A Day in a Miners Life

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Blantyre, Lanarkshire, ScotlandBlantyre History of Mining

A Day in a Miners Life

(adapted from Picture Post 18th Feb. 1939)

John Brown is a coal miner.

 

 

 

Portrait of a Miner: One of the 750,000 in this County.

John Brown is a coal miner. He is working on the night-shift from midnight to 8 am. His life is typical of that of many thousands of Scottish coal miners.

Symbol of Coal Mining: The shaft with its great wheels.
Wherever coal is mined you see them. Over the wheels passes the cable carrying the cage – in which the miners descend hundreds of feet below the surface to dig out the debris of ancient forests.
 Symbol of Coal Mining: The shaft with its great wheels.
 The Start of his Night's Work: The Miner calls for his safety lamp. The Start of his Night’s Work: The Miner calls for his safety lamp.

First task for John Brown when he reports for work at midnight is to collect a token which he strings round his neck – identification in case of accident. Then he collects his safety lamp – most valuable invention in the whole of mining history.

Waiting to go Below:

A chat and a last smoke before the buzzer which summons them below. The man crouching is doing it for comfort – the result of his cramped work. The miners’ crouch eases stomach muscles

 Waiting to go Below:
The miners queue to enter the cage The miners queue to enter the cage which would take them on the first part of their journey to the pit head.
The miners descend in an open cage to the mine bottom.  The miners descend in an open cage to the mine bottom.
500ft. Below Ground he Comes Out of the Cage:

500ft. Below Ground he Comes Out of the Cage:

The 500ft. journey has taken them only a few seconds. Over 100 men are working on the night shift. As they leave the cage their places are taken by the day shift.

The Men Make the Journey to the Seam in Tubs:

A set – a series of ten tubs – carries the men to the seams, until the roof becomes too low for further travel. They cover the rest of the way at a crouched walk. The whole mine is a network of passages radiating out from the shaft, following the seams of coal.

The Men Make the Journey to the Seam in Tubs:
 The Gaffer Assigns Them Their Positions: The Gaffer Assigns Them Their Positions:
At the junction of two seams the men meet the Gaffer. He has been here two hours already. He has the responsible task of seeing that the proper air supply is being received and that there is no risk of subsidence.  At the junction of two seams the men meet the Gaffer.
The Gaffer Makes Out his Report: The Gaffer Makes Out his Report:

By the light of a safety lamp Mr. Clough, the Gaffer, has written up his report. Every miner is free to examine this report before he goes to his appointed place.

 The Coal Miner at Work:  The Coal Miner at Work:

Working Conditions

Although the law relating to miners had been changed for the better at the turn of the century, life was still very harsh for miners & their families in the mid 1800’s. Miners were expected to work at least a daily twelve hour shift on weekdays, reduced hours on Saturday, and Sunday being the day of rest.

Working in the mines was very dangerous & unhealthy and most miners who survived the physical dangers inherent in the working environment eventually succumbed to mine-related respiratory diseases such as silicosis in later life.

One of the more dangerous risks of mining, was that of the gas referred to as “Firedamp”. Firedamp was/is a highly explosive gas found in coal mines, it is easily ignited by flame, friction or electrical energy.
It’s principal constituent is Methane (CH4) or as it is sometimes referred to “Marsh Gas”. This gas was found in most of the pits in the Lanarkhire area and often large volumes of it would be broken into during the mine workings, resulting in “blowers”.

Men employed as “Firemen” under the supervision of a “Firemaster” had the responsibility of checking the pits for the build up of firedamp and other dangerous gases such as “Afterdamp”, i.e. Carbon Monoxide (CO) which is poisonous & Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which suffocates.
These gases were removed by various means including ventilation forced by furnaces and steam and or by “burning off” in small pockets. The firemen & firemaster would normally carry out their checks prior to the commencement of the day’s work.

One of the chief sources of our national wealth and greatness. One of the chief sources of our national wealth and greatness. Surrounded by steel props which support the roof, crouched into a few feet of space,
John Brown gets down his job of drilling coal from the face with the aid of his ‘windy pick’ (pneumatic drill). Mechanization in British mines has already increased. In 1937, 57 percent of the total output was cut by machinery compared with only 13 percent in 1920. 51 percent was dealt with by mechanical conveyors and loaders underground. John Brown gets down his job of drilling coal from the face with the aid of his 'windy pick' (pneumatic drill).
The Putter and His Pony: The Putter and His Pony:

The putter with his pony and tubs are the intermediary between the endless belt conveyor, which works right up at the face and the giant hauler which drags the sets of tubs to the shaft bottom.

 

The Putter Loads a Tub:

Coal from the face travel 90 yards along the mechanical conveyor to be loaded into tubs by the putter. before the tubs are pulled away by his pony, he marks each tub with a token so that it will be credited to the men who hewed it.

The Putter Loads a Tub:
The 250hp Haulier Winds the Tubs in: The 250hp Haulier Winds the Tubs in:

Each of the tubs holds half a Ton of coal. it takes eight minutes for the coal to come from the hewer to the tubs. Four tubs at a time are pulled by the pony to the point where the giant haulier can drag them to the shaft bottom.

Piece Time:

500 feet below the surface the coal miners eat their simple meal. Water and bread and jam was their meal. No miner eats much underground. The crouching position in which the men must work causes heartburn if the stomach is full. Nothing fried is ever eaten down below (or just before going down below).

Piece Time:
 The Night Shift on its Way Home The Night Shift on its Way Home:

Just after eight o’clock sees the night shift on its way home. Other men have taken their places at the face. at many mines there are not pit head baths and the men take their bath at home.

A Rest by the Fire Before his Bath:

A bath, then food, then sleep. Waiting for his bath the miner takes up his natural position – the crouch, ether on his heels or on a low seat.

A Rest by the Fire Before his Bath:
 The tin bath would be put in front of the fire With the absence of washing facilities at the Pit, bath time was a ritual in every Miners’ house when he got home. The tin bath would be put in front of the fire and filled with hot water which was heated on the fire.
Washed and Clean the Miner gets his Breakfast:

After the bath comes breakfast. then John goes to bed for four hours. he gets up for dinner – his main meal of the day – them goes to bed again for another four hours. this arrangement leaves the evening free for social life.

Washed and Clean the Miner gets his Breakfast:
 Social Life: Social Life:

Evening in the Welfare. The Miners Welfare is a centre sponsored by the mining company and run by a committee elected by miners. Here the men play games and read. The miners also enjoyed keeping and racing pigeons, playing Quoits, Gambling, whether it be, ‘Bare Knuckle Fighting’ or ‘Tossing,’ and of course a few Pints and Wee Drams doon the pub.

 Before he Starts Again: Before he Starts Again:

They work side by side below ground and meet face to face over the chess board.

Source: The Coalmining History Resource Centre
© The Coalmining History Resource Centre

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If you have any Photos… Send them to Bill

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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