South Dock Extension

New Harbour and Dock Works

. . . BELONGING TO THE . . .

Seaham Harbour Dock Company


Detail from previous photograph.

Detail from previous photograph.

South Dock extensions 24 April 1925

South Dock extensions 24 April 1925

HE old docks were acquired from Lord Londonderry, and were built some seventy years ago, and the Company is now adding a new ten-acre deepwater dock and entrance, and throwing out two protective piers to shelter the approach from the sea. The new works were commenced in the early part of 1899, and it is expected that they will be completed next summer. In the early stages of the work considerable difficulty was experienced in enclosing and reclaiming the necessary land required for the new dock and quay space, as at that time little or no protection was afforded by the piers, they not being far enough advanced.

This was, however, eventually done, and the site of the new dock deepened some twelve feet into the magnesian limestone rock by the aid of steam navvies and blasting. The walls of the new dock are constructed of concrete faced with masonry above water level, and finished off with a cope of Norwegian granite. They are 35 feet high above dock bottom level, and there will be 27 feet 6 inches of water in the dock at H.W.O.S.T.
The new entrance is constructed of concrete faced with masonry, and is 65 feet wide with a depth of water of 25 feet 6 inches on the cill. There are two pairs of gates fitted (the outer to act as storm gates) constructed of karri wood from Western Australia. They will be worked by hydraulic rams fixed in machine pits at coping level, and supplied with pressure from a hydraulic installation working at 700 lbs. per square inch. Two five-ton capstans are also fitted at the entrance. A system of gravity coal staiths is being fixed along the west side of the new dock, so arranged that the full coalwagons will run down by gravity from the storage sidings, pass over the spouts , and the empty wagons will pass away to low level sidings. It is anticipated that some two million tons of coal w ill be annually dealt with in this dock.
The protective piers are 1,383 feet and 878 feet long on respectively the North and South sides. They are builtup of concrete blocks weighing up to 28 tons and faced with masonry.
These blocks are formed in moulds in the block- yard, allowed to harden for some six weeks, and then set inposition by a Titan Crane capable of dealing with a load of30 tons at 60 feet radius. The foundations for the piers are on rockthroughout. Sand overlies this in places, and is cleared away by means of a grab and diving bell. Mass concrete put in place by divers is used to level up the surface of the rock, and the blocks are placed on this and secured to one another below low water level by means of concrete joggle bags. Above low water the blocks are set in cement mortar.The North Pier is 25 feet and 30 feet wide on top at itsinner andouter ends respectively, and the South Pier 20 feet and 25 feet. The ends will be finished with roundheads and lighthouses, with a subway running through the piers to give access in stormy weather. The contractors for the work are Messrs. S. Pearson & Son, Ltd., of Westminster

South Dock Extension Photographs

Shipping Coal 1835



Of The



March 31–April 35  1835

[View on the Tyne. showing the mode of shipping the Coal]

We explained in the preceding Supplement the process of obtaining coal, and the manner in which it is prepared for the market. When this is accomplished, it has next to be transported to the ships employed in the coal-trade. For this purpose a road is constructed (generally a rail-road) leading from the mouth of the pit directly to the nearest harbour or river.

Nature has intersected the northern coal-field by three considerable rivers, in consequence of which the whole district possesses an easy, cheap, and expeditious mode by which its produce may find its way into the general market. These three rivers are the Tyne, the Wear, and the Tees, each of which is admirably adapted, both by its volume of water, its tides, and harbour-room, for the purposes in question.

The Tyne is the most important of the northern coal-rivers, and, as it possesses all the excellencies of the others, we shall confine our description to it. It originates from two small streams called the North and South Tyne, which unite a little above the ancient town of Hexham, at about thirty miles distance from the sea, where it becomes navigable for small craft.

From Hexham it flows through a fine hilly country to Newcastle, where it is sufficiently wide and deep for vessels of large burden, and where its office as a coal-river may be said properly to commence. Its course from Newcastle to the sea, at Tynemouth, presents scenes full of activity and enterprize. Nowhere is capital seen in fuller or more beneficial employment. Heedless alike of the obstructions of hills and valleys, it has created hundreds of railways, which, commencing at the mouths of the different pits, terminate at some convenient place on the banks of the river. On these thousands of waggons convey with rapidity the produce of the mines to the vessels lying at anchor in the river, which, as they complete their freight, are towed out and depart with every favourable wind for their several destinations.

The large collieries in the vicinity of the rivers have each a railway running in the most direct line to their banks. Upon these railways the waggons move in trains of from ten to thirty or more in number, according to the extent of the works or the existing demand for coal. The nature of the power which puts them in motion depends in some measure on the distance they have to travel, and the inclination or other peculiarities of the surface. On those which are perfectly level, a locomotive steam-engine generally heads the train, and drags it to its destination with startling rapidity. On other railroads, which have a regular descent the whole way, the waggons are impelled by their own gravity, and, by the aid of a long rope and a series of pulleys, drag up the empty train, which, in its turn, when again descending with a load, draws the other to the pit in like manner.

When the railroad is carried up an ascending piece of ground, the train is drawn up the ascent by a winding-engine placed at the summit. In many small establishments, and in some which are situated very near one of the rivers or the coast, horses are employed to draw the train of coal-waggons; and, in others, a combination of all these methods is practised. Those collieries which are situated several miles from either the rivers or coast have frequently to pay sums amounting to 400l. or 500l. a year for the right of carrying their communications through private property which intervenes between the pits and the place of loading.

At the end of the railway, and overhanging the river, a large platform of wood is erected, which is called a staith. Upon this the waggons laden with coal are brought to a stand previous to the discharge of their contents into the holds of the ships which lie at anchor underneath. Each waggon contains about 2 and a half tons (53 cwts.) of coal, and when the number of waggons has been entered by a clerk appointed for that purpose, they are placed, one at a time, on a square open frame, which, on the withdrawal of a bolt, is immediately moved from the staith by machinery until it is suspended over the main-hatchway of the vessel. A man who descends with it then unfastens a latch at the bottom of the waggon, which, being made to turn upon hinges like a door, immediately opens, and the whole of the coal in the waggon is cleanly poured into the hold. To facilitate this operation the sides of the waggons converge towards the bottom, and are lined with smooth iron-plates. Attached to the suspending machinery are two counterpoising’ weights, which, being less heavy than the waggon when laden with coal, do not impede but add steadiness to its descent; but, the moment the coal is discharged, their gravity draws up the waggon to the staith. This mode of loading the vessels is both complete and ingenious. In an excursion on the Tyne, between Newcastle and Shields, the perpetual ascent and descent of the waggons in the manner above described forms a very novel and curious spectacle to a stranger.

In situations where, owing to the height of the cliffs, the above mode of emptying the waggons would be inconvenient or impracticable, a large spout is used, and the vessel is brought under the aperture at the lower end; so that the coal emptied at the top passes along the spout, and is discharged into the ship’s hold. The height of the staith at Seaham is perhaps forty feet above the deck of the vessel, and to diminish the force with which the coal would descend the spout from such a height, there is a trap-door at the lower end, by which the force of its descent is diminished, and it reaches the hold without injury to the vessels. The accompanying cuts (pages 161 and 168) represent both the mode of loading by staith and by the spout.

One of these two methods is invariably pursued wherever there is a sufficient depth of water to allow the vessel to come alongside the staith; but as this is not always the case, whenever an impediment exists, some other mode becomes necessary. There are many coal-works in which, owing to local obstacles and the intersection of private property, a right of way cannot always be obtained. The greatest obstacle of all, and one which is coeval with the coal-trade itself, is the bridge which crosses the Tyne at Newcastle, which effectually bars the passage of coal-vessels above the town. Those owners, therefore, whose pits lie “above bridge” are compelled, in addition to the railway and staith, to employ a number of light barges called “keels”, for the purpose of conveying their coal to the ships. This mode of conveyance is the most ancient, and was universal before the invention of this staith and its mechanical apparatus.

A keel is built sharp at both ends, and is capable of containing about 16 and a half London chaldrons of coal (about21 tons), has a sort of quarter-deck for the convenience of the keelmen, and a footway or gangway along the sides. The collier, waiting to receive the cargo of the keel, lies at anchor in a convenient part of the river, and generally a keel is lashed on each side of her. The coal is shovelled through her ports, or into a large tub, which, when filled, is drawn up, turned over, and the coal emptied into the hold. But this method occasions the breakage of the coal to such an extent as to deteriorate its value in the market.

By the vessel receiving her cargo from the staith, without the intervention of the keel, a saving of about 9d. per London chaldron is effected in keel dues. The employment of keelmen is therefore dispensed with wherever it is possible. Still their wages are tolerably constant, and are higher than those received by pitmen, and considerably higher than the wages of an agricultural labourer. They average from 18s. to 21s. per week, and occasionally they obtain, under certain circumstances, from 30s. to 40s. They are paid by the tide, voyage, or trip.

We feel much pleasure in recording a circumstance in the history of the keelmen, which does great credit to their foresight, and is worthy of imitation by all classes of our industrious population. Warned many years ago by the sentiment expressed in the northern proverb?

” Did youth but know what age would crave, Many a penny it would save,”

they raised a sum by subscription among themselves, with which they founded an extensive establishment in Newcastle, known by the name of the “Keelman’s Hospital.” In this quiet retreat fifty-two aged men and women find a comfortable asylum during their latter years. We believe that this is the only hospital in the kingdom built and supported by the working classes for their own members. The keelmen meet once a year to celebrate the establishment of this institution, perambulating the town with bands of music, playing the lively Northern air?” Weel may the keel row.”

A stranger who visits the banks of the Tyne will not fail to be struck by the immense heaps of sand which are to be seen, some of them being from 100 to 200 feet in height. The colliers, after discharging their cargoes, take in a quantity of sand as ballast, and on their return to the river, it is discharged on its banks. It is afterwards removed to the top of these ?ballast hills?, which is often a tedious and expensive process. Sometimes a steam-engine and an ?endless train” of ascending and descending buckets is necessary.

Newcastle, the metropolis of this district, has doubled its population within the last thirty years. It has been enriched by the coal-trade, which attracts vessels from all parts of the world to discharge their merchandize upon its quays. By the exchanges which follow these transactions, a multitude of trades are called into activity, which in their turn give employment and wealth to industrious thousands, who, spreading over the neighbourhood, form new and flourishing communities. In this way North and South Shields, at the mouth of the Tyne, and many intermediate villages on its banks, have sprung up within the memory of persons yet living.

Of the coal annually consumed in London, one-half, amounting to more than 1,000,000 tons, is shipped at Newcastle. The foreign export of coal from Newcastle amounted, in 1833, to 233,448 tons, being above a third of the whole quantity sent abroad. Vessels do not enter or clear at North and South Shields, but at Newcastle, of which those places are the out-stations. The number of ships registered at Newcastle is above 1,100, and their tonnage amounts to 221,276 tons. A collier makes on an average nine or ten, and sometimes more, voyages to London in a year ; and the number of arrivals in the Tyne annually is not less than 13,000 or 14,000,-10,000 of which are on account of the coal-trade.

Sunderland is the great shipping port of the Wear. The number of its registered vessels has more than doubled within the last fifty years, being 625 in the year 1829, and the tonnage 107,880. The average number of vessels quitting the port is 176 per week, or 9152 in a year. The amount of coal sent abroad from Sunderland is about 176,000 tons annually; and it supplied the London market in 1833 with 667,787 tons, besides enjoying, along with Newcastle and other ports of the North, a share in the general coast-trade in coal. Stockton, on the Tees, is a thriving port; and its trade in coal, though not so large as its more powerful neighbours, Newcastle and Sunderland, is, we under stand, increasing.

Blythe, or Blythe Nook, is a small port on the river Blythe, which may be considered one of the smaller livers on the Northern coal-field. Above 100 vessels belong to this port. Seaton Sluice is another small port in this quarter and, within the last few years, a harbour has been formed at Seaham, near Sunderland, by the Marquis of Londonderry. A rail-road leads to it from the South Hetton colliery, a distance of about four miles, passing, in its course, across valleys, and through passages cut in the solid rock. There did not exist, at Seaham, the slightest natural appearance of a harbour; but it is now a most convenient shipping-station for colliers to receive their cargoes in safety. Two piers have been constructed, and a village has sprung up on the site where these improvements have been so successfully undertaken.

The quantities of coal shipped from the different ports of England, Scotland, and Wales, in 1829, were as follows:?Quantities sent coastwise, 5,014,132 tons; to Ireland, 840,246 to the British colonies, 128,893 to foreign countries, 240,854 making the total quantity shipped 6,224,125 tons.

Soon after the Revolution, in 1688, a duty was imposed on coal brought coastwise into the port of London in addition to the municipal charges with which it was burdened. During the last war, it was as high as 9s. 4d per chaldron; but was reduced to 6s. in 1824. There was a drawback allowed on coal sent coastwise to Cornwall for the use of the mines. This drawback amounted, in 1829, to 16,148l. There was no duty on coal sent coastwise from one part of Scotland to another and the duty on that exported to Ireland was only 1s. 1d. per ton. After having, in the interval, undergone some modifications, the whole of these duties were totally abolished in 1831.

The total sum received for the duty on coals amounted, in 1829, to œ1,021,862 of which London contributed œ464,599; Norfolk, œ83,564; Kent, œ52,549; Devonshire, œ42,784; Hampshire, œ37,813; Sussex, œ36,295; Essex, œ30,881; making, with other maritime counties, œ847,265.

In the same year, the duty on coal exported to Ireland amounted to œ74,050. The chief ports of shipment were Whitehaven, Liverpool, Newport, Swansea, Irvine, Ayr, and Glasgow.

Up to August, 1831, the duty on coal exported to British possessions was Is. 6d. per chaldron, and to foreign countries 17s. per chaldron, Newcastle measure. (53 cwts.) Since that year, the duty on coal sent to foreign countries has been 3s. 4d. per ton ; and on small coal 2s. In 1829, the quantity exported was 369,747 tons; whereas, in 1833, owing to the reduced duty, it had increased to 634,418 tons.
In 1829, there were sent to the British possessions 128,893 tons. In 1833, the isles of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Man imported 53,866 tons; our North American settlements, 55,313 tons; British West Indies, 46,449; Gibraltar, 9914 tons; and Malta, 7000 tons.

Of the coal exported to foreign countries, Holland takes a greater quantity than any other. In 1833, the exportation from this country to Holland amounted to 142,38 tons. Denmark took 74,445 tons; Germany, 69,896; France, 45,218 ; the United States, 28,512; Prussia, 24,068; Portugal, 13,532; and Italy, 10,000 tons.
London is, of course, the most important market for coal. In 1833, the supply amounted to above 2,000,000 tons, which was furnished by the following- places 😕 Newcastle, 1,060,839 tons; Sunderland, 667,787; Stockton, 170,690; Blythe and Beaton Sluice, 48,689 : from Scotland, 15,138; from Wales, 32,156; from Yorkshire, 16,110; from inland pits, by the Grand Junction Canal and the western part of the Thames, 4395 tons, making a total of 2,015,804 tons.

The immense activity which the coal-trade gives to the shipping interest renders this branch of commerce not only important on account of the wealth which it creates, but intimately allies it with our national welfare, by forming a most admirable nursery for seamen. Even sixty years ago, when it was far less extensive than it is at the present moment, Postlethwaite said that, “in a time of urgent necessity, the colliery-navigation alone has been able to supply the government with a body of seamen for the royal navy able to man a considerable fleet at a very short warning, and that without difficulty, when no other branch of trade could do the like.” Above 10,000 men and boys are engaged in the Newcastle shipping alone.

Five-and-thirty years since, Colquhoun, who wrote a treatise containing an historical view of the commerce of the port of London, says, in that part of it which relates to the coal-trade, that this branch of our enterprise ” exceeds the foreign commerce in the number of ships annually discharged; and requires double the number of craft which is required for the whole import and export trade of the Thames.” In 1799, the number of colliers which arrived in the Thames was 3279; in 1818, there were 5239; and in 1833, 7077. The two ports of Newcastle and Sunderland now possess shipping whose tonnage is above 310,000 tons, being about 50,000 tons more than the whole mercantile navy of the country about the year 1700. But as there was no legal registry of tonnage at that time, the presumption that the shipping of Newcastle and Sunderland now and that of the whole country in the year 1700 were equal is, perhaps, the most accurate.

Owing to the configuration of our coasts, persons who reside a great distance from inland collieries can be supplied from pits 400 or 500 miles off at a cheaper rate than if coal had to be procured by land-carriage only a few short miles from their homes. Even at a distance of 600 or 700 miles from the pit, the sea-borne coal commands the market. Hence the most distant parts of the country partake of the advantages of cheap fuel; and if they be remote from the coast, it is ten to one but capital has been employed to open a cheap communication with an inland coal-district by means of a canal, which always benefits the humble labourer, whilst the capitalist whose money has been expended on such works is frequently compelled to wait for years before he begins to receive a profitable return on his investment; the advantage to the former commencing from the moment that the first boat-load arrives by the new communication, rendering an article, which formerly only the rich could afford to purchase, accessible to the humblest cottager.

There is generally an intermediate agent between the coal-owner and ship-owner or merchant, termed a coal-fitter. The intervention of such a class of men is an economical and beneficial arrangement to all parties, and renders it unnecessary for a coal-owner to leave his works and attend the shipping-port in search of buyers; at the same time it prevents the ship-owner leaving his ship in order to seek a cargo at the pit. When the trade is unusually good, the coal-owners sometimes hire vessels and send them to market at once. A cargo is generally purchased by the trader, who, after payment of the freight and other charges, disposes of it to the London merchant.

[Inclined Plane on the Railway from South Hetton to Seaham Harbour, showing the manner in which a Loaded Train of Waggons pulls an empty one up the declivity.]

Legislation on the subject of coal commenced about 400 years ago, and as the use of this article gradually became more extensive, it was surrounded by many regulations, some of which were intended to benefit the consumer, and others to render the imposition of a tax beneficial to the state. The enormous supply which the metropolis at present requires is furnished under peculiar local regulations, one of the most important of which is that all coal must be publicly sold at the Coal .Exchange. The following extract from an old pamphlet, published nearly 200 years ago, and purporting to be a dialogue between a wholesale and retail dealer, will show the advantages of a public market for the sale of coals. The former, detailing the means which he used to enhance the price of coal, says:?” Though the fleete be an hundred saile, yet we meet them at Yarmouth, or before they come so farre, and suffer not above twenty or thirty to appeare at a time, and then give out the rest are suspected to be lost or taken. We tell the masters that our yards at London are full, that money is dead, and they must deliver or sell forthwith, or else their charges will quickly eat out their gaines; and so we get coales at our owne prices, and sell them as we list.” He then goes on to say :?” There are now some forty or fifty saile of colliers come into the poole, and the poore people have great hopes to see coales fall in their prices; whereas, alasse, poore silly fools, our agents at Newcastle have bought them all for us.”

The practice at present is, when a vessel with coal arrives in the port of London, to transmit to the authorised factors at the Coal Exchange a statement containing the name of the vessel, the port to which she belongs, and the quantity and name of the coal she contains. The sale of the cargo then takes place under certain known and public regulations. The times of sale are between the hours of twelve and two on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in each week. The average number of ships at market on each of the above days during the year is about ninety; the average number sold each day about forty-six.

In the port of London the crew are not employed in delivering the cargo when sold. In order, therefore, to avoid any delay in this operation, which would be injurious both to the seller and purchaser, but particularly to the former, whose profits depend to a great extent upon the rapidity of his voyages, a beneficial division of employment is created, which is useful to both parties under the existing regulations concerning the delivery of the ship. Men, called coal-undertakers, attend the Coal Exchange when the vessel whose cargo he has engaged to deliver is to be sold. He obtains the name of the buyers, and then hires a gang of labourers, and apprises the purchasers of the time when the delivery will commence.

The men whose duty it is to deliver the colliers of their cargoes, are called coal-whippers or coal-heavers, and are about 1800 in number. Their existence is entirely owing to the regulation which precludes the crew of the vessel from performing this work. In any other port but London it is done by them. They are therefore a “privileged” class; but, like similar bodies whose interests are based upon regulations which are artificial and incompatible with the general good, they fail to draw from them all the advantages which at first sight they might be thought undoubtedly to confer. As far as the consumer is concerned, the operation of

[Seaham Harbour, showing the Termination of the South Hetton Railway.]

this monopoly is decidedly injurious. The expense of delivering a cargo of coal is above œ20, while a vessel laden with timber, which is a more cumbersome article, is delivered at a cost of about 9/., owing to the competition of labour being unfettered. Each of the 1800 coal-whippers of London earns on an average œ66 a year. This sum, with economy and good management, would surround them with many comforts, and if the general habits of this class were steadier, they would form a respectable body amongst the industrious population of the metropolis. They deserve to be well paid, as their labour is very severe; but it would not be difficult to prove that there are much better means of sustaining the animal powers than ale and porter, or gin, which too often they consume in large quantities. But if these men be not distinguished by their habits of temperance, the unfortunate position in which they are placed with respect to the coal-undertakers (who are usually publicans), absolutely compel them to become his customers.

This degrading thraldom is the result of their ?privileges?, and could not be maintained if competition were free to any one who was capable of earning his bread by such labour. There were but 800 coal-whippers when Colquhoun’s work was published. But he gave in that work statements proving that the coal-heavers were each defrauded out of œ30 annually; and he estimated the profits of the publicans on the liquors which are forced upon these men, with the money taken for commission, as being not less than œ8577/. per annum.

It appears that there existed at one time an act (10 George III., cap. 53) which, as far as possible, relieved the coal-heavers from their dependence on publicans, by enacting that no coal-undertaker should take or demand money from any coal-heaver as a commission for procuring him employment; and that no coal-undertaker should be a victualler, or directly or indirectly concerned in receiving any part of the profits of such trade, or in any other manner in the selling of spirits or drink of any kind, on pain of being deprived of his appointment. This act was in force for three years, when it expired, and has never since been re-enacted.

Perhaps we ought to add, that though the circumstances described by Colquhoun still exist, and the habits of coal-heavers may still be characterized as frequently intemperate, yet that the intensity of these has considerably diminished; and it is gratifying to reflect that, although the wages of coal-heavers are not so high as they once were, they now bring home to their families a larger weekly sum than at the former period.

The bargemen are employed in conducting the barges from the ships’ side to the different wharf’s. An idea of their number may be formed by comparing the coal-trade at the commencement of the present century and its extent at this time. At the former period the monthly supply of coal for the metropolis was estimated at 300 cargoes per month. Colquhoun observes that, on some occasions, 90 colliers (each requiring on an average thirteen barges) were then discharging their cargoes at once, giving employment to 1170 barges. The total number of barges engaged in the trade he estimated at 2196.

From returns obtained from the Coal Exchange, it appears that there are now 598 cargoes sold per month, which is double the quantity brought to the metropolis when the above estimate was made. The number of coal-barges at present employed is therefore most probably above 4000. They are usually the property of coal-merchants, and must be navigated by members of the Watermen’s Company. The charges for lighterage,?ie., for conveying the coal from the vessel and discharging it at the wharf,?is 2s. per London chaldron. Many of the bargemen receive about 30s. per week for conducting their barges up and down the Thames. We believe that coal is often taken from the vessels and conveyed as high as Lambeth at the rate of 1s. per Chaldron. These barges an; carried by the tide, and conducted by a single man. If their cargoes had to be conveyed the same distance by land, the cost of coal would be enormously increased to the consumer.

The wholesale coal-merchants have wharfs along the banks of the river. In the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558) twenty wharfs were established, and up to the commencement of the present century their number had not been increased. The coal being brought by the barges from the vessel is landed on the wharf, from whence it is sent out to the retail dealers and larger consumers. The cost for cartage and shooting is about 3s-. 5«d. per ton per mile, and assuming the average distance carted to be a mile and a half, it will amount to at least 7s. per London chaldron. The charge of unloading the waggons is 1s. 6d/. per chaldron.

Previous to 1831 the coal-trade of the metropolis was under a series of close municipal regulations, many of which are now done away with. They were, however, insufficient to prevent the extensive prevalence of fraud, and an act was passed in 1831, which, by one of its clauses, simplified the previous cumbersome administration of the. law, and placed the trade on a footing much more advantageous to the consumer. This beneficial change was accomplished by an enactment under which, within twenty-five miles of London, all coal must be sold by weight and not by measure. Every waggon carrying out coal from the merchant’s yard is required to be provided with a weighing-machine, and the waggoner is compelled, under heavy penalties, to weigh any sack which the consumer may conceive to be deficient in amount. A ticket must always be delivered to purchasers of a certain quantity, specifying the name of the coal, and the number and weight of sacks which the waggon contains. Temptation to fraud is now removed as far as possible, and can be easily discovered if suspected.

To that class of persons whose consumption is small, the change in the mode of selling is of the greatest importance. Dr. Hutton who, being brought up a collier, is a good authority on such a point, says, that if a cubic yard of coal when broken be equal to five bolls, it will measure seven and a half when broken small?Mr. Buddie thinks eight. The consumer, therefore, paid for the latter proportion and received only the former. It was therefore clearly the interest of all classes of dealers through whose hands the article passed, to cause as much breakage as possible.

In addition, the evil of selling by measurement at all was greatly aggravated by the nefarious practice of selling by heaped measure. By forming the cone of small coal, much less would be measured than if larger pieces were used. Happily for all classes of consumers, the Act respecting ?Weights and Measures?, which came recently into operation, has abolished heaped measures entirely.

In an active and wholesome state of competition there cannot exist in any trade a class of men whose functions are not obviously connected with its useful and beneficial operations. It appears that in the middle of the sixteenth century the supply of coal was in the hands of too great a number of dealers. This subdivision, however, was not owing to the perfected manner in which men carried on their different trades, but shows rather that these trades had not yet found their natural channels, and that they were so unimportant as to have been unable to maintain a separate existence, just as we see now a village shopkeeper acting as a hatter, a draper, a grocer, a druggist, &c. An Act passed in the reign of Edward VI. attributed the circumstance of a trade being divided in the above manner to the ” greedy appetite and covetousness of divers persons ;” and then went on to state, that, in consequence of this, ” fuel, coal, and wood runneth many times through four of five several hands or more, before it cometh to the hands of them that for their necessity do burn or retail the same ;” and as a remedy for the evil,?”It is therefore enacted that no person shall buy any coal, but only such as will burn or consume the same; or such persons as sell the same again by retail to such as burn or consume the same for their own occupying.”

Admitting, however, that the trade was, at the above period, engrossed by too great a variety of dealers, we shall see that 100 years afterwards, either in consequence of this very enactment, or from the fluctuating and unsettled condition of trade, it was then monopolized chiefly by two classes of traders. In a pamphlet from which we have already quoted, published at that time (1653), and entitled, ?The two grand Ingrossers of Coles, viz., the Woodmonger and the Chandler,’ it is shown that they bought the coal at the pit, and so held in their hands the power of controlling the market. In this instance an intermediate class of men was required between the coal proprietor and the London wholesale merchant, whose interests should be best promoted by carrying supplies into the market as quickly as possible.

In order, therefore, that the very poorest class may enjoy the luxury and comfort of a fire, there are, first of all, men employed in procuring the coal from the bowels of the earth,?others in navigating the ships which bring it to market,?merchants possessing wharfs and the conveniences which enable them to keep a sufficient store; and then come the retail dealers, from whom even so small a quantity as a single pennyworth can be obtained. Lest an article so important should become a monopoly where it is sold in large quantities, it can only be disposed of, in London, in a public market, in which every transaction that occurs is published and widely circulated in newspapers, which also state the prices which the various descriptions of coal are fetching from one market-day to another.

The tricks which were practised in this trade some two hundred years ago, and which the old pamphlet we have noticed details, would now be utterly void of success. The ?chandler” of that day mentions to a brother dealer the devices which he adopts in order to procure a temporary rise in fuel. ” First,” says he, ” I vent it out by carmen and poor folks, that indeed there was a fleet come of sixty-five or seventy saile almost as far as Harwich ; but there rose a violent storm, so that most of the fleete was shipwreckt, and the rest rendered unserviceable to put to sea till next Easter at least. At the report of this, O how the poore shrug in their shoulders, and pawn their pewter dishes and brasses, and any goods, at the brokers, to get some coales in at any rate; and then I vend my worst coales, or mingle them with a few good ones.”

Camden, in his history of Durham, the materials for which were collected more than 250 years ago, said that that county was rich in pit coal, ?which we use for firing in many places.” About 100 years afterwards the quantity imported into London was 270,000 chaldrons; in 1688, 300,000 chaldrons; and in 1750, 500,000 chaldrons ; and the consumption has gone on gradually increasing until its use has become universal. In 1801 the consumption of coal in the metropolis was 1.05 chaldrons per head; in 1828 it had increased to 1.156. Owing to the very nature of mining speculations, it is scarcely possible that there should be any monopoly of the article by the coal-owners. We have stated that when the trade in London is unusually good, the coal-owners occasionally freight ships on their own account, in order to have the benefit of the market; and it appears that they also do this at times when prices are excessively low.

Mr. Buddle stated to the Parliamentary Committee,?” Although many collieries in the hands of fortunate individuals and companies have been perhaps making more than might be deemed a reasonable and fair profit, according to their risk, like a prize in a lottery ; yet, as a trade, taking the whole capital employed on both rivers, he should say that certainly it has not been so.” Being asked, ?What have the coal-owners on the Tyne and Wear, in your opinion, generally made on their capital employed?” He replied,?” According to the best of my knowledge, I should think that by no means 10 per cent, has been made at simple interest, without allowing any extra interest for the redemption of capital.” | In 1813 coals were from 52s. to 55s. 9d. per chaldron; and in 1932, from 25s. to 31s. In 1833 the price was from 15s. to 18s. per ton. The difference in price at the two periods when the demand for coal is likely to be most dissimilar?January and July?has gradually become less striking.

Previous to 1831 the price paid by the consumer for a chaldron of coals was apportioned in the following manner:?
s. d.
Coal-owner, for coal 13 9
Coal-fitter, keel-dues, &c 2 3
Shipowner, for freight, &c 8 6?
Municipal dues at Newcastle 0 8¬
Government tax 6 0
Municipal dues in the port of London …….. 4 4 ?
Coal Factor, commission 0 4?
Coal merchant 12 6
Sundries 2 2?,
œ2 10 7i

The alterations which have taken place since this period, first in the abolition of the Government tax of 6s. per chaldron, and next in the fees which were paid to the meters, which amounted to upwards of œ24,000 a year, have rendered coal much cheaper, it is true; but there are still many vexatious regulations which enhance its price, and which ought, to be modified or abolished. A sum of œ25,000 a year is paid annually to the Corporation of London for ?metage?, and is claimed as one of their prescriptive rights; but it might be advantageously commuted, as the Richmond duties have been. A further sum of œ63,000 a year, paid as orphans’ dues, will expire in the course of a few years. Some of the other charges are also susceptible of considerable reduction, amongst which is the enormous sum of œ107,000 a year paid to the coal-whippers, which, as it has been stated, benefits a number of publicans at the expense of the health and morals of these men. The charge for the work which they perform is 1s. 1d. a chaldron, whereas at Newcastle and Sunderland the waggons are filled at a cost of only 1¬d, or l?d. per chaldron; the additional labour of raising-coal a little greater height in the former case would be well paid by an allowance of 4d. per chaldron. If the trade were free, the public would not be burdened by the support of the odious monopoly of the publicans.

It will be seen that the cost of bringing coal from the ship to the consumer’s cellar exceeds the original price of the article, and is also much higher than the expenses of transit from the pit’s mouth to the Thames. The charges of the London coal-merchant, amounting to 12s, 6d. per chaldron, consist of the following items:
Buyer’s Commission 1 0
Lighterage 2 0
Cartage 6 0
Credit 2 0
Shootage .®? 1 3
Sundries 0 3
12 6
The charge for lighterage very much exceeds in amount the charges paid in the North for a similar sort of work.

Mr. Buddie states that the Tyne keelmen, who take the coal from the spouts, or staiths, to deliver into the vessels, are paid 1s. 3d. per London chaldron for navigating their keels from seven to eight miles, and casting the coals into the ship, a height of five feet, independently of the horizontal distance which it is requisite to project them to reach the port-hole of the vessel into which they are loaded: in addition to which the keels will cost them from three-halfpence to twopence the London chaldron; ” so that our keelmen have not so much as the lighterage in London comes to for merely carrying the coal from the side of the ship to the wharf; although the keelmen navigate the vessels from seven to eight miles, and discharge the cargo by shovelling it out of the keels into the ship.”

The price of cartage in London Mr. Buddie also thinks enormous. ?In the North,” he says?, we let cartage by contract, including the loading, at 7d. to 8d. per ton, per mile, on turnpike-roads, and at from 9d. to 10d. per ton on heavy country-roads; so that the price of cartage in London is from four to five times as much as we pay for it in the country.” In allusion to the charge of 1s. 6d. for ?shootage?, which is paid in London for shooting the coal down into the cellar, Mr. Buddie says that, ?at the rate we pay our waggon-men for filling the waggons, I believe they would be very glad, for twopence, to heave these same coals out of the cellar again up the hole.”

The artificial circumstances in which, until a recent period, the coal-trade has been placed, may have occasioned some of the charges noticed above to have risen beyond the usual cost of labour; but it is highly probable that, in proportion as the influence of (his state of things decreases, that the coal-trade will not, any more than other branches of enterprise, present such anomalies as those described by Mr. Buddie.

Mr. Taylor, an experienced individual connected with the coal-trade, laid before the Lords’ Committee the following estimate of the consumption in Great Britain

The annual vend of coal carried coast
wise from Durham and Northumber
land is 3,300,000
Home consumption, say one-fifth 660,000
Which quantity supplies 5,000,000 per-
sons ; and supposing the whole popula-
tion to amount to 15,000,000, the
estimate will therefore be 11,880,000
Consumed in Iron-works 3,000,000
Annual consumption of Great Britain.. 14,880,000
Exported to Ireland 900,000

Mr. Taylor has not, in this estimate, taken into account the foreign export of coal, which, in 1833, was 634,448 tons. The population of Great Britain is now about 17,000,000. The estimate will therefore stand thus:?

Tons. Consumption of 15,000,000 inhabitants 11,880,000 Add for consumption of 2,000,000, the
additional population 1,584,000
Exported, in 1833, to foreign countries . 634,448
Exported to Ireland 900,000
Consumed iu Iron-works …………………. 3,000,000

Mr. Buddle supplied some interesting information to the Parliamentary Committee. On being asked if he had anything to state respecting the number of men and ships employed on the rivers Tyne and Wear, he said that he had made a summary??that there are seamen, 15,000; pitmen and above-ground people employed at the collieries, 21,000; keelmen, coal-boatmen, casters, and trimmers 2000; making the total number employed, in what I call the Northern Coal Trade, 38,000. In London, whippers, lightermen, and so forth, 5000; factors, agents, &c, on the Coal Exchange, 2500; 7500 in all. Making the grand total in the North country and London departments of the trade, 45,500. This does not, of course, include the persons employed at the out-ports in discharging the ships there.?

The above return is strictly confined to the Tyne and Wear, and does not include Seaham, Blythe, Hartley, or Stockton. From it we may obtain a tolerably accurate approximation of the numbers employed in the trade of Great Britain. In the first place, then, it may be inferred that as the produce of the collieries on the Tyne and Wear does not exceed 3,000,000 tons, and employs 21,000 men, the whole of the collieries in Great Britain, as their produce is six times greater, will
employ at least 121,000 men.

For the supply of London with less than 2,000,000
tons of coal, the shipping on the Tyne and Wear
employs 15,000 seamen; and as the whole quantity
shipped coastwise in 1833 was nearly 6,000,000
tons, the number of seamen employed in the coal-
trade must be 30,000
London consumes one-ninth part of the produce of
the mines of Great Britain ; and as the number
of factors and individuals to whom the trade gives
employment in the metropolis amounts to 7500,
the number for Great Britain is probably 45,000

The bargemen employed on the Tyne and Wear
are 2000 in number ;?for the whole country the
number cannot be less than 10,000 men
The population to whom the coal gives direct em
ployment is therefore about 206.000

Mr. McCulloch estimates the number of individuals employed at from 160,000 to 180,000; but the increase in the consumption which has taken place since the abolition of the coast duty has enabled the consumers to go to market every year with nearly a million of additional capital, and the use of coal in gas-works, and for a variety of purposes, has therefore been considerably extended.

The capital employed in collieries, on the Tyne and Wear, Mr. Buddie estimates at about œ2,200,000 Mr M’Culloch estimates at œ10,000,000 the capital employed in the coal-trade of Great Britain.

Camden remarked, about two centuries and a half ago, that “sea-coal are dug in great plenty, to the great benefit of the inhabitants.” We shall not stop to inquire what signification he attached to the expression ?great plenty?, but if the benefits arising from the use of coal were apparent then, they are now increased a thousand-fold, and the possession of an almost inexhaustible source of supply of coal has become one of the most important of our national resources, with which the stability of our manufactures, commerce, and strength as a nation is identified.

[Seaham Harbour Coal Staith, Mode of Loading by the Spout.]


Article in two parts from The Graphic 28th Jan 1871 and 4th February 1871Line drawings which originally accompanied the text are not reproduced here.PITS AND PITMEN 1871— K1NG COAL AT HOME
SOUTH Durham is the pit-land par excellence of the North. Upwards of 104,500,000 tons of coal per annum are raised in England. The figures are so startling that one is in danger of omitting some of them. Out of this prodigious quantity the coal-field of South Durham contributes 15,300,000, The only other district that can boast a yield at all approaching this is that which comprises North Durham, Cumberland, and Northumberland. South Durham therefore, we repeat, is the pit-land par excellence of the North, the Black Indies of England. Here Coal is king. He rules the country with a grand omnipotence. His subjects are a powerful and prosperous community. Thirty-seven thousand of them are actually engaged about the monarch’s royal person, in the mines and on the banks. These are at work night and day getting and sending to all parts of the world the black diamonds which have done so much to augment the commercial and political power of Great Britain. Beyond this mining army, King Coal may count his subjects by thousands and tens of thousands. Indeed, all that northern land swarms with them. Upon his beneficent government depend the crowds of men who are engaged in the iron trade. The furnaces, beacons of these latter days that light up the darkest nights—they get their radiance from King Coal. Yon ships riding proudly in the Northern Seas—they come to the black monarch’s kingdom for freight. King Coal keeps whole fleets in his service. Merchants, clerks, shopkeepers, traders, labourers, hangers-on in all the populous towns, are maintained by his rough and ready majesty. Not even the proud and sombre city of Durham, with its silent streets and its ancient towers, could exist without an approving nod from the monarch of pit-land.You may think from this brief introduction that South Durham is a land of coal-heaps, pit-fires, and furnaces. Let us hasten to dissipate this libellous reflection upon the natural beauties of the famous northern county. We could show you plains almost as fair under summer suns as those of Enna, where the playful Proserpine first caught the wicked eye of Pluto. Durham has hills and dales and woods and streams and rivers fit for the midnight revels of Queen Mab and all her host. There are bits of sea-coast here and there that might serve for the assemblage summoned by Ariel in Prospero’s island. The Wear on its way to the sea babbles through woods and meadows, by ancient halls and castles, worthy of a painter’s dream. Now and then, it is true, a pit-stream, black and grimy and heavy with coal washings, rushes into the clear waters and blackens them for miles, like a protest from King Coal against pleasures and beauties not of his own creation. But the river rolls on amongst a world of woodland loveliness, carrying with it the music of bells, the voices of village children, the cheery greeting of fisherman and tourist, until at last its waters meet the salt-sea tide ; and then the river, big with its new alliance, rises and swells in regal might and joins the sea, bearing into the ocean scores of newly-built ships which have been launched from the banks, as the river rolls on to Sunderland’s famous harbour,A wonderful country is this pit-land of the North, wonderful in a hundred ways; but more particularly in respect of its mines and miners. It is our intention in these papers and sketches to tell you all we know about the one and the other, The coal-mine represented in our first picture is a sketch of the Seaham Colliery, which is situated about a mile and a half from Seaham Harbour. It is one of the largest collieries in the North of England, employing about 1100 persons, and raising 1,600 tons of coal daily.
Our illustration depicts the scene above-ground and under-ground, showing the working of one of the most important pits. Panting of engines, rushes of steam, rattle of ropes, roar of loading and unloading of coals, make up a community of sounds befitting the above-ground portals of the mine. There are two shafts or pits, each 14 feet in diameter; one the down-cast, for the air to go down, the other the upcast, for the air to return after ventilating the pit. The principal vein of coal lies at the depth of 1700 feet, and averages 4 feet 5 inches in thickness, There are five other veins, but the lowest seam is the one principally worked. One of the shafts, it will be seen, is divided into two equal parts. In each division, two cages fixed in wooden slides or conductors are worked, each cage carrying four tubs or boxes, each holding eight and a half tons of coal. There are three winding condensing engines for raising the coal from the mine, having the power of 150 horses.
The rope-roll, upon which the rope winds, is 22 feet in diameter, and the weight which the engine has to raise each time from the bottom of the pit is eight and a half tons. In the up-cast shaft, wire rope grinders are used, the heat being too great for wood. At the bottom of the pit a man called an on-setter takes the empty tubs out of the cage, replacing them with full ones; then a boy, called a driver, with horse, takes from six to twelve tubs at a time from the bottom of the shaft into the flat or station, where he exchanges the empties for full tubs, as shown in the engraving. This part of the underground road is from six to seven feet high, and at a distance of about fifty yards there are sidings or double roads, where the drivers pass each other. This applies to the pits on the left hand. In the farther one on the right, which may be called the No, 3 pit, the distance to the farthest flat is 1900 yards. Here the putters (boys driving small ponies in a height of about 4 feet 6 inches) take empty tubs to the hewers who are digging out the coal, and return with full tubs to the flat.

The hewer is generally a strong robust fellow. He works from 5 am. until 11 am., when his marrow, or partner, ‘-looses (relieves) him, and continues his work until 5 pm making six hours’ shift, or six consecutive hours’ work at a time, and getting in each shift (a period of six hours) four and three-quarter tons of coal. In deep mines the coal is got entirely by hack or pick, tools better known to the general reader as pick-axes’, but in shallower mines the coal is frequently blasted down with gunpowder. As the hewer excavates the coal, about every two feet, a piece of timber is placed horizontally across the place, and an upright piece on either side, forming a framework to support the roof. The inefficient propping of headings has in many mines been a great source of accidents from the falling in of roofs. The deputy, whose duty it is to fix the timber, visits each working place twice daily; his first visit being in the morning before the hewer goes in, to see that the place is clear of fire-damp (the most terrible of all the miner’s enemies), and to see that the place is safe in all other respects and fit for working. The small vignette in the first cut, showing an aperture with a horse coming through, is a trapdoor for the purpose of forcing the air around the face of the workings. In mines where the safety-lamps are not exclusively used, explosions of fire-damp have often occurred through these doors being left open, thus impairing the ventilation and giving an opportunity for the dangerous gases to accumulate, A boy, called a “trapper,” is stationed at the door for the purpose of opening and shutting it after those who pass through. In the early days of mining, and indeed not very many years ago in some districts, this work was frequently done by a girl, whilst much of the labour of the on-setter and the putter was done by women.

The companion vignette in our picture, the one on the left, shows the ventilating furnace. It is a large open fire on|bars, standing in an area of 10 feet by 8, In the Seaham Colliery there are two of these fiery ventilators placed near the bottom of the up-cast shaft. They are in the constant charge of a fireman, and nine tons of coal are burnt at each furnace every twenty-four hours. Besides these, there are five boiler-fires going into the same up-cast, giving a temperature of 280 degrees and a ventilating current of 203,000 cubic feet per minute in the down-cast, and 286,000 cubic feet in the up-cast, the natural heat of the mine being 74 degrees. Barometers are fixed at the top and bottom of the pit, registered daily by the officer in charge of the mine. Should a sudden fall of the barometer occur, it is immediately reported to the deputies in charge of each district, who keep a strict watch lest fire-damp should appear from the light state of the atmosphere. Explosions of fire-damp have invariably occurred during periods of marked atmospherical change. The difference of pressure between the top and bottom of the pit is 1.6 inches. The coal, after being brought to ” bank,” by which is meant to the top of the pit, is poured into a screen, the bars of which, are 5 eighths of an inch apart, separating the small from the round. After a series of screenings and pickings, three kinds of coal are loaded in trucks and waggons for their destination inland or by sea to England’s continental and other customers, We are indebted to Mr. Thompson, the courteous viewer of the colliery,for these facts and figures concerning the Seaham mines.

The harbour and town near which Seaham Colliery is situated afford an example amongst many of the remarkable results which have attended the development of the great mineral district of Durham, Forty years ago the town and port of Seaham Harbour were not created. The harbour was commenced in 1828, on a lonely bit of coast altogether uninhabited. The docks now afford accommodation for 300 ships, and in 1861 the population numbered 8,437, The docks were opened in 1831, and one day in the August of that year the Lord Seaham sailed into the harbour and loaded the first cargo of Stewart’s Wallsend coals. Since that time the coal trade of the port has grown and increased enormously. The story of West Hartlepool close by is even far more remarkable than this, and the more so that the conception and creation of the place may be said to have been the work of one man, Ralph Ward Jackson, who is the acknowledged father of West Hartlepool, and who now represents it in Parliament, its first member, elected under the Derby Reform Bill, We may here remark on the absurd enthusiasm of those Free Traders who attribute everything to Free Trade, and nothing to the natural development of our national resources. No thoughtful man doubts that the principles of’ Free Trade are sound, but standing in the midst of this vast coal-field of the North, we are tempted to ask if Free Trade has done anything like so much for England, as coal has done ? However early in the world’s history coal may have been discovered, it is fairly urged in M. Simonin’s ” La Vie Souterraine,” that the true history of coal dates from the eighteenth century, and may be said to be connected with the history of modern civilisation and English progress. The Steam Engine had its birth amongst the coal pits, the result to a great extent of the exigencies of mining.

In truth, King Coal is your only monarch, He supplies the universal motive power; propels the machinery of all the world’s workshops; turns the wheels of miles of railway trains, that go to and fro over the earth, never resting, day nor night; he gives our ships a power that defies wind and tide; supplies the worker in metallic minerals with a fire that reduces his most stubborn ore; and out of the essence of darkness he compounds a sure and certain substitute for moonlight in all our towns and cities. Whilst no achievement seems too great for the modern monarch, he can descend with grace and ease, like a true gentleman, to the small observances of social life. Feeding the flames of a thousand mighty furnaces, King Coal at the same time lights up the hearth of the poorest cottage, and warms the tender toes of the gentlest lady. While he blackens hill and dale with smoke, and darkens the tide of the fairest river, he generates and gives forth to the intelligent chemist colours that shall dye the most delicate silks and satins to deck the whitest and softest shoulders. Verily he is the Grand Monarch, and South Durham is his throne.

Behold the pit-heap, or bank, in the evening, shortly before the night-shift men descend the mine to work through the long night when most Christian people are in bed asleep. The men go down at six o’clock in the evening. Half an hour before this time, they generally meet on the pit-heap for a chat by the fire. They call this gossip “a crack.” The men whose features are so effectively brought out by the fire-light are realities. The portraits will be recognised at Seaham. Two of them particularly are well-known indi-viduals and they have their prototypes in most collieries. The old man raising his fist to clench an argument, is great upon pit work and pit management. He is a shifter (you will understand the term presently), and in that capacity he has had a long and varied experience. Man and boy he has lived half his life in the mine, and he could tell you many a thrilling story of narrow escapes from the dangerous chances that beset the pitman’s life. He speaks with a strong northern accent, but with a quaint eloquence. In times of agitation men of this calibre who are fond of talking, and who generally possess considerable native art, exercise an important influence upon their fellows. For weal or woe, whichever way their opinion is influenced they go with all their might and main. Seated in front of the fire, swinging his Davy lamp between his knees and smoking a pipe, is another shifter well-known at the colliery. He is quietly listening to the elder collier and cogitating a reply; but it is easily to be seen that nothing will shake the admiration for the speaker which gleams in the admiring glance of that young man nearest the patriarchal pitman.

This evening chat on the bank before going below, is a pleasant incident in the lives of these simple and hardworking men. It is their club-chat; their after-dinner cigar; their peep at the papers; their bit of intellectual social intercourse. This little interim between comparative rest and positive work is enjoyed with peculiar zest. The crude thoughts that come and go in the firelight, often serve to occupy the more intelligent of the toilers during the night, and shorten the way home when daylight glimmers like a distant star down the dark yet familiar shaft.
The man who is smoking will lay down his pipe presently, for he may not take it into the mine, and then the pleasant half-hour win be at an end. What is a shifter ? you ask. His duties are to repair timbers and cut the floor of the mine, so as to give sufficient height for the tubs, where it has “hoven” or swollen during working; thus making the pit ready for the hewers who come on for the day-shift. This work has necessarily to be done during the night, when the pit may be said to have stopped working. The length of the night-shift is eight hours; so that in summer these men leave the pit in the bright fresh air of early morning, sometimes having bits of pretty country lanes and fields in their way. In winter they come out of the dark mine to the darker morning, making the world to them one long winter night, their only sun the pit fire, their only star the flicker of the Davy lamp.

The three boys on the right are ” putters ” sharing an apple. Their mothers generally put one or two into their “bait poke,” as they call the little bag in which they carry their provisions. Their work is to ” put” the coals from the night-shift hewers who go into the pit to fill the tubs left empty when the pit stopped work. The men in the back-ground in a sitting posture are in the cage about to descend the mine. As the reader will have understood by our previous picture, the cage is fixed in grooves and fills one half the shaft, which is divided into downcasts and upcasts, thus reducing the dangers of ascent and descent to a minimum. Some mines even in the present day are descended by means of corfes or tubs swinging from side to side as they go up and down, to the peril of which is added the further danger of collision between the tub of coals ascending and the tub of human life descending. We call to mind in the Clay Cross districts of Derbyshire, a pit at which as a boy it was our delight to watch the deputy go swinging down the rough and reeking shaft, standing at the edge of a coal box, and protecting himself now and then from bumps at the sides with his extended arm. In those days women worked in the mines; but that barbarism is happily only a matter of history now. In the darkest days of coal-mining, women called “coal-bearers ” in Scotland, used to carry the coals in sacks on their shoulders, mounting a long series of ladders, which were the only means of communicating between the bottom and the bank. Forty years ago they used to go into the salt mines of Hungary, Beaudant, the mineralogist, relates, in a cluster of ropes’ end loops, like several swings fastened to a master rope. For that matter, in times of peril, we have seen the miner descend with nothing but a rope and his own strong limbs and brave heart to support him; but there is no reason why he should not be protected as much as possible in his goings up and down, and we are bound to acknowledge that in the present day he has the benefit of every possible thought and invention for his safety.

On the cross timber over the men in the cage, you will notice what is called a ” counter.” This is for keeping a rough account of the coals that are drawn to bank. It is in charge of the banksman, who takes the full tubs out of the cage and replaces them with empty ones. The correct account is kept by the token man, whose duty it is (after the banksman has emptied the tub into the screens and taken the ” tokens” from the hewer and putter and hung them up on a hook) to collect the tokens and place them to the credit of the hewer and putter. He gets these in this way. Each hewer and putter fastens the token to a staple at the bottom of the tub in the inside; it is a piece of tin half an inch square, with a number upon it, and a cord about six inches long with a loop at the end to attach it to the staple in the tub. Most of the workmen are paid by contract, either by score of twenty-one tubs each, or by piece-work. The “notice” on the upright timber near the cage has reference to certain regulations for ascending and descending the mine.

The management of a colliery is beset with “rules and regulations” they fill pages of thick pamphlets which are issued to agents as well as to the men. The latter subscribe their names to the rules with which they are provided, and there are serious pains and penalties attendant upon any breach of the accepted laws, A general in the field has often not more serious responsibilities resting upon him than the viewer at a large colliery. Indeed he may be said to be the chief of an army; and what is more, is in command of an army constantly at war. Mr. Bristow’s version of Simonin’s book puts this thought into most fitting language:—” It is not without reason that the art of mining borrows some of its terms from the art of war; that in France a year’s work is called a campaign, the different under-ground working places posts, a gang of miners a brigade, or squadron in England, a crew or shift—while in Cornwall the under-ground manager is called a captain, and the store-keeper a purser. Is it not said that they attack the coal, and is not the mine itself the collier’s field of battle? Is it not there that in his struggles against all dangers he may be said to combat them foot to foot? The four elements of the ancients, earth, air, fire and water – all conspire against him.
In charge of this army of King Coal is the Viewer, the general who understands all the dangers of men, and whose constant duty it is to take precautions for their safety, as well as to promote the success of their underground expeditions in a pecuniary and commercial sense. As a stimulus to faithful services on the part of the captains, lieutenants and ensigns, premiums are offered and regularly paid for unflagging attention to its good results. Out of a long list of these prizes we select a few from the Seaham rules:-Per Year £ s d

  • To each overman whose sketches are neatly And fully kept, upon each bill day 1s = 1 6 0
  • To each overman in whose pit there shall have been no “Accident” in each pay 1s = 1 6 0
  • To each overman whose pit receives a good Report from the viewer, each bill day 2s = 2 12 0

. These are followed by premiums of similar amounts for increases reckoned by percentage, in the quantities of coal raised, and for decreases in cost, and the whole is closed by a formidable fine of from £1 to £5 from each overman in whose pit any fatal accident shall occur.
We are tempted to transcribe a large proportion of the rules. They tell the story of responsibility completely, and carry out the idea of an army with its attendant chiefs. The ninth section of the rules, however, will be sufficient for our purpose. Nothing can give a better notion to the general reader of the serious nature of colliery management than the following official

1, To be down the pit every day. To see that the orders and instructions of the chief viewer are fully and properly carried out. at once to remedy any neglect or defect, and also to report the same to the chief viewer. Not to be absent from the office nor from home all night, except with the knowledge of the chief viewer.
2. To be at the colliery office from two o’clock to five each day.
3. To make all surveys and levelling and to keep up the working-plans and levels.
4. Places intended for main waggon ways to be levelled once each month, and levellings kept up in the office: also to try marks on once each fortnight,
5. To visit every place in each pit once every month; to travel a main return once every fortnight.
6. In pits worked exclusively with safety-lamps, always to use a safety-lamp from the shaft, and never use a naked light, except for surveying &c, when a safety-lamp must be in advance; and in other pits always to use a safety-lamp in advance when the pit is off, and always in the waste.
7. To measure off the whole of the yard work with the overman on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, previous to bill day; also to agree with each workman as to consideration, &c.
8. To go down the pit every Thursday night before bill day, to see all the stonemen, and carefully examine their work and prices.
9. To measure the quantity of air in each pit, with the master masterman, once each fortnight
10. To examine the report of the overman and other officers every night, before sending them to the chief viewer or his representative.
11. To write a daily report of the state of the pits to the viewer every night, and enter the same in report book.
12 To have personal communication with the overman, and master wasteman, and master shifter every day.
13. To see that the “daily reports” from the various charge-men are properly entered into the report books.
14, To see that all the minute books and sketches are regularly and properly kept up.
15 To receive from each foreman on the works a written report of the state of his department, &c, during the day, and to forward the same, with any remarks that may be required, to the chief viewer,
16. To measure the air in all the splits, and in the shaft, once each quarter-year, and enter quantities in ventilation book.— March 30, June 30, September 30, and December 31.
17. To examine each shaft once every year (December 31), and enter report on the same in “Shaft Report Book?” also enter undercharge-shaftman’s report each month.
18. To travel through every part of the return air courses in each pit once every year, and enter reports of the same in ” Waste Report Book,”
19. To keep up to date all necessary “Score Book,” “Cost of Working Books,” &c in the office.
20 To attend strictly to the various regulations issued by the viewer. The underviewer is responsible for those being properly carried out by every one on the works. He is responsible for all work done in the pits and shafts, and also for the safety of all persons in the pits.
A tolerably heavy load of responsibility this, for men to carry about with them from day to day, it must be admitted. The wonder is that the rules are obeyed so well; not that breaches occur and accidents crop up to make the application of war terms more apropos by the addition of occasional returns of “killed and wounded.”
Whilst we have been thinking all this out the men in the cage have gone down to their work, the boys have eaten their apples, the talkative shifters have taken their turn in the cage and are at their nightly duties. The moon has risen on pit-heap and mountain, on cottage and palaces, the pit-fire smoulders at the bank, the timbers stand out in the two lights gaunt and strange; the white notice paper newly posted looks like a ghastly face. The whole scene is changed with the disappearance of the men who are down in the deep galleries of the mine working out their nightly sorties in the breach that com-mands the great black walls of the citadel which is to be conquered and won.


The second illustration of our series represents a working board in the ” whole.” One man is in the act of drilling an orifice in the coal, three feet deep or thereabouts, into which he will put from four to twelve inches of gunpowder, varying from a quarter to three quarters of a pound. Before drilling the hole he kives and nicks what is called his ‘”jud,” i.e. he cuts into the bottom of the scam a distance of not less than three feet and not more than fifteen inches at the ” foreside,” sloped away to nothing at the back, and nicked up one side in the same way, the powder being put into the hole at the opposite side to blow it down, The man with the pick is his partner, in the act of nicking.

After he has finished nicking, kiving, and drilling, he puts his shot into the picker (a piece of 3/4in. iron, sharp at the end, which enters the cartridge shot) and then into the hole, stemming it up with small coals; he then drives out his picker and places a squib (a straw six inches in length with touchpaper attached) ready to be lighted. After having carefully examined the place to see that it is free of firedamp, the deputy fires the blast. As soon as the coal is blown down, the hewer fills the tubs brought to him by the putter, who has been sufficiently described in previous papers.

There are two methods of working coal, viz:—”pillar” and “wall,” or “stall,” and “longway.” Our picture represents a “board” at work on the former system. By this method the coal is worked in the ” whole” and broken. It is called the “whole” when excavations of 4 yards wide are made. These are driven at distances of 40 yards, forming squares to support the roof. This applies to the colliery more particularly under notice; but at other collieries where the strata overlying the coal is not so thick, the excavations are made at shorter distances.

As soon as the working of the ” whole ” has been completed over the entire extent of the royalty the miners then commence to work away the ” broken,” leaving sufficient coal by the sides of the rolley-way, or railway of the pit to support the roof. The ” longwale ” system is carrying all the coal away together and building stone pillars instead of leaving the natural coal supports of the roof, Where the roof will admit of the coal being worked away in this manner the longwale system is undoubtedly the best. It is very seldom at Seaham that they have to shoot the coal, the beds or seams lie at so great a depth that the pressure upon the coal renders it quite tender,; and it is nearly all scalloped, that is got with the pick only. They shoot the coal in a few places in an upper seam called the main coal, lying at a depth of 1,320 feet

Our artist, for the sake of filling up his picture and giving additional interest to the scene, has placed one more hewer and one more putter than is customary in one whole place where they shoot the coal. The overman is usually much older than the figure depicted, his responsibility being so great that long experience, as well as good conduct, is the special qualification for this appointment, There is another feature to which exception might be taken on more technical grounds. The Davy lamp, instead of being upon the floor of the mine (which is contrary to regulations), should be hung upon a prop and not within two feet of the swing of the pick. These are matters of detail about which Mr. Ridley is generally as particular as an overman himself; but in the subject under notice he had a difficult incident to deal with, and his slight sacrifices to artistic effect are only noticed to show the professional reader that the points have not escaped either artist or author.

And now, after these hard and to the ordinary reader mysterious technicalities, let us indulge in generalities. You see the truck which one of the men is pushing along

a tramway. It is filled with coal, and about to be hauled up the long deep shaft to the bank above. Not long since there was a strike in the North, and one of the grievances of the men was what was known as the ” rocking system.” The truck, or tub, or corfe, was made to hold a certain weight of coal; but, in order properly to fill it, the receptacle had to be shaken, so that the coal should thoroughly settle down. This was accomplished by the men putting their backs against the tub, and “rocking it until the contents were shaken well together. Supposing, however, that the coal was then deficient at the weighing on the bank, and did not come up to the ordinary standard, it was forfeited; the collier was not paid for any portion of his labour in connection with that particular tub. This was one of the “reasons” of the strike; the collier asked for the abolition of the rocking system, and to be paid for a fair proportion of the forfeited tub. He has got now all or nearly all that he asked for, and, in the great mining districts, is generally treated with consideration.

The pony in our illustration was most probably foaled in the pit There are horses which have never seen daylight Some of them live and die in the mine. They have excellent stabling, and are well cared for. The boy, if he be on “the day-shift,” will probably leave the mine with his father, and get to the bank in the twilight. If it be summer-time you may see him going gleefully homewards with a few flowers plucked from an adjacent hedgerow, or staying near the pit to have a game at” hockey ” or cricket, as satisfied with the black and arid ground as if it were the greenest and softest turf Or. follow him home, and you may see “Dad” and himself stripping in the “bit back-yard,” and washing away some of the blackness of the pit, but not until they have had “a good tea.” If it be a well-regulated pit cottage, the “missus ” will have got a ” bit” of hot cake or something “tasty” for the workers. Over tea they will discuss the events of the day, and afterwards have a game at “rounders” at the end of the “pit row.” You may reverse the picture, supposing the “missus ” to be a slattern and the “master ” a drunkard.

A pit village generally consists of one or more rows of cottages, and often these tenements belong to the proprietors of the coal-mines adjacent. Not many years ago a stranger who should have invaded such a colony in a good coat would have needed all his courage. ” Stranger, Bill”—” Heave half a brick at him,” was not once upon a time an exaggeration; but in this respect the pit districts are wonderfully changed. The Dissenting minister, the hard-working parson here and there, the Odd-fellows’ clubs, meeting-houses, and other kindred institutions have ameliorated the condition of the miners immensely.

In many a cottage now-a-days you meet with standard books. The ” Pilgrim’s Progress” is a favourite in some districts. We once encountered a thumbed copy of “Milton,” and a well-read copy of ” Cowper,” in a Durham village. The “beershop” is the greatest curse of pit districts, chiefly on account of the wretched liquor which the beerseller often adulterates, thus increasing the thirst of the drinker, and making him an easy prey to the enemy which takes the reason prisoner. A properly-licensed house, where spirituous liquors are sold, and where the landlord has given guarantees of respectability, is much less harmful than a common beer-house.

The men in our picture are working by the light of the Davy lamp. In “fiery” mines this is the colliers light, guide, and friend’—the greatest boon ever devised by man; and yet the collier often breaks it open himself, either for a little more light, or in some cases to light his pipe. In the early days of the lamp one great explosion was brought about by a miner who sneered at the anti-explosion invention and purposely destroyed it Although every precaution is taken in “fiery” mines, backed by “pains and penalties,” the colliers often keep private keys to unlock the ” safety lamp,” and do so at the risk of their own and all the other lives in the pit; but familiarity with danger breeds contempt of it, and amongst large bodies of men there are always reckless persons. The best precaution is to watch these, and have any infringement of regulations severely punished.

Where there is nothing to fear from atmospherical changes and explosive gases, the men work with naked candles, and a good deal of the coal is ” blasted ” with gunpowder, after the manner of quarrying. In illustration of the defective supervision in the past, as well as recklessness on the part of the men, it was the custom in certain known fiery mines in Wales to “blast” the coal; thus daily, as it were, defying the grim fiend Fire-damp, at whose mandate hundreds of human beings have been swept away in one fell swoop of flame, as hot and fierce and deadly as the sudden in-burst of forty fiery-furnaces.

The pitman’s perils are only equalled by his courage and self-denial in times of danger. Though uncouth, vulgar, sometimes a brute, he is the very type of chivalry when the great incident of his career comes—the flooded mine, the blocked-up shaft, the fiery explosion. Is there any act of self-sacrifice needed to save the life of another? Is a life wanted ? The collier is there. You are sure of your man. He will come forth out of the little knot of lookers on. As certain as the peril, there he stands, with bared arm and breast ready to swing down the awful chasm to the dark scene of death. To stand on the pit-bank when the great calamity comes (as come it mostly does in the history of all collieries), and see these big coarse fellows calmly risking their lives for others, and hear them speaking in tender gentle tones to weeping women and children, is a sublime experience. It comes upon you like a sudden inspiration, how much of the angel may still be found in the hearts of Nature’s coarsest and most ignoble sons.

We have almost said enough in the foregoing article to serve not only for descriptive matter to the picture of underground, but sufficient for the illustration of “Leaving the Pit” in this week’s Graphic. There are pictures which tell their own story.

Of this character is Mr Ridley’s present sketch, The scene depicts the conclusion of a day or night shift. The time is evening or early morning. Our readers will recognise the men and boys who were chatting on the bank in last week’s illustration. The man, who was leaning over the tub making a passing observation upon the remarks of the aged shifter, is here seen with his youngest son on his back.

A north country artist recently photographed our Princess of Wales in a similar homely attitude. Human nature is human nature on the pit heap and in the palace. Our grimy friend’s sturdy “Missus” has come to meet him and the lads. Their cottage is close by. Some of the men live farther away. The miner who was seated on the bank smoking prior to commencing the night-shift, is seen on the left hand shouldering his picks, evidently prepared for a brisk walk and a hearty meal.

Those among our readers who have never seen a coal-pit, get some notion of the workings from the model at the Polytechnic The men in our sketch have just gone up to the mouth of the pit in a tub, similar to that at the Polytechnic only that the reality is a larger and safer receptacle, and it moves in guiders, as we have previously explained) and have been landed on a platform over the pit from which they are now descending. Morning or evening we wish them a happy rest after their arduous toil. Meanwhile we shall prepare an account of the process of screening and loading the coals for our next paper. “


” No sun, no moon, no stars, no sky, no other side the way ;” it is everlastingly November in the coal-mine. Strange that the illumination of the bright room in which you are sitting should be generated in the blackness and darkness, in the peril and danger of underground depths. Often the grim and sombre hue of the pit pervades the country at the surface, but there is the sky above, not glimmering like a distant star down the long, deep shaft, but spread out in soft undulations over pit-heap and cottage. It is true the engine chimneys, the burning hillocks, and the furnaces of a colliery district do their best to shut out the sky and maintain above ground the gloom of the mine below.

The first picture of our series showed how nearly the smoke achieves success in this respect, throwing a dense pall-like shadow between heaven and earth, made luminous here and there by red reflections of flame. This week one of our illustrations touches another aspect of Pitland. King Coal is not quite supreme in the bit of country here depicted. His black Majesty has dotted the country with small dependencies ; but there are fields and trees between his outposts and patches of green embankments, with brambles trailing among the grass. Nevertheless, his Majesty has driven his iron highways through the fields and woods. His waggons go trundling over the narrow ways all day long, sometimes drawn by a colliery locomotive and now by a fixed engine with ropes running over pulleys.

Our picture shows an isolated patch of this half-conquered country. It is a pleasant summer evening, the sun has overcome the ugly vapours, and is turning everything to picturesque account, throwing red and yellow tints of brightness upon the landscape and making even the colliery smoke look pure and ethereal. The picture is characteristic of both Durham and Northumberland scenery. The foreground comes out in sunny relief. The pitman and his ” lad” have selected a favourite nook, and distance favours the appearance of the country on the left: but if we got upon the waggon which is just clearing the bridge, a rough jolting ride of a mile would bring us into the thick of one of King Coal’s strongholds.

Here we should behold all the activity and animation of labour at the surface of the mines. The laden waggons following each, other from the mouth of the pit, and being emptied either by movable bottoms or ingenious methods of overturning. We might follow them and watch the screening process ; and accompany them still farther to the shoots where at last they find their way, either into those waggons which you see shunted upon railway sidings for transport to London and other large centres of inland consumption, or into the vessels that carry, we sometimes think, too much of this precious mineral to the foreigner, who uses it in his manufacturing competition with England.

M. Simonin (whose excellent work has been admirably translated by Mr. Bristow) tells us that in France and Belgium, while the banksmen empty the tubs, gangs of sorters and washers separate all impurities by hand, or in sieves mechanically moved backwards and forwards in water. The unwashed coal is classed by means of rakes, sieves, or riddles into lumps of the same sizes. In Continental countries we are also told that edifices often of architectural pretensions cover the winding and pumping engines. Then there are the places for cleaning and picking the coal, where automatic machinery sometimes does all the work. This feature of the Continental colliery is represented in England by the screens which, if not so efficacious in the sorting of coal, are far more expeditious than the processes of France and Belgium. There cannot be a doubt that our Continental neighbours have introduced improvements, not only in the appearance of their collieries, but in the working of them, which are an advance upon England.

The picture which M. Simonin draws of an English colliery district in 1860, when the Treaty of Commerce was made between England and France, is one which was not uncommon in Derbyshire as well as Staffordshire a dozen years ago. He remembers being “near Bilston, in South Staffordshire, not far from Birmingham, on a very productive and busy coalfield, where roads, railways, and canals cross each other in all directions, and where factories of all kinds are scattered about, mine-shafts open in the fields, without any shelter or any buildings round them. The winding engine, placed between nearly adjacent shafts, sends a rope to each. When all the coal has been worked away within reach of a shaft, another is sunk, and the engine, encamped, as it were, in an invariable centre of activity, still continues to serve it.

In France, where Nature has been more niggardly in her distribution of coal, such primitive modes would hardly be allowed. Nor are they now in this country. The change in colliery management within the last twenty years has been great ; it has been immense since 1860. But we are slow to move, and it must be remembered that foreign nations following us in our mining and railway works have had opportunities of learning wisdom from our experience. Moreover, with a more abundant yield of coal, we are less careful in sorting and packing, and we deliver it at a much lower price than any other country. Some of our coal goes straight from the pit mouth into the consumer’s yard or cellar, either by cart, canal, or rail. This struck our French author with something of admiration as well as wonder. ” In some of the collieries of that favoured land,” he says, ” the waggons drawn out of the mine may be seen unloading direct into the boats on a canal or in a dock, or passing without unloading from the pit or subterranean level on to the railways at the surface.

All the advantages which result from this are readily perceived; for coal is a very troublesome article to carry; being heavy, bulky, friable and liable to many causes of waste.” Nevertheless, he cannot help saying that “as regards artistic constructions, modes of working, internal management and surface arrangements, everything is with the English inferiorto what is seen in many coalmines in France and Belgium.” This is true to a certain extent, though there are model collieries in England which would not suffer much on the whole by comparison which M Simonin might make with those of the Continent. Besides, as far as architectural and other details of appearance go, it must be borne in mind that the English coal-owner is dealing with a greater extent of country, and less attractions in the way of the picturesque than the smaller proprietor of France. Mr Simonin, for example, himself mentions a certain English mine the daily production of which exceeds 2,500 tons a day, or 700,000 or 800,000 tons a year, which in France is the produce of whole coal fields.

The social life of a pit village is glanced at by the artist in two minor sketches representing a party of quoit players and ” the missus ” assisting her husband in his ablutions. It is a common thing on a Saturday afternoon to see a collier in his “bit backyard” “getting weshed.” ” Tubbing” is not confined to the higher classes of English society. The miner ” tubs” at least once a week; but (the process with him is one requiring an amount of soaping and scrubbing and lathering, which our friends of the Upper Ten only approach when they indulge in the luxury of a Turkish bath.

The collier often comes home as black as a chimney-sweep, and it is impossible that he can soap his own back. He has been lying upon his side probably half naked in a close heading for many hours for the wages which he has brought home to his ” missus,” and, if she is a good wife with true womanly instincts, she quite understands the importance morally and physically of that tubbing. She is therefore only too glad to help ” dad ” as you see her, and the chances are ten to one in favour of that man spending his evening with the quoiters, contented with a quart of beer and a pipe, as against the man who does not ” tub,” and who, less cleanly in his habits, less anxious to look “decent” and “dress up a bit,” drifts into “the public” and spends his money and his time on the taproom “settle.” Quoits, cricket, “rounders” are favourite pastimes among the colliers ; and there are also the ameliorating influences of pigeon-fancying and rabbit-breeding. Dog-fanciers are not so ferocious as “/gentility” imagines. The bull-dog is less thought of than hitherto, ratting having become a more popular sport than dog-fighting.

A great advance has been made of late years in the condition of the miner, and with the operation of the New Education Act, we may confidently look into the future for still greater progress. Women have long since been relieved of underground work. Mere children have also been removed from the imprisoned labour of the mine. The men themselves have taken a long forward step out of the worse darkness and imprisonment of ignorance. The future promises us miners who can read and write. At present the great majority, when called upon to sign the ” Colliery Rules,” can only make their mark ; and these are invariably the men who also make their mark upon the pages of mining history by some fatal act of ignorance, involving whole districts in mourning and sorrow, in loss of life and loss of property, which only the healing hand of Time can repair.


That bit of pit country in our last week’s issue has an historical interest which deserves a few supplementary words. We regarded the scene as a vague general bit of coaly landscape. Characteristic of Northern scenery, it would almost fit any dozen miles of the great mineral country of King Coal; but we find that it more especially indicates the district around Ferry Hill. The line on the left is the Londonderry pit railway ; that on the right is the South Hetton line. It was the old Hetton railway, the first railway in the world, George Stephenson’s colliery line, on which ran the first locomotive. What a wonderful history starts up into life as we lie in imagination by that pitman among the dusty brambles and think of the first railway !

Coal is the great civiliser. The dusky monarch of the mine has set at work the lever that has lifted empires. Progress dates from the eighteenth century, and so does coal. Coal was known to the Greeks and Romans. The Chinese used fossil fuel, we are afraid to say how many years ago; in 1259 Newcastle had a special charter from the King to dig for coal; and in 1306 Edward I. made a decree forbidding the use of the mineral fuel. But it was not until the eighteenth century that coal can be said to have been thoroughly worked, and out of the darkness of the mine came light and life. The steam engine and the locomotive had their birth in the black regions of King Coal.

The deep pits of Newcastle could not be worked on account of the subterraneous rivers that every now and then burst into the headings, and filled up the dark abyss with inky torrents, such as that which the dreamer in ” Pippins and Cheese ” saw on the banks of the Wear. Streams of the upper world even now disappear in the pit countries, and become subterranean wanderers. That dreamer knew two mountain streams, which tumbled over the same line of country. He made them lovers. There was a rival, a certain imp of Phlegethon, and in the night time Pluto’s minion seized the Fair Goddess of the northern river. This was the foundation of the first part of a fairy story. The second part described the grief of the lonely brook of the mountain, and his dream of vengeance. There was a great gathering of the waters of the upper world. The north country people said it was a flood. There had been rain in the hills, and the Wear overflowed. How should they know of the love that had existed between those two brooks, and the feud which had sprung up between the great rivers of earth and hell? What did these poor miners know about Ceres and Proserpine and Pluto, and the nymph Arethusa ? When the flood subsided, and the blackened stream was once more pure, the people said the pumping had been abandoned, and the pit was not to be worked ; but the truth was the river Gods of the North had triumphed over the four rivers of Hades, and the brook lovers were restored to each other, pure and beautiful as the valley in which they finally came together in matrimonial embrace, and went on to the great ocean. This is a poetic version of a very prosaic and dismal sort of subject.

The pumping of mines often affects local streams as those who knew the pleasant woods of Kepier, a few years ago, can too well remember. A bright, white, shiny, sparkling brook in these Durham woods has only within recent years become a thick turbulent torrent, black with coal washings that darken the noble river itself, and shut out the fair shadows of the ruined abbey that was wont to reflect its crumbling walls and soft green mosses in the cool, clear, limpid pool which the shingly river seemed to make for the especial use of the noble ruin at a favourite hollow in the landscape.

How those brooks and the river that gathered them to her bosom at last carry one away from the hard and practical but grand history of the mine ! Until the deep pits defeated the ancient pump of our forefathers, no more powerful implement had been thought of; but the Stygian rivers needed a gigantic power to quell their ravages. The gigantic intellects of Newcome and Watt at last conquered the internal seas. They conquered the waters by an alliance with their enemy fire. They invented the fire pump, which was no other than the steam engine. It not only raised the water and dispersed it, but brought to bank the coal also. While these triumphs of science and industry were signalising the coal working of the North, the Welsh were unconsciously laying the foundation of the railway network which is joining all lands together. They devised wooden tracks in the underground ways of the mine for the easier locomotion of the rude waggons of the early pitmen. In time the same arrangement was introduced above ground. Eventually wrought iron substituted the wooden track; then came wrought rails; and then the locomotive ; and that railway in our last picture was the first complete line upon which ran the first engine.

“Coals to Newcastle” is a phrase that may some day be reversed. If there is anything in the theory of those persons who look forward to the exhaustion of our coalfields, some far distant future may see London supplying the North with coal. Instead of the vessels which we see in our illustration coming from the North to London laden with coals, ships may be taking cargoes of London coal to the district of ancient coal-fields in the North. For listen, oh wondering sons of Cockayne ! A certain philosopher, wiser than Stuart Mill upon geological questions, believes that coal measures may be found under London. Coal is worked under the chalk at Valenciennes in France, ” and having been found to a small extent in recent sinkings under the cretaceous deposits ranging westwards towards Calais, it might extend farther across the Channel, and occur under similar cretaceous rocks in the south of England;” and he “considers that it will not be too much to say that we have a strong a priori reason for supposing that the course of a band

of coal measures coincides with, and may some day be reached along the valley of the Thames, while some of the deeper-seated coal, as well as certain over-lying and limited basins, may occur along and beneath some of the longitudinal folds of the Wealden denudation.” These are the views of Mr. Godwin Austen. It is, therefore, just on the cards that when England has declined and fallen, and the epoch of the New Zealander has come, the regenerated and noble savage may undermine the ruined city of the English kings, and establish profitable collieries throughout the valley of the Thames. Fancy Barnes, Putney, and Richmond thick with coal heaps, the sky lurid with the half-smothered light of engine fires, the river black with coal washings, and busy with blackened barges ! The picture is too dreadful. Let us hasten to Wapping and Rotherhithe at once, determined to confine the colliers, even in our imagination, to that sombre region of the father of the great English river.

We have already explained that some of the colliery lines of the Northern pits run to the very edge of the river or docks where the coal ships are lying. The coal is here turned into “shoots,” long funnel-like constructions that conduct it from the railway waggon into the hold of the vessels. Men called ” trimmers” level the coal and ” trim” the vessels, and when the loading and trimming is complete the ships sail for London. When the vessels arrive at their destination, the coal is sold at the Coal Exchange, and then the vessel is ordered into ” the Pool ” at Rotherhithe and discharged.

Our picture exhibits the process. The sketch was taken during the discharge of a collier’s cargo. ” Derricks” are put up amidships, and over these is erected a heavy beam of timber, to which is attached a pulley and ropes. From the ropes swing five or six separate baskets in which the coal is hauled into a “meter.” The operation is somewhat primitive. It is in this wise : when a basket is filled, men called ” whippers” ascend the steps of the “derrick,”and, with the rope in their hands, leap on deck. This brings the basket to the ” meter,” where it is duly emptied. The “whipper,” it will be seen, is a sort of human lever for bringing out of the vessel’s hold the full basket of coal. Then there is another person of great importance to the purchaser and vendor of the coal. He is called the “meter,” after the receptacle over which he presides. Each basket of coal is emptied into the “meter,” the machine representing a certain weight of coal. When that particular weight is indicated, the presiding genius of the meter slips a bolt not unlike the Jack Ketch arrangement of the gallows, and away go the coals down a shoot or spout into the barge at the vessel’s side. And this is ” Coal Whipping in the Pool.”

A few years ago scores of vessels might be seen discharging in this way; but the system is being superseded by more expeditious arrangements. The majority of the vessels now sail direct to the chief coal depots and are unloaded by steam. Many colliers, however, still come to the Pool as of old, but the engraving which we give this week will soon exhibit only a bygone incident in the history of coal importation into London. The metropolis is insatiable in its demand for coal, and it is necessary that all expedition should be used among the competing coalowners in the way of dis-charging and delivering their enormous cargoes. M. Simonin tells us that London receives more than six millions of tons of coals a year. Three million tons are brought by sea and the rest by railway and canal. Six thousand ships of five hundred tons burthen are engaged in this trade. These figures represent more than all the traffic of a large seaport like Marseilles, and more than the traffic circulating yearly throughout the French coasts.

As a people, we owe so much of our home comforts to King Coal, as a nation we are indebted to him for so much of our power, that nothing we can do in the interest of his Majesty’s subjects would be too much for duty and gratitude. May we who know the pitman and his haunts —we who have seen the battle of the mines and its killed and wounded—make one suggestion on behalf of the miner ? The Legislature has made, and continues to make, wise and good laws in his interest. Let the Government see that they are enforced. Too many mining districts have coroners who are friendly with the coalowners or viewers, or who are anxious to stand well with their wealthy neighbours ; and the result is too many verdicts of ” Accidental death,” and too few of Manslaughter.” Naturally the doctor and the coroner of the district and often the respectable but ignorant jurymen are unwilling to put the severest construction upon the law, and so the victims to ill-regulated mines pass away unavenged. The law affecting mines cannot be too stringently enforced, both against the miner himself and against the coal proprietors. It is a sad reflection upon our Science and Civilisation that we should so frequently light our fires not with coal alone, but with whole families— “It’s no fish ye’re buying, but men’s lives!” as Mrs. Mucklebackit observes in the ” Antiquary.”

Who could burn north country coal after the calamity at Hartley, and not feel something of the remorse which Hood must have excited in the breast of many a noble woman when he launched that thrilling Song of the Shirt against the fashionable dressmakers who sacrificed their needy serfs in the garrets of London ? Who could sit in the light of a Staffordshire fire a few years ago without seeing the ghosts of the miners of Talk-o’-the-Hill, and hearing the wail of woe that came over that stricken land, when the bells should have rung in the merry Christmas time ? Only a small proportion of the deaths in the mine, like the catastrophes on our railways, are ” accidents.” They are the result of outrages upon the laws of God and man, which a Legislature, less influenced by the greed of gold than that which governs commercial England, would punish with a hand so firm and strong that the Christmas bells might ring out through the land of pits without awakening everlasting thoughts of churchyard processions and funereal knells.


Descent into a Coal Mine.


Article copied from “Leisure Hour” a family Journal of instruction and recreation.
Thursday July 26, 1855

HAVING in a previous number explained the occupations of young persons in coal mines, we now supplement that account by a description of the interior of a great Newcastle coal mine. Let the kind reader accompany us in our imaginary descent, and we will notice things as they present themselves to us.
We must select our mine; and, having risen early, and made our way towards the scene, we observe a flag of smoke streaming forth from a tall chimney, which forms a good mine mark. The official who is appointed to accompany us, meets us at the pit’s counting-house, and conducts us to a little room, where we array ourselves in pitmen’s dresses. A glance in a broken mirror shows us ourselves with a very laughable exterior. The writer sees himself suddenly transformed into a rough miner, clothed in wide and coaly trousers, having a scanty waistcoat with one button, and a loose flannel jacket, into one pocket of which he crams a handkerchief, and into the other a paper of biscuits. If the curious reader will fancy himself to be the writer’s companion, he can laugh and be laughed at in a similar array. Thus attired, we should both be passed as strangers by our nearest and dearest of kin, especially when we put on our heads the round leather caps with broad rims.

We now step outside and observe the busy scenes at the surface, while the preparations are making for our descent. We see a long low shed, erected at the mouth of the shaft, on what is called the ” pit-heap,” for the convenience of the men. Other long sheds on either hand are erected to cover the “screens,” where the process goes forward by which the large coals are separated from the small; and a very noisy, dusty, and disagreeable scene it is. A strange, half-musical sound comes from the large screens of stretched wires or rods, when heaps of coal are thrown upon them, just as if so many metallic harps had been rudely struck. Here, what every housekeeper knows as ” screened Wallsend,” is made ready for the London market. The refuse, or small coal, is sold at a nominal price to the workpeople, who make immense fires of it in their cottages; or it is consumed in the many factories and glass works around. Formerly, it was kindled at the surface as waste, and the country was lit up at night for miles around with these useless conflagrations. All around you it will be noticed that the grass, once green, is black with coal dust issuing from the screens; and the red faces of the boys and lads are half-veiled in black, as they wheel away the coals from under the screens to the wagons; and if you are standing at all in their way, boys and barrows threaten you on every side.

Just behind us stands the engine-house, wherein you may inspect the steam-engine for ” winding ” or drawing up the produce of the mine, and which will, I hope, draw us up safely when we have finished our subterranean journey. This we must now soon commence, for the man at the pit’s mouth has made everything ready, and, by strange vocal communications with the people below, has arranged that the shaft shall be kept clear while we descend. A few words on shafts may be interesting while we linger here a moment.
The shafts in the Newcastle coal-field are often very deep; and I have reckoned that the aggre-gate depth of twelve of these shafts which I have descended, is no less than 11,780 feet. I have selected twelve of the deepest. The deepest perpendicular coal mine shaft in the world is one of these. It is that of Pemberton’s pit, near Sunderland, and is 1590 feet clear depth, or nearly equal to the Monument of London when piled eight times upon itself! The cost of sinking this shaft was almost £100,000, owing to the great difficulties met with in the enterprise. The most costly shafts are those which pass through sands full of springs of water, all of which must be ” stopped back ” and pumped out of the mine. Such shafts are lined with brick or stone, and sometimes with iron-casing of the most expensive character.

The mere lining or ” tubbing ” of the shafts will cost from £60 to £70 per fathom (six feet). A shaft is not considered dear at an outlay of £10,000 in difficult cases. If many springs are met, large pumping engines must be at once erected, and these enormous machines work night and day in pumping up the water. To reach the coal is termed, in the north, ” winning the coal; ” and when the expensive nature of many such undertakings is known, it is indeed a costly winning, and oftentimes anything but winning a prize. The most expensive coal-winning in the world, perhaps, was that of the Murton pits, at South Hetton, near Durham, and which, owing to the peculiar obstacles encountered, was not completed for a sum much less than £300,000! Such was my conjecture from data afforded me on the spot.

Few persons have any idea of the powerful springs of water cut in such sinking’s. They are expressly named ” feeders;” and of such feeders three were cut in the Helton colliery, which sup-plied respectively 2000, 1000, and 1600 gallons of water per minute. Hebburn colliery supplied 3000 gallons of water per minute. But the most abundant springs of water were cut in the Murton sinking above mentioned, where, according to a fair calculation recently laid before me, no less a quantity than eight thousand gallons of water per minute issued from depths of 70 to 80 fathoms! At this same colliery, steam power to the extent of 570 horses was constantly employed in effecting the discharge of water and the extraction of coal! This marvellous enterprise was carried on about nine miles from Durham, in a wild waste country. While on shafts, I may mention that the astronomer royal has recently made numerous experiments with the pendulum, to ascertain the density of the earth, in a deep shaft at South Shields.

But it is time for us to descend. The man is calling out, ” Now, gemmen; we he’s all ready, zurs.” We must step into this “cage,” which, you perceive, is a kind of vertical railway carriage, open at the sides, and running upon upright guides which extend through the shaft. The old plan of descent was an iron tub, or a wicker basket (“corfe”); but the cages have largely supplanted the baskets and tubs, although, as a matter of choice, I prefer the old basket, in which I could stand upright and easy; whereas in most cages one must crouch and draw in arms and feet, lest one or other should be lopped off by the guides.

The miners themselves have an abiding preference for ” riding in the loops;” that is, forming a loop of the bottom part of the pit rope, by hooking it back upon itself, they insert one leg in such loop, and wind themselves round the rope, and then swing off, down or up, without possibility of being ejected, however much they may be thumped, bumped, and banged against sides of shaft, or other passengers, in their journey.

I have often stood wondering at the pit’s mouth, when the men came up after work, to see them emerge from darkness, riding in loops one above the other, on the rope, and smoking short pipes, and looking as indifferent and easy as a gentleman in his easy chair. More curious still was it to watch the lads and boys coming up in like fashion after their day’s work, and to see the little boys safely hugged in the arms of their big brothers, or in some instances merely resting on the knees of the elders. In one instance, I saw a little fellow of about ten years of age emerge from the pit fast asleep on a man’s knee!

Now, then, we are off on our descent. The signals have been made and answered. All we have to do is to sit still. We are how in total darkness, sliding down—down—down, until, lo! here we are at the bottom! Actually, we have gone down 958 feet in four minutes and a half! Out, we get on the coal-floor. We can see nothing, and grope about timidly, for we must wait until our eyes become accustomed to the dimness. Let us sit down awhile on this log of wood. Now we begin to distinguish objects, and to observe a dull glimmering lamp against the wall, and a dozen black leering lads eyeing us. No time must be lost; and our guide has our candles ready. He puts a lump of clay between the fourth and fifth fingers of your left hand, sticks a thin pit candle (40 to the pound) in the clay, lights it, lights his own, gives us each a stick, and on he marches, telling us to follow him, and on no account to leave him. We follow his candle and his shadow, and find the walking tolerably easy, and the passages airy and rather lofty. We are now walking up the ” mainway ” of the pit —as it were its Cheapside, or principal street. You observe that the roof is arched, and the sides well formed and supported. Indeed, the whole of the mainway is like a long railway tunnel, though lower, darker, and less airy.

We proceed in this passage for half a mile or more, until we see our guide disposed to turn off right or left. When he does so turn, we find ourselves in rather narrower and lower passages—like the lanes and small streets branching out of main streets. To illustrate the plan of the mine very familiarly, let us suppose that the great dome of St. Paul’s represents the shaft, and that we have descended from the summit of the cross, (which we assume as the level of the earth’s surface,) and have reached the floor of the mine, in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Consider Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to form the mainways of the pit, and that Shoe Lane and Fetter Lane and Chancery Lane are the side passages on the right, and Bouverie Street and other streets on the left. Now, just as a street passenger would turn up one of these lanes, say Shoe Lane, so we are now turning up one of the side lanes of the mine.

The whole mine is excavated somewhat in the same manner as streets are laid out, but more regularly, and nearly at right angles, in its various passages. The object is to form the whole mine into panels, or compartments, each of which shall contain an area of from eight to twelve acres of coals. A solid wall of coal, forty to fifty yards thick, is left at first around each panel. All the panels in the mine are connected by roads with the shaft, and each one has a distinguishing name,, like that of a city square, or block of houses; so that, by a corresponding plan, mapped out and kept in the colliery office, any circumstance relating to the details of the mine can be readily referred to a specified locality. Through each separate panel, roads and ” air-courses ” are excavated, to work the coal and ventilate the mine—the air descending one shaft and ascending another.

In order to uphold the roof, and the vast masses of super incumbent streets, considerable portions of the coal are left standing in the form of pillars, the dimensions of which vary according to depth from surface, and consequent weight of strata. The proportion of coal left in the pillars varies, of course, with their dimensions. In the deepest pit (Pemberton’s), the proportion of coal left to that extracted is as six-sevenths to one-seventh; that is, only one-seventh of the entire coal is extracted. The rest must be left to support the roof, until the one-seventh is extracted; then the miners will attack the pillars themselves, reducing them proportionally and gradually, and propping up the roof with timber; until, in the end, a large portion of the entire pillars may be removed, when the roof will probably crumble down, and the mine fall into “waste.” Such is the improved system of working; but formerly they abandoned a mine after extracting only a small proportion of the coal. Pillar-working is dangerous on several accounts ; but the most dangerous process is ” drawing the props,” or attempting to extract the wooden supports after the pillars are worked out,, and when, consequently, the roof rests on the wood, and falls instantly when it is withdrawn. I once stood near some prop-drawers, and watched the perilous parsimony of sawing the wood at the risk of life. In this manner is the coal mine excavated, supported, worked out, and abandoned.

The side passages, in one of which we are now standing, and into which we have turned while thus explaining, are narrow and low; and if you are tall, you must stoop low in proceeding. The farther in we advance, the narrower and lower they are found ; and when we attain the innermost recesses of the pit, we find ourselves compelled to bend very low—almost towards the ground—and here and there we must creep upon all-fours. In this part of our journey things are very uncomfortable. The air is loaded with the gaseous and other impurities of the pit; the heat is considerable, and, unless you perspire freely, very oppressive; your limbs ache, and, perhaps, you have more than once bumped your back, or struck your head, against roof or side, or burnt your hands with the wasting and flaring candle, or filled your mouth, eyes, and ears with coal dust.

We will therefore make short cuts to the ” hewers,” and, having inspected their operations, turn back.
Here we are, then, amongst a dozen hewers or getters of the coal, working at one ” face ” of the coal. Never did you see before such a strange-looking place, such strange-looking people, and such peculiar postures. You observe the seams are thin, varying from two to three feet of coal, and seldom more than three or four feet. You see one man kneeling, one sitting with a peculiar squat, another stooping or bending double, and, in the thinnest seams, you mark one or two lying on their sides or on their backs, and all picking away at the coal before or above them with short, heavy picks. To hew coal well is not easy.

The men must be brought up (or brought down) to it. Where naked candles can be used with safety, gunpowder is employed to blast the coal; and those peculiar, booming, deadened sounds which startled us some time ago, were the sounds of the blastings here, and the smoke of which has not yet cleared away. These hewers work only about six hours a day, and can earn from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. per day, according to the demand for coals. Many are their complaints and grievances, according to their own tales, which, after a long and patient inquiry, I am disposed to think not often very well founded. They often ” strike,” but seldom gain anything by their strikes.

They live rent free, or nearly so, in cottages forming pit-villages, with plenty of coal at nominal charges. Their work is very hard, and not very healthy; but they live well. The worst part is their exposure to the fatal explosions so often arising from the combustion of the fire damp in these mines. Yet they become familiar (strangely so) with danger.

Having now seen the coal, got, the baskets filled, put on to little trucks, and driven to the bottom of the shaft, by boys driving a train on the railway which lines the mainway, the trains being drawn by pit ponies, it is time to think of returning, and ascending to the upper regions, where warm water and soap will remove our stains, and refreshment reinvigorate our weary frames.

While we are walking back, let me inform you that you might walk for more than twenty miles through the passages of this mine. In one old pit it has been computed that there are nearly seventy miles of gallery excavations. Indeed, this whole coal-field is honey-combed in all directions under-ground; and not infrequently miners pierce old workings in their progress, by which waste waters are sometimes let into the mine, and serious inundations occur.
About ten years ago, the writer collected statistics of the collieries on the three rivers Tyne, Wear, and Tees. The average depth of shafts was found to be respectively 510, 450, and 330 feet. The number of pits or collieries was 192. The number of men and boys employed (above and below ground) was no less than 25,770. The engine power in action was 19,397 horses.

The total quantity of coal raised per annum was 6,506,371 tons, the average price of which, at the pit’s mouth, was from 8s. 6d. to 10s. 6d. per ton. I have paid, not long since, 53s. per ton for coal, which, I believe, cost, at the pit’s mouth, not much more than 12s. to 13s., the remaining £2 being levied for freight, taxes, and numerous impositions. The entire mines of the Northumberland and Durham coal-field yield, at this time, about 10,000,000 of tons of coal per annum.

The geographical dimensions of this great northern coal-field are:—length, about 48 miles; extreme breadth, 24 miles ; area, about 837 square miles. Of this area, 243 square miles belong to Northumberland, and 594 square miles to Durham. The three rivers, Tyne, Wear, and Tees intersect the whole region most advantageously for the development and carriage of the coal.

Pitmen live in district villages built near the collieries. These are nick-named “Shiney Rows,” the houses being built in long rows. Those in which the subordinate officers of the pit live are called ” Quality Row.” Take your station in a pit village about five or six o’clock on a fine evening, and you will see much to amuse and inform you. Long strings of British blackamoors maybe seen approaching the village from the mine. Some are carrying empty bottles and bags—the former emptied of their cold tea, the latter of their bread, meat, and cheese. Some approach gaily and laughing—these are the lads and boys; others come gravely and moodily—these are the men.

The gait and carriage of a born and bred pitman are peculiar. A hewer will be marked by his incur-vature of body, inclining to the shape of a note of interrogation. His legs will have a graceful bow, only in the wrong direction; the chest protrudes like that of a pigeon; his eye has the glance of a hawk half awake; his face, when washed, presents the appearance of a pound of pit candles. Let us not smile at him; we should look much the same had we been hewers. They are commonly shrewd men, sharp as needles in all that concerns their earnings, strikes, and dangers. Many of them are Methodists, and neat chapels are commonly found in the pit villages. The lads and boys come onward in a slouching, careless, half-defiant manner. Poor fellows! They have had work enough for one day of twelve hours—mostly dark to them.
Upon their entrance into their cottages they strip and wash, without very much ceremony or decency. Then they sit down to a hearty meal of animal food, with much fat, and tea or coffee. A luxurious accompaniment is a cake, baked on the girdle, having plenty of fat, which hisses upon being heated, and is thence called ” a singing-honey.” Often have I been pressed to ” take a bite of sing-in’ hinnie “—a favour I have always dreaded and declined. Eating over, the boys and lads will get a game of play in the village. Men will smoke, read newspapers, and, some few of them, religious or mathematical works. Others will go to ” meeting ” or chapel, and many to the alehouse. Some are musicians, and attempt all kinds of discords upon all kinds of instruments.

The evening, however, is short for all; for most must go to bed early in order to get up at four, five, or six o’clock, when the “caller” goes round to summon them to work. Hence, about nine o’clock, most of the men and lads yawn and become sleepy: now fiddles sound very scrapingly, and quavers on the flute become very doubtful and difficult; the horn gives a short and dismal blast, and the clarionet is dreadfully nasal; songs have died away; men turn in from various resorts; lads and boys lounge in from the lanes, and from marbles and pitch-and-toss. Persecuted donkeys and dogs know their hour of release and rest is come. Boys of all temperaments become mild instead of pugnacious. On all sides there are unequivocal signs of settlement for the night. At about ten or eleven o’clock the whole village is hushed, and another day’s turmoil is forgotten in the balmy bonds of sleep.

In almost every pitman’s house there are pieces of good furniture—generally in the shape of a good eight-day clock, a mahogany chest of drawers, and a fine four-post bedstead. A newly-married couple consider these things indispensable. Immense fires and immense families are also to be seen in nearly every cottage. A family of boys is a great gain to a pitman, as they can all earn money when above ten years of age. Hence, too, a widow of a pitman, if left with eight or nine boys, is considered a great ” catch ” by the thrifty single man. Such a family would be a heavy burden to most workmen, and an incumbrance to most widows; but the pitmen’s widows consider these to be equal to a settlement. Hence, there will often be an active competition for such a widow.


Children in the Mines


In August 1842 the Children’s Employment Commission drew up an act of Parliament which gave a minimum working age for boys in mines, though the age varied between districts and even between mines. The Mines and Collieries Act also outlawed the employment of women and girls in mines. In 1870 it became compulsory for all children aged between five and thirteen to go to school, ending much of the hurrying. It was still a common profession for school leavers well into the 1920s


Children as young as three or four were employed, with both sexes contributing to the work. The younger ones often worked in small teams, with those pushing the corf from the rear being known as thrusters. The thrusters often had to push the corf using their heads, leading to the hair on their crown being worn away and the child becoming bald.

Some children were employed as coal trappers, particularly those not yet strong enough to pull or push the corf. This job saw the child sit in a small cutting waiting for the hurriers to approach. They would then open the trapdoors to allow the hurrier and his cargo through. The trappers also opened the trapdoors to provide ventilation in some locations.

As mines grew larger the volume of coal extracted increased beyond the pulling capabilities of children. Instead horses guided by coal drivers were used to pull the corves. These drivers were usually older children between the ages of 10 and 14

This is one of the toughest jobs for anybody, let alone a child, to carry out. Hurriers are all about six to eight years old. You’ll be equipped with a wide leather ‘gurl’ belt with a swivel chain attached. After harnessing yourself into this, you’ll attach the free end of the chain to a sled. Then, for over a mile underground, you’ll make your way through the small tight passages of the mine, so small that you can’t stand up.  Once you reach the coal face, you’ll have to fend for yourself among the adult miners as these tough men load your sled with chunks and slabs of coal. Then you’ll have to scrabble and crawl back to the surface pulling your load. This must be completed many times during a 12-hour shift. If you’re lucky, you might get an even younger child to act as your ‘thruster’ and shove the sled from behind.

Danger waits around every corner in this sorry and thankless endeavour


(Author Lawrence Scollen, Publication  Sunderland Echo)


This is the fourth of a series of articles on the children who worked in the mines of County Durham during the 19th Century.

“Oh, Sir, this is sore, sore, sore work. I wish to God that the first woman who tried to bear coals had broke her back, and none would have tried it again!”
Such was the despairing lament of a woman, struggling under an excessive weight of coals, trembling in every nerve, as she sank in sheer exhaustion to her knees before the colliery manager on his inspection of the pit. Although women and girls were employed below ground in both the Yorkshire and East of Scotland coalfields, the practice never spread to Northumberland and Durham. Hard though the times might be, and desperate the circumstances of the collier folk, the women of this coalfield were spared the degradations and indignities imposed upon their neighbours to the north and south.
Mr Jellinger C. Symons, Reporting in 1841 to the Children’s Employment Commission on the state of the Yorkshire Coalfield, found that girls performed all the various offices of trapping, hurrying, filling, riddling, topping and even hewing. (Hurrying was the local term for putting, and involved pushing the tubs of coal along the tramways. In filling, the hewer shovelled up the smaller coal and cast it into a riddle or sieve; such coal as remained after shaking was thrown into the tub. When the tub was almost full the hewer and hurrier topped it off with large coal loaded by hand. Hence the expressions “riddling” and “topping.”) The work most commonly done by the girls was that of hurrying. In thin seams of coal the roadways were as low as 22 inches from floor to roof, and only small children could be used. Horses could be used In the thicker seams, but it would have been too expensive for the owners to enlarge the roadways where the seams were thin and, as one official stated in his evidence ”Horses are not so handy as Christians, and we could not do with them.”


The method of propulsion adopted in these low places was what was termed the “girdle and chain” system. A broad belt was buckled round the waist, to the front of which a chain was attached. When the child went down on all fours the chain was passed between the legs and attached to the tub, which the child drew along harnessed like an animal. Some of the tubs had small wheels, and ran on rails, others were rather smaller and had “sledge” bottoms so that they slid, or rather were dragged, along the uneven ground. Sub – Commissioner Symons considered that hurrying in low places was quite the hardest of all the operations performed in coalmining, yet by its very nature it precluded the employment of any but the very smallest and youngest of the children. Not only the nature and severity of the work gave Mr Symons cause for concern.

“The chain,” he wrote, “passing high up between the legs of these girls, had worn large holes in their trousers, and any sight more disgustingly indecent or revolting can scarcely be imagined than these girls at work. No brothel can beat it.”
He found on descending a Barnsley pit a group of men, boys, and girls assembled around a fire, the girls as well as the boys stark naked down to the waist, their hair bound up with a tight cap, and trousers supported by the hips. “Their sex,” he wrote, “was recognizable only by their breasts, and some little difficulty occasionally arose in pointing out to me which were boys, and which caused a good deal of laughing and joking.”

In the Flockton and Thornhill pits, although the girls were clothed, most of the men for whom they hurried were stark naked, or wearing only a flannel waistcoat. “It is not to be supposed,” Mr Svmons reported, “but that where opportunity thus prevails sexual vices are of common occurrence. Add to this the free intercourse, and the rendezvous at the shaft or bull-stake, where the corves are brought, and consider the language to which the youngest ear is habituated, the absence of religious instruction, and the early age at which contamination begins, and you will have before you, in the coalpits where females are employed, the picture of a nursery for juvenile vice which you will go far and wide above ground to equal.” He did find, however, that “a very general practice prevails among the colliers of marrying the girls they seduce.”


Women and girls in the collieries of Eastern Scotland were chiefly employed as coal bearers and putters. The coal bearer’s duty was to carry on her back loads of coal varying from three-quarters of a hundredweight to three hundredweight in weight. The coal was loaded into a “creel,” a large wicker or wooden tray which was placed on the girl’s back (the girl bending well forward so that the creel lay reasonably level) and straps or “tugs” attached to the creel were passed around the forehead to prevent the load from slipping. Thus laden, the girl had to struggle along the unrailed roads of the steeply-sloping “braes” of the pit from the face to the shaft bottom. Other hazards to be negotiated were the turnpike stairs, which were rough spiral staircases leading to a surface outlet in the hillside, or trap staircases, a series of near-vertical ladders leading from one level to another and eventually to the surface. Accidents were numerous on the trap staircases, due to the inevitability of a certain amount of coal falling from the creel as the bearer climbed the ladder, and most of the women and girls were badly scarred from being struck by coal in these circumstances. The heavy load carried, and the grossly unnatural posture which had to be adopted under its weight, made coal-bearing one of the most intolerable occupations that could be imagined, and it resulted in early and permanent physical damage.

A 40-year-old bearer, Jane Peacock Watson, submitted the following evidence to Mr Robert Franks, investigating the state of the East of Scotland coalfield. “I have wrought in the bowels of the earth 33 years; have been married 23 years, and had nine children; six are alive, three died of typhus a few years since; have had two dead born, I think they were so from the oppressive work; a vast number of women have dead children and false births, which are worse, as they are no’ able to work after the latter. I have always been obliged to work below till forced to go home to bear the bairn, and so have all other women. We return as soon as we are able never longer than ten or 12 days, many less if they are needed. It is only horse-work, and ruins the women; it crushes their haunches, bends their ankles, and makes them old women at 40.” Another witness, Isabel Hogg, aged 53, formerly a coal-bearer, was described by the Sub-Commissioner as one of the most respectable coal-wives in Penston, her rooms being well-kept and well furnished, and her house the cleanest he had seen in East Lothian. Mrs Hogg averred that from the “great sore labour” false births were frequent and very dangerous.


“I have four daughters married,” said Mrs Hogg, and all work below till they bear their bairns – one is very badly now from working while pregnant, which brought on a miscarriage from which she is not expected to recover.
“Collier people suffer much more than others – my guid man died nine years since with bad breath; he lingered some years, and was entirely off work 11 years before he died.
“You must just tell the Queen Victoria that we are guid loyal subjects; women-people here don’t mind work, but they object to horse-work, and that she would have the blessings of all the Scotch coal-women if she would get them out of the pits, and send them to other labour.”
The evidence submitted regarding the work of the coal-bearers was such as to present a picture of what Sub-Commissioner Franks termed “deadly physical oppression and systematic slavery, of which I conscientiously believe no one unacquainted with such facts would credit the existence in the British dominions.”

The Scottish putter girls, like their Yorkshire counterparts, used wheeled tubs, or “hutchies” in seams with adequate height, and sledge – bottomed boxes (“slypes”) in low places. The hutchies held up to l0cwt of coal and the slypes from 2 and a quarter cwt to 5cwt. The girdle and chain of the type used in Yorkshire was not employed in the Scottish pits; instead a harness was worn over the shoulders and back, to the strong girth of which an iron hook was attached. This hook could be inserted into the chain of a hutchie and by straining at the harness like a horse the putter could drag her burden along the rails. Where the gradient was particularly severe, smaller girls were sometimes needed to push at the back of the hutchie, and they did this by placing their heads against the back of the carriage and exerting what strength they could through their arms and head to propel the unwieldy vehicle forward. So far as the moral state of his district was concerned, Mr Franks seems to have been more preoccupied with the evils of drink than with immorality of the type reported in the Yorkshire coalfield. He quoted the following passages from the Report of William Stevenson. Esq., on “the Sanatorv Condition of the Parish of Inveresk in the County of Midlothian”: “Those colliers with whom I came into connexion, I found a dissipated, drunken, improvident, and dirty set of people, with no notion of anything but drunkenness and rioting: laying by no provision for the future, though in receipt of good wages, which might be considerably larger if they would abandon their dissipated habits, and work the whole six instead of only four days in the week.

Many of the colliers abuse their wives and children in a shameful manner, kicking and striking them for no cause whatever; but we shall find that this is the case with most men who give themselves up to drunkenness and dissipation in the way that many do. Their wives are also very drunken; and I have seen the young children, many of them from not more than eight or ten years of age, take a glass of whisky just as readily as their parents. When any accidents happen, or when through intemperate habits they are laid on a bed of sickness instead of being a warning to them it is always made an excuse for drinking, for the neighbours usually congregate in numbers in the house of the sick man, when the whisky bottle is produced; and although it may not follow that they get intoxicated in that house, still it being a beginning leads them on either to adjourn to the public house, and there keep up a constant drinking for two or three days, or else they go to the other houses, and getting a dram at each finish the day in a state of beastly inebriety; the same is often the case even when their comrade is lying a corpse.”


It was generally agreed in principle by both owners and workmen that from every aspect the employment of women and girls in mines was undesirable. The extra expense which would have been incurred by the owners, however, in replacing female labour by men prevented their taking any active steps in the matter. Similarly, the loss of wages which would have resulted made the men and their families reluctant to agitate for a change in the system. But the dreadful tale unfolded by the Commission had a remarkably quick response, and legislation was introduced in 1842 which, among other reforms, prohibited the employment of women and girls in mines and collieries.
There was in consequence a measure of financial loss on both sides, as had been anticipated. Women with qualifications for no other employment that the dull routine of carrying heavy burdens and pushing loaded tubs in constricted working places were thrown on to a labour market which could offer them no opportunities. There were numerous complaints of hardship occasioned to widows, orphans, families without sons to aid a father who was old or ailing, and so on. Nevertheless the great majority of those affected adapted themselves to the change, and indeed found that in the long run they were not significantly worse off. A married woman with four children, who had formerly been employed at Pencaitland Colliery, explained the position thus:
“While working in the pit I was worth to my husband 7s a week, out of which we had to pay 2s 6d to a woman for looking after the younger bairns. I used to take them to her house at 4 o’clock in the morning, out of their own beds, to put them into hers. Then there was 1s a week for washing, besides there was mending to pay for, and other things. The house was not guided. The other children broke things; they did not go to school when they were sent; they would be playing about, and got ill-used by other children, and their clothes torn. Then when I came home in the evening, everything was to do after the day’s labour, and I was so tired I had no heart for it; no fire lit, nothing cooked, no water fetched, the house dirty, and nothing comfortable for my husband. It is all far better now, and I wouldna’ gang down again.”


Younger women obtained employment at the pit banks, some took up farm work, went into other industries or entered domestic service. After a few years it seemed incredible that women had ever worked below’ ground, and few would ever have considered returning to the back-breaking labour of hurrying or putting.
So far as the cost to the owners was concerned, this proved in the event to be less than was feared, nor was it generally necessary to increase the price of coal. The work went on with greater regularity and efficiency than hitherto and the extra money involved was regarded as well-spent. In some districts, mine-owners opened washhouses, and engaged women to teach their former employees washing, sewing and other domestic crafts.
Thus came into effect. a law which, in addition to prohibiting the employment of females below ground, also made regulations governing the employment of boys in the mines. Since the Report of the Children’s Employment Commission was not presented until April, 1842, the passing of the Act in August of the same year is remarkable not only as a great step forward in social legislation, but also as an example of the efficiency of the Parliamentary and legal processes of the first years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

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