Page Navigation - Go to: site index | start of page content | links to sections in this module | this section's glossary | links to related material
MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

module:The workshop of the world

Industrial growth in late nineteenth century Britain

page:The coal industry: Part II

Causes of coal production growth

But why did this dramatic growth of coal production take place? It was a product of change in both supply and demand.

Supply


The second explosion at the Oaks Colliery, Barnsley, December 1866. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Throughout this period, extraction of coal remained an extremely arduous, manual task with coal dug out by hand from the coal face in very dangerous conditions.


Postcard showing the 168 dead, and only 30 survivors of the explosion at West Stanley, Co. Durham in 1909. picture zoom © John Hare

However, technological changes began to allow much greater use of deep mining and to tackle the problems of flooding and gas which had always been of great danger to the miners.

Perhaps the greatest single advance to enable large-scale deep mining was the development of the steam engine. In the latter part of the century this provided a safer and easier means of shifting both coal and men from the bottom of the shaft to the top.


These two images remind us of the 
dangers of mining. Postcard in memory of those who died in the explosion at West Stanley, Co. Durham in 1909. picture zoom © John Hare


From 1840, wire ropes began to be employed to support cages in the mine-shafts. The wires had the advantage of being stronger, as well as cheaper and longer-lasting. The cages were also fitted with guide rods or rails and other safety features designed to reduce the risk of cages dropping out of control.


Bradley Mine, West Midlands, c.1808. © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library


Steam engines also allowed the water to be pumped out more effectively from the mines and allowed air to be pumped into the mines, circulating the air and making the dangerous accumulation of gas pockets less likely. In 1849 other methods of ventilation were introduced: using a centrifugal fan, air was forced down one shaft or drawn up another with much greater effect than previously.


The Davy lamp, invented in 1815. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Gas was one of the greatest dangers in the mines. It was difficult to detect and could ignite without warning, particularly at a time when miners needed flame to provide the minimal light required to work underground. Although gas remained a great threat, the danger was reduced by the development of a safety lamp, which could provide light without exploding gas and also provided a warning of the presence of gas. The most common of these was developed by the scientist Sir Humphrey Davy. The Davy lamp was invented in 1815, but was slow to come into widespread use.

Demand


UK coal use c.1913

In the nineteenth century, power for industry came almost exclusively from steam and the steam engine. The enormous growth of industry that took place at this time generated a corresponding increase in the industrial demand for coal production. Something of the varied use of coal can be seen in the figures for 1913.


Stockport Viaduct, showing houses and smoking chimneys on the banks of the River Mersey, 1848. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

At the same time, the growing population required larger quantities of heat for domestic purposes, such as cooking and heating. Apart from wood (of which ready supplies had largely been consumed), coal was the only real alternative. Even when gas and electricity became available, they were primarily derived from coal.


The Black Country near Bilston, 1869. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Many industries and towns grew up and developed close to the coalfields. There was obviously demand for coal elsewhere, however, and the growth of the railways was essential in supplying coal throughout the country. The railways in turn were great consumers of coal, both directly as fuel, and indirectly through their need for iron.

In addition to British demand, there was a growing demand from abroad for coal exports, especially from those coalfields with easy access to the sea, such as northeast England, Scotland and South Wales. Moreover the ships that carried the coal now required large amounts of coal to power their huge steam engines.

Resource Descriptions

The second explosion at the Oaks Colliery, Barnsley, December 1866.
Postcard showing the 168 dead, and only 30 survivors of the explosion at West Stanley, Co. Durham in 1909.
These two images remind us of the dangers of mining. Postcard in memory of those who died in the explosion at West Stanley, Co. Durham in 1909.
Bradley Mine, West Midlands, c.1808.
The Davy lamp, invented in 1815.
Stockport Viaduct, showing houses and smoking chimneys on the banks of the River Mersey, 1848.
The Black Country near Bilston, 1869.
Scene
Scene  Rich Media
Scene