After women in England were banned from working in coal mines below the surface, they were employed to work at the brow of the mine or pit. Known Pit Brow Lasses, their arduous 12 hour shifts included breaking up coal bricks into pieces which they loaded into wagons, lugging the wagons, sorting the coal and greasing the wagon wheels. Their tools included a shovel and strainer or riddle shown in this photograph. At a time when women did not wear pants, these coal workers defied Victorian social convention and dressed themselves in heavy work trousers with a rough short skirt over them.
On verso of this CDV written in an unknown hand, "Coal Digger, Wigan, Ellie McDudley. Wigan." Wigan, in Manchester, England, was a large coal mining town, and this may be a photograph of McDudley. The board on which the albumen photograph is attached measures 2.5 x 4 inches. Condition: the tip of the upper left corner of the image is missing, glue stain in the same corner and even light soiling recto and verso. A fascinating window into the working class world of Victorian England.