Denaby Main Colliery Tour – Below the Ground

June 1905

Mexborough and Swinton Times June 24, 1905
Denaby Main Colliery

The Pit Bottom
Drift Road
Getting the Coal

The Pit Bottom
This completed the tour of the surface works, and we prepared for the ride to the pit bottom. A lamp was the first consideration, which was procured from the lamp cabin, where the hundreds of lamps returned by the men of the morning shift were already being cleaned and trimmed. The lamps used by the Denaby Main Company are the Mausant type, made by Messrs Baxendale and co-of Manchester. They are lighted by an electric spark, and are locked by a spring, which can only be unfastened by means of a magnet, entirely prevented the lamp being tampered with at the pit bottom.

It is intended to entirely remodel the lamp cabin, so I was informed by Mr Charles Bury, the manager of the colliery, who met us when we went for our lamps, and one of the improvements contemplated is a substitution of electrical machinery for the purpose of cleaning the gauzes and brasses, in the place of the small steam engine now driving the cleaning brushes.

We entered the closed doors which shut off the up cast shaft from the outer air, and having handed to the hanger on the order signed by Mr W.H.Chambers, the managing director, authorising our descent of the colliery, we entered the chair.

The engineman with a consideration for the feelings of strangers which does him credit, lowered us very gently, and brought us up at the bottom as steadily as a hansom cab drawing up by a kerb stone.

In descending a colliery by means of the up cast shaft one meets the upward rush of return air which is being pumped from the colliery by the huge fan above, and one is thus early introduced to the atmosphere which has to be breathed in some of the places below. A year or two ago, when steam was used below for haulage, the engine used to exhaust into the up cast shaft, and the journey up or down it was associated with some of the terrors of the Inferno. The application of electricity in place of steam has obviated the discomfort, and the ride down the up cast shaft is as enjoyable as a knowledge of the risks one is running can allow such an adventure to be.

At the pit bottom we encountered the secretary of Denaby United Football Club, who is now a member of the management committee of the Midland league. He was about to leave his work for the day, but before he went up the shaft he promised to send some refreshments down to the colliery office to wait our return, a promise he faithfully kept to our subsequent gratification.

Close to the bottom of number 2pit is a Valentine three throw pump, which is driven by a British Thomson Houston induction motor running at 480 V, the duty of which is to keep the pit clear of water. No great volume of water has to be dealt with at Denaby Main, but what does require to be got rid of is pumped up number two shaft, and discharged into the river Don. Just about the present time this flow of water performs a considerable service in helping to sweeten the stream.

After a visit to the bottom of number one pit, where we watched two or three runs of coal, and saw the cages loaded and discharged by means of the hydraulics, we visited the various electric motor machinery, providing haulage on the various roads of the colliery.

An electric induction motor, equal to 120 hp, and running at 500 V, making 458 revolutions per minute, built by the British Thomson Houston Company, is responsible for the traffic on the Montagu plane, and similar machinery, equal to 150 hp, drives the haulage on the Drift district. This works at 500 V, and makes 450 revolutions per minute. This three phase system of electric current is used also the colliery, in preference to the continuous current. The East plane, on account of the gradient, works automatically by means of an endless rope, 1800 yards long.

The inspection of this machinery concluded, a visit was paid to the stables. In the East plane new stables have recently been erected on an improved sanitary plan, and it is intended at an early date to pull down all the old type of stables and rebuild them upon the same principle.

The Drift Road
Leaving the stables, we set off on our long walk up the Drift Road, which traverses a distance of nearly 2 miles to the coalface. Along the road the full and empty corves are continuously coming and going, the full tubs running in trains of six at a time, 110 yards apart, while the empties go back to the workings in runs of a dozen, both travelling at the rate of about 3 ½ miles an hour. It is necessary to walk outwards from the empty road, and it follows that one’s gait must be at least equal to the pace at which the tubs travel, which means that the walk to the workings is necessarily a brisk one, and therefore somewhat warm. The main road is divided with sections, and each section communicates with the haulage engineman by separate code of signals.

Some distance before the face was reached we branched off up what is styled the Hooton drift. This is a new road driven in the direction of Hooton Roberts, and leads through a fault which has thrown the Barnsley seam about 40 yards lower than its level elsewhere in the Drift district. The coal has been located by boring, and probably by now sinking operations have already been commenced at the end of the Hooton drift. A shaft 40 yards deep is to be sunk, and a headgear erected, the winding to be provided for by an electric motor, which is to be installed. When the coal is won at this point it will be drawn to the Drift level and dispatched to join the Main Drift Road at the junction.

Returning to the main road we proceeded further apart along until we reached number one Jinny, which with number two Jinny, a continuation above, runs up to the coalface 36 tonnes at a time of run up and down the Jinny, the weight of the full tubs going down bringing the empty ones up.

Getting the Coal
A short cut through a gate brought up the coalface and into immediate contact with the actual work of getting coal. We were now somewhere nearly under Hooton Roberts having walked there round by Mexborough station. The seam here is an exceptionally fine one, varying from 6 feet 6 inches to 7 feet thick, nearly 4 feet being steam coal or hards.

The coal is got on the long – wall system, the collier holing 6 feet under the seam for a distance of 12 feet at a time, in which length he is compelled to set three sprags for the purpose of holding up the coal and a cocker in order to prevent it falling forward.

In one stall the collier had just knocked out his timber and brought the coal down and it had fallen in an almost solid block. They were very busy along the coalface, and it will be difficult to imagine more laborious work than coal getting and timbering. Colliers and fillers were stripped to the waist, and the position of the collier when he’s holing is as perilous as it is uncomfortable.

When one watches a man lying down under an overhanging weight of tons, hacking with his pick at the coal wall beyond, it is difficult to understand how such a thing as a prosecution for neglecting to set a sprag or a cocker is possible. One would imagine that no sane man would run the terrible race of sudden death which faces him when he neglects to take any of the precautions provided for by his working rules, and is not difficult to understand that when the rules are disregarded the workmen so frequently pays a terrible penalty for his foolhardiness. To watch the process of getting coal is to increase one’s appreciation of its value. It amazes me to think that a commodity which is only obtained at the expense of so much strenuous labour and such terrible risks can be purchased retail for half a sovereign (52.5p) a ton.

After about half an hour at the coalface, we returned as we had come to the pit bottom, turning down the East Plane at its junction with the Drift to see the new works which are in course of operation there, a new road for the return of empties from the pit bottom being constructed underneath the fall road. Then we returned to the bottom of number two pit and presently we were on the surface and surrounded by the blessed daylight again.

Our tour above and below ground had lasted close upon five hours, and four hours of the time had been spent below the surface. It had been a very instructive pilgrimage and what had been shown to me fully justified my guide’s boast that Denaby Main, though now an old colliery, is thoroughly up-to-date in all its methods and appliances.