Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Research: Mining in the Victorian Era

I'm at the very start of researching mining for my next story and I thought I'd put up the information I've found in case anyone else is interested. I picked the Victorian Era and coal mining for ease of research though I'm going to have to sculpt and adapt the information to better suit the setting I'm using. Oh well! A writer always has to start somewhere.

Early coal extraction methods
Before we start, here's a little information on early coal extraction methods. It began with coal that lay on the surface or close to it and miners used drift mining (using a near horizontal passage in the mine), bell pits (basically, a hole slowly excavated outwards and with the coal transported out of the shaft by winch and bucket), and small scale shaft mining (like a bell pit with extraction working out from a central shaft and/or through extracting small sections / rooms of coal and leaving pillars behind to support the roofs). In the 17th century, mining techniques were improved through the use of test boring (drilling down to sample what lies beneath the surface) and mines could be drained by chain pumps driven by water wheels.

Victorian Era Mining Techniques
Wooden pit props were now used to support the roof. Fires were burned, originally, to create air currents and circulate air but later replaced by fans driven by steam engines. Special lamps, the Davy lamp and Geordie lamp, allowed any gass to burnt harmlessly within the lamp - though they gave very poor illumination. Improved techniques allowed for deeper mining with shafts being drilled for hundreds of feet below the surface. Room and pillar mining was still sometimes used with a network of rooms being cut out of the coal seam while leaving behind pillars of coal to keep up the roof. Of course, these pillars can make up to 40% of the coal seam. Blast mining involved using explosives to break up coal seams, then gathering up the coal and removing it.

Mining legislation and coal use.
People began using coke in 1709 to replace wood and charcoal. In 1786, coal started being used for lighting. Children used to work in the coal minds but in 1842, The Mines Act forbade the mining industry from employing anyone, boys or girls, under the age of ten years old for underground mine work. Inspectors were required to enforce the Mines Act, inspect mines, and file reports on the conditions and safety inside the mine sites in 1850. In 1872, further regulations were enforced with the Coal Mines Regulating Act insisting on additional and well-integrated safety measures.

Dangers with mining
The three most visible dangers in working in a coal mine were coal-dust inhalation, cave-ins, and even explosions. Coal dust and carbon monoxide, a toxic gas, could cause lung damage and even asphyxiation. Mine wall failures. Vehicle accidents with those little metal cars (must find out what they're called) running into people. Build ups of hazardous gases are known as damps. Here are some examples: Black Damp (carbon dioxide / nitrogen mix - formed by corrosion in enclosed spaces which take oxygen out of the air - can cause suffocation); After damp (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen - formed after a mine explosion); Fire damp (mostly methane - flammable); Stink Damp (hydrogen sulphide gas - can explode); White Damp (carbon monoxide - toxic even at low levels).

Mining Positions
There were a number of different positions in the coal industry and many worked outside the mine. Coal porters, trimmers, and waggoners were used to transport the coal. When children were allowed to work in mines, they were sent down to haul up loads of coal from crammed passages. Often accidents would occur when children lost hold of mine carts causing them to run over them.

In Summary
Well, that's a big hunk of information and that's just a quickly researched overview. What comes now will be a lot of reading books, watching videos, and searching the internet to expand my knowledge of certain issues and confirm research so far found. Then I'll have to take the information gleaned and feed it through my setting's socio-cultural shredder as certain details have to be changed to better reflect the technologies and cultural values of my fantasy world.


  1. Sounds like you're on to a very interesting story.

    I can't wait to see how far the mining techniques influence your characters' culture.

    Good luck.


  2. Thanks! I honestly didn't really believe anyone would be interested in reading that. Nice to see I haven't lost any readers thus far in my research articles.