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The Royal Commission


Working in a mine often meant long hours and poor conditions, which greatly affected children’s health. Children could spend up to twelve hours underground, six days a week. In winter sometimes they would not see daylight from one day to the next. With only one day off a week on Sunday, they had little time to rest or play and could not go to school.


A page from the 1842 Commissioners' Report showing measurement of Collier Girls
The 1842 Commissioners' Report Showing Measurement of Collier Girls

The work that children did in the mines was very dangerous and the fact that there were often few safety rules resulted in many serious injuries and deaths. Children's health was also affected by the constant damp, draughts and coal dust. Ordinary people ate a limited diet, which mainly consisted of potatoes and bread.


The 1842 Commissioners' Report showing measurement of farm boys
The 1842 Commissioners' Report Showing Measurement of Farm Boys

The sub-commissioners were very interested in children’s health and how they were affected by working in a coal mine. Their report includes tables of information about the children’s height, weight and ‘physical condition’. On one of them you will see it has been reported that a child was ‘sadly deformed in spine and shoulder’.


Discussion ideas:

  • What questions do you think that the sub-commissioners might have asked the children to find out about their health?

  • What should a typical healthy ten-year-old child be like? You could think about height, weight, diet, amount of exercise. 

  • Are there any other things you should include to measure how healthy someone is?

  • Why do you think parents let their children go to work, knowing it might harm their health?


Activity Ideas

  • Analysing historical data:
    Use the information in the tables to plot a graph showing the ages and heights of the collier girls and boys examined.

    - Create your own chart by collecting the ages and heights of pupils in your class. How does your class compare with the collier boys or girls?

    - Look at the data collected in the tables. Use this to look at averages – mode, mean and median of the data.

    - Produce a modern-day version of the sub-commissioners’ report by creating a database using the data in the tables.