“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” 
Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

Big Pit

Stories are the way in which we give meaning to our reality within the context of time, location and circumstances.  It is the conduit that brings new ideas and fresh perspectives that make us think in different ways.  It is the emotional appeal that drives our response, from surprise to joy, horror to anger, resolve to action.   The storyteller binds our hearts and minds as the narrative unfolds.

“That instances occur in which Children are taken into these mines to work as early as four years of age, sometimes at five, and between five and six, not unfrequently between six and seven, and often from seven to eight, while from eight to nine is the ordinary age at which employment in these mines commences….. That when the workpeople are in full employment, the regular hours for Children and Young Persons are rarely less than eleven; more often they are twelve; in some districts they are thirteen; and in one district they are generally fourteen and upwards.” (The 1842 Report) http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/2191/

The Industrial Revolution was fuelled by coal.  Steam engines consumed vast quantities to run the factory machines, steam trains and ships. The good news, Britain had enormous reserves; the bad news, it was lodged deep within the rocks.   The economics were simple enough. The mines were owned by the landholders where the coal was found.  The owners gained enormous wealth from selling their coal for a good sum to the factories, while paying their miners low wages.  Health and safety were ignored and labour standards were non-existent.

Coal may have been the mechanism for growth, but the stories were the catalyst for progress.  Word spread of the working conditions, the accidents and loss of life within coal mines.    The public was outraged and a Queen ordered an inquiry.

Today, the stories are being told as they were over 100 years ago.  Who is listening?

 “All sorrows can be born if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” 
 Isak Dinesen

The Underground

Big Pit: The Stories

56 thoughts on “Big Pit: The Stories

    • You bring up an excellent point. My father helped his father in the fields when he was 8. My mother was milking cows from a early age. These were their chores before and after school – they were learning a valuable trade. They did not work 14 hours per day in a dangerous activity. In 1860, there were 25 million slaves. Today, even though slavery is considered illegal worldwide, we have reached the horrific number of 27 Million. I think that you will find the article in the link below interesting. What struck me was a quote from the article that stated: “There is a lot of first-world spending geared toward slavery.” But I see a change coming – the stories are being shared and people are responding. The days of consumerism, without thought, are long past. There is a shift in behaviours and consumers are asking the difficult questions and spending judiciously. Even in small ways, we can make a difference to someone who works in adverse conditions on the other side of the world. 🙂

      http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/global-slavery-by-the-numbers/?_r=0

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      • thanks for the link. There is much to be done. It should not be tolerated, and it breaks my heart when I hear of it still being openly practiced in some places.

        I wonder if it is a part of the base natural man to supress and dominate into slavery, and that in the absence of a higher law must always reappear.

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      • It breaks my heart, too! You have posed insightful questions, which I will continue to reflect upon. The value of life, and whether there are those that have greater value than others has plagued humanity from the beginning.

        “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
        ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

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    • “And blind pit ponies…” We forget that our fellow creatures have experienced great suffering at our hands. I enjoy following your blog – you have been a strong advocate for many who could not speak for themselves. Thank you!!!

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  1. The stories of children working under such conditions are not nice stories. It is good the outrage brought an end to a lot of it. Unfortunately there are still horrible stories about the abuse of children that need to continue the outrage. Who is listening? We read about it everyday on the internet or paper. Ashamed to say … I just click on to the next story.

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    • You brought up a profound and complex discussion. I think that many are listening. Even though you click to the next story, you have read it and acknowledged the horror. This is the awareness that is needed to bring about a public outcry. There are no easy solutions, but I believe as Margaret Mead once said many years ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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  2. Oh my, Rebecca, I love this one. The untold stories of all the mining coal workers is so sad because one can only imagine… But for the stories that do exist out there, true or otherwise, what would this world be. And, what if someone first discovered that the sun can energize equipment, instead of coal? Is there a story back there suppressed because it didn’t involve wealth? Sure did get my mind working. You’re a gem! Love, Paulette

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    • If anyone knows how to tell a story – it is you!

      Henry james once said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” We may be too small to change the entire world, but we have the power to decide to act with kindness and compassion. Your blog is a testament to this ideal! 🙂

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      • For me, you exemplify kindness, in what you post (even if poignant and sad-about child slave labor conditions in coal mines, etc.) and how you communicate with others. You’ve made me feel very welcome and invited to open and comment here. Thank you for that. Wishing you a lovely weekend. xoxo

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      • Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments. Without kindness there would be no hope, without generosity of spirit, there would be no joy, without love, our world would be devoid of light.

        “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

        “In the end
        these things matter most:
        How well did you love?
        How fully did you live?
        How deeply did you let go?”

        ― Gautama Buddha

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  3. Love the beginning quote. One of the jobs my (I think) great great uncle worked with the pit ponies. It was just a harsh life for all involved down in the pit. Life had to be pretty desperate to bring a 4 year old down there. How sad.

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    • They must have been desperate indeed! It is incomprehensible to me why the mine owners thought that a small, malnourished child would be an effective labourer. It seems that someone came up with a better idea when they began to use the pit ponies, often to replace child and women workers. We saw the stables when we were underground; each stall had the name of the pony written on a plaque. According to our guide, the miners became attached to these splendid creatures. It gives me comfort to know that your great-great uncle took care of them!

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      • I hope he took care of the ones he was in charge of. The pit ponies had just as a hard a life as the kids. The term knackered comes from there. When they became knackered off to the glue factories. Just atrocious all round.

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  4. Thank you for passing on the stories of the children who worked in the mines. They must be remembered. And thank you to the activists and the union organizers who changed the laws and raised the wages of the working poor. In times of injustice and suffering, we storytellers also need the activists.

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    • You are so right!!! And they are with us in every generation, putting their lives on the line. They speak for those who cannot speak; sometimes they do not see the fruits of their labour, but it is enough that they stood firm in their resolve to uphold the sacredness and value of every life that calls earth, their home.

      “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
      ― Elie Wiesel

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  5. A thought-provoking article, dear Rebecca. We’re blessed to live in a more ‘enlightened age’ here in the West now. I love the photos. Bless you, my friend.

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    • Thank you for your blessing – always very much appreciated. 🙂 Your photos of Conwy Castle were spectacular! I can’t believe how close we were to meeting each other. I’m coming back….

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  6. I like to imagine that we are making progress in the world, but I am horrified that we now have more slaves in the world than in 1860. Here is one of our great story tellers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk2bFebOza8 who has written a wonderful series on one of our famous coal mining towns http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/books/jenny-pattrick/the-denniston-rose-9781869798420.aspx Our coal mining stories are not yet over, as evidenced by a terrible coalmining disaster in 2010, which seems to have occurred through negligence and, perhaps, corporate penny pinching.

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  7. To understand where one is going, one must understand where they are … .and to understand that, one must understand where they have been … thus the importance of stories, but unfortunately, too many think the past is irrelevant.

    BTW – A very timely post as this weekend is National Storytelling Weekend.

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  8. Amazing! Just mind-blowing, really. My little boy is two and a half years of age… imagining him, a year and a half from now, being sent to work in such a place really makes me want to cry!

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  9. Working down the pit must have been an absolute nightmare for every miner, but especially for little children. How times have changed, but only in more developed and enlightened countries. Child labour still exists today, and what is the civilised world doing about it? We actually encourage this practice by importing goods from such countries. I suppose if we don’t, then many people could endure even more hardships, and even starve to death. Such a difficult dilemma. Rebecca.

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    • Indeed it is! It is one of those “wicked problems” that social planning defines as a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve. Your insightful comments give me hope that public sentiment is shifting and our purchasing decisions are made within the context of recognizing that we live in a complex global world that does not offer easy answers or solutions. But we are making progress, even though it is not as fast as we want. Here is an excerpt from the III Global Conference on Child Labour that is happening today in Brasilia (October 8 – 10, 2013) The discussion must continue…

      The global number of child labourers has dropped from 246 million to 168 million over the last decade. But even the latest improved rate of decline is not enough to achieve the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016 – agreed by the international community through the ILO.

      The Brasilia Conference is expected to encourage the exchange of lessons learned and good practices so that the efforts made by several countries may allow the construction of more consistent policies and integrated strategies for addressing child labour

      ILO

      http://www.ilo.org/ipec/Campaignandadvocacy/BrasiliaConference/WCMS_221969/lang–en/index.htm

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    • Ich stimme voll und ganz. Manchmal ist es wichtig, die Stimmen der Vergangenheit zu hören – die Geschichten sind wirklich über die ganze Menschheit. Vielen Dank für den Beitritt zum Dialog.

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