Denaby Main Mine Visit – Part 1 – Preparation & Mr Witty

March 1891

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 27 March 1891

A Visit To The Denaby Main Mine.

What I Saw and How I Felt

By our Special Commissioner

Part 1 – Preparation & Mr Witty

Notwithstanding that we live in the heart of a colliery district, I wonder how many persons, apart from those engaged in the occupation, have any practical knowledge of what is taking place hundreds of yards under their feet.

Here and there one finds individuals whose spirit of adventure, or love of novelty, or thirst for knowledge, has made them more or less acquainted with the sights and sounds of a coal mine: but they are the exceptions to the rule, the great bulk of the population being in blissful ignorance concerning these lower regions.

Believing this to be so, I fancied that a sketch as to how we became possessed of the, “bottled sunshine,” or the black diamonds,” or whatever you like to call the mineral which sheds such refulgence in our homes, might be read with interest during the Easter holiday.

An intimation of this kind having been conveyed to the able manager of the Denaby Main Colliery (Mr. W.H. Chambers), he courteously arranged for my plan to be put into execution. Not being a bachelor, I thought it right to let it be known what I was contemplating doling and humorously suggested to the fair one whom I once took to the altar not to “lay it too much to heart” if I had to be carried home! My instructions were to be “exceedingly careful ” of my body and to have it clothed with the worst garments I could fine in the house! The mandate was obeyed.

When I sallied forth on my interesting errand, about ten o’clock in the morning, the sky was overcast with dense snow clouds and a biting breeze crept round the street corners. Having arrived at the colliery offices I found a gentleman waiting ready to accompany me on my expedition. My guide, philosopher, and friend, was none other than the assistant-manager, Mr. H. S. Witty, and I at once introduced myself. Before descending the shaft, I said I should like one or two particulars. Oh, yes, with pleasure; I can tell you as much as you like, without your troubling to go down,” said he. Now I did not exactly divine the subtle meaning underlying that ready assurance, but I promptly replied that my wish was to go and see for myself. It might possibly have been in the mind of the assistant-manager how a certain cleric of the Established Church recently got as far as the pit, and, having given a glance down the deep dark shaft, hurried away as quickly as he could ! Don’t have an idea, though, that it was our own respected Vicar of Mexborough who thus turned on his heels. No, it was neither Mr. Ellershaw nor any other clergyman hereabouts. The visitor was a Canon who had come a long distance and who went off ” quite surprisingly.

The official and myself had stepped out of the offices, when he suggested that he would fetch me a more suitable article for “head gear,” and while he was doing so I strolled about the spacious yard. The first thing that caught my eye was a quantity of printed matter which adhered to the wall of the offices. It was a copy of the general and special rules of the Local Mines Regulation Act, signed by Mr. F. N. Wardell, her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines for the district, and which it is of course most desirable that all who work in and about a colliery should be thoroughly conversant with. I had only time to hurriedly glimpse at the workshops in the distance and to obtain a mental photograph of the extensive structure which encloses the pit shaft and the adjacent engine shed, when Mr. Witty brought me a thick skull cap similar to the one he was wearing. As might be expected, I put it on the wrong way, with the neb ” in the front, but I had to transpose it, to be correct, and smiled at my mistake.

We first entered the lamp-room. This is a very commodious place, and the miners and others came here before going down to their work and also on leaving it. The lamps are arranged on shelves and are all numbered, each employee , knowing his own figures.” The night shift men had left their lamps and these had been cleaned by the individuals engaged for the purpose and stood on the shelves in readiness to be called for at the usual hour.

I was surprised to see that the old-fashioned Davy lamps were not used and soon manifested my ignorance on the matter. “No, Davy’s lamps have become quite obsolete. They are much inferior to what have been in use In the mine for a long time; remarked Mr. Witty, at the same time letting me  examine the modern safety.” It is yclept the “Projector “an improvement on the lamp, invented by a Belgian known by the name of Mueller. The great contrast between this and that brought out by Humphrey Davy is that glass takes the place of gauze. “Why I should have imagined this would easily get smashed,” said I. But my special attention was directed to the brass bars which were in front of the glue, at regular intervals, and also to the fact that the glass was about a quarter-of-an-inch in density. It was pronounced, emphatically to be a much safer lamp than the one of former days.

Before dropping down the shaft, we entered the engine shed. The ponderous machinery was in regular motion. The driver was attentively watching the large clock face in front of him, which indicates how far a cage ” has risen from below or as to the distance of the descent from above and he manipulates the handle accordingly. Each time a “cage” was lifted or dropped the clock struck by electricity and this testified to the driver of the engine that the vehicle was only silty feet from ita destination. The driver then further slackens the speed and the “cage” safely lands” men or minerals, whichever may be making the journey. By a wise arrangement, the engineman has a full view of the  mouth of the shaft, an opening in the wall enabling him to see all that is transpiring.