Making A Mine

     This page describes the various stages of making a mine, from digging the first sod to getting actually to the coal face:  The tools of the miner consisted  of a sledge, eight to ten pounds in weight, several steel wedges six to eight inches long, three to six picks from two and a half to three pounds in weight, with handles twenty-eight to thirty-two inches in length, a set of drilling tools, a drill, a scraper, a needle, and a tamping bar; frequently the drill and tamping bar are made of one piece, one end being used for a drill and the other for a tamper.

     Two miners generally worked together in roads or sections; they keep each other company, assist in setting props, one watches while the other works in dangerous situations, and if one is hurt the other can raise the alarm and call in adjoining comrades to the rescue.

Artists impression of Miners propping a mine

                                         Making a mine was a very hard job.

      Before a mine was dug a lot of
exploration had to be done, basically to see if there was any coal down there and if so - how much. There would have to be enough coal to make it worth while digging for it.
     So first of all, the Surveyors
had to bore several "bore holes" over a large area of land to establish where the seam of coal was , how thick it was , and at what depth it was. Then if the results of the bores were positive a decision would be made as to the best place to site the pit. A bore hole was made with an implement like a hollow drill which would be 3.6 or nine inches in diameter. It would extract a long pipe -like section of the earth. The surveyor then examined and measured the "bore" and he would record the various minerals that made up the bore, what length they were, and at what dept they were. His results might be as follows: 0-9 ft. clay, 9 -30 ft. rock, 30 -90ft. slate, 90 ft. -3 inch coal seam, 200 ft. - 9 inch coal seam etc. He would then see how wide the seam was and if it was economical to mine. 

These are broken sections of the "Bores" - 3" and 6" bores

Miners propping the roof

The bore holes were often sunk to a dept of 300 ft.  Then the miners or road makers  had to clean  an area for the rocks and earth that would have to be removed while making a tunnel to the coalface. As the miners dug down towards the seam they had to prop the roof along the way. This took great skill and experience.          

     They had to dig at an angle  for about 300 feet as they would need to create a slope which would allow the coal to be hauled to the surface. After getting down far enough then they would go on the flat. Some of the mines were about 3 miles long and parts of the mine might be  only about 2 feet high. When they got down to the coalface  they had to start to dig and pick out the coal. 

The first job was called "gumming" or "undercutting". This was where the miner removed the earth from underneath the coal. Much of this earth was a clay type substance -gum- and so the process became known a "gumming" They had to lie on their sides in the wet and the cold to remove this gum and later to work out the coal. The miner would remove the minimum dept of gum required to allow the coal fall down. There was no money in gum so the less time spent digging it the better. 

Miners undercutting the coal 

This often meant that a miner would just dig out about 2ft. of gum and if he was trying to knock down a 20 ft. section of coal it would mean him crawling in 20 ft. under the coal with a roof space of just 2 ft. This was extremely dangerous. It would take two good miners four or five hours to gum an area eight yards wide and four to five feet in depth. Forty to fifty blows of the pick would be  delivered per minute.

     Having removed the gum the next stage was to break off a large chunk of coal and get it to drop down in the space where the gum had been removed. In some cases, explosives were set to shatter the coal seam but more usually the miners had to use their wedges & sledges to split the lump of coal.

Two Miners drilling a hole in which they will place explosives

A blast in a coal mine

  When the coal was broken it was then  hauled to the surface. In the early days the coal was dragged to the surface in a basket attached to the "haulers" waist with a "gurl & swivel". Boys and girls were often used for this work as they could crawl more easily along the low tunnels than a grown man. Sometimes pit ponies were used to draw the coal from the larger tunnels to the surface. In later years baskets were replaced with  a type of sleigh and these were often dragged along wooden tracks. 

Later on, steel tracks were introduced and wooden or steel "Trams" ran along these tracks. In some cases the trams were pushed and pulled by "Hurriers" and "Thrusters". In other cases they were hauled by mechanical rope. The final method of getting coal to the surface was the "conveyor belt" and if one of these was passing along the coal face it was very simple to get coal to the surface. These jobs are dealt with in the section "Conditions of Work" but it must be remembered that many of these "mod cons" were only on the main roads underground. If you were working down a side road you still have to get the coal out by hand.

This is a photo of the entrance to a mine. You can see the "Mouth" in the distance. Some small deposits of coal and iron can be seen in the walls. Here you see a fine example of the "Underground Roads" This coal was "worked" as a "Mine" for a number of years but now "Heavy Opencast Machinery" has been brought in and all the surface has been stripped. The remaining coal will be simply dug out with that machinery.

      Not all the jobs were down in the mine. There were plenty of jobs up on the top, where the coal came up to be crushed, cleaned and bagged. This place up on top was called the landing. On the landing the coal was broken, screened, picked, separated into different sizes and was sent to  different sections in the yard. There were a lot of other jobs as well as the miner, there were the coopers, the mechanics, the black smiths, the carpenters and the electricians.  These were all very important jobs. The black smith had to make the wheels and the trams and they had to repair all the metal tools, shovels, picks, wedges etc. The carpenter had to make props and doors, fit handles to tools and many other jobs.

Transporting Coal In English Mines

Using Native Resources

Cutting Coal

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