Coal Tubs

Coal tubs at the National Coal Mining Museum, Caphouse Colliery, New Road, Overton, Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Long Wheelbase Coal Tub

Long wheelbase coal tub at the National Coal Mining Museum, Caphouse Colliery.

Motty (Coal Tub Identification Token)

Two examples of motties.

When tubs full of coal reached the bank (surface), cast-iron motties tied to the tubs showed mine managers which miners had hewed which coal. Miners’ pay was linked to the amount of coal extracted. Any miner who was caught replacing another miner's motty with his own would lose his job.

Check or Tally

Check or tally from Ashton Moss Colliery, Ashton-under-Lyne.

There were a number of slightly different systems for using checks but the following is typical.

On arrival at work every miner reported to the lamp room/time office where he was issued with two personally numbered checks and a safety lamp. The miners then went to the colliery bank where the banksman was waiting to supervise them entering the cage that would take them down the shaft. Each miner gave one check to the banksman and retained the other. When everyone had descended the shaft, the banksman returned the checks he had collected to the lamp room/time office.

On ascending to the colliery bank at the end of their shift, each miner handed in his check and safety lamp under the supervision of the banksman. In this way, every miner who started a shift was accounted for.

Pay Check

Pay check from Bradford Colliery, Manchester.

The most frequent method of using identification pay checks was to issue each miner with one at the start of employment and this was retained by him for the rest of his working life at the coal mine.

Tipple tin

A designated miner would use a tipple tin (pay tin) to collect the wages for a number of men and distribute them from his tin.

Tallow Candle

Prior to the invention of the safety lamp, the only means of lighting in mines was the tallow candle. Due to the constant risk of the presence of firedamp, the use of candles was dangerous. Regardless of the invention of the safety lamp, candles continued to be used and they were often the cause of underground explosions.

Miners’ Safety Lamps

Left, Davy lamp; right, Stephenson lamp, also known as a Geordie lamp.

Sir Humphry Davy and George Stephenson independently invented the safety lamp in 1815/16 for the purpose of providing a safe source of light in coal mines.

The lamp allowed oxygen for the flame to get in but prevented it from coming into contact with any flammable gas present in the mine. This gas, known as firedamp, mainly consisted of methane. Air entering the lamp passed through wire gauze, the purpose of which was to cool any flame or spark escaping from inside the lamp and so prevent it from igniting any firedamp present in the mine. There was an additional advantage in that a safety lamp detected the presence of firedamp by the flame burning higher with a blue tinge.

Another notable safety lamp was Biram’s Safety Lamp, known as ‘Biram’s Patent Economy Safety Lamp’ that was introduced by Benjamin Biram (1804 - 1857) of Yorkshire. He is also credited with inventing a mechanical anemometer, known as ‘Biram’s Whirly Gig’ used to measure the volume of air entering or leaving coal mines.

Miners' Safety Lamps

Left: Safety lamp manufactured by Richard Johnson, Clapham & Morris of Dale Street then Lever Street, Manchester. Works at Newton Heath, Manchester.
Right: Safety lamp manufactured by W E Teale & Co Ltd of Swinton, near Manchester.

Electric Miners' Safety Lamp

This example of a battery powered safety lamp was manufactured by Oldham & Son Ltd of Denton, Manchester.

Leather Safety Helmet

Clog Bottoms (aka 'Donkeys' or 'Horses')

Clog bottom with a groove along the underside.

To use them a miner placed a pair of clog bottoms onto the coal-tub rails at the top of an underground incline (called a brow) and then stood on them in order to slide down to a lower level while holding his safety lamp, snap tin (for sandwiches) and dudley (water bottle).

In some districts, miners wore special clogs that were hollow underneath in the manner of clog bottoms and these were used in the same way.


A dudley is a round water container that miners took underground.

Snap Tin

A snap tin is a sandwich container that miners took underground.

Tea and Sugar Box

This double ended box allows the storage of tea at one end and sugar at the other.

Brass Pocket Watch Case and Watch

Pocket watches taken underground in brass cases were considered safe as brass cannot cause a spark and ignite firedamp.

Brass Snuff Box

Brass cannot cause a spark and ignite firedamp.