The mines back in the 1800’s were not built like they are today. In fact most of the smaller mines back then didn’t have tunnels leading into the mine, but a shaft instead. The shaft was a hole blown into the mountain that went straight down. These were deep and dangerous pits that could be a challenge lowering men in and out of the mine. An ore bucket was crafted and used to haul men, equipment and coal from the mountain. Large enough to carry more than one person, the bucket could conveniently carry two more miners if they stood on the rim and held onto the rope.
With the hole in most shafts only a little wider than the ore bucket itself you could imagine how scary it would be riding down on one of them.
Ventilation was achieved within the mine by linking two shafts and allowing air to flow freely between them. The flow of air could be increased by suspending a fire basket into one of the shafts. The warm air rising in the shaft caused a partial vacuum in the workings and cold air flowed down into the shaft to maintain the balance of the air pressure.
However, underground the miners faced very real and great dangers. Flooding, cave in's gasses such as Chokedamp making it impossible for the miner to breathe and Firedamp, not poisonous, but explosive were all serious threats.
In order to rid the mines of explosive and poisonous gases, a crude ventilation system was built in the early 1800's/ Young children called Trappers would sit underground for hours opening and closing trap doors that went across the mine. This created a draught and could shift a cloud of gas, but it didn't always work. Trap doors could also stop the blast of an explosion damaging more of the coal mine.
Canaries were also a source of telling the miner when the air wasn't clean. The birds were brought into the mines to detect deadly gases before it killed the miners. The canaries would sing in their cages and if they stopped whistling, the miner needed to get above ground immediately.
While researching all the horrible and unimaginable things a miner must face while in the belly of a mountain, I came across this picture. I stared at if for over an hour and decided to add it to my blog post. Children were often used in the mines because of their size. They were hired to crawl into the dark dank tunnels where men could not fit. They undertook small jobs suitable for nimble fingers, like threading weaving machines, getting into nooks and crannies in the mountain, and making matches.The dangers they faced in their every day life can be imagined...add that there was no electric light, no rest breaks, no food or water provided, and they worked up to fourteen hours a day.
The life of a miner was not a great one with long hours and so many dangers lurking below, but the work was steady and put food on the table.
I admire these men, women and children who braved the ominous mountain, crawling within it to dig for their families and the possibility of a better life.