Article in two parts from The Graphic 28th Jan 1871 and 4th February 1871 Line drawings which originally accompanied the text are not reproduced here.
PITS AND PITMEN 1871— K1NG COAL AT HOME
pits and pitmen
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.
TBB NIGHT SHIFT
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
INSTRUCTIONS TO RESIDENTS AND UNDERVIEWERS.
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.
IN THE PIT
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 isa 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. ”
ABOVE GROUND ”
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.
FROM THE PIT TO LONDON
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. END
Dawdon Colliery underground