Hard at Work in Factories and Mines: The Economics of Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution

By Carolyn Tuttle | Go to book overview

5
The Mining Industry

Coal provided the power behind Britain's Industrial Revolution. The economy's transition from animate to inanimate power was crucial for expanding and sustaining the high Levels of output associated with this period. Although nothing "revolutionary" happened within the coal industry as it did within the textile industry, an "industrial" transformation was underfoot. As many historians and economic historians have recognized, the growth of the coal industry was vital to the industrialization of Great Britain. Britain was a world leader in producing coal because "throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries coal was dug in Britain on a scale without parallel elsewhere" ( Wrigley 1988:54). This abundant supply of coal produced in Great Britain fueled the process of mechanization and enabled small manufactures to grow into large industries. More industries began to burn coal to create energy such that "the British economy that entered the Victorian era was indeed a coal-based one" ( Flinn 1984:456). The steam engines that powered the spinning and weaving machines in the textile factories used coal. Similarly, coal produced the heat for the steam-powered ovens used in iron-making, nonferrous metal smelting and firing and glazing pottery. Even flour-milling and brewing were coal-dependent industries by 1830 ( Flinn 1984:456). The number of collieries producing this coal more than quadrupled between 1842 and 1856. In 1842 there were 567 coal mines in all of Great Britain (recall Appendix 2). By 1856 there were 1,704 coal mines in England alone, 306 in Wales, 368 in Scotland and 19 in Ireland ( Hunt 1856:206). The output of British coal mines increased by a factor of ten from 1750 to 1850 from 4,356 tons to 46,337 tons. Pollard's estimates put the largest increase in production after 1830 when coal output increased from 32,379 tons ( 1830-1840) to 46,337 tons ( 1840- 1850) to 64,513 tons in 1854 ( Pollard 1980:229). During the first half of the nineteenth century, production in the Northumberland and Durham region accounted for nearly one fourth of total coal output while Lancashire and Cheshire accounted for between 10-15 percent, South Wales 10-13 percent and Scotland 11-15 percent ( Pollard 1980:230). According to Pollard's regional estimates, the rate of growth of

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