here. I don't know at what hour. I eat it when I'm hurrying. When I hurry I do not wear trousers. I don't know why. I used to when I thrusted. I come down the pit in lining of old trousers which I take off. I wear an old waistcoat and chemise. I hurt my feet with the stones in gate. The men do not behave bad to me. I do not like working in the pit. I would not stay here if I could help it. I get 3s a week.

The Barratt Sisters were the daughters of David and Ann Barratt and came from Northowram. Their siblings were John, Martha, Alice, Rebecca and Joseph.

There are no leads about Mary after the 1841 census. The 1851 census records Ruth living with her family and working in a worsted factory as a power loom weaver, a job she continued for the rest of her life. In Quarter 3 1851 she married Henry Charnock. She had at least three children, Charlotte, Abraham and Fred. She died in Quarter 3 1874.

No 74 Sarah Jowett aged 17 Foster and Lassey's Pit, Clewes Moor

I have hurried in the pits for nine years. I used to hurry for John Man three years. I do now for my father. The gate is 150 yards. I hurry 22 corves a day that distance. I have eight brothers and sisters. Five of them gets wages by work. One sister works in t'other pit but she has not been at work today. I do not like working in the pit at all because the gate is too low for me now. I am too big and hurt my back. I don't go to Sunday School. There is no school nearer than a mile. I come to work between seven and eight and leave at different times from one to six. Father draws my wages. I can mend and sew pretty well, not much.

Comment by Samuel Scriven

This is one of the oldest girls that I have met. She is short and stout and healthy and so lamentably ignorant and sullen that I could obtain little information from her. In this pit I found five hurriers, all healthy and well formed.

Sarah was from Thornton and was the daughter of David and Mary Jowett. Her siblings were Nancy, Margaret, William, Joseph, Isaac, Hannah, David. After leaving mining she became a weaver and married John Taylor in Quarter 3 1844. There are too many couples of this name on the 1851 census to identify her.

No 75 Esther Craven aged 14 Foster and Lassey's Pit, Clewes Moor

I have been a hurrier for Jos Ibbotson all the time of five years. I am not apprenticed to him. Mr Foster always pays me my wages. If he did not I should get it from Ibbotson, sometimes because he lakes for a week and would want the money for his self. I like working in the pit pretty well. I would rather be here in pit than do ought else. I like it better than nursing or any other kind of work. I can mend and sew and mend stockings. If I did not there would be nobody else to do it for me, mother has been dead for two years. I have one brother a hurrier and a sister a hurrier and a little one at home. Father is a weaver, he weaves a piece in nine days. I come to work here at seven, sometimes afore, never much after. I get my breakfast before I come and bring my dinner with me, a piece of cake. When I go home I get milk and meal, sometimes potatoes. I do not know when I go home, sometimes at three, four, five and six. I hurry in trousers are legged and a pair of old stays. The men never meddle with us. Joseph Ibbotson often brays [beats] us. He was beating my sister when you come down. Never a lad gets beaten by anyone else but him. The other men scold him for it. I many a time hurt my feet hurrying. I get the skin of my leg, sometimes by the stones in the gate and with the rail ends when they are loose. A pick struck me once and broke my finger. I cannot read and write. I never go to Sunday School because I have no clothes fit to go in. I had a very bad mother. She used to go flitting very much [leave home] and would not stop with my father, that obliged me to come into the pit to work with my sister for his support. I come down the pit of my own accord. Mother come after me to the pit's mouth when I was going down with a whip but I was keen as mustard and got out of her way. I have rued (cried) many a time afore now for coming but I do not go now because I have got used to it. I never think ought about being brayed a bit by the getters.

No 76 Harriet Craven aged 11 Foster and Lassey's Pit, Clewes Moor

I am sister of Esther Craven. What made me cry when you came down was because Ibbotson had been braying me. He flung a piece of coal as big as my head and it struck me on the back. I have thrust for him for three years. I cannot read or write. I do not go to Sunday School and I never went in my life. I hurry in trousers, bare thighed.

Comment by Samuel Scriven

I met the deponent Harriet Craven crying very bitterly. She informed me her getter had beaten her very cruelly because she was about to leave her work (five o'clock) before she had hurried sufficient for his purpose. Both herself and her sister said that he was constantly in the habit of ill-treating them. The several marks upon their persons which they showed me were sufficient proofs of it.

The sisters were the daughters of Ephrahim Craven and Grace Pearson. Their siblings were John and Sarah. Sadly, Esther died in Quarter 1 1844. Harriet became a wool-comber and married Jonathan Sutcliffe in Quarter 2 1849. She had eight children and died in Quarter 3 1912.

Information about the Craven family has been provided by a family historian.

No 78 Elizabeth Jackson Stock's Brown Top Pit, Halifax

I have been hurrying a year or so. My father is a collier. I hurry for him. I hurry alone. I have three brothers. One is a hurrier, the others do nought. Mother does nought but stay at home. I hurry 20 corves a day along 100 yards. I went to day school for about a year. I go to Sunday School now. I can read but not write. The men and boys behave pretty well to me down her. I come to work about seven o'clock in the morning but it is almost eight before we get to a heading. We come out about five in the evening, sometimes at eight not often so late as that. I hurry with breeches, barefoot. I wear a shirt and waistcoat.

Elizabeth was from Northowram. Her parents were William and Betty. Her three younger brothers were Robert, Thomas and James. By 1851 they had been joined by Joseph, Samuel and Frank. Elizabeth was working as a weaver. By 1861 there were two other children, Martha and Arthur. Elizabeth was unmarried and a worsted weaver. She is not with the family on the 1871 census and there are no leads about whether she married, moved or died.

No 79 Selina Ambler, aged 12 Stock's Brown Top Pit, Halifax

I have hurried almost three years for my Uncle Joseph. Father does nowt. He is poorly. He has been poorly for a long time. Mother does nowt. I have four brothers and sisters. They all go to the mill. I would rather go to the mill than hurry. My Uncle could na get a hurrier nowhere so I had no choice. I was obliged to come to him. I do not like it much. I used to give it up at first because 'twas so wet at feet. I can run very well myself. I hurry about 100 yards, 20 corves a day. We use a belt and chain for about two score yards. I wear breeches and shirt, nothing else. The boys never dare to touch us. If they did my brother would 'plump' (beat) them. If I wanted to relieve myself down there I should do it in the old gate. I do it sometimes and the boys do not see me as they go by. I get 5s a week. My brother draws it from Mr Stocks. I some time hurt my feet and legs with coals and scale in the gate. Sometimes we run corves over them. My feet have many times been bloodied.

No leads that fully correspond with this family detail have been identified for Selina.

No 68 Margaret Saville 10 years old Denholme Park Colliery

Cannot tell how long she had been in th' hoile. She has worked for her father and for her brother. She likes it middling weel and liked it when she first began. It is not such hard work. She has a lieve go t' pit as stop at home. She is tired when she goes to bed and gets up of herself in the morning. A'most knows when it is time to get up. If she does not get up they would say nought to her but if they are not there at the right time, sometimes colliers will turn them off. She is not often beaten but some folk beat them when they have a great deal to do. She goes in at 6 in the morning and gets porridge for breakfast and stops for dinner half an hour or an hour when she gets cakes, no meat. She stops about 6, sometimes it is 7 when they get home and gets potatoes and collop for supper. She sometimes cries when things fall on her toes or lame her somehow. She goes to Sunday School and sometimes to the Methodist Chapel with her father and mother. Her father is a collier and has two suits of clothes.

A list of miners in the locality report gives Isaac as her brother's name.

No 70 Mary Ann Lund aged 9 (Denholme Park Colliery)

Mary and Bannister (no 71) aged 6 are brother and sister and hired by their father.

She had levied stop at home than go. Her mother wants her to tent. She does not know why she does not stop at home. They have two great lads. Father wants her to come and she never gets beaten. She gets enough meat. Father does not go oft to the public house. She has not been this mony a year. She does not go to Sunday School. Mother does not like her to go because it is so cold.

Mary Ann's parents were John and Catherine. Her siblings were Harriet, William, Thomas, Isaac. I have not traced this family after 1841 and it is possible that the surname was Lunn or Land.

Other female miners

Hannah Benton aged 9 and Mary Benton aged 6 are included in a list of miners in the locality report. No other details are known.

Mary Butterfield, aged 12 worked at Spencer's Bradshaw Lane Pit and was referred to by another witness.

One witness mentioned a miner called Sam Martin who had taken his ten year old misbehaving daughter down the pit for two days until she promised to be a good lass in the future. I have not located Sam Martin on the 1841 census but I have discovered a miner named Sam Morton in the relevant area who had a nine year old daughter, Selina.