Tuesday, 24 June 2014
As yet I have done very little research on my family tree, though it is something I hope to progress one day - when I retire, probably! I do know that my maternal grandfather and both his father and my grandmother's father were miners in the Derbyshire coalfields. In homage to my forebears, I recently visited the National Coal Mining Museum for England at Caphouse Colliery near Wakefield, (about 20 miles from here) and it was very interesting.
From census information I know my great-grandfather was a coal miner when he was 16 in 1881, and perhaps even before that, and was still a miner, aged 46, at the last published census in 1911. (Census details are released after 100 years.) My grandad was a miner at age 24, in 1923, though I am not sure exactly when he started or when he stopped. It took a terrible toll on his health. I remember him as a seemingly very old man (though he died aged only 66) continually wheezing and struggling for breath. He used an inhaler and sometimes oxygen and was in and out of hospital with chronic bronchitis and emphysema - a result of years of breathing coal dust. It was such a common disease; there was a special TB isolation hospital and it was full of ex-miners with respiratory problems. They must have had such tough lives.
According to exhibitions in the Museum, mining in the 1920s was already in decline and miners were paid very little. Their wages almost halved in the space of seven years. It wasn't a nationalised industry until 1947 and the mining companies used to reduce the men's wages when prices went down. In the 1920s there was series of strikes, including the general strike of 1926 when most of the country's industries ground to a halt in support of the miners.