Visit to Cadeby Main – The Largest Colliery In Yorkshire – Underground
A Smoke and a Pitcher of Beer
Now, we were about ready for a trip below, but before we went to the lamp house. Mr. Chambers had one very necessary precaution to observe. It was that of leaving his pipe and matches in an office above. This accomplished we were ready. In the lamp house I watched the process of lighting the lamps. Each as it was pressed downward for a second, and it was lighted. The lamps is one of a particular construction. Unless properly put together, it cannot be lighted, and it cannot be lighted until it is put together properly. The size of the flame can be regulated by slightly screwing the bottom of the lamp, while the very slightest accident to the lamp, as I was presently to discover, puts it out.
Armed with a lamp each my guide and I took our stand at the pit month to await the up coming cage. Presently we were in it, and I was told to cling to the top. I clung, and in another second the daylight above had disappeared, and we were rushing downward with a bang and rattle and a whirl through the unfathomable blackness, a loud singing in my ears and a sensation that if not absolutely going headlong to perdition, it felt remarkably like it.
I suppose it is perfectly safe to drop the cage at so great speed, but for a novitiate in mining matters it is at least uncomfortable. The cage oscillates to and from the icon belts and rivets clanging. The noise which it makes is actually worse than the motion and it is at first hard to believe that something has not gone wrong with the works as the cage swings backward and forward in short shirks each time, making a fellow thank heaven fervently for the iron bar given him to hold on to.
Half way down, or it may have been further, the cage gives a jerk that well nigh lifts one off his feet, and one appears to rushing upward with greater velocity. But nearing the bottom the cage steadies itself and descends slowly, our lamps throw a faint flicker on the walls of the shaft, and then we can see that we are descending. And in a few more seconds the ride is over, and Mr. Chambers indicates to me that I can step out of the cage without any risk of preceding it to the bottom.
We had come down with a cage full of miners, and as we stopped at the bottom one of them said to his mates: ‘He’s brought us down steady enough to-day.’ Steady! And I had felt like falling off house tops all the way down. If that was steady I hope I may never ride that 750 yards in a hurry.
My first impressions of the pit bottom were indistinct, the buzzing in my ears deafened me, and accustomed to the bright light of heaven, I could see but little even with my lamp to aid me; so, telling me that I would become accustomed to the darkness, in a minute or two Mr. Chambers took me into an office, where we sat down until I had recovered from the excitement of the ride downward and had acquired the keenness of vision necessary to enable a man to peer through the pitchy darkness illumined only by a flickering flame like that of a candle. I told him of the concert which was being performed in my ears, and he advised me to yawn and it would go off, and while he was discussing some business with one of the deputies, no less a person than Parish Councillor Tennant, of Denaby, I yawned like Rip Van Winkle, until suddenly the music in mine head was hushed, and I could hear myself speak again. Cadeby Main appears to be full of Parish Councillors, for in Mr. T. W. Mosby we had met another, who advised Mr. Chambers to take me up the drift. And consequently when I was asked what part of the mine I would like to go to, I confidently replied that I would like to inspect the drift. ‘Right,’ said Mr. Chambers, ‘but if we are going up the drift, I shall have this jacket off,’ suiting the action to the word, and appearing in his shirt sleeves. I know now that when Mr. Mosby advised Mr. Chambers to take me up the drift he perpetrated a practical joke at my expense, which I would not have expected from a Parish Councillor.
We set off for the drift, and at first it was not easy to believe that one’s surroundings were 750 yards below the surface of the earth, for every now and then we encountered a door through which we had to pass, and the walls being of bricks hereabouts the place strongly resembled our back yard on a dark night.
But presently Mr. Chambers said ‘Now we are in the drift,’ and we were walking uphill at a gradient of one in six, every now and then bobbing our heads to avoid the roof. This is the uncompleted drift which has not yet been driven through the solid rock, and from an engineering point of view is undoubtedly a triumph. It is, however, hardly such a desirable place to walk in as Piccadilly, or even High Street, Mexborough. At Cadeby they have, unfortunately, a very bad roof.
Mr. Chambers points out to me places where huge steel bars with a girth equal to that of a man have been bent almost double by the weight above. Over and over again, he says, when they were driving through the rock they had to come back to make good the roof, and he remarked, with a tone of sadness in his voice. ‘I don’t know whether it is ever going to settle, but it is almost time it did.’ Along this uphill road we trudged for perhaps a couple of hundred yards, when my guide stopped and asked, ‘Do you hear that water?’ ‘Yes,’ said I. ‘Have you got a waterfall down here?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘that noise is occasional by the air rushing under the door.’ My answer was ‘Well, I’m blowed!’ which was perfectly true, for we were right in the air current, but was meant to convey my astonishment, for the noise resembled the roar of Niagara.
I managed to reach the end of that drift without accident, through I once almost knocked my head off with a piece of timber jutting from the roof, against which, after bobbing down, I struck by bobbing up too soon. At the far end we came upon the men who are engaged in carrying out the drift to the Barnsley bed. Precisely what they were doing I cannot describe, but they appeared to be making a very considerable impression upon the solid rock which faced them at the end of the tunnel. And the rock, I may remark, was decidedly solid, as hard as slate, and not unlike it in appearance, though of a lighter colour. To the left hand another workman was drilling a hole in the side of the tunnel. I asked if the object of his work was the construction of a manhole, and I was evidently gaining experience rapidly for Mr. Chambers replied in the affirmative, and added that he was boring a hole in which to put a shot.
We left the drifting party and retraced our steps for some distance, until my guide, lifting up a brattice cloth – in naming which correctly I again evidenced my advance in mining technicalities – conducted me into a heading which took us through the Swallow wood bed of coal, and presently brought us to the foot of the drift at the far end of which the Barnsley seam of coal was discovered.
I had not altogether enjoyed my walk in the long drift, but I had not known what was coming. From the top of the heading the drift goes up at an inclined of one in two, or an angle of 40 degrees for 120 yards. To put it mildly I was aghast at the prospect of climbing this formidable hill, and now I understood why Mr. Chambers had pulled his coat off. And also I understood why that unkind person Mosby had said ‘Take him up the drift.’
Anyway I set to work in the wake of my guide. But I am a poor hand at mountaineering and before I had gone far I had slipped on a tram line and out went my lamp. I wasn’t altogether sorry, for I thought it would provide me with an excuse for not going any further. But one of the workmen below came hurrying up, shouting that he had a spare lamp, and thus equipped I made a fresh start. The floor of that drift is covered with small stone and coal which gives way under a fellow’s feet when he tries to climb. To make my difficulty worse I had a pair of thin boots on with very ‘slape’ soles, and after about another twenty yards climbing down I went again and out went another lamp. This time I at once asked for another, but a miner came up the drift behind me, and said ‘you go on, I’ll show you a light, you’ll put out all the lamps in the pit at this rate.’ So I went toiling on, perspiring at every pore oftener on my hands and knees than on my feet, but urged upward by the assurances of the man behind me that it would be easier coming down. Half way up I besought Mr. Chambers to let us turn back, but he replied that having come so far he was going to the top, and to the top we went.
There is an end to everything mundane, and that drift ended somewhere before we got quite under Doncaster, at least I presumed so far we had only travelled about three hundred yards since Mr. Chambers had told me we were under Sprotborough Hall. At the top of the drift I could only sit down in a manhole and black my face wiping the sweat off it with hands that had grovelled in the coal dust under foot. I certainly saw the Barnsley bed of coal, but I was too breathless to take any interest in it, or indeed in anything but wish that I could be carried out instead of having to crawl back myself.
The seam of coal which has been won is described by those who ought to know as an exceedingly fine one. It is coal of good quality and is about 10 feet thick. It will, however be worked more by means of the longer drift at the lower gradient than by means of the Mount Blanc we had just climbed. For this purpose the hauling engines are already laid down at the bottom of the long drift, and Mr. Chambers informed me that they are the same pair of engines that were used for sinking the shaft.
I cannot quit the subject of the drift which resulted in the coal being won without paying a tribute to those who projected and carried out the work. The contractor, Mr. James Russell, has done his work magnificently, and I believe without a serious injury to any of the workmen employed under him. He worked under the superintendence of Mr. Witty, the manager, and drove according to the instructions of Mr. Chambers himself finding the Barnsley bed of coal within a yard or two of the exact spot where Mr. Chambers said it would be found. Curiously enough the seam of coal is unlike that in other colliers. Almost invariably the Barnsley bed is underlaid by eight or nine yards of very hard-sandstone rock, and that at Cadeby is absent.
Coming down the mountain side was easy, too easy. It would not have been difficult to fall down, it was impossible to walk down without repeated tumbles. Mr. Chambers ahead of me and a miner behind me walked all right, but I ‘slithered’ more than half the way down. But at the bottom I was again fitted up with a lamp which had been sent to be re-lighted, and we set out to return to the pit bottom.
Mr. Chambers intended evidently that I should see all the wonders of the mine while I was there for he took me back by still another drift, at a gradient of one in two and a half, an angle of 36 degrees. This is another of Mr. Russell’s achievements, and runs from about half way up the long drift to the Swallow-wood coal. The floor of it has hardly been left in the condition for-dancing, and as I clambered down very gingerly from one huge boulder to another expecting every moment to break my neck, I remarked this to Mr. Chambers who, though a bigger man than myself, hopped over the obstacles in his way like a chamois, in comparison with my own slow movements.
‘Yes.’ he replied, it reminds me that I once went to Matlock, and as soon as I got there a boy came to me and said ‘Want to go through the caverns, sir? only sixpence.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘I want to go into no caverns, I’ve come here for a holiday,’ a story that set me laughing until I nearly came a cropper over an extra large boulder that reduced me to gravity again.
We re-entered the long drift by the door at which I had been asked if I could hear the water falling, and the pressure of air upon it was so great that I could not open it by exerting all my strength. Mr. Chambers, a giant by comparison with me, had to brace his feet against a corf and push it open with his back. Verily, there is some ventilation in the Cadeby mine.
Before we returned to the pit bottom I was shown the stables. At present these are only of a temporary character, but new stables are in course of construction. In these each stall has an opening in front of the manger directly into a return air-way, so that in the case of any outbreak of disease among the ponies the infected air will be carried away before it is breathed by any of the others.
Then, after a rest in the office, which was very welcome, we returned to the bottom of the shaft, where the hydraulic machinery was now in motion. While the cages are ascending and descending the shaft the corves are placed upon an hydraulic lift corresponding with the size of the cage, and on the cage descending by the side of the hydraulic lift the full corves are automatically propelled forward on one side, pushing the empties out of the cage into another hydraulic lift on the opposite side of it.
The hydraulic lifts can be filled with eight full corves and emptied of the eight empty ones in the short space of time occupied by the engines in making a draw, the lifts, of course, descending when loading as each floor takes its load, and ascending when unloading as each floor is believed if its couple of empties. I dare say we could have been fired into the cage for the return trip by the automatic arrangement in the hydraulic lifts, but we preferred to get into the cage without any such assistance, and very shortly we were rushing to the surface again. Our journey upwards was not so steady as the down trip had been, but I felt less disquietude. I had discovered that all the rattle, and clanging, and shaking, and noise did not imply that the cage had broken loose from its moorings and was making a dive to the bottom; and yet it was with no little relief that I arrived safely at the top and breathed the air of heaven first hand again.
We had a walk round the pit bank to examine the screens, and wherever we went my appearance was the signal for the covert grins of the screenmen. I concluded I was black, and wondered how black. I did not know exactly what a guy I looked.
The system for screening the coal in vogue at Cadeby is Mr. Chamber’s own patent. The tubs, after being weighed are run on to automatic tippers which empty them on to the screens. These are so constructed that they separate the large and small coal without breaking it, and discharge all the large coal on to a chain of hoppers, which load them into the waggons very steadily and yet rapidly, at the same time giving the screenmen opportunities to pick the coal as it is loaded. It is intended to erect at the pit head a hydraulic apparatus for loading and unloading the cages at the pit top, similar to the fashion described above as in vogue below, and when this is complete the greater part of the work on the pit bank will be done by machinery.
A Smoke and a Pitcher of Beer
Leaving the screens we left the pit top, Mr. Chambers pointing out that they meant to have no more fires, as everything was constructed of iron. Surrendering our lamps we paused for a moment in one of the surface offices, where I removed the coal dust from my face, and then went across to the company’s office, where my guide performed his final courtesy towards me, providing me with a smoke and a pitcher of beer, both of which, I can assure you, I sadly needed.
And then I left him hard at work with his day’s correspondence.