Why did demand for Coal change?

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Coal Mining During the Industrial Revolution

Why did demand for Coal change?

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. The Industrial Revolution changed all of this.

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.

However, as the country started to industrialise 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. Once a coal seam was found, the miners dug horizontally. However, underground the miners faced very real and great dangers.

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

Poisonous 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 and the North

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.

How did the miners try to overcome the dangers they faced ?

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.

Trap doors where built also to minimise the damage from an explosion

In 1807 John Buddle invented an air pump to be used in mines.

No methods to control flooding

Sir Humphrey Davy invented the 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 wire gauze acted as a barrier between the heat given off and any gas it might have had contact with.

  • 1700 : 2.7 million tonnes

  • 1750 : 4.7 million tonnes

  • 1800 : 10 million tonnes

  • 1850 : 50 million tonnes

  • 1900 : 250 million tonnes

Regardless of these developments, mining remained very dangerous. A report on deaths in coal mines to Parliament gave a list of ways miners could be killed :

Falling down a mine shaft on the way down to the coal

Falling out of the ‘bucket’ bringing you up after a shift

Being hit falling coal

Drowning in the mine

Crushed to death by being run over by a tram

Killed by explosions

Suffocation by poisonous gas

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.

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