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European Themeroute | Mining

Coal from European and American collieries was the universal fuel during the Industrial Revolution. Nonetheless technical inventions in mining played a relatively insignificant role. The main cause was the ongoing abundance of workers. Colliery owners were able to attain higher outputs simply by ... more

Icon: MiningThe treasures of the Earth. European Theme Route Mining

Coal from European and American collieries was the universal fuel during the Industrial Revolution. Nonetheless technical inventions in mining played a relatively insignificant role. The main cause was the ongoing abundance of workers. Colliery owners were able to attain higher outputs simply by employing more workers. For the same reason they were able to postpone any improvements to the catastrophic working conditions for a long time.

Thus, for centuries technical developments failed to move on from the Middle Ages, when mining in central Europe had been dominated by silver and gold. Hydraulic power was the main source of energy. In order to remove unwanted water from the pits, large water-wheels were installed both above and below the surface, linked by a clever system of rods with extraction pumps. In order for collieries to remain independent of fluctuations in natural water supplies. coal was also brought to the surface with the help of hydraulic power. The Oker pond in the German Harz region, constructed in 1720, is generally regarded as the first reservoir in Europe.

By this time surface supplies had been exhausted in many places; but digging to greater depths involved the use of ever larger water wheels to drive the pumps. The water column machine, first presented in France in 1731, offered a more efficient solution. Water falling from a great height drove a piston downwards, which was then emptied and rose back up again. However, the decisive innovation was the invention of the steam engine in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen. This was first used to raise pit water in a colliery near Wolverhampton. Other British collieries soon followed. True, Newcomen’s invention needed huge amounts of fuel, but this was practically irrelevant because they were erected directly over the coal supplies. Only a few steam engines went into operation on the continent; in the Belgian mining areas around Liège and Mons. Improvements to Newcomen’s model, and new machines developed by James Watt, made steam technology truly viable around 1800.

By that time coal was the leading mining branch. By 1709 the English had already succeeded in making coke from coal. Around the end of the century the new fuel was in wide use in ironworks. This development rapidly increased the demand for coal on the British Isles. But further improvements in mining were necessary. The use of steam engines make the process more efficient. In addition the old winding cables made of hemp were replaced by wire rope, developed in metal-ore collieries in the Harz mountains in 1834. Lifts were then built into the shafts in British collieries, and wooden pithead scaffolding erected to hold the cable wheel.

New technical developments in ventilation were not put into operation for purely economic reasons. Fresh air was not only needed by the miners underground, it was also necessary to reduce the levels of explosive pit gas. For this reason experiments began with air pumps in British collieries: but colliery owners regarded the investment costs as too high. Many colliers continued to lose their lives as a result of explosions underground, and the risks were made greater by the use of open lighting; candles and oil lamps. In 1815 a scientist by the name of Humphry Davy came up with the first effective safety lamp, whose flame was screened off from the pit gas by an extremely thin wire trellis.

Work underground remained highly dangerous and extremely dangerous to health because of the risk of explosions, roofs collapsing and the bone-breaking labour beneath the surface. Hewers equipped with pick, chisel and hammer were sent along appallingly insecure, badly ventilated galleries which were sometimes so low that they were forced to lie down whilst working. The coal was then loaded into baskets or low wagons, to be drawn by horses over wooden or iron rails – when the galleries were high enough to allow this. If not, people had to push and pull the wagons. In British collieries this work was often done by women and children crawling on all fours. The loads of coal they had to push, weighed up to 250 kg.

Starting in the 19th century a huge number of mining engines were patented: the Englishman Richard Trevithick invented a rotating steam-driven drill; this was then followed by a piston drill that worked along the same principle as a steam engine. These inventions would have made work underground much easier, were it not for the fact that they were considered too expensive by the colliery owners. Real progress was only made after 1853 with the introduction of compressed-air drives.
Starting in the 1840s massive pithead towers made of quarrystone or redbrick, began to be introduced, mainly on the continent. They were able to bear the loads imposed on the cables, which were being let down to ever greater depths, better than the old wooden constructions. After only a few decades these so-called "Malakoff towers" (named after the fortress in the Crimea), often had to be made higher by the addition of a steel frame. Around the turn of the 20th century Malakoff towers were replaced completely by even higher steel frames.

About the same time the use of disc-cutting machines – a British innovation – was gradually spreading in the USA and Great Britain. These were equipped with chisels on moving discs, rods or chains to cut a horizontal rift beneath the level of the coal and thereby facilitate hewing. Although this invention lightened miners’ physical labour, it introduced a new stress: noise. Furthermore, the noise of the machines often made it impossible for miners to detect the cracking sound in gallery roofs, that preceded collapses. At first the disc cutters were driven by compressed air, but this was replaced by electricity after people found a way of preventing sparks from intruding into the galleries, and dirt getting into the machines.
Where there were suppliers of soft coal, it proved more advantageous to use a mechanical pick. This was introduced into Belgian coalmines and, after the First World War, into the pits along the Ruhr. Hand labour underground, which had continued almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, was gradually coming to an end.

The coal was increasingly transported from the surface via chutes hanging on chains and shaken with the aid of compressed air. In the 1920s companies began to equip their collieries with electrically-driven conveyor belts. Pit railways with electric locomotives were used along longer stretches. In 1934 a cutter loader was introduced in Great Britain for the first time. This not only cut coal but loaded it in a single working process. In areas where the coal was softer a coal plane was used as an alternative. The first experiments were made in France and the USA and improved to mass production standards by engineers in Westphalia (Germany). The plane was drawn along the surface of the coal, which simultaneously fell on to a moving belt. Finally, fully mechanised coal mining began in the 1940s.

Ludlow | United Kingdom
The area around Clee Hill village, 8 km east of Ludlow, provides vivid evidence of an eighteenth century squatting community in which industry developed on a considerable scale. On the Clee Hills, which rise to almost 550 m above sea level, the carboniferous measures near the summits are capped by ...
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Clee Hills
Ludlow Tourist Information Centre
Castle Street
SY8 1AS Ludlow, United Kingdom

Neath | United Kingdom
Cefn Coed Colliery Museum is situated in the heart of the picturesque Dulais Valley and tells the story of colliery life from Victorian times to the 1950s. The museum is housed in the original colliery building, which closed in 1968.Visitors can experience the harsh, damp and dark conditions that ...
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Cefn Coed Colliery Museum
Crynant
SA10 8SN Neath, United Kingdom

Newtongrange | United Kingdom
What is the link between a certain Lady Victoria, black diamonds and a place called Newtongrange in Scotland? It’s simple? For Lady Victoria is the name of the old colliery in Newtongrange and when the locals talk about black diamonds they mean coal which was once mined in huge quantities before ...
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National Mining Museum Scotland
Lady Victoria Colliery
EH22 4QN Newtongrange, United Kingdom

Pendeen | United Kingdom
The Levant Mine engine house, perched, apparently precariously, on a cliff above the Atlantic Ocean, houses the oldest working beam engine in Cornwall, a 24 inch (0.61 m) winding engine designed by Francis Mitchell, made by Harveys of Hayle, and installed in 1840. The mine extended to a considerable ...
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Levant Mine & Beam Engine
Trewellard
TR19 7SX Pendeen, United Kingdom

Peterlee | United Kingdom
The Durham Coastal Footpath extends 17 km from Crimdon in the south to Seaham in the north through an area of Magnesian Limestone with boulder clay above it. It passes through an area that is an outstanding example of regeneration following the impact of large-scale industry. Coal in this part of ...
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Durham coastal footpath
Information: District of Easington Tourist Office East Durham Business Centre
Judson Road NW Industrial Estate
SR8 2QJ Peterlee, United Kingdom

Pontypool | United Kingdom
Set in the stable block of Pontypool Park House the museum documents the proud history of early ironmaking and coal production in this valley. It also tells the story of the Hanbury family and features their unique collection of Pontypool and Usk tinplate decorated in the “Japanese Style”. Pontypool ...
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Pontypool Museum
Park Buildings
NP4 6JH Pontypool, United Kingdom

Redruth | United Kingdom
The Cornwall Centre is dedicated to providing information about Cornwall and is staffed by professional librarians. Its collection of over 40,000 books and printed resources covers Cornish history, geography, industries, customs and highlights Cornwall’s mining heritage. It offers anyone interested ...
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Cornish Studies Library
Alma Place
TR15 2AT Redruth, United Kingdom

Redruth | United Kingdom
Cornwall was Europe’s principal source of tin from classical times and an important source of copper during the Industrial Revolution period, and the ores of many other metals have been extracted from its mines.The two steam engines at East Pool, alongside the main road between Camborne and Redruth, ...
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East Pool Mine
Pool
TR15 3ED Redruth, United Kingdom

Redruth | United Kingdom
Cornwall’s tin mines were world famous, but large quantities of tin ore were also obtained by ‘streaming’, by washing and sifting alluvium from rivers and streams or crushed waste that had been discarded at mines. Tolgus is the last tin-streaming works in Cornwall, the only survivor of 15 that ...
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Tolgus Tin
New Portreath Road
TR6 4HN Redruth, United Kingdom

Saltburn-by-the-Sea | United Kingdom
Discoveries of iron ore in the 1840s and early 1850s in the Cleveland Hills in North Yorkshire, south of the River Tees led to the development of the area into one of Britain’s principal iron-producing regions. The museum at Skinningrove originated with a collection made by a local journalist Tom ...
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Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum
Deepdale Mill Lane Skinningrove
TS13 4AP Saltburn-by-the-Sea, United Kingdom

Stainborough | United Kingdom
A beautiful stately house, spectacular gardens and parkland which includes the tramway to the Worsborough Canal Basin, and Rockley Furnace (a 1704 blast furnace latterly owned by the Castle owners). The owners were also relatives of the Wentworth Woodhouse family. Whilst they made much of their ...
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Wentworth Castle and Gardens
Lowe Lane
S75 3ET Stainborough, United Kingdom

Tavistock | United Kingdom
Time has stood still at Morwellham Quay. The streets are full of servants and merchants in Victorian costume and miners are hurrying towards their shift. In the busy assay office copper ore from the surrounding mines is checked and sorted according to quality. The whole place is buzzing with ...
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Morwellham Quay
Morwellham Quay
PL19 8JL Tavistock, United Kingdom

Tavistock | United Kingdom
Tavistock is a busy market town in West Devon. A former abbey and Medieval stannary town it was in the 19th century largely owned by the Dukes of Bedford who in the mid -19th century reinvested some of their vast royalties from the copper mining back into the town. This paid for fine public ...
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Tavistock Museum
Guildhall Square
PL19 0AE Tavistock, United Kingdom

Tredegar | United Kingdom
One of the most remarkable although one of the most logical monuments of the coal-mining industry is the display in Bedwellty Park, Tredegar, a mining community established about 1800 in the Sirhowy Valley, 10 km west of Blaenavon, of two colossal lumps of coal, which repose beneath a ...
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Bedwellty Park
Bedwellty House
Morgan Street
NP22 3 Tredegar, United Kingdom

Upper Weardale | United Kingdom
The northern Pennines in Co Durham were over many centuries one of the principal sources of lead in England, and the landscape of the upper parts of Weardale is dotted with the remains of adits, shafts and ore-washing floors, while at Allendale are two lengthy flues from a smelter which conveyed ...
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Killhope, The North of England Lead Mining Museum
Near Cowshill
DL13 1AR Upper Weardale, United Kingdom

Wentworth | United Kingdom
Wentworth Woodhouse is one of the finest and grandest Georgian Houses in England.  It is one of the most expensive ever built and ranks amongst Britain’s largest and most important country houses.  It was home of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam who built Elsecar, made money from mining and industry and was ...
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Wentworth Woodhouse
S62 7TQ Wentworth, United Kingdom

Whitehaven | United Kingdom
Whitehaven is one of the most spectacular harbours in England, and was built in the eighteenth century partly for shipping coal from mines along the Cumbrian coast, but also for the use of traders to America who imported tobacco and sugar. Whitehaven lay in the ancient parish of St Bees, which ...
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Haig Colliery Mining Museum
Solway Road Kells
CA28 9AN Whitehaven, United Kingdom