Coal was needed in vast quantities for the Industrial Revolution
For centuries, people in Britain had made do with charcoal if they needed a cheap and easy to acquire fuel.
What ‘industry’ that existed before 1700, did use coal but it came from coal mines that were near to the surface and the coal was relatively easy to get to.
Before the Industrial Revolution, two types of mines existed: drift mines and bell pits. Both were small scale coal mines and the coal which came from these type of pits was used locally in homes and local industry.
As the country started to industrialize itself, more and more coal was needed to fuel steam engines and furnaces.
The development of factories by Arkwright and the improvement of the steam engine by Watt further increased demand for coal. As a result coal mines got deeper and deeper and coal mining became more and more dangerous.
Coal shafts could go hundreds of feet into the ground.
Even with Watt's improved steam engine, flooding was a real problem in mine explosive gas (called fire damp) would be found the deeper the miners got.
One spark from a digging miner’s pick axe or candle could be disastrous poison gas was also found underground pit collapses were common; the sheer weight of the ground above a worked coal seam was colossal and mines were only held up by wooden beams called props.
Regardless of all these dangers, there was a huge increase in the production of coal in Britain.
Very little coal was found in the south, but vast amounts were found in the Midlands, the north, the north-east and parts of Scotland.
Because coal was so difficult and expensive to move, towns and other industries grew up around the coal mining areas so that the workers came to the coal regions.
This in itself was to create problems as these towns grew without any obvious planning or thought given to the facilities the miners and their families would need.
The increase in coal production :
1700: 2.7 million tons 1750: 4.7 million tons
1800: 10 million tons
1850: 50 million tons
1900: 250 million tons
To clear mines of gas - be it explosive or poisonous - a crude system of ventilation was used.
To assist this, young children called trappers would sit underground opening and shutting trap doors which went across a mine.
This allowed coal trucks through but it also created a draught and it could shift a cloud a gas. However, it was very ineffectual.
It was also believed that a system of trap doors might help to stop the blast of an explosion damaging more of the coal mine……….It was not until 1807 when the problem was eased when John Buddle invented an air pump to be used in mines.
Flooding was a risk that was out of the control of the miners as even Watts steam engines could not cope if a mine had a serious flood.
Likewise, pit props could only take a certain amount of strain.
The risk of explosion was reduced by the invention by Sir Humphrey Davy of a safety lamp in 1815 which meant that a miner could have light underground but without having to use the exposed flame of a candle. The lamp became known as the "Miners Friend".
It gave off light but a wire gauze acted as a barrier between the heat given off and any gas it might have had contact with.
In one unnamed coal mine, 58 deaths out of a total of 349 deaths in one year, involved children thirteen years or younger. Life for all those who worked underground was very hard.
In 1842, Parliament published a report about the state of coal mining - the Mines Report - and its contents shocked the nation. The report informed the public that children under five years of age worked underground as trappers for 12 hours a day and for 2 pennies a day; older girls carried baskets of dug coal which were far too heavy for them and caused deformities in these girls.
One girl - Ellison Jack, aged 11 - claimed to the Commission of Enquiry that she had to do…