Often, as small business owners, we think we’ve got it tough. I mean there’s the long hours, the fact that we have to be multi-skilled and be in several places doing several things at once.
Yesterday however, I had my mind changed forever on how difficult a job running a small business is. Here’s what happened…
After a particularly (what I thought at the time) arduous week, Ian and I decided it would be nice to get away for the weekend and forget about work for a while.
We decided to go to Wales as the mobile signal there is appalling and so the likelihood of getting disturbed by (usually non-essential) phone calls was minimal.
As the weather was forecast to be overcast we looked for something to do to keep us occupied and we came across a tour of a slate mine. I’m a bit of a lad and this kind of thing definitely appeals to me so we booked on to the tour.
The tour itself was amazing. We started off by getting into an old army transport truck which took us to the top of the mountain where the mining first started. We bounced and bumped along with bone shattering speed to our fist stop – the time-keepers cottage.
Miners all lived in the village below the mine. Each mine built its own village to house its miners and the streets are often named after the mine its inhabitants worked at.
The miners day started at 4am as they had a 2 hour walk up to the opening of the mine near the top of the mountain and their shift started at 6am. They would also have to carry all their tools with them on this morning hike. The first place they would arrive was the time keepers cottage. If they arrived after 6am they would be sent home – after climbing with all their tools for 2 hours to get there.
I thought about the amount of times I have moaned about the time it takes me to get to appointments while sitting in my nice comfortable car. I won’t moan about that any more.
After our tour on top of the mines we then climbed 500 feet down to where the men and boys spent their days, to some of the chambers that are great underground caverns that have been blasted out of the rock.
Once at work the miners work 12 hour shifts Mon – Fri 6am – 6pm and 6am – 2pm on Saturdays. Okay, I work 12 hour shifts and sometimes more but…
They worked in almost total darkness for this whole time. They had small candles that they burned for just 15 minutes to get their eyes accustomed to the darkness and then they extinguished them as they couldn’t afford to burn them all day.
They were allowed a 30 minute break for lunch where they ate in a little hut exactly like this one.
Yes, outside the candle light it really is that black. And that is how they worked, day in, day out.
I have a nice comfortable office to work in with full amenities including a Starbucks, or I can work comfortably from my home office where I can take a break whenever I feel like it.
These men worked for 10 hours in one single spot ramming a drill into the slate until they had created a hole long enough to put a fuse and some gunpowder in so that they could blast the slate slab away from the wall of the mine. 10 hours just picking up an 8lb spike and stabbing it into the ground – and in the dark remember.
I get bored if I have to spend more than an hour on any one task. Although I moan about all the tasks I have to do as a small business owner, I am glad that I don’t have to spend a whole day doing just one mind-numbingly boring job. I will remember this the next time I complain about having too many things to do in one day.
If things went well, at the end of the day they would have a nice slab of slate to send to the surface for splitting and the family would get paid the appropriate sum (about half a crown). I say family because it was a family business. These men and boys were self-employed. They worked together as a family to mine, split and dress as much slate as they could to make the most money they could for their families.
I think about my family and how easy they have it in their nice comfortable jobs which are, for the most part, safe and reasonably secure. But here is where the miners didn’t do too badly.
The slate miners worked in relatively safe conditions. Unlike coal miners, their mines were structurally sound held up by huge slabs of granite and slate rather than the somewhat flimsy wooden mine props that coal miners had to make do with.
The slate miners also had no dust to worry about. Their lungs remained good, unlike the coal miners. They didn’t have to worry about methane and explosions either unlike the coal miners. To all intents and purposes, as mining goes, this was about as good as it got and many thought it was the best job in the world. It was pretty well paid too, a good mining family could earn enough money in 3 months to pay their rent for a whole year.
That was the beauty of being self-employed and even back in 1849 people could see the benefits of owning their own small business. It wasn’t until the unions came into being and things became centralised that the wages and safety conditions deteriorated. Funny that isn’t it?
Anyway, my point is that as small business owners, either now or back in 1849, we have to put up with some difficulties and find ways around things and overcome hurdles and obstacles if we are going to be successful and make money.
Just like the slate miners, we have to be determined, tenacious and proud of what we do. We have to accept that things will go wrong and that we will face hardship from time to time. But just like the miners we must face up to those hardships and just keep going.
I think that my day in the slate mines was a timely reminder at just how easy I have it as a small business owner in 2019. I can provide for my family from the comfort and safety of my own home or office. I can work the hours that I choose and take breaks whenever I need one. I am one lucky business owner and I need to remind myself of this more often.
I hope you have enjoyed my post and that it has given you a little inspiration to keep going and has shown you that no matter how tough it gets for us, it was a lot tougher for those business owners in the slate mines in 1849.
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