This Coal Mining Industry served Blantyre well between the years of 1865 and 1957 and in our opinion, Coal was probably the “saviour of Blantyre”.
By the late 1860’s the mills that had put Blantyre on the map were starting to decline. Modern milling techniques had lost many jobs and competition was fierce. Indeed, if coal hadn’t been found in Blantyre that decade, the town would have likely declined in size and population. Instead though, the 1870s saw several pits sunk in Blantyre and coal providing a massive expansion of job opportunities and influx of people from all walks of life, who nested and thrived to make Blantyre the place it it today.
Demand for these new jobs was high, but strangely not from the local mill workers or farm hands. They understood the dangers of new pits and there was reluctance in the town that mill works would ever stop. The workforce for the pits was largely external primarily from Ireland to escape the hardships of famine in that decade, settling as new inhabitants. It employed many thousands of people over these years and attracted large companies into the area, intent on making their fortunes. Indeed, it is one of the things most commonly associated with Blantyre and an industry that once earned the town the nickname “dirty auld Blantyre.”
Extracting (Winning) the Coal: Most of the coal in Blantyre was worked using the Newcastle system, also known as “pillar and stall” or “stoop and room”. A heading was driven into the coal and at intervals along it rooms were excavated, around 12 feet (3.7 m) wide. As the rooms got deeper another heading was driven from room to room to leave pillars (or stoops) about 20-yards (18m) square behind.
During this stage only around 30% of the coal was extracted. Eventually the whole district consisted of a grid pattern of passageways around stoops. The final stage in extraction was “stooping”. The furthermost roof was supported by pit props and the stoops removed. Once a complete row of stoops had gone the props were removed from the furthest part, which would collapse into the space (“goaf” or “gove” behind. During this process settlement and fracturing of the roof and seams above could occur, potentially releasing larger quantities of gas. The alternative method of working the coal was the longwall system.
Two headers were driven forward to the far end of the district and an interconnecting passageway excavated. Props and the long wall on the shaft side of the passage excavated supported the passageway. As this wall retreated the roof was propped and the furthermost props removed, allowing the overburden to collapse into the goaf. With longwall the same fracturing and gas release that stooping could cause was always present. The ell coal was mainly worked by stoop and room, with longwall in the southern part only. The main was exclusively worked by longwall and the splint (apart from a trial section) worked by stoop and room
Ventilation: in collieries at that time a furnace at the base of the upcast pit induced air circulation. Hot air rising up the pit, as if up a chimney, drew the exhausted and contaminated air out of the galleries.
Downcast pits let the fresh air in to replace it. Doors and partitions carefully controlled the route the air took. At Blantye pit number 5 was the upcast shaft for pits 1, 2 and 3. About 5 tons of coal was burnt per day in two out of three grates, each 7 feet (2.1 m) by 4 feet (1.2 m). Air for the ell coal was drawn down pit number 1. As the base it split north and south then after passing around the respective parts of the workings it was led to the upcast pit. Ventilation in the splint coal was more complex. Air from number 3 pit was split in two and passed along the north and south levels. After passing through the respective workings the two currents passed through the north and south headings before recombining on the “rise” (west) side and passing into the workings of number 2 pit.
“On average the air circuit was 2,400 yards (2,200 m) in number 3 pit. Air was drawn down number 2 and split in two. The larger portion went north, circulated around the northwest workings for 3,674 yards (3,360 m) before returning to the upcast pit. The smaller part was led to the south circulated around the southwestern area for 2,901 yards (2,653 m) and then back to the upcast. The air from number 3 pit entered the workings associated with number 2 pit in the east and circulated around number 2 pit’s south-eastern portion before finally reaching the upcast. The air circuit at 3,500 yards (3,200 m) might not be considered excessive, but when the both pits are added the total circuit was 8,096 yards (7,403 m). After the disaster this policy of using the air from number 3 workings to ventilate number 2 workings was roundly condemned in the trade press: “It is a very dangerous system, and should be abandoned at once.”
Accidents in Blantyre’s coal mines occurred frequently and with alarming consequences. One of the most comprehensive lists of Blantyre Mining Accidents is noted here ono Blantyre Project, as well as the detailed history of the Blantyre Pit Disaster of 1877.
Examples of Miners lamps incl Davy and Clanny
Lamps: Since the great explosion of 1877, only safety lamps were used, these being the Clanny and Davy variety.
(c) Paul Veverka, Blantyre Project
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