Monday, 1 June 2009

Beamish - Part II

In addition to scaring myself by imagining going down the elevator into the blackness of a pit mine, another fun thing we did was to go into a drift mine. I wasn't really frightened of that, but my pictures are lousy because I didn't dare stop and get left behind. It was rather dark in there as well.

Whilst waiting for the last group to emerge, the tour guide talked us through this schematic of the tunnels in a mine. The tunnels were spaced apart such that their 'roof' would be supported. There are signs all over the place warning that hewing from unauthorised locations would result in dismissal or arrest. Obviously if too many chose the same 'column' it would result in a collapse. In any case, miners received free coal for heating their cottages as part of their remuneration.

The height of the tunnels varied, depending upon whether man or beast would be working them. We noticed this short little horse, too big to be a Shetland pony, but later deduced he was a pit horse, meant to drag the tubs of coal around. We were told that the regulation height of tunnels meant for horses had to be around 4 feet; men were expected to work in much more cramped spaces, something less than 2 feet on occasion. Of course it was the perfect occasion to point out that the mine owners cared more for their horses than for their men. That's as may be, then again, I don't remember ever seeing a horse it possible?

With that, we entered the mine, bent over at the waist to pit pony height. Bill pointed out that the floors had neat paving down the middle, a nicety there for tourists. The floor was plenty wet all the same. Once we got around the corner, I stopped to take a picture of the entrance. My camera liked that a lot better than some of the other things I asked it to do.

Our first stop was to see an automated coal cutting machine. They weren't widely available until the 20th century, but they did cut coal four times as fast as a man. However, the miner working with the machine didn't get 4 times the pay. After about 6 months or so what he got was deaf. It was so loud, they nicknamed the machine a 'panzer'.

We also got a little lecture about miners' lamps. Seems that originally, miners used acetylene lamps. Acetylene gas is the produced when calcium carbide, which comes from limestone and coke, is mixed with water. Acetylene illumination was used widely in the early 19th Century and this, we were told, is the source of the phrase 'Being in the limelight.' More about lamps later.

Then we went along to see a few other things associated with a typical workplace.

The long things on the left are the drill bits for making deep holes for explosives. This is the next thing my mind wouldn't accept. Bad enough to be crawling around the the dark with water and rats and such -- well almost dark;

apparently one gets used to this and can see quite well... Imagine being in a crawlspace waiting for the wall to explode. Sounds completely mental to me.

Then we took a moment to consider the living conditions in the cottages, with no running water or electricity. Someone realised that would mean -- gasp -- no hair dryers! Meanwhile, I was still trying to picture me sitting in the near dark, lighting some dynamite or something and waiting for it to go off.

Nope, wouldn't happen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I notice your had did not have a light on it. No wonder you had trouble seeing down there. It is amazing what our forefathers did to earn a living and then look at the kids will not do for any money.