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Interest of the Subject.
if we take an estimate recently made, the coal miners are in number 216,366 persons. Not only must the habits of life, and thought, and labour, and action of such a mass of our industrious classes be very interesting, but we should naturally feel anxious to know what are the peculiarities of health and disease, in fact, what is the pathology of these peculiar working men. Now, on all such interesting matters, no popular and generally accessible information exists, except in the volume above named, and there only to a limited extent. Some valuable hints and notices are scattered throughout the several Reports of Committees of the House of Commons, and especially in the Reports of the Children's Employment Commissioners in 1841. The Report on the Great Northern Coal Field, in particular, included in the latter series, is replete with details of the physical condition of the pitmen and their sons, presented in the form of answers by themselves to questions proposed by the Sub-Commissioner. But these have yet to be made public in a form generally acceptable and accessible.
Probably one cause of the omission has been the presumption, that the subject could not be rendered sufficiently attractive to the general reader. But this must surely be a mere presumption, and without foundation, since not only is the subject commercially and economically important; not only is coal one of the most valuable of our mineral possessions; but, further, whatever relates to the habits and peculiarities and perils of nearly a quarter of a million of our fellow countrymen, must be of considerable moment: while, to the reader who desires to be well informed, the whole of the science connected with coal mining, and with the management of mines, is of high interest. The extraction of the coal may have been thought to be a rough and unscientific business, but there are probably few businesses which demand more sound knowledge of several branches of natural philosophy-as geology and mineralogy, pneumatics and chemistry, &c.-than coal mining on a large scale and in deep mines. In fact, some of the best civil engi. neers have been educated in the northern coal fields, of which the celebrated George Stephenson (originally a pit-lad, near Newcastle) was a signal example. The author of "Our Coal and our Coal Pits" gives a graphic account of Stephenson's origin, difficulties, and final triumphs; from the perusal of which we rise repeating, "Truth is stranger than fiction."
It is therefore our purpose, and we hope it will be approved, to afford in the present article at least a portion of information on these subjects, principally in relation to the appalling accidents and explosions in coal mines, which have been so frequently recorded in the journals of the day, and have so often been the subject of inquiry by Parliamentary Committees, one of which has recently issued its Reports and ample
evidence. We shall spare the reader the toil of perusing the thousands of folio pages, printed over with the particulars of fearful explosions, the opinions of scientific men on the causes and preventives of such catastrophes, the records of experiments on safety lamps, and the details of various methods of ventilating pits, and of increasing such ventilation. We shall endeavour to popularize the subject, and at the same time to combine our personal experience with sound information, attainable with difficulty by the general reader, and even little known to multitudes connected with coal mines. And in order to introduce the reader as agreeably as may be into these matters, he is now invited to accompany us in an imaginary visit to the Newcastle coal field, and a descent into one of the principal coal mines.
By the way, before we enter upon the Northern field, we may make a few general observations on the British produce and consumption of coal. The extent of the British coal fields has been estimated at 11,859* square miles in all. The coals annually raised in this country a few years since amounted to 35,000,000 tons; or, in another form, taking the ton of coal as being about equal to a cubic yard, we raised annually more than eleven square miles of a bed of coal three feet thick. We exported about 2,728,000 tons of coal, and then a remainder was left of 32,272,000 tons for domestic and industrial consumption. A Metropolitan Return for 1852 informs us, that 3,745,345 tons were brought into the port of London in that year, against 3,490,963 tous in the year 1851. From January 17th to October 31st, 1854, the amount of coals imported to London was 2,787,913 tons, showing an increase, over the like period in 1853, of 76,879 tons. London alone may be said to consume 3,500,000 tons of coal every year, and the demand is on the increase. The Great Northern Railway now brings to London about 500,000 tons per annum. It is said that the Lancashire coal fields produce annually about 4,000,000 tons. We find that the quantities of coals shipped to London in the year 1851, by nine leading collieries of the Northern district, were 1,119,775 tons. The entire mines of Northumberland and Durham yield about 10,000,000 tons per annum. No authorized statistics of the production and consumption of coal exist; but from various items we are led to estimate that the production of coal in Great Britain amounts to about 60,000,000 tons a year, and that about 250,000 persons are employed as miners in this production. Notwithstanding the revelations made by the Children's Employment Commissioners, fourteen years since, respecting the physical and moral condition of
*The writer doubts this estimate by Taylor. A computation from the Ordnance Maps and other sources affords a grand total for the United Kingdom of 7,995 square miles; the total area of coal-fields in England and Wales being 4,068 square miles.
The Northern Coal Field.
the pit people, but little thought and attention have been devoted to these 250,000 British subjects. How few have even looked upon a single pitman! How few at this moment know half as much concerning them as they know of the Zouaves and Cossacks in the Crimea !
The great Northern coal field, to which we now invite the reader to accompany us, is bounded on the north by the river Coquet, and it extends on the south nearly to the Tees river. Its extreme length is about 48 miles, and its extreme breadth is about 24 miles. Its area cannot be estimated at more than about 837 square miles; of which 243 square miles belong to Northumberland, and 594 square miles to Durham. This great coal district possesses one peculiar topographical advantage, namely, an intersection by three considerable rivers, by means of which the coal produce of the field is developed, and delivered cheaply and expeditiously into the general markets; and these three rivers, the Tyne, the Wear, and the Tees, are admirably adapted for these purposes by their ample volume of water, their tides, and their harbour room. The total amount of capital invested in the Northern collieries has been conjecturally estimated as £10,000,000; the sum which Mr. M'Culloch had stated as the amount of investment in the whole extent of British coal fields. If we travel to Newcastle-on-Tyne from Birmingham, we shall traverse the series of coal formations which extend from the middle of England northwards, and cross the county of Durham. Through our whole journey we should notice that every thing is sacrificed to coal, where it can be mined; and the great works in operation underground are indicated by numerous black and unpicturesque colliery appurtenances on the surface. The nearer we approach the great Northern coal field, the more we observe of the kingdom of collieries. Soon after you pass the stately towers of Durham Cathedral, you find yourself crossing or passing frequent tramroads of rude character, continually bearing long trains of laden or empty coal waggons. Presently you arrive at the very network of these coal conveyances. Trains of ten, twenty, and thirty coal waggons are every where scouring the district, running in all directions, and often seeming to cross each other's paths with rival speed. That they never come into collision remains an inexplicable marvel; but just when you might expect an inevitable crash, off they dart on some very sharp curve, jingling and rattling with all their iron. Guiding or riding upon these waggons may be seen boys and men as black as Negroes; having eyes like kindled coal, and smoking short pipes, and shouting rude songs. Swiftly rush the trains: no sooner have you seen them a minute, than they run off for ever from your sight. And now you notice, rising up all around you, tall engine-houses and vastly tall chimneys, breathing out long
black clouds of smoke into the sullen skies. Soon you hear groans, and whistlings, and gratings, and all varieties of unearthly sounds swelling upon the breeze. Those dark engine-houses contain the great steam-engines that work the coal mines; and these unearthly noises proceed from pulleys, and "gins," and tramways, and waggon-wheels, and "breaks" to the same. The nearer you come to the head-quarters of coal mining, the louder do all these sounds swell, and the clearer, or blacker, do all these sights appear.
Here we pass near to one of the tall engine-houses which we have just described, and which we saw in the distance with its still taller chimney, hoisting into the sky its slanting column of turbid smoke. Now you observe a huge beam protruding itself from the upper story of the engine-house, as if it were a giant's arm, alternately lifting itself and slowly falling again. To this gigantic beam are attached the rod and bucket of a pump, which pump is bringing, from a depth of from five hundred to a thousand feet, the flooding water of the mine, and thus enabling, the miner to work in safety, where otherwise all would be under water, and therefore inaccessible to human labour. Yonder, just beyond this engine-house, you see another great beam resting on its centre, elevated high aloft on a proper support, and wagging its ends alternately up and down with that busy and whimsical air which probably secured to it the name of a "whimsy." This is performing pit-work similar to that of the engine, but on different principles. The whole scene is one of busy blackness; and it is only after we have accustomed ourselves to the noises and novelties, that we can discover the clue to the labyrinth of details.
From the nature of coal mining, we behold the completion of the work first, that being the portion of the operations which is performed at the surface. Thus the railways we have crossed are laid down for the delivery of the fuel to the ships moored to the river's bank, and waiting to load. Each large colliery has a railway running in the most direct practicable line to the river's bank. Hence the whole neighbourhood of Newcastle is covered with a network of tram-roads; and a map of these now lying before us exhibits a remarkable reticulation of railways, dotted over with numerous coal pits. The whole vicinity of the Tyne appears, in such a map, to be riddled with pits, and then bound together by interlacings of rails. At the end of these railways, overhanging the river Tyne, a large and singular platform of wood is erected, termed a "staith." When the laden waggons arrive at this point, they are brought to a stand, preparatory to the discharge of their contents into the holds of the ships which are moored beneath. A curious piece of mechanism in the platform causes the waggon of coal to descend full to the vessel; where, being suspended over the
Loading and Screening.
main hatchway, the bottom of the waggon turns upon hinges, aud the whole coal is cleanly poured into the hold, and thus safely shipped. Few things are more striking to strangers than the first sight of a loading of coals in this manner. Careering trains rush down to the river's brink, pause a few minutes, and then sweep down from the heights in a circular course between gigantic iron arms, and, making a sudden summerset, empty their contents, and fly up once more, and rush back madly for fresh loads of coal along the open lines of rattling rails. When, in busy seasons, loading takes place by night, the scene is really romantic, as witnessed from the opposite side of the river. Now you behold the glare of the blood-red torches flashing upon the dark, heaving waters; the waggons descending indistinctly through the darkness, in the giant arms of the staith's machinery; the men moving about in the light of the flames, and then suddenly hidden in darkness; crates of coal hung over the vessel or its hold, and burning with glowing fires: all these you behold, and, at the same time, listen to the rude shouts of the men, the calls of the sailors, the banging of waggons, the clanking of chains, the creaking of wheels and breaks, and, finally, the rush of the loading coals as they dash down into the hold! Such sights and such sounds compose a night-scene only to be enjoyed on the banks of the Tyne,—the river of coal craft.
It is, however, time that we should descend a mine, and observe underground business. Let us, then, make our way to the pit's mouth. The flag of smoke, streaming from yonder tall chimney, forms a good mine-mark. Let us now stand a few minutes on this "pit-heap," while the men are making preparations for our descent. We are suitably arrayed in pitmen's clothes, and should prove strangers to our nearest and dearest of kin. But look around you here; the scene is peculiar. That low shed there is erected over the mouth of the shaft, to shelter the work-people. Those other sheds on one side are long covered spaces under which the screening of the coals is performed. Step aside here, and glance at the screening process. You observe that the screens are ranged in long rows, like so many square sieves, and over their sounding wires rough coals are continually cast. The screens are proportioned in their wires to the size of coal desired; and thus the housekeeper obtains "screened Wall's-End," and the poor and the manufacturers get cheap small-coal, the refuse of the screens: it must even be burnt in immense heaps, to get rid of it. the screening process arise thick clouds of coal-dust, which make bystanders' eyes to water, their palates to smack of coal, and the green grass, far and near, to gather blackness hour by hour, until at last a few fortunate green blades are all that remain to remind us of nature's verdure. Stout lads around us