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Capital Invested in Collieries.
require from 8000l. to 25,000l. each. Such are the best conjectures. we can form upon a subject on which no information exists except such as can be derived from conversation with intelligent miners. Owners and upper officers are generally silent on all such topics, and all inquiries of this nature are viewed with great jealousy.
With relation to the probable profits from the great concerns, no one can give any certain information but those who think it their interest to withhold it. We have asked the most intelligent 'viewers' or colliery managers, and they have stated a very low estimate. We are inclined to think that the profits are not so large as commonly supposed. An experienced superintendent of collieries averaged them at ten per cent., allowing nothing for redemption of capital. The Great Hetton Coal Company have been considered to realize a total profit of from 35,000l. to 45,000l. per annum. The great demand for steam coal (that is, a coal burning hot and quick, and making a white ash) has revived some northern collieries which, twenty years ago, had been abandoned as worthless, but which have now become profitable concerns. On some of these collieries 50,000l. or 60,000l. had been spent, as it was thought, in vain; but they are now made to clear from 8000l. to 12,000l. per annum. The abandonment of an old monopoly called the Vend,' which limited the sale and regulated the supply, has opened the whole trade, and not ruinously, as many of the old school prophesied.
Having thus presented to our readers as much general information as may be needed, let us look at a large northern colliery more particularly, and trace its enlargement from its first opening.
The strata of every coal-field have a certain inclination to the horizon (dip and rise) as well as a level line of bearing (in general), forming right angles with the inclination. The colliery is planned in relation to these lines. The position and quality of the beds of coal having been ascertained by boring, one shaft, as an engine pit, will be sunk at the lowest portion of the ground, and another shaft, as a working pit, on a higher portion. A passage being opened between these, a 'drift' or water-course will be cut along the lowest level of the tract, and a main thoroughfare ('winning headways') will be excavated at about right angles to the drift. Then the engine and drawing apparatus can be brought into work, and the coal is said to be won-winning the coal being the phrase for reaching it by mining. Nothing is easier than to describe the process in the above sentences, and, sometimes, nothing is more difficult than to win the coal. It is not mere sinking that is necessary; that could be accomplished in due time; but a secret and powerful foe is oftentimes in ambush
-viz., a 'feeder' of water. In sinking the shafts, springs or feeders may be suddenly tapped in the sandy beds, and it is astonishing what pumping resources are instantly demanded, and must therefore be previously provided. Large steam-engines are erected at the winning of a mine, and the power is increased in the ratio of the water issuing. A few instances will be interesting.
During the progress of an attempted winning of a pit at Haswell, in Durham, through sands, the engines pumped up water to the amount of 26,700 tons per diem, and the winning was abandoned after an outlay of 60,000l. At Friar's Goose Colliery, near Gateshead, the feeders require three columns of pumps, each 16 inches in diameter, raising upwards of 1000 gallons of water (sometimes 1200) per minute, or above 6000 tons per diem. At the same time, the weight of coal extracted does not exceed 300 tons a day, and is often only 250 tons, so that there the water extracted exceeds the coals some 20 to 24 times. engine thus erected was at one time the largest single-pumping engine on the Tyne river, being 180 horse-power. The cylinder is 6 feet diameter, and the stroke 9 feet. At each stroke about 195 gallons of water are delivered on the surface; and as the average is six strokes per minute, the engine could deliver (and has often delivered) 1170 gallons per minute, or 1,444,800 gallons a day. In 1851, the following were the particulars of pumping out water from four Newcastle collieries:
Heaton and Benton
In September, 1851, the Friar's Goose engine was stopped, and the waters were left to accumulate-to the imminent danger of neighbouring collieries. At a colliery belonging to South Hetton, we saw a pumping engine estimated to be of 300 horse-power, contained in a noble engine-house of stone, including three galleries which environed the engine, and from which its several parts and stately action can be viewed. Upon the pulsations of those ever-beating engines, which you may hear thumping and bumping all night long if you sleep (or lie awake) near them, depend the dryness of the mine and the security of the miners from drowning floods.
While upon steam-engines, we may mention that, in addition
Winning and winding the Coal.
to pumping, steam power is requisite for drawing the coals from the mine, and, in fact, does the whole extracting and lowering work of the colliery. In the concerns of greatest magnitude the power required for drawing or winding up is very great. Thus, in the Great Hetton Colliery, in Durham (the present source of our best domestic coal, or at least of the largest quantity of it), there are eight shafts, and about 1200 tons of coal are drawn from them daily (as we were informed) by the steam-engines in use there. On occasions of brisk demand they would supply, we think, 2500 tons in the day and night work of one so-called day. But the most extraordinary assemblage of steam power is to be found at the Murton winning of the South Hetton Company (about nine miles from Durham city). There very copious feeders of water were tapped in a bed of sand during the winning, and it appeared as if no machinery could subdue them. Engines were put up, one after another, and finally the total engine power in use there, for all purposes, has been communicated to us as being equal to thirteen or fourteen hundred horse-power!* This is probably the largest accumulation of engine power at any one mine in the world.
To all the great collieries, such as those named, a large ‘raffyard' is attached, where engines are either constructed or repaired, and a large number of mechanics of various classes are employed in them. The raff-yards at Hetton and at Seaton Delaval are fitted up with every convenience, and they resemble the repairing workshops of the great railway companies, such as those we observe at Wolverton, Camden Town, and other railway stations.
To return to the winning of coal. Suppose it is finally and fully reached by the main shafts-at whatever depths the best seams may lie-then the whole mine will be extended by a perfect system of excavation, termed panel-work. By this system the whole area of the portion to be mined will be divided into quadrangular panels, each panel containing an area of from eight to twelve acres. Round each panel is left, at first, a solid wall of coal of from forty to fifty yards thick. Through this roads and air-courses are excavated ('driven'), in order to work the contained coal. Thus all the panels are connected with the shaft in respect of ventilation and roadways, while each panel has a particular name (like a square or street in a town). An accurate plan of the whole being in the hands of the chief-manager, he can at any time receive reports from inferior officers relating to any spot in the mine, and can refer them to any locality upon the plan. In some few museums, as that of Practical Geology, in
* We have formerly noted 570 horse-power at that locality. The above amount is named to us by a mining engineer as recently existing.
Jermyn-street, London, plans or models of Newcastle mines can be inspected; but for the sake of the reader confined to his own study, we may liken a mine to a large-sized (but small-paned) window, lying flat upon the ground, in which the frames holding the glass would stand for the passages of the mine, and the glass for the masses of coal.
Or imagine that, in London, the Duke of York's column, at the end of Waterloo-place, represented the shaft of a mine, and that lower Regent-street represented the main passage; then Pall Mall would stand for a main cross-passage, and the minor streets for all the secondary ways of the pit, while the houses would stand for the masses of coal-the dwellings being divided and subdivided into blocks of buildings by side and cross-streets and alleys. A person standing in the gallery at the top of the column would see a stream of vehicles bearing down Regentstreet towards the base, and a stream proceeding away from it; so the trains of laden coal-wagons are brought from the various panels of the pit to the base of the shaft, and sent back empty for fresh loads. Then, imagine that the laden wagons were unladen at the foot of the column, and drawn up through it by winding engines; and you will have a tolerable conception of the coal-pit shaft, and its business, especially if you conceive the column to be elongated to some ten times its present height. We ourselves have descended three shafts of the following respective depths:1044 feet, 1070 feet, and 1600 feet; the last being the celebrated shaft of the Monkwearmouth pit, near Sunderland, which is probably the deepest perpendicular mining-shaft in the world.
Excavations can be carried on to an immense extent upon the system described, and the area of some of the older coal-pits of the North is remarkable. The gallery excavations of Killingworth pit, if put together, would be, we think, no less than one hundred and sixty miles! This is the extreme case; but other of the older pits extend great distances under ground, though the magnitude is only duly appreciated by supposing the passages all added together. A singular fact is, that at the Howgill pits, west of Whitehaven, the excavations have been carried more than 1000 yards under the sea, and about 600 feet below its bed.
A well-devised and strict system of discipline is maintained in the Northern pits. In no man-of-war are the regulations more rigid. There are officers for every duty and department, above and underground. In the colliery-office you find clerks at work with the accounts, and you may (if favoured) inspect large plans of the pit, drawings of furnaces, shafts, and measures of ventilation; notes of consumption of coal, records of temperature of
Economy of the Pits.
the pit and shafts, with memoranda of remarkable eruptions of inflammable gas or of feeders' of water.
The whole concern is under the direction of one superior officer, the viewer,' who is presumed to be familiar with every proceeding and part of the work. He has an under-viewer, who takes the general charge of mining operations, and examines the mine every day personally. He, again, has subordinates, who report to him; and one of these is the 'overman,' who also has his deputy. Then we descend to the workmen themselves, who are divided into 'hewers,' who 'get' or hew down the coal with a short pick and other tools; 'putters,' who push or 'put' the coal-wagons along the underground tramroad; and last we find a large number of boys engaged in different employments, some of a very laborious and others of a lighter character. The youngest boys attend the doors of the pit, and are named 'trappers. The remuneration of all these persons, from the viewer to the trapper, is carefully regulated. The viewer is commonly very well paid, and, if eminent, can become connected with other mines. The subordinates are fairly, but not largely, paid. The workmen are certainly better paid than working men in general. For examples :-The overmen may receive from 25s. to 32s. per week, their assistants from 228. to 25s.; the deputies from 38. 4d. to 3s. 9d. a day; the hewers of coal may earn from 3s. to 3s. 10d. a day, for six or seven hours' work; the putters (lads) 2s. 6d. down to 1s. 10d. a day; and boys 1s. 3d. and 10d. a day. We give these items, as they are not to be ascertained easily, and may afford an idea of the value of labour in the Northern pits to all who are interested in the working classes.
The number of persons engaged in any one colliery varies greatly, both in relation to other pits, and to the state of the trade in the same pit. At South Hetton we found a large number employed-viz., 316 below and 212 above ground, in all, 528 persons. This was an extraordinary number, and the usual number would be less. It might be warrantable to conjecture the ordinary numbers in the large mines as from 300 to 400 persons. In the inferior mines the numbers will vary extremely.
To supply all these persons with work and wages is the first concern of mining managers; but there is another duty not much inferior, and often far more difficult, and that is, to supply all underground with fresh air. It is not always easy to ventilate a room or a church; what must it be to ventilate vastly larger spaces a thousand feet beneath us, with only two or three communications, through narrow channels, with the upper skies ? The natural temperature regularly increases in accordance with