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"Wigan's Pit Brow Lasses"
Taken from an account written by Frank Hird in 1910


The pit brow lass is one of the features of Wigan, and although there has been more than one attempt to prohibit the work by the authorities, the opposition of the 'Lasses' themselves has so far been triumphant. The girls declare that the stacking of coal, pushing wagons from the shaft to a stock heap; or raking stones and rubbish from the coal as it passes on an endless iron belt in a large sieve; or keeping the shoots, down which the coal is tipped into the canal boats, clear with a small rake is not hard work. Most of the lasses are generally single, the daughters of colliers but there are a number of married women amongst them and widows. In most collieries where the pit brow lasses are employed, if a collier is killed and his widow applies for work at the pit brow, she is invariably given a place.

A girl must be fifteen before she can be employed, and as a rule they give up the work at about twenty or twenty four when they get married. But there are some cases when they still go on working, even after marriage, and some years ago, on one of the mines at Wigan there was a woman of over sixty, who had been at the pit brow all her life

The dress of the 'pit brow lass' is distinctive of her calling, but is not so mannish as it used to be. She wears a pair of trousers which formerly, were scarcely hidden at all, but are now covered with a skirt reaching just below the knees. Her head is cunningly bandaged with a red handkerchief, which entirely protects the hair from coal dust; across this is a piece of cloth which comes under the chin, with the result that only the face is exposed. A flannel jacket completes the costume. When she is at work the pit brow lass tucks the skirt around her waist, but when she is walking to and from home it is let down and there is nothing to distinguish her from any ordinary working woman.

The healthiness of the pit brow lasses is proverbial, and a manager of one of the large coal mines near Wigan said, "We frequently get a lass who has been in a cotton mill, and whom the hard life and vitiated air have wrought havoc. She sets to work on the pit brow and in a month or two she is a different girl altogether and as healthy as her companions, which is saying a lot. I hardly think we get such strong and hearty girls as we did in bygone years, for I can remember many a one who could beat the men with the shovel, but our pit brow lasses are still very strong; it would amuse you to see them cleaning the engine room and places, they get over the floor in no time, and handle a big scrubbing brush as though it were a toothbrush. It is mere play to them, I assure you." the same manager said that for as long as he could remember, which was a great many years, the pit brow lasses had been noted for their fresh complexions, and that when they were dressed after their working hours, their own foreman often passed them without recognising them.

On two occasions when suggestions have been made of clauses being inserted in Acts of Parliament, dealing with coal mines, that the pit brow lasses should be abolished, such was the indignation amongst the lasses themselves that they sent deputations to the Home Secretary; and the Palace of Westminster saw the unusual spectacle of these Lancashire girls in their working clothes, donned for the occasion to prove to the authorities that their garb was not unfeminine. And they themselves were living evidence of the incorrectness of statements put forward as to the unhealthiness of their occupation.


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