Hudson at Murtoa -- Past Links Revealed

Lead Mining

My English ancestors came from the Lead Mining areas situated up in the Pennine Ranges of Northern England. In the 1700's, the land belonged to landlords and the biggest landlord in a parish was called the Lord of the Manor. At Alston where the Hutchinsons lived, it was the Greenwich Hospital. At Middleton in Teesdale where the Bells lived, it was the Duke of Cleveland. At Stanhope where the Hudsons went, it was the Bishop of Durham. Sometimes the landlord leased the land to a lead mining company. At Blanchland where the Hudsons came from, the Derwent Lead Mines were worked by the London Lead Company. Most of the lead mining villages were up about 1000 feet above sea level.

The mine owners encouraged the miners to own a little plot as the miners were more likely to stay put when times were bad. A relatively small number of miners owned their own home and land. Some built their homes on company land and paid rent for the land. When times were tough, many had to mortgage or sell their homes. So most people paid rent or a mortgage and the payments usually went up and down with the price of lead. Average age of death of a mine worker was about 40 in 1750. Mineral dust caused pneumoconiosis as they didn't wear masks while drilling and blasting. The fumes given off from a smelt mill were poisonous and there were reports of cattle dying. Longer chimneys were eventually built to take the fumes away from the inhabited areas near the mine.

The lucky lead miners lived in scattered cottages situated within a few miles of the Lead Mines where they worked either underground or in the smelters. Those who worked underground would also have to climb down ladders to their work level, perhaps a 100 metres below. The homes were built of local sand stone, white washed with lime, with a steep thatched roof of heath so that the melted snow did not soak into the thatch. A few homes had a slate roof which did a better job of keeping the house warm and dry. Some of the homes were also designed as farm houses and were on about 5 acres (2 hectares) so that they could keep 2 or 3 cows, and perhaps a galloway (for hanging slaughtered cattle). The usual pattern was a long 2 story building, one end consisting of a large kitchen/living room, with 1 or 2 bedrooms above. At the other end was a cattle shed, with a hay loft above.

The miners were able to work their small farms in addition to the mine work as their working day was only 6 hours, 5 days a week. (This increased to 8 hours in the 1800's, but they still had their weekends free) Also the wives, daughters and sons (if they weren't at school), were available for labour. At the time of the hay harvest, the miners were given a few days off. Older men whose health had been ruined by the respiratory diseases endemic in their work often helped out on their son's farm at such busy times. The small farmlets meant that the lead miners had a welcome contrast to their mining job and they were semi self sufficient with food. The cows provided milk, food and transport. Some miners also kept poultry and pigs, but very few had a cabbage (vegetable) patch. They did their cooking and kept warm by burning coal and/or peat (wood was too rare and expensive for burning).

Miners who lived far away from a mine, or if the mine was remote from a settlement, had 3 choices of accommodation for their 5 day working week. Private lodging, or boarding houses, at a few cents a week or mining company lodging 'shops' provided for free by the mining company. In any case the miners had to supply their own food. A typical 'shop' would be a 5.5 x 4.5 metre building of two stories. The lower room had cooking utensils and an open fire at one end and at the other end 2 windows in the wall. Down the middle was a long table and some bench seats. Along one wall were about 50 small cupboards, for food and private possessions. The upper floor, reached by a ladder, had no windows or other ventilation. Bunk beds, each 1.8 x 1.4 metres and sleeping 2 men on each bunk were squeezed in. Fuel for the fire, and furniture was provided by the company. The miners provided their own cutlery and linen, which they took home to wash. The 'shops' and furniture were rarely washed, so you can imagine the smell that the miners had to live with. They couldn't even drown their sorrows as the penalty for drinking alcoholic liquor in a mining company 'shop' instant dismissal.

The living conditions were no better for agricultural labourers who lived on their farms lower down the ranges in one room stone cottages with an earthern floor. Or worse still, coal miners who lived in small cottages in badly drained pit villages.

In 1800 it appears that only boys went to school and they were considered educated if they could read, write and do arithmetic. Most boys didn't go to school and if they did it was like a child minding service and they were lucky if they stayed at school long enough to learn to read. Most parents wanted an education for their children and the mining companies encouraged it to keep the children out of mischief and give them a sense of discipline. However a shortage of funds was always a problem. Children from poor parents could not afford the quarterly fees of 15. So from a parish like Alston which had a population of 4000 people, perhaps only 200 boys went to school. The local vicar was usually employed as the teacher for an annual salary of around 40, which was less than that earned by a lead miner.

By 1800, many of the lead mines were worked out and the miners had to find other employment in the area or move. In 1806 the London Lead Company moved it's head quarters from Blanchland to Middleton in Teesdale where the Company built a new village. To encourage miners to the area, the Company erected community buildings such as churches and schools, plus houses for the mine workers to rent or buy. These houses were attached to each other and instead of having a few acres for cattle etc, most had a vegetable garden. They grew potatoes, cabbages, lettuce, carrots, onions, rhubarb, turnips and a few had plum and raspberry trees.

Around the early 1830's was a particularly bad time as the price of lead fell to it's lowest price for 50 years. Unemployment was high and many landlords gave up trying to collect rent. There was no national unemployment benefit in those days, so a miner had to go elsewhere to find work.

Some miners had to travel long distances from home to find work. Those miners who had a small farm, felt that it was a burden as they were only at home 2 days a week if at all. But even if a miner moved house, there was no guarantee of continued employment, especially in lead mining and smelting. Many lead miners took their families to the north eastern coalfields or the mines at Whitehaven. In Alston, 2000 people left the parish, mostly for the collieries. This occurred at the time of the big coal strikes. The coal owners found the unemployed lead miners a convenient source of 'scab' labour. In fact it gave victory to the coal owners at the expense of the colliers union. This was not taken lightly by the coal workers, who on one occasion, when 40 lead miners were down a coal pit, stopped the engine pumping out the water and threw tubs etc down the shaft, until dispersed by the military.

During the final decline of the lead mines in the mid 1800's, many people had no choice but to move out of the area to find stable employment. The miners wanted a better life for their families. It so happened about that time that gold was discovered in America and in Australia. Stories of fortunes to be made overseas enticed some people to emigrate. Countries like South Africa placed newspaper advertisements, advertising for skilled labourers to work in their expanding industries. Some Australian Colonies offered a cheap passage and employment for people with wanted trades. Many miners had to sell everything they owned to finance their passage to their new land. They would then say a final good bye to their friends and relatives as they caught a train to their port of embarkation. Most people from the north of England, including the Hudsons in 1861, sailed from the the Port of Liverpool.

The emigrant ships were bigger and better than the convict ships that sailed 80 years before them, but you could hardly call it a luxury cruise. Most passengers travelled 'Steerage', an adult was allocated the following ration each week. -

3 lb biscuits, 3 lb flour, 3 lb fresh meat, 2 lb potatoes, 1 lb preserved meat, 1 lb rice, 1 lb sugar, lb raisins, lb molasses, 6 oz butter, 6 oz sugar, 6 oz suet, 2 oz salt, 2 oz coffee, 2 oz tea, oz mustard, oz pepper, 21 quarts of water, 1 pint oatmeal, pint peas, pint pickles and pint vinegar.