Just like today, the amount of money earned for a day’s labour was often a sensitive issue.

For a greater level of skill or a greater risk of danger, as in ironworking and mining, workers would sometimes receive higher than average wages. However, wages could be affected by both booms and severe depressions in trade.

When I think of the low wages they received, the skilful work they did, and compared them with the wages today, there is a marked difference. I met men who were really artists walking home with a few shillings for a week’s wage.
Cecil Jones (1897-1994), a former Coalport China Works Employee.

Workers waiting for pay at the Coalbrookdale Company works, late 19th century.


In the 18th century, for example, wages in the Gorge were generally considered to be good, but after the depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) they were consistently behind other industrialised areas, even for skilled or dangerous jobs. The amount a worker was paid could also fluctuate week to week in line with the amount of work that was available.  As a result, many workers struggled to scrape a living and their families often lived hand to mouth.

We used to live practically on bread and water, potatoes and vegetables of all kinds, you know. Anything that come that was cheap…
Bill Paget (1903-1997), the son of a miner (From Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1991)




Men were consistently paid more than women or children as they were seen as more skilled and productive. It was also assumed that a woman’s wages would not need to support a family.

Workers in a brick yard, c.1900.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was often a shortage of currency for employers to pay their workers. Some companies began to produce trade tokens to pay their workers' wages, which could then be spent by the workers at local shops and businesses.

There used to be a big board, and they used to hang them on... Of course, when it was knocking off time, there was a bit of a rush. And the little ones got knocked away with the big ones.
Fred Fidler (1907-1995), former Coalport China Works employee, describing the process of clocking in and out (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1982).

Sweet making roller, cast iron and brass, date unknown.


Low wages sometimes led to industrial workers having second jobs to earn more money. Mr Ball, a Coalbrookdale Company employee, made and sold sweets after work. His employee, Albert Davies (1902-1996), recalled that “it wasn't a full-time job. He used to do it at nights, see. He worked in the iron foundry… and I've seen him come home with his dirty hands and start making the sweets before he washed them.”

(From Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1986)




Tokens like these were used to record when specific employees were working to calculate the wages due to them. Workers would each be assigned a token, hand it in when they entered work, and remove it at the end of the day.

Clocking in token, c. late 19th to mid-20th century.

They used to ring a big bell, it was rung at half past five so as we got to be in for work at six o’clock…you could hear it for far enough, as far as Broseley I expect… I can remember a time when some of the workmen left it a bit late, they came running down the warehouse bank trying to get in… they’d perhaps almost got to the door and the timekeeper’s shut the door in their faces.
Fred Fletcher (1897-1985), former Coalbrookdale Company employee (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1979).

Miners at Blists Hill mine, c.1900.



Most miners and ironworkers in the Gorge were employed and paid by subcontractors known as charter masters, butties or gaffers who worked on behalf of mine and ironworks owners. These sub-contractors paid their workers every fortnight, often at their own house, but many were employed on monthly contracts so that their income and that of their workers could suddenly fluctuate.

In those days lads had to go to the foundry at half-past five in the morning to light the fires, and so prepare for the men. Sixty hours and more was the week’s work… I well remember working for a man at 5d. a day who would dig me in the ribs until they were black as coal, if my celerity [rate of work] did not keep pace with his requirements.
Thomas Parker (1843-1915), an electrical engineer and former Coalbrookdale Company employee (From Tit-Bits, 1905).




Some industries paid piece work rates rather than hourly wages. Piece work rates were calculated based on how many items a worker made. Workers would have many tokens like this and would use them to keep a tally of the number of items they made. This token is from the former tobacco pipe factory which now houses the Broseley Pipeworks Museum.

W. Southorn & Co. works token, c.1850-1870.