Dangers at Stanford Main No. 2

(c. 1947-1958)
by Fred Caban

The Cage

Roof falls- These were a fact of life but unfortunately sometimes a fact of death.

Gas - We had a gaseous mine (methane or fire damp) so care had to be taken to avoid explosions. Of course we also had black damp and hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg gas)

Darkness — It was so dark that you could not see a white object right in front of your eyes.

Lights going out — The lights in those days were very unreliable, sometimes they would go dim burning with a weak red glow, sometimes they would wink and blink and sometimes they would go out altogether. Quite a problem if you were on your own.

Runaway sets* — Very devastating.

Water — sometimes dripped heavily from the roof, sometimes you might have to work in a foot or so of water— an inconvenience.

*a set is a group of connected skips

The miners also endured physical harships:

Dust on the lungs

There was a considerable amount of dust in the mines and because the miners worked so hard, they breathed in copious amounts of fine dust. The dust entered the small sacks in the lungs causing scar tissue with very dire consequences. There was much wheezing and shortness of breath until eventually it became fatal. Dust on the lungs was a disease called Pneumonoconiosis. If it was derived from coal dust it was called Anthracosis and if it was derived from stone dust (which contained silicon) it was called Silicosis.

Under height money

You can imagine how difficult it is to shovel coal into a skip if the roof is low. It was accepted that this was a problem and the miners were granted an award called ‘under height money’. They were paid 5 shillings a ton to get and fill the coal and an extra 1/8th of a penny a ton for every inch that the roof was lower than 5 feet. This meant that if the roof was 4ft 4inches they would get an extra 1 penny a ton. Shovelling the coal in was not the only difficulty. With the roof being lower, less coal was won by a round of shots. This meant more powder had to be used and much more work done, more rails had to be put on, more timber erected and so the 1/ 8th of a penny a ton seamed such a dismal amount. You could not stand up straight under a low roof.

The darg

The contract miners worked in pairs and the darg was 20 tons of coal a day for each pair. Filling the coal was the easy part. They had to bore holes in the coal with a hand drill and shoot the coal out with blasting powder. The powder cost them 5 shillings for a 5 pound packet which was much as they got for filling a ton of coal so where the coal was more easily worked they would dig it out with a pick. They also had to erect timber to support the roof, put brattis up to direct the air and lay rails to run the skips on. They also had to cope the empty skips which were heavy, to let the full skips get past.

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