Coal Tubs

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

Lamp Check

Lamp check, Ashton Moss Colliery, Audenshaw.

These checks informed colliery management of who was in work and they were vital when rescue services needed to know how many men were actually underground during an incident such as a fire or explosion. Check systems became widespread during the 19th century and they became mandatory in 1913 following an amendment to the 1911 Coal Mines Act. There were a number of different systems for using them 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.

Tipple tin (pay tin)

A designated miner would use a tipple tin to collect the wages for a number of men and distribute them from his tin. Later, numbered pay checks were introduced for miners to collect their wages with.

Pay Checks

Pay checks, Bradford Colliery, Manchester.

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.

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.

Miner's Electric Safety Lamp

Battery powered safety lamp manufactured by Oldham & Son Ltd of Denton, Manchester.

Miner's Electric Safety Lamp

Oldham-Wheat battery powered safety lamp manufactured by Oldham & Son Ltd of Denton, Manchester.

The name ‘Wheat’ refers to the inventor Grant Wheat (1884-1955) whose products were manufactured by Koehler Lighting Products of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA, and by Oldham & Son Ltd.

Miner's Electric Cap Lamp and Battery Case

Oldham Type G cap lamp and Type R battery case manufactured by Oldham & Son Ltd of Denton, Manchester.

Miner's Helmet, Electric Cap Lamp and Battery Case

Miner's Leather Safety Helmet

Ormerod Detaching Hook

Raising the miners’ cage from a mine shaft was dangerous and in the event of an overwind there were two possibilities; the cage could either be pulled right out of the shaft landing on top of the roof of the winding engine house or the rope could snap and drop the cage to the bottom of the shaft. In 1867 Edward Ormerod (1834-1894), a mining engineer at Gibfield Colliery on Coal Pit Lane, Atherton, Lancashire, solved the problem when he invented his detaching hook.

This safety device prevented the cage from being drawn past the landing stage and over the mine headgear wheels in the event of an overwind or from falling down the mine shaft if the winding rope snapped. In the event of an overwind the hook was made in such a way that it released itself from the winding rope and engine. In so doing it safely located itself in a bell-mouthed cylinder secured to the framework of the headgear. To achieve this, force from the bell onto the lower half of the hook sheared a copper pin and this opened the top portion of the hook. This action detached the winding rope from the hook which then latched itself onto the top of the bell. Once in place, the hook held the cage safely underneath thereby preventing it from falling back down the mine shaft.

Proto Mine Breathing Apparatus

The Proto self-contained breathing apparatus is comprised of a chest-mounted canvas-covered breathing bag, oxygen cylinders, supply tubes, a nose clip, a mouth-piece and skull cap. This apparatus was developed during the Great War (1914/18) and it was manufactured by Siebe, Gorman & Co Ltd of London, who had made similar equipment for the mining industry since 1902.

1819: Augustus Siebe (1788-1872) founded Siebe & Co. 1868: Henry Herepath Siebe and his son-in-law, William Augustus Gorman, ran the business after Augustus Siebe retired. 1870: William Augustus Gorman became a business partner and the company was renamed Siebe & Gorman. 1904: Siebe, Gorman & Co Ltd was incorporated.

A problem faced by sappers digging tunnels on the Western Front was that of carbon monoxide gas which was released into the earthworks following the detonation of explosive charges. Sappers were often caught unawares because this gas is odourless and tasteless and moreover rescuers often became casualties themselves as they tried to save their comrades. To combat this hazard the most modern breathing equipment available was obtained and this was the Proto.

A self-contained breathing apparatus, the Proto recycled carbon monoxide into the chest-mounted breathing bag, purified it with sodium carbonate and with the aid of the oxygen contained in the cylinders it permitted the user to have clean air for breathing. By regulating the amount of oxygen stored in the bottles it was possible to work in a contaminated atmosphere for over two hours.

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.

Dudley

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.

Cast-iron Coal Hole Cover

These were located in pavements outside Victorian houses where they covered the holes through which householders had their coal delivered. Typically, they are 12 to 14 inches in diameter.