Rita Culshaw has lost none of the speed in her nimble fingers. Today they are zipping around the screen of her tablet computer as she keeps in touch with relatives and researches local history.
But turn the clocks back seven decades and the dexterous digits are working away at one of Wigan borough’s many coal mines. As a pit brow lass – pronounced ‘pit brew’ if you’re from Wigan – it was her responsibility to pick the dirt and stones from freshly mined coal. Kitted out in clogs, shawls and head-scarves, Rita and colleagues formed a coal cleaning production line, building a camaraderie forged through silent communication during shifts.
Now referred to as unsung heroines of the collieries, their contribution to the borough and its rich mining heritage – in addition to being heralded as pioneers for gender equality – has been marked this month by the local authority.
A plaque in their honour was unveiled in the town’s main museum earlier this month. But please heed one bit of advice; don’t call Rita the last surviving pit brow lass. “I have been billed as that before,” she says, shaking her head.
“Rita Culshaw, the last Wigan pit brow girl. I keep saying: ‘But I might not be. I’ve never claimed to be the last, they shouldn’t say that. I’m one of the last.”
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