Denaby Main Mine Visit – Part 2  – Underground – Arteries – Refuge – Endless Rope & Ventilation

March 1891

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 27 March 1891

A Visit To The Denaby Main Mine.                                                                      

Part 2 – Underground – Main Arteries – Refuge Hole – Endless Rope & Ventilation

Through this opening the under manager and I passed and reached the spot whence we were shortly to be

Suddenly Plunged Into the Living Tomb Beneath                   

The clang of the machinery, the din caused by the moving of the full and empty corves on the iron foot-plates —the laden ones being raised in the “cage from the bowels of the earth ” and the empty ones being sent beck again—and the babel of voices was bewildering in the extreme to my inexperienced eyes and cars. I was trying to suitably “pull myself together,” when Mr. Witty stepped into the “cage,” and asked me to follow him. I did so, and, without having the opportunity to closely scan the box-like contrivance in which we stood, down we went ! With one hand I grasped the iron bar overhead, as my guide did, and with the other hand we each held it lamp. What a sensation? The ” cage “no sooner goes dawn with you than you fancy you are rapidly rising again, and after awhile you feel your feet better and imagine you will presently see the daylight ! Instead of that, you are rushing down a circular hole, 1338 feet in depth the speed being the cause of the strange feeling at the soles of the feet. When the legs do seem to be getting of nee, is when the cage “slackens speed, ultimately coming to a full stop very gently. Then, instead of finding you are on the pit-hill, you are at the base of the shaft, from which point run all the ramifications of the colliery. The time taken up by the descent is about two minutes, and the pulley wheel—over which is the rope to which the ” cage ” is attached —makes about twenty revolutions in that time.

One can well imagine what would be the awful consequences should anything go amiss with the machinery or if the rope broke! The “cage” must t then inevitably go crashing from side to side of the shaft until it finally became silent in the sump, along with the

Mangled Remains Of Its Inmates .

How flow calm and steady needs the eye and the hand of the man to be who governs the engine ! A false move would almost inevitably result in a terrible calamity. And supposing there was a flaw in the machinery or in the headgear, the disaster would be equally as bad. Such thoughts as these are not strange under such peculiar circumstances, and he would be a strong-minded man indeed who could be carried down into a coal pit for the first time without the slightest misgiving.

It was only a short time before I entered upon my collier’s experience that I had read in one of the daily newspapers of the breaking of a rope in a similar shaft and of the loss of eighteen lives as the outcome of it !

However, we proceed, for no harm occurred in the descent we made. The “cage ” had no sooner stopped than my friend walked off into the darkness, requesting me to follow. This was more easily said than done. I have heard of the couplet, “There’s a queer sort of up and down motion,  that comes from the treacherous ocean,” and I have proved the truth of the saying. This “cage” affair, though not on the ocean, was unmistakably a very funny motion, and I did not feel as though I had got my “sea legs “—or rather ” pit legs.” Nevertheless I followed my leader, though dubiously, and was gratified, after proceeding a few yards, to find the way led to an office. Mr. Witty did not seem at all surprised that I should be a bit ” queer” and said I had better be seated for a while. I soon recovered my equilibrium and felt quite bold enough to undertake the remainder of the journey.

The Subterranean Office

is very much like what one might expect to see on the top of terra firma, excepting that it possesses no windows and is only illuminated by the lamp one carries. The walls are of brick, whitewashed. A large table occupies the centre of the roan, and benches stand alongside. A large barometer was suspended on the wall and this Mr. Witty critically examined to test the quality of the atmosphere. Be seemed satisfied and then took possession of an anemometer, a handy little instrument which he daily takes with him on his rounds of inspection in the air-ways, in order to ascertain the state of the ventilation of the colliery.

Leaving the cabin, we commenced the march. What a journey! As I look back upon that morning’s perambulation, it seems to have been in a perfect labyrinth, and I cannot mentally correctly connect the various incidents as they occurred. We entered all

The Main Arteries of the Mine.

The local language these long and dingy lanes 440 yards below the surface is that of the drift” and the ” intake ” and ” return ” roads. At one time we were in a passage which led towards Old Denaby and Mexborough railway station; another direction was under the pastures, and the flooded water of which the skaters were then enjoy. ing themselves (for my visit was at Christmas) while in the easterly route we were walking towards Messrs. Kilner’s glom bottle market. At the commencement of the march, I at once obtained a fair idea of what was likely to follow. A number of corves blotted the way and between two of these I had to squeeze myself, the official having previously ascertained that there was no fear of anything corning into collision with us. I followed closely on the heels of the guide, held my lamp in front, as he was doing,” ducked” my head as he did to avoid blows from the roof, stepped along most cautiously for fear of tripping, and used my optics as I never remembered to have done before! We had got upon the

Underground Tramway

and to this we remained during our three hours’ trip, excepting when we occasionally dodged into a ” hole “or a corner.” At times we could walk erect, but suddenly the roof ” bulged ‘and down must drop the head or a “stunner” might be the result. After traversing some distance, there was all at once a rumbling sound, and I was asked to get clear of the metals. We stepped into an opening in the wall, known as a

Refuge Hole

and presently several corves passed in front of us. These “£holes”, which occur about every twenty yards, are indispensable in so narrow a cutting? If they were not provided as a means of salety,many a man and boy would doubtless be knocked down and mutilated if not left dead. But as it is there is very little risk of injury because then is ample opportunity to escape the danger. The corves were drawn by what la very appropriately termed

The Endless Rope.

It is a stout wire rope which is made to revolve by machinery and is to be met with between all the tramways. Unless one very wary in walking, it is the easiest thing imaginable to be tripped by the rope and perhaps to have one’s leg broken. This rope is attached and detached by youths or men engaged for the purpose at different “stations” on route. We had passed along some distance further when Mr. Witty stopped and brought his anemometer into use. It was an interesting sight to notice him as be bent down, one knee on the ground and resting his arm on the other, while his teeth gripped the handle of the lamp, the instrument being held in the hand of one extended arm and with the other hand he placed his watch near the light. The anemometer is held so that the current of air can strike it, uninterrupted by any obstacle, and the exact number of lineal feet of air passing along can be faithfully recorded. This was repeatedly done by the assistant-manager daring my stay with him and. by obtaining these records at various parts of the mine, the precise state of the

Ventilation of the Pit

can be ascertained, when the width of the passage at these points is taken into calculation. It will be obvious to everybody that faithful attention to a daily detail of this kind is of paramount importance. Of course if such a duty happened to be neglected and  the “ fan” above ground was not sending down fresh air in the volume requisite, gas would generate, instead of being swept away, and an accident with one of the safety lamps might result instantaneously, in a Terrific Explosion  and the loss of many lives. But it was a real pleasure to see how exceedingly carefully this scientific matter was dealt with, and the little misgiving which I not unnaturally entertained at the outset as to my own safety quickly vanished. Indeed, I soon became accustomed to the gloom and the constantly recurring sounds and walked with an easier stride.