In his introduction to Miners, Quarrymen and Saltworkers, Raphael Samuel begins by pointing out that “capitalism did not grow up all of a piece, and its nineteenth-century development, though swift, was also highly uneven,” and he offers as examples the facts that “in ironmaking the giant furnaces of the Black Country existed cheek-by-jowl with thousands of back-yard smithies, where metals were hand-hammered at the hearth.” Similarly, in Sheffield, one encounters similar disparities of scale: “some thirty or forty rolling mills supplied the working materials for sixty handicraft trades, most of them, in the 1860s, being conducted on the basis of sub-contract and out-work, with journeymen masters working double-handed or alone.” In contrast, the mechanization of textile manufacture, one of the industries central to the Industrial Revolution, embodied the size and regimentation of the factory system, but dressmaking, a closely allied industry “(where employment increased three-fold between 1841 and 1861) depended on the poor needlewoman’s fingers.” True, some occupations and industries saw major changes. In agriculture, for example, “the living-in farm servant gave way to daywagemen, monthmen, and job hands, to itinerant harvesters and travelling gangs; but on the railways a whole army of job-for-life men was being recruited, with pensions and promotion to tie them to their employers, company houses, and regular, all-the-year-round wages.”

Such disparities characterized mineral workers, the miners, quarrymen, and saltworkers of the book’s title.

Some were employed in mammoth capitalist enterprises, such as the Dowlais iron works of Sir Josiah Guest, or the slate quarries of Lord Penrhyn. Others, such as the Whitby jet diggers, the Brandon flint knappers, or the lead miners of Derbyshire and North Wales, worked in ‘poor men’s ventures’ in which production was in the hands of self-governing workers’ companionships. A coal mine could vary in size from a day-hole pit, worked by a pair of men, to a multi-recessed catacomb; a brickworks could be a factory or a shed. Conditions of employment were exceedingly various, depending upon local tradition as well as upon the state of technology, or the size of the individual plant. Brickmaking, for instance, was a woman’s trade in the Black Country, where there were employment opportunities for men in the ironworks and coal-pits; but in the industrial towns of Lancashire, where women found employment in the cotton mills, while openings for men were scarce, it was a mainly male preserve.

Samuel points out, “miners and quarrymen do not fit easily into the conventional categories of Victorian work. They were neither exactly labourers, nor yet artisans. Their work was highly skilled, yet it carried no formal apprenticeship, and was supported by no formal restriction on entry to the trade.” Furthermore, they earned high wages without belonging to unions. Basically, their worklives had little in common with those who earned their livelihood in factories, since “they had to perform a series of more or less autonomous operations with little co-ordination between them. They were all-round men within a particular class of work; their earnings depended on both physical strength and manual dexterity and skill; they had to combine the labourer’s muscle power with the craftsman’s ability to work to fine limits.” No factory machinery set the pace of their work or presented them with quotas.

Related material


Samuel, Raphael. “General Editor’s Introduction.” Miners, Quarrymen and Saltworkers. History Workshop Series. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977.

Last modified 26 May 2018