Amazons among the Coal Tubs
John Hannavy investigates the perennially fascinating ‘pit brow lasses’.
‘Her face besmeared with coal-dust
As black as black can be,
She is a pit brow lassie,
But she’s all the world to me.’
Those lines, from a poem published over a century ago, were written in celebration of one of the hundreds of powerful, resilient, amazon-like women who worked the Lancashire coalfields in the early years of the last century. These ‘pit brow lasses’ belonged to a hardy group of women who eschewed the warmth and damp of the town’s cotton mills, preferring instead the outdoor life at the pithead. The pit girl to whom these lines were addressed worked in one of the many pits in and around Wigan, the archetypal mill and pit town, and butt of music hall jokes.