It’s kind of you to ask me, sir, to tell you how I spend the day.
It’s in a coal-black tunnel, sir, I hurry corves to earn my pay.
The corves are full of coal, kind sir. I push them with my hands and head.
It isn’t ladylike, but, sir, you’ve got to earn your daily bread.
I push them with my hands and head, and so my hair gets worn away.
You see this balding patch I’ve got? It shames me, sir, I just can’t say.
A lady’s hands are lily-white, but mine are full of cuts and segs,
And since I’m pushing all the time, I’ve great big muscles on my legs.
I try to be respectable, but, sir, – the shame! God save my soul!
I work with naked, sweating men who curse and swear and hew the coal.
The sights, the smells, the sounds, kind sir, not even God could sense my shame.
I say my prayers, but what’s the use? Tomorrow will be just the same.
And sometimes, sir, when I’m not well, my stomach’s sick, my head it aches.
I have to hurry best I can; my knees feel weak, my back near breaks.
It’s when I’m slow that’s then I’m scared, these naked men will batter
They can’t be blamed for, if I’m slow, their families will starve, you see.
And all the boys they laugh at me and, sir, the mirror tells me why;
Pale and dirty can’t look nice – it doesn’t matter how I try!
Great big muscles on my legs – a balding patch upon my head,
A lady, sir? Oh, no, not me! I should have been a boy instead.
I like your kind intentions, sir. I love your kind and gentle heart,
But this is 1842 and you and me, we’re miles apart!
A hundred years or more will pass before we’re walking side by side,
But please accept my grateful thanks! God bless you, sir, at least you’ve tried.
This is a contemporary song about Yorkshire.
Following the Huskar Pit disaster in 1838 when Queen Victoria had been on the throne for just a short period of time she was said to have been distraught to find that women and children were employed in mines. An enquiry was set up in 1842 to gather evidence as to the extent of this employment practice and a young lady gave evidence to the committee, which inspired the song.
A great deal of information is contained in Mudcat Café, including the following:
“Although written fairly recently by Frank Higgins of Liverpool in 1972 this moving song is based very literally on the actual evidence given by the young Patience Kershaw before the Government Commission of Enquiry into Child Labour in 1842. As a result of the enquiry in that same year an Act of Parliament prohibited the underground employment in the mines of women, and boys under ten years old. (Notes Ian Campbell Folk Group, 'Something To Sing About')”
The song is sung here by Hilary Simpson