This is a true story covering territory rarely featured in history books - a dark time when women and children toiled underground in Victorian coal mines. Using extensive research, the book brings back to life the early Victorian mining community of Silkstone, South Yorkshire. It recreates the sad date of July 4 1838 when a freak rain and hail storm caused a narrow and shallow stream to burst its banks and flood the main passageway shaft leading to the Huskar Pit, resulting in the death of 26 children aged between seven and 15 years. News of the disaster finds its way into "The Times" and is read by Lord Ashley (later the Earl of Shaftesbury), and an offical enquiry is launched. Lord Ashley and the Commissioner of the Royal Commission on mines and collieries, Jelinger C. Symons, both visit and interview mine owners and workers, and descend into the mines to understand what conditions are really like, particularly for women and children. On August 10 1842 - over four years after the Huskar Pit disaster had brought the subject of women and children working in Yorkshire's coal mines to public attention - a bill was passed to change the country's labour laws regarding their employment.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
The inhuman working conditions at the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain are well documented. Even so, this study makes shocking reading. Focusing on the Husker pit disaster of 1838 (at Silkstone, near Barnsley), when 26 children drowned, trapped underground during a flash flood, Gallop has written a gripping account of the extraction of 'king' coal in early Victorian times. 'Joey's Story' - a stirring, fictional tale based on the experiences of an actual seven-year-old 'trapper' who died in the disaster - helps to imbue the facts and figures with flesh and blood. The workings of an early Victorian mine are vividly evoked through words and photographs. But this book also takes you right into the heart of the mining communities, depicting the daily life of colliers above ground - what they ate, what they wore, their families, recreation and social activities. And the mineowners - 'coal kings' - do not escape scrutiny. Because of unusual press coverage, the Husker pit disaster rose even to the attention of the young Queen Victoria. It was Lord Ashley (later Earl of Shaftesbury) who championed the mining women and children's cause in parliament and eventually succeeded in passing the contentious 1842 Mining Act, which banned boys under the age of ten and all females from underground work. His inspiring story provides uplifting reading, showing politics in a better light - as does the extraordinary thoroughness and impact of the Royal Commission, in uncovering the 'enormous mischief' of mining conditions, comparable to slavery. The author explores the effect the disaster had on the rise of the trade union movement and health and the safety issues, updating the discussion with his own views on the demise of the coal industry and the plight of some child workers around the world today. Alan Gallop (an experienced journalist, who has close links with the South Yorkshire coalfield) has written a well-researched book of conviction and passion, which should appeal to anyone interested in social or industrial history, Victorian politics or the history of childhood. (Kirkus UK)