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The employment of women in a colliery village.

Although it was okay for women and children to work down the mines until 1842 the census for 1841 in the villages of Seghill, Burradon, Seaton burn and Wideopen there was 731 females and there was only one woman found to be employed by the collieries. She was Elizabeth Cockburn aged 55 living in Pit Row Seghill of the remainder 31 women were listed as female servant, 3 dressmakers, 1 shopkeeper, 1 grocers assistant, 1 milliner 1 living on independent means and one was a pauper. In the year 1842 the Lord Shaftsbury act was passed which was supposed to stop the employment of women and children down the mines. Although it would appear that late into the 1840's women were still employed illegally down the mines as inferred by Fynes it was not until another law was passed and mine inspectors were appointed that the use of women was stopped. This act would have meant a large loss of earnings to the mining families as the wages of a woman and a child could have been the equivalent of a mans full wage. As it seems that the women continued to be employed in the mines after 1842 it seems strange that women are not often listed as casualties in the mining disasters that occurred in Northumberland and Durham in the 1840/50's

The farms in the area would have given some employment to the people in the village during harvesting when before the advent of tractors and threshing machines. The work of getting in the harvest would have been labour intensive and would have been a job for women whose job it would have been to gather up the hay into bails after the men had cut it. The married women in the village did not have any occupations listed only one woman worked in 1861 Dudley and she was the schoolmistress who was married to the schoolmaster. No other married woman had an occupation listed suggesting that any work they did do would be part time and occasional. Single women in the village did have occupations listed Dressmaker, seamstress being the main occupations whether this work was done in employment of the shop owner in the village or was done by the individual as and when a neighbour wanted something made or repaired is not certain. Another occupation listed for women in Dudley was Domestic servant this was a job for single women but whom they worked for is not known. There is Arcot hall which could have been in need of domestics but the women could have been employed by the local shop keepers etc. who would possibly been able to afford them.

The majority of women at the time of my research appear to have no occupation as nothing is listed in the C.E.B occupation column for 1861, in later C.E.B's this space is filled with 'Wife of Miner.' etc. Other females if they worked usually had an occupation listed of Dressmaker, Service or Domestic service. As to whether there is some significance in the prefix of domestic as opposed to simple service I do not know. This is one of the cases where the census fails, as different enumerators would interpret things in a different way. Out of a female population of 362 in Dudley and Annitsford only 22 females worked the youngest being 12 years old. This as appeased to a population of 448 males of which 288 were over the age of 12 years old and employed. (See Appendix One.) Also when looking at this pit village with the women and girls in service or dressmaking it leads to more research as I do not think there are many opportunities in the area for women to be in service. As I have said there is no local factory that I know of as yet which could employ the dressmakers. It is of course possible that the dressmakers worked from home as mentioned in (Engles, 1987. pp.219-220.) possibly producing clothing for the local drapers and Co-operative society. Their work would be collected when finished or they could have worked to order when neighbours wanted clothing make they may have went to the local dressmakers. It could it be possible that the women who listed themselves as Domestic/Servant could have been employed by the local shop owners or they may have only worked at home helping their mother. Although many women on the census are not shown as having an occupation it is possible that some did have jobs which they did not recognise as work they could for example take in laundry or child mind for neighbours or working down the pit illegally. Work for women in the area of Weetslade could of course been seasonal as farms within easy walking distance surround the area around the colliery. The farms of High Weetslade, Low Weetslade, High Barns, Green Houses and Annitsford Farms four of theses farms are still working and are accessible from Dudley. Women's labour during harvest time would have been in great demand and they would only be paid half the wages that a man would receive. As the century drew to a close and the local farms began to get powered harvesters the demand for women to work in the fields would have been less.

The only occurrence of daughters following the occupations of other members of the family are two incidents in 1861of dressmaking one where a married daughter aged 39 living with her mother and a granddaughter aged 13 in the same house are listed as Dressmakers. Another house in the area where the head of the house a widow aged 56 is listed as being 'formally dressmaker' and her daughter aged 17 is listed as a Dressmaker. There was a stigma attached to dressmaking/seamstress, as in the 19th century there was a high incidence of prostitution in this trade. Due to the poor rates of pay, (Golby, 1992, p.7.) domestics it would appear were better paid than even factory workers as argued by Emma Paterson (Golby, 1992, p.26) although there is no industry in this area for women's employment. Also in a different occupation there is a 17-year-old Grocery assistant whose father is a Grocer. So of the 22 females listed as being employed only three are working in what would appear to be family related occupations.

The women who receive a mention in the local trade directories are in general postmistresses, schoolmistress and shop owners usually Drapers. Additional information received from the Directories with regard to women is there marriage status as female entries have Miss or Mrs. in brackets next to their names. There was a career opening for the women in the area due to a local pit strike in 1887 when the Cramlington Co-operative was losing money they tried employing women in the drapers as they hoped that this would save wages (Simpson, 1912, p.83). The Cramlington Co-op had a branch in Annitsford since 1865 and employed women to see what would happen if this type of employment was given to women. This type of employment would give women in the area a chance to break from the usual forms of employment as working in a shop came to be seen as a sign of upward mobility and the better the shop the more status it carried.

Although I set out to see what workwomen did in support of their families I feel I have not found any answers due to the limits of the sources used. It seems to be impossible to find out what the majority of women in a mining village were doing for work in the nineteenth century. There could have been many jobs done by each individual woman that no one actually recognised as employment. The more that I read on the subject the more questions I was left with. The work force was male dominated the majority of men working at the colliery with a small number of other occupations. It was not possible to say if girls followed the occupations of their mothers but it would appear that there was not a great deal of demand for steady female employment. The women of Dudley and Annitsford would appear to fall into the stereotype of wife, mother and housekeeper with no other occupation.

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This site was created May, 1999 and is maintained by D.J.Kane, BA(Hons) Dip. Eur. Hum. (Open)