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Yorkshire Coal Mine Ventilation

Coal has been mined in Yorkshire since the middle Ages, but no great demand for coal existed until the Industrial Revolution. Coal was then needed to make iron, fuel steam engines, locomotives, and to power factories. Prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s there was little need for coal and coal miners were few in number. By the 1800s, the coal mining industry was growing rapidly. At one time there were twenty four coal mines in the Rotherham area of South Yorkshire and early miners had to cope with a lot of problems and dangerous and uncomfortable working conditions.

In the 1800s, coal was dug with a pick. Crouching or lying on his side, the collier carefully undercut the seam until a wedge or small powder charge brought the coal crashing down. Young boys began their trade by going to work with their father. Very often, a father took his own children to work, boys and girls as soon as they could open a trap door or push coal along tracks. In order to survive, a child had to learn how to shore up mine ceilings with timbers and how to recognise the deadly fumes of “black” and “white” damp. Mining was one of the most dangerous occupations of this time. In Yorkshire, more than a thousand people died in mine explosions between 1851 and 1877. Despite the heavy death toll caused by explosions, it was usually small falls of coal that accounted for most of the deaths.

Ventilation was often inadequate especially in the thin-seamed collieries. Inadequate ventilation meant that the miner was uncomfortable, but also there were frequent accidents. Workers became groggy from lack of oxygen, and explosive fumes accumulated with sometimes catastrophic results. Even back in those early days, ventilation and air conditioning were issues that had to be addressed.

Air conditioning was a problem for early miners. At first, air currents were created by burning coal at the bottom of a working shaft or airshaft. The ventilating furnace had a separate shaft, often lined with wooden timbers and planks. There were ventilating shafts and trap doors to provide and control the draft of fresh air that the heat of the furnace delivered. There was always a danger that the ventilating furnace would ignite mine timbers deep in the earth, and the resulting fire consume the mine’s entire oxygen supply and suffocate the miners. This danger was eliminated in the early nineteenth century by isolating the foul air and noxious gases from the fire bypassing it through an airway called a dumb drift.  From the mid nineteenth century, mechanical fans began to replace furnaces making things safer, but air still had to be guided around the coal workings by a system of doors and stoppings. Boys called trappers did the job of closing and opening the doors and trap doors until spring-loaded doors were introduced.

These days there are complex calculations to estimate the amount of cooled air needed in mines and mining equipment is fitted with inverter units. Highly advanced mechanical engineering is utilised to keep ventilation at optimum levels.

Posted in: Latest News - On: 29th of February, 2012