Single mother digs in her heels to win the right to be called a miner

A single mother has at last won the right to be called a miner after having her case discussed in Parliament.

Since 1838, when a law was passed to protect local coal and iron reserves, 4,500 men have been bestowed with the title of Free Miner in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

However, only men have been allowed to have this title - until, that is, Elaine Mormon decided to fight for her right to be called a Free Miner by using the Equal Opportunities Act and getting help from the Forest of Dean's MP, Mark Harper.

Elaine has worked for years in the mine - her father first took her down there when she was a little girl - and every morning she takes her daughter to school before going down the mine to extract ochre in Clearwell, Gloucestershire.

What is unusual is that it is rare for a woman in to be working at a mine at all in Britain. Before 1842, it was common for women and young children to work down the mines until, in that year, the Mines Act was passed which prohibited males under the age of ten, and all females, from working down the mines.

Single mother digs in her heels to win the right to be called a miner

By Daily Mail Reporter
7th October 2010
Daily Mail

Traditionally, working 300ft underground as a miner has always been thought of as a gruelling job just for men.

But single mother Elaine Mormon, 52, has made a breakthrough in a man's world after a two-year wrangle.

She has won the right to be called a Free Miner of the Forest of Dean, a title bestowed on 4,500 men since a law was passed to protect local iron and coal reserves in 1838.

Woman's work: Elaine Mormon digging for ochre 300ft down the mine

Elaine finally got recognition after taking a sexual discrimination case to the House of Commons when her application was turned down.

Elaine said: 'I felt a bit cheated and I wasn’t going to take it lying down.

'I had proved myself in a man’s world so I felt I was entitled to be recognised for doing a difficult and dangerous job.'

Elaine takes her daughter Mary, 13, to school every morning then turns up for her shift at the mine in Clearwell, Gloucestershire. She puts on her protective helmet, grabs her pick axe, and then works her way underground.

Elaine mines ochre - a type of iron oxide used for artist’s paints and in the cosmetics industry.

Ecstatic: Elaine won recognition as a miner after a two-year battle

She was first taken down the mine by her father when she was a little girl. Elaine said: 'My family have mined ochre here for years so when I had the chance to work in the family business I took it.

'It’s not for everyone - sometimes I have to squeeze through narrow tunnels and it can be hot and uncomfortable.

'But I love it down there - I often mine on my own, it is peaceful and I lose track time.'

When Elaine reached the age of 50 she applied to become a Free Miner . To register, the applicant has to be male, born in the Forest of Dean, be over 21, and have worked for a year and a day in a mine.

Elaine said: ' I was born here, I’ve worked for years in the mine and I’m over 21 - the only problem is that I’m not a man.

'But the world has changed a bit since 1838 so I thought I would be entitled under the Equal Opportunities Act.

'They turned me down at first but I was not prepared to give in without a fight.'

Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper investigated her case and raised it in Parliament.

Forestry Commissioner gavellers who run the Free Miner’s scheme were asked to have a fresh look at Elaine’s case.

She said: 'When they phoned me to say I’d finally been accepted I was ecstatic. I’ve been mining for so long and now I have a title which befits the job.'

But Elaine’s new status has not gone down well with some of the 150 free miners working in the forest - most of them digging for coal.

Spokesman John Harvey said: 'Elaine has been registered but it is fair to say that there is significant disquiet among the freeminers. The feedback I’ve had is that a number of people are not particularly happy with this.'
There is something amiss in this story. To start with miners have not used picks for generations. They mostly run machines.
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