Lead miners in the 18th & 19th centuries were equally independent. The modern lead miner was more a contractor than an employee. The miners worked on a bargain system. Miners had to be skilled negotiators. They would agree with the agent to work a vein for an agreed price per ton. The fee would vary depending on the difficulty of the job. Miners also bargained over the pay for sinking shafts and driving levels.
Traditionally, the miners shouldered the risk as they hoped to strike lucky by hitting a wide vein of lead. As the lead reserves ran out, the regular pay of work in the coal mines proved too tempting. By the late 19th century, the Minera lead mining companies found it difficult to keep their skilled workers.
"The nature of their employment is obviously unwholesome. Their appearance denotes an imperfect state of health, it being commonly pale, wan and weakly"
There was not just the risk of no money. Lead mining could seriously damage your health. Few miners lived to be fifty. The dust from the drilling caused silicosis, a disease of the lungs. The new compressed air drills, introduced from the 1870s, made matters worse.
Accidents were common. Between 1873 when records began and the mines' closure in 1914, 27 people were killed working at Minera lead mines.