Mining was an integral industry during the time of the Industrial revolution because it provided the best available source of fuel - coal. Coal was needed to make steel, the predominant building material of the time, and to operate steam engines; later, the accompanying gases would be used for light and heat. The use of these on a large scale meant that coal mining now had to take place at an equal rate.
Coal is thought to have been mined in England since the time of the Romans. It was used as fuel in medieval times, especially in London , where it led to pollution but was kept in use because of the scarcity of wood. Until the Industrial Revolution, two methods of mining had predominated: bell pits, which were essentially holes dug into the ground, and drift mines, which consisted of adits or channels that followed a vein of coal through the side of a hill. However, miners would strike water as they mined deeper, and it had to be removed either by dragging bucketloads of water up the shaft or by building an adit in the side of the mountain to drain the water.
Glass manufacture was one of the first industrial uses of coal, beginning in the early seventeenth century; it was considered a great success because it preserved the limited timber growth. Coal raised for this purpose, as well as for domestic use, was done almost entirely manually, with workers extracting both coal and water from mines. However, as other industries developed, it became clear that a more efficient way to obtain coal had to be developed. This led to Thomas Newcomen's 1712 invention of a simple one-piston water pump for removing water, an improvement to an earlier design by Thomas Savery.
When it was further improved by James Watt's addition of a separate cooling chamber so as not to heat and cool the same chamber, it could be applied to efficiently remove water from mines. This in turn allowed miners to dig deeper, following each vein of coal longer. Especially as people learned to stratify mining products into its various grades to produce substances such as paraffin and saccharin, mining became an important industry in England . Mines were mostly found in the northern sections of the country, and many of the towns that sprang up around mines were haphazard settlements as workers arrived to take advantage of the most recently discovered coal vein. Between 1854 and 1891, the amount of coal raised almost tripled to about 185 million tons, while the amount exported multiplied almost sevenfold from about 4 million tons.
However, this industry was still largely perpetuated by human labor rather than automated processes. As workers descended deeper and deeper into shafts, the hazards of working in mines grew. Steam pumps were not always effective, and floods, though irregular, were a serious threat. Also, natural gases formed from the same biomass and found in the mines, called "fire-damp", were invisible yet extremely flammable, and a conflagration or explosion could be caused by the slightest spark. Other gases present in mines were actually poisonous. Though miners built systems of trap doors to prevent the movement of gas throughout the mine, more gains were made against this problem with the 1815 invention of the safety lamp by Sir Humphrey Davy, which would not ignite flammable gases. Mine workers also faced more visible occupational hazards regularly - mines were a place of constant motion, and falling or tripping could be disastrous, especially in the event that the mine actually gave way and caved in. To save expenses, mines were badly lit and badly ventilated. The cramped conditions, pervaded with gases and with little fresh air, encouraged illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma as well as physical deformities such as spine curvature.
The lack of employment regulations meant that all types of workers, including women and children, were employed, with the intent to attain more work for less pay. Children were also hired because they could crawl in the narrow passages of the mines, carrying water or coal. Working in these conditions for little pay and for as long as an entire day at a time, miners were often unhealthy, and the industry suffered some 4000 deaths each year in its period of peak operation in the early nineteenth century. The problem was largely unnoticed until the deaths of twenty-six children in a colliery in 1838. A well-known reformer of the time, Lord Ashley, with the backing of Queen Victoria , convinced the Parliament to inquire into the matter. The commission presented the Mines Report in 1842, raising awareness of the unregulated working conditions as well as of the immoral social customs of mining communities, where illiteracy and alcohol use were rampant.
This led to the eventual passage of the Mines Act later that year; this piece of legislation prevented women and boys under ten years old from mine work, and paved the way for other legislation to set equitable working conditions for industrial workers.
Winstanley, Ian. “ Coal Mining History Resource Center ”. 2001. December 2 2005 . < http://www.cmhrc.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/ >
“Coal Mining and the Industrial Revolution”. History Learning Site . 2004. December 2 2005 . < http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/coal.htm >
Philips, Allan. “The Soul of the Industrial Revolution”. Shropshire Mining . 2 December 2005 . < http://www.shropshiremining.org.uk/ >