Patch girls memorial, Tredegar

button-theme-womenPatch girls memorial, Commercial Street, Tredegar

This sculpture commemorates sisters Margaret and Rebecca Lewis. It represents the many girls who gathered minerals from outcrops, known as “patches”, in the Heads of the Valleys region.

The sisters are depicted in 1861, when Margaret was 18 and Rebecca 10. Their sisters Catherine, 15, and Mary, 12, also gathered iron. Brother Daniel, 20, was an iron miner. Youngest sister Elizabeth, 5, was at school. Their parents were Lewis, a coalminer, and Sarah.

They lived at 2 Plummer’s Row, in the Scwrfa area. The address no longer exists but could have been in what’s now Victoria Row, part of Ebenezer Street.

An 1840s inquiry into child labour in mines said girls frequently worked at iron-ore patches, where the ore was near the surface. Their tasks included wheeling the heavy material. The girls led “a sort of half-savage life”, working as hard as the men in all weather.

Patches could be dangerous. In 1860 Diana Llewellyn, 22, was working on patches at Twyncarno, Rhymney (just over the hill west of Tredegar), when a landslip buried her lower half. Two workmen heard her screams and dashed to her aid, but she died within five minutes.

Poverty sometimes drove residents to steal coal from patches for heating and cooking. Two “respectable little girls”, Margaret and Mary Walker, were taken to court in 1868 for stealing coal at the Tredegar patches. Magistrates jailed them for one day and told them to be good girls in future.

During a strike in 1898, hundreds of people took coal from the Tredegar patches. Some stayed there the whole day, lighting fires to cook. The coal in the ground caught light, and it took 30 to 40 men over a month to extinguish the fire!

Police had been instructed to keep people from the patches during the strike, because of the place’s dangers. They didn’t stop Mary Ann Canniff, 28, who went with a man named Kallaghan and two nieces to the Sirhowy Patches. Mary used a mandrel to cut coal, which her nieces carried to a basket. They worked below an “overhanging cliff” about 20 metres (60ft) high. Mary’s mandrel blows caused a ton of rubble to fall, burying the adults and one niece. All were quickly pulled free, but Mary died of her injuries.

Postcode: NP22 3DJ    View Location Map