With the intent to highlight this mostly forgotten part of history, Norena Shopland documents the depth of involvement women had in Welsh coal mining. The book focuses on the experience from a woman’s perspective: what drove them to the work, the hardship they suffered, the horrendous treatment they endured and how hard they fought to be able to keep working. It is a microcosm of the struggle women have fought and continue to fight to be seen as equals and valid members of the workplace.

The work was hard but at no point did the men say the women failed to do and do it well. The book is full to the brim with facts and studies, first hand accounts and intense stories. It is heartbreaking a stark reminder of how much is still to fight for in women’s rights.

The author includes the following in the final chapter:

In 2021 a study was done by Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) and World Resources Institute (WRI) on women working in extractives, those industries extracting raw materials from the earth, and found that 60 countries still have laws on the books that restrict women’s employment in mining, mostly in the sub-Saharan Africa areas. Most of these laws originated from the British Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 that banned women and girls from working underground which spread across the British Empire and elsewhere.

If women’s rights, history or the combination of the two interest you, this is a great book to read. Its a four out five on the enJOYment scale.

From the back cover:

We tend to think of coal mining as predominantly a male occupation, with women confined to roles as wives and support workers. Women worked at the coal face for many years before they were banned in 1842. However, mere legislation was not going to stop them – many continued to work underground, with mine owners making little attempt to stop them due to the low wages paid to women. Some would dress and pass as men to fool visiting inspectors. For the majority though, they worked on the pit brow where they received the coal, cleaned, sorted and cut it to uniform size. Dirty, laborious work, including many accidents and deaths, done by women and girls, some as young as 10 years old.

Society was appalled, and harshly criticised women (but not men) for working in such environments and so close to male workers. Find a respectable job, like domestic service, they were told – despite the fact that few jobs for women were available in such industrialised areas. Like the more famous Pit Brow Lasses of Lancashire, the Tip Girls were castigated for having ‘unsexed’ themselves, accused of immorality, of being unfit wives and mothers and society went on a mission to save them. But the Tip Girls did not want to be saved.

For nearly a hundred years, these women fought society and Parliament to keep their jobs and clear their reputations. Norena Shopland tells their story for the first time. New research from census returns and newspaper accounts have uncovered over 1,500 named women who worked in the Welsh coalfields – only a few could be included in this book – but it shows how much more work is needed in order for us to continue to celebrate these remarkable women.

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