An ironstone pit in Madeley Wood, 1847. Painted by Warrington Smyth (1817 – 1890), a mining geologist, this is the earliest known illustration of women working at a Shropshire mine. [1992.9785]

Emma Evans (1853-1929)

Emma was one of thousands of women who, during the course of the 19th century, made a vital contribution to the mining and iron industries of the Ironbridge Gorge.

Emma was born in Lightmoor in 1853, but moved to Blists Hill with her parents, sister and paternal grandfather while she was still a child. In spite of the fact both Emma’s father and grandfather were bringing wages in to the house, the family were still poor and needed additional income. When still both in their early teens, Emma and her sister worked at the local mines as pit bank girls. These predominantly young workers were known as ‘shroppies’.

Shroppies were paid to pick pieces of ironstone out of seams of clay that had been deposited on the pit bank by miners. Emma would have been part of a gang of girls who scrambled up and down the pit banks, finding and collecting lumps of ironstone which they put into iron containers and carried on their heads to ironstone heaps. From there it was taken to blast furnaces where it would be used to produce pig iron.

It was tough work and they were expected to be on the pit bank from 6am until 4pm in all weathers. They were paid between 8d and 1s for a day’s work (about £3 today) which was a quarter of an unskilled miner’s wage. If they could afford to do so, most women gave up work on the pit bank around their mid-twenties, or when they got married. This is what Emma did, though she carried on working as a domestic servant until she married in 1881.