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Keith Fletcher - Coal Mining Memories

I am the last of a long line of generations of South West Durham miners - Page 4

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Miners’ Lamps

Almost the whole of this note was written before I first visited the Philip Healy memorial website.  I wrote it and some others for a relative involved in youth work.  Some young people she had met in a South West Durham mining village knew little or nothing of the working life of members of their family who had worked in the pits.  I hope you will read this as a supplement to website’s Lamps Section.

For some years before 1957 miners in No 4 Area, Durham Division, NCB had used an electric lamp arrangement similar to that in Picture 1.  A few used cylindrical shaped hand held flameproof electric lamps a instead of a cap lamp.  The battery container formed the base of these hand held lamps and was much bigger than the bulb housing that sat atop of it.

The duties of some Officials included the making of pre-shift and mid-shift inspections 1 of the working places in the mine.  It was part of those duties to use their oil safety lamps to test for methane gas.  Shotfirers were for example required to test for the gas before putting an explosive 1 charge in holes drilled for blasting.  Some other miners in certain areas of the pit used to test for the gas 2. To perform the test the oil lamp’s flame was turned down - on those with round wicks until it was similar in shape and appearance to a fried egg.  If the tester saw a blue fringe/border round the lowered flame it was a sign that methane was present in the atmosphere. 

The use of special electric hand lamps to test for gas was being trialled whilst I was in mining.  A flashing red light indicated the presence of methane.

The "other miners" carried oil safety lamps 2 similar to the one in Picture 2.

The lamps used by miners who were not "officials" were lit in the lamp house. Underground they could only be relit in one of a very limited number of places where a flameproof relighting machine b was available. These lamps had a contact on the base and a copper "prong" close to the wick - Pictures 4 and 5. The floor inside the relighting machine had an electric contact on which the contact on the lamp's base was placed. The rest of the lamp base being in contact with the remainder of the machine's floor completed an electric circuit. When the machine was closed its inside and the lamp were isolated from the outside atmosphere. After the machine had been closed cranking a handle sent an electric current around the circuit and a spark lit the wick.

Each official carried an oil safety lamp - a re-lighter c - that could be relit wherever he was in the mine. Re-lighters had a relatively small strip of brass with teeth (the ratchet) d that went into the base just below the glass. There was a flint and a small cog with a wheel on it inside the flameproof part of the lamp. Pulling the ratchet out and pushing it back ran the wheel over the flint to create a spark, much like the mechanism of an old cigarette lighter did. The spark relit the lamp but not necessarily on the first or second time of asking.

Oil safety lamps burnt colzalene e. They were opened in a lamp room on the surface for cleaning and filling and then resealed. They could not be opened/dismantled anywhere else.

Oil lamps were given out by and returned to a lamp room man. There was generally a self-service system for and collecting and returning electric cap lamps.

Every man about to descend into the mine had to pick up two checks 3 from the lamp house. In the mines in which I worked this was done as part of the self-service lamp collection system.

At Mainsforth Colliery, if not others, female nurses, who were I believe training in hospitals that could receive victims of mining accidents 1 were very occasionally allowed underground. They too had to pick up checks.

Each person about to enter the cage into the mine gave one check to the Banksman f. They handed the second check to the Banksman on their return to the surface. The checks were part of the system used to keep a record of each person entering and leaving the mine 3. The Banksman also made random checks for contraband g.

a. Hand held electric lamp (Glossary)
b. Safety Lamp Re-lighter (Glossary)
c. Deputy's Lamp - (Glossary)
d. Ratchet - Deputy's Lamp (Glossary)
e. Colzalene was the commercial name for the fuel used in Davey lamps / Clanny lamps
f. Banksman - (Glossary)
g. Contraband - (Glossary)

The (first) relevant legislation found
1 The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887
2 The Coal Mines Inspection Act 1860
3 The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908

The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 came into force on 1 July 1909 except in Northumberland and Durham where it applied with effect from 1 January 1910.

Picture 2 to 5 are of a miner’s oil lamps used by my father as a Colliery Manager, possibly as early as 1945.



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