Women’s History: Scratching The Surface!

Hello everyone! Today’s blog is a little different and will be a bit more text heavy. Through research into the topic, we have found some excellent sources that shine a light onto women’s integral part of the mining industry and will be using those sources, to share some highlights with you. 

SOURCE 1: John, A. (1982). Scratching the Surface. Women, Work and Coalmining History in England and Wales. Oral History, 10(2). pp. 13-26.

Throughout working-class history, many historians have centred academic focus around work and industry, but often overlooked the community as a whole.  The focus on work and industry has resulted in an absence of studies regarding the social life of mining communities throughout history.

How was your family unit structured in the 1900s? When thinking of the social life of mining community, we feel it is always best to hear from local people themselves, as we look back through our roots. Lived experience is invaluable. 

The expansion of work at the pit surface during the second half of the nineteenth century resulted in a higher demand of coal. In reference to the ‘Pit Brow Lasses’, a Lancashire coined term, women worked at collieries and ironworks in parts of Staffordshire, Shropshire, Cumberland, South Wales and most commonly in West Lancashire. Duties undertaken ranged from unloading tip tubs at the surface, to transporting coal. As you can see, a very integral part of the work.


SOURCE 2: BBC. (2014). Nation on Film – Coal Mining in the North East.

women sorting coal

Women mining workers sorting coal

Although this source focuses on the North East, you get a picture of what Mining Communities were like and how they operated on the surface. The account below, provides insight into the history of Mining Communities and their structure.

The communities were close-knit with their own social clubs, community facilities and brass bands.

A common sight were the pit cottages. Pits were often isolated, and the homes were built near them.

A typical collier’s cottage consisted of two to four rooms and sometimes had a pitman’s garden nearby.

Coal was moved from the pithead by railway. Many collieries had their own systems with lines connecting to the main rail network.



This image of a pit brow lass adorned a postcard in the late 19th Century

Pit brow lass shown on a postcard from the late 19th Century


Any stories from history that you wish to share with us regarding women in the community, email: nottswomenandmining@outlook.com


Categories: News.


  1. Mrs Joan Ware

    My grandfather was a pit sinker and moved into 52 Edward Street Kirkby in Ashfield 1909 the whole family moved together from Yorkshire ,brothers, uncles cousins ,and lived doors from each other. Name Bradford

  2. Julie machin

    My father was a miner and moved from the North when they shut the pits to belper derbyshire then to welbeck pit, miners had to move to wherever the pits were. My parents had to leave their loved ones who we got to see once a year.

  3. Bill Thompson

    Like many miners in the early 1950s, my father was lured from County Durham to Nottinghamshire by much better working conditions and modern NCB housing.
    I was just 3 years old so my memories are patchy but I recall living initially off Arnold’s Oxclose Lane, with woodland to the rear of our house.
    A year or so later, we moved to Gedling’s Phoenix Farm Estate and enjoyed spectacular views of Lambley Lane. Dad remained at Calverton pit and became a pit deputy.

  4. Bill Thompson

    It was tough for women like my mother who had to say goodbye to family and friends to resettle. It doesn’t seem far nowadays, but on the old A1, going through the centre of Doncaster, it was a 5-hour car journey. Add another 2 hours if travelling on the Hall Bros coach. Few people had phones, so letter writing was the norm.

  5. Paul Stratford

    As a young girl, my mother had to go into service, working in a large house as a skivvy. She was not alone. Most girls from pit villages had to travel far away from the community to find work, send home their wages, except for the lower amount to live on. My mother was from Easington Colliery in Durham and she moved to Surrey for work.

  6. Irene fenyn

    I have a very similar story as many others, my dads pit in the North East was coming to its natural end of life so my dad was lured to the Nottinghamshire coal fields with the chance of new social housing and endless work opportunities. My mother never settled for years I was the youngest child at that time and have vague memories of just me and my mam catching a Barton Bus back ‘home’ as she always referred to it quite frequently. As a family we did all eventually settle and put down roots but part of my parents hearts was still firmly in their beloved South Shields. For me the main downside of ‘getting on your bike’ mentality was we were deprived of living and growing up with our extended family.

  7. linda henstock

    My father was a winder at Glapwell Colliery and worked three shifts. Days afternoons and nights. He didn’t like afternoons because there wasn’t time to do anything in the morning before he went to work. My sister and I didn’t like it when he was on nights because we had to keep quiet in the daytime when he was sleeping. He had to retire early through ill health probably because he suffered from shell shock during the war. Even so we had a wonderful childhood and were much loved by both our parents