Cornhill Magazine,  5 (1862), 343–53.

Life and Labour in the Coal-Fields

[John R Leifchild]


Essay, Travelogue


Mining, Industry, Geology, Race, Engineering, Engineers, Ethnography, Heredity, Disability, Mapping

    Descriptive account of the 'great northern coal-field' (343) which surrounds the 'carbonaceous metropolis' of Newcastle (344). Considers many of the industrial processes connected with the extraction of coal, and details the career of a 'mining engineer' who was 'a working man in the pits with George Stephenson, although he held at that time a position superior to him' (345). The author's descriptions take on an ethnographic tone when he descends into the darkness of the mine. For instance, in order to view the real conditions endured by the 'begrimed human beings who [...] seem to belie the appellation of "white men"' (343), he adopts the 'disguise' of 'a pitman's habiliments' (347) and is guided through 'the recesses of this carbonaceous Pandemonium' (349) by an 'obliging' miner who 'knows its passages as well as we know the streets around Belgravia or Cornhill' (347). Also notes that because of the lack of space in the mine, 'men of little bodies and short legs are most at home here, hence comes that dorsal curve and bow of the legs which distinguish the hereditary pitman' (348).

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