"The Dunfermline Journal"
Saturday, June 18, 1904

"A VISIT TO A COAL MINE"

BOWHILL COLLIERY

Its History And Its Operations.
(Lecture by the Manager)

Notwithstanding the attractions of a mid-summer night, a large number of the members of the Dunfermline Naturalists' Society attended at the Hall of the Lauder Technical School on Tuesday to hear a lecture by Mr A. Muir of Bowhill Colliery, on "A Visit to a Coal Mine", with illustrations by flashlight slides. Mr Henry Beveridge, F.S.A., of Pitreavie, President, occupied the chair, and briefly introduced Mr Muir.

Mr Muir proceeding at once with his lecture said: - The first object that takes your attention when you arrive at Cardenden Station is the pits which are situated on a slight rise, with the village lying to the east of them. The shafts were started to be sunk in the year 1895, but coal was only begun to be worked in the beginning of the year 1898. At that time very few houses were in the neighbourhood, but now you will see that a large village has sprung up and this has been rendered necessary by the great number of men required to develop the colliery.
The village is typical of some of the cities in America and elsewhere which have sprung up very quickly, in fact, it may be termed the Mushroom Village. A walk of about three quarters of a mile brings you to the pits, and the first object that takes your attention when nearing the pits is the great stack of props piled up near, and connecting with the pithead by an inclined roadway which is worked by endless rope haulage for taking the props to the mouth of the pits, as showing the great expense for timber used in working the coal, I have only to tell you that it costs about 4d for every ton of coal raised, and this is by no means an excessive rate for a deep colliery with such bad roofs as some of our seams have.

The Winding Engine.

Next we come to the winding engine, and great massive engines they are. One is placed to wind out of No 1 shaft, and the other out of No 2. No 1 shaft is 220 fathoms deep to the five feet seams, and No 2 is 170 fathoms deep to the Lochgelly Splint seam. Each engine winds about 1000 tons of coal per day at the rate of 2½ tons per wind. The work is divided into three shifts in the 24 hours, during two of which the coal is brought up, and the other one, or the night shift, repairing work is done. There are about 1000 men and boys employed underground, and the yearly output of coal is about half a million tons.

Stages of Development from Women, Water.

Steam Power to 400 Horse Power.

To illustrate the great advance in mining machinery during the last 100 years, Mr Adams has been good enough to prepare slides showing the different methods of raising coal during that period, one of which is on the screen and represents the coal being drawn to the surface by a "horse gin", another by "Water Wheel" for raising coal at Govan Colliery, near Glasgow, near the end of the eighteenth century. Then we take you further back when women worked in the pits and carried the coals in creels on their backs, along the underground passages and up a stair in the shaft, and deposited the coals in little bings belonging to each family on the surface.

The Days of Serfdom.

These were the days when men and women were no better than slaves, and were bought and sold with the colliery, as an instance of which, I read you an extract from an advertisement which appeared in the "Caledonian Mercury" of Wednesday, 24th January, 1770, as follows: -

"By adjournment, to be sold within the Parliament or New Session House of Edinburgh on Wednesday 31st day of January inst, betwixt the hours of 3 and 5 in the afternoon, the coals and other subjects after mentioned which belong to Mr Adam Anderson, Feur in Kestock, viz.: - the splint coal with the whole other seams of coal within the lands of Halbeath, lying in the Parish of Dunfermline and Shire of Fife, together with the tenth load thereof, Fire engine erected thereon by the said Adam Anderson, and whole machinery, collier houses, colliers, coal bearers, and "pertinents" thereon as also a tack of certain parts and portions of the lands of Halbeath whereof there is 13 years to run from Martinmas 1769, and sublet to sundry tenants who pay £20 10s 5½d sterling to the tacksman over and above the tack duty the public burdens payable by the tack. The upset price of these subjects is £500 sterling."

Then immediately after that comes an advertisement of the Tack of Over and Nether Dundonald, where though colliers are not sold as fixtures, you draw the inference that it was the rule and not the exception that they were fixtures. It is a fact that in the end of the 18th century the colliers of Scotland were relieved from slavery by Parliament. The last vestige of actual slavery was then extinguished in Britain, but long afterwards it was no uncommon thing to met colliers who had been born slaves. Hugh Miller tells us that he had himself frequently conversed with them, and relates an anecdote of one who, according to his own account, at one period of his career had been niffered for a pony. It was a recognised custom in these days that the women who married a collier became his coalbearer, and bears out the old saying "Who takes the collier by the hand, takes the creel by the band". I may here state as a fact that my own father was working in the pits when only 6 years of age. In the year 1842 the women were prohibited by an Act of Parliament from working in the pits.

Generation of Steam.

From the engines we pass to the boilers. These are twelve of the Lancashire type, and produce steam for all the engines about the works.

Pit Stores and Water Supply

Next we come to the stores where the different kinds of supplies are kept. Adjacent to the stores is the domestic water supply tanks and filter. The water is pumped from a large cistern built in the side of the shaft which collect the water from a spring of fine clear water which comes from the whinstone rock at 55 fathoms from the surface, and is distributed through all the district in pipes in the usual way.

Treatment of Accidents.

Built in connection with the stores is the ambulance room for treating cases of accidents, and the shed for ambulance wagon and litter. The van is fitted with all the appliances that can be thought necessary for the care and comfort of the patient during transport to their homes or hospital. The litter is used for short distances and only for accidents of a less serious nature.

Pithead Workshops.

Next we visit the workshops, comprising the smithy, joiners shop, and engineering shop, where a large staff of the different tradesmen work at repairs and any new work which is required. The shops are fitted with three turning machines, one shaping machine, one screwing machine, one slotting machine, one vertical drilling machine, one large radial drilling machine, one planing machine, three punching and shearing machine, one emery grinder and twist drill grinder, grindstone, and fan for the blast for the smiths' fire.

Pumping Engine.

This view shows the kind of pumping engine which keeps the workings clear of water. It pumps 1300 gallons, or nearly six tons per minute to the surface, and works continuously except when it breaks down and needs repair, but this seldom occurs; water was the great drawback to the development of coal working in the old days, and an engine for pumping water from a mine was amongst one of the first steam engines invented, but before that, water was raised by means of hand pumps and water wheels, and among the first to apply the water wheel was Sir George Bruce of Culross about the year 1500 to the pits on the shore at Torryburn. Another view shows a large underground pumping engine placed at a depth of 115 fathoms from the surface, capable of forcing up 700 gallons per minute, and is used in case of stoppage to the big pump.

Air Compressing Engines.

We just look in to see the large air compressing engine when passing. It compresses the atmospheric air to a pressure of 40 lbs per square inch, and is led down the shaft and along the workings in tubes, and works the haulage engine, small pumps, and coal cutting and boring machines, besides the jib crane and large punching and shearing machine on the surface.

The Load Hutches.

From the air compressor we go up the stair to the pithead, and see the load hutches coming up and the empty ones being sent down the shaft, this puts me in mind of a story I heard about a country man one day standing at a pithead and seeing the empty hutches going down and the load ones coming up, to show that he knew all about it, he went forward to the pitheadman and said " Man, they are not long in dipping them." When the load hutches are taken off the cage, they run by gravity to the creeper which takes them up to the steelyard where they are weighed by a man appointed by the Company and checked by a man appointed by the miners; you see one man taking off the pins or tokens by which each man's hutch in known, and a boy putting a mark on the hutch for the guidance of the men at the different shoots, and also for the "Billy Man", who weighs the amount of dross in the hutches be means of a spring balance. From the steelyard, the hutches gravitate to the "tippers" where they are emptied into the jiggers, They then find their way to the back of the pit and are ready to be sent down the shaft to be filled again.

Sifting, Separating, And Weighing.

When the coal leaves the hutches it falls into a jigger, with large perforations, which divides the large coal from the small, the larger coals passing on to the "picking tables" where any stones that may be amongst it are carefully picked out and laid aside, so that nothing but clean coal goes into the wagons, and is ready to be taken away by the pug engine to the wagon steelyard to be weighed and addressed to its destination. The small coals that pass through the perforations in the coal jigger falls on to a conveyor and is taken to another jigger, where it is again divided into various sizes of nuts, which also pass over picking tables and get the stones taken out before they are loaded into the wagons. There are four kind of nuts, comprising of chirls, trebles, doubles, and singles, then the very finest size of all, called duff, drops into a long conveyor and is carried to the stock hole among the first views.

At the Bottom - Telephone Communication.

We now descend the shaft, arriving at the "bottom" we see the men putting the load hutches on the cage and taking off the empty ones, then we halt a few minutes in the cabin until our eyes get accustomed to the darkness, and here you will probably be surprised to find a telephone, which is in direct communication with the pumping engine house on the surface, also to the pitheadman, the office, and the managers house as well as my own, and is the means of saving a very considerable amount of time in cases of accidents to the workmen, or a breakdown in machinery. In one of the bottoms there is an endless chain for taking the empty hutches out of the pit bottom to the haulage or the pony along the level bit.

At The Coal Face.

We now start for the coal face, and in passing, look in at the stables, there are 32 ponies underground, but are kept in different sections of the workings, and in passing along you will likely encounter a pony and a rake of hutches. Arriving at the face you see the men employed in getting the coal, who look round with a look of enquiry on their face as much to say "I wonder who this is?" It is very seldom that a miner continues working when anyone goes into his place, but we ask him to show us how miners do their work, and he begins again. Pointing to the illustration on the screen, Mr Muir continued - this man you see beginning to hole the coal has not got very far under the coal, but you will notice that he has to take up a very cramped attitude to get properly at his work, you will also observe the sprags and props put up to protect him from the coal, should it be loose and inclined to fall; by and bye he gets further and further under the coal until he lies almost full length under it.

Pointing to another illustration, Mr Muir said: - This view shows you some of the difficulties in getting the coal at the face so as to get it to come down. It is in holing away under the coal like this that lots of accidents occur, more especially when the miner neglects to put up the sprags and supports you see and which he is required to do every 6 feet at least, according to an Act of Parliament. But of late years, machines driven by electricity or compressed air are being largely used for doing this work.

Machine Cutting.

Pictures of the end view of the machine was next shown, and passing to another Mr Muir continued. This view shows a section of the Jubilee Seam which we cut by machine, you will observe that it is admirably adapted for the coal cutter, as it is divided by a soft stone in the centre which the machine entirely cuts out leaving the clean coal and relieving the miners of a considerable amount of the hardest work, besides the coal got is very much rounder than that got by hand holing, and this item alone often represents the entire saving or profit to the coal master. As the working face is by far the most interesting part of the whole workings, I have had a number of slides prepared showing it.

Another view shows a machine cutting in the stone in the Jubilee Seam. This is one of the best Disc machines made and driven by compressed air, but there are numerous other kinds. The driving power is now very often electricity in place of compressed air. It makes a very handy and economical method of driving but is rather more dangerous and, therefore, requires more care to be taken in its use to render it safe for operating at the face.

When the coal is cut it is brought down in as large pieces as possible and filled into the hutches. Here you will see the same two men you saw when you got to the coal face, but by this time they have got a hutch in and are filling it. Observe the pins, the props and the pillars. They bid you good-bye when you leave them.

Government Requirements.

Of late years the Home Secretary has ordered, in view of the large percentage of accidents occurring at the face through falls of roof, that the manager with the approval of the Mines Inspector should specify a certain distance not to be exceeded between supports for the different seams, and the view on the screen shows that rule being carried out; You see the props placed at regular distances apart. Besides this what is called chokes, consisting of square pieces of hard wood is built up sufficiently clear of the face to allow the machine to pass along between them and the face. These yield as the roof gradually comes down, where as the props are likely to break. These chokes are taken out each time the coal is cleared away and brought forward to a fresh position. Observe the pieces of wood on the top of the props. These are put there for the purpose of distributing the bearing surface over a greater area. They also at the same time yield a little, acting as a sort of spring on buffer and save the props from breaking. Sometimes besides these temporary chokes, the roof in places where good building stones cannot be got readily, is supported by pillars built of round trees placed crosswise forming a sort of square cage, the centre of which and the spaces between the trees being filled up with stones and rubbish. From these views you will see the necessity for the large stock of timber on the surface.

Systems of Working.

The coal may be wrought on the stoop and room or long-wall system, "stoop and room" consists in cutting parallel roads through the seam in one direction at certain distances apart and connecting these by other roads at right angles and leaving square pillars standing to support the roof. This method is continued from the shaft pillar until the boundary of the coalfield is reached when the pillars are extracted by working back towards the shaft. It is only certain seams that are suitable for stoop and room. One of the reasons for determining this is the thickness of the seam. I may say this was the system adopted by the old folks, but they usually left the stoops or pillars too small and they were generally crushed and lost.
Long Wall.

Here is another view showing the method of extracting the stoops.

Longwall consists in extracting the whole coal in one operation. Main roads are driven in different directions from the pit bottom inclines being driven from them, then short levels at the tops of the inclines from which the roads to the face branch off at right angles. The length of the face, as it is called, is the distance between these roads. It is usually from twelve to fourteen yards. This is occupied by a man and a boy or two men, one an experienced miner who digs the coal and puts up the props, and the other termed a drawer, who fills the coal into the hutches and takes them away to the main incline, when it is run to the main road and taken to the pit bottom by horse or haulage.

The Brushers.

Here you see a little haulage engine driven by compressed air used for drawing the coal up the dook to the pit bottom. After the coal is extracted or filled away there is considerable work to be done to get the place ready for the next cut because the roof has been gradually settling down since the coal was taken out and it is necessary to ripp the roof or the roads to keep them high enough for the hutches. So during the night shift the "brushers" come into the place. They lift the rails and setting a prop in the roadway drill a hole in the brushing and put in a charge of explosives, blast the roof of the roadway down, making it about two feet higher. The stones that are got from the blast are built into the roadside to support the roof. This building is shown in the plan of the Longwall face.

Having now seen nearly all the operations carried on underground, we get to the surface again and back to the station in time to catch the train.

Visit To The Works.

In response to an invitation by Mr Muir a party of nearly forty made an excursion to Bowhill on Wednesday evening to inspect he works. Among those present were Mr Henry Beveridge, President; Mr Sommerville, secretary; Mr Wm Ross, treasurer; Major Shearer; Mr Adams; Mr and Mrs Connell; Mr Culing; Mr Richardson, postmaster; Mr Gifford; Mr Davidson, Touch; Mr Dawson and Miss Dawson; Mr Philp and Miss Philp; Mrs P Donald; Misses Anne Tod, Katie Tod, Garrie Addison, and Johnstone, Messrs Thomas Jackson, Stone Farm: Grandison, Henry Reid; T. A. Buncle; Wm Gow; P. G. Millar; David Henderson; George B. Hunter; Wilson; W. Drysdale, and J. H. Mackie.

As the party walked from the Cardenden Railway Station and saw on the rising ground before them the pit-works and the village of which they had beheld a pictorial representation on the previous evening, they realised the actuality of the transformation which had been effected within a very few years. They noted that the village had already attained the dimensions which some of the ancient royal burghs "east the coast" might envy, and that though considerable extensions were in progress there was no sign of confusion or even of the road-rutting that generally accompany the formation of new streets and the erection of new buildings. The general aspect, of course, could not compare with the appearance of the old established model villages in Durham, belonging to the Peases, or Lord Londonderry; yet although much paving has yet to be done and garden ornamentation for which there has not yet been time was conspicuous by its rarity, the appearance was cleaning and pleasing. The width and the plans of the streets gave evidence of regard paid to modern sanitary ideas; the curtained windows of the neat dwellings told of taste and comfort; the rosy cheeks and the tidy attire of the young people were incontestable evidence of healthy surroundings and of parent care.

Despite the information given the previous evening that the Bowhill Coalfield extends to four square miles, that the Company employ 1400 hands, 1000 underground and 400 about the pithead, and that the output of coal amounts to 2000 tons a day, with the prospect of an early enlargement to 3000, the first surprise of most of the visitors was the impression of the magnitude of the works they received, and of the apparently complicated character of the processes in operation. In their perplexity and bewilderment they gratefully welcomed Mr Muir's cordial reception, and gladly submitted to his gentle though masterful guidance.

Presently, under his guidance, the minds of the beholders became conscious of the evolution of order and of the gradual comprehension of the plan of operations. The extent of the resources for the generation of steam is realised as attention is directed to the twelve Lancashire boilers, 8 feet in diameter and 30 feet long, working at 90 lb. pressure to the square inch. The winding engine with all the equipment shining as brightly as the best cared for machinery of a Dunfermline Linen factory, command universal admiration.

The workshops give evidence of full modern equipment, as they are rapidly passed through; the rock driller is seen in operation; the electric plant which sends light to the remotest parts of the pit and makes the night almost as bright as the day at the pit head, is explained; the screening plant, which sifts and separates the different classes of coal, carrying with them a minimum of manual labour and guidance to the wagons ready to be loaded and despatched to their destination is curiously examined. The longer one gazes and takes note of the constancy of the supply of loaded hutches raised to the mouth of the shafts, directed to the railway that passes in front of the weighman and the checkweighman, fastening themselves in the revolving cages that release them after they have discharged their load, to be again sent down the pit, the more he realises that no waste of time or of material is allowed, and the possibility of error is reduced as nearly as may be to the vanishing point.

For, while the different classes of coal are passed along the courses assigned to them, and are examined by the women pickers who are sharp to detect and to remove stones or other undesirable material, provision is made for the gathering up of the fragments that nothing be lost. The small coal which passes through the screening jiggers is conveyed by a trough conveyor on a pair of small coal jiggers which divides it into the different sizes of nuts and delivers this on to the nut picking hands viz., one bar band for chirls. One ditto for trebles, and one plate band for doubles. The singles are dropped direct into a wagon, and the duff on the trough conveyor which takes it to the boilers.

A considerable number of the party having donned waterproof caps and jackets were first lowered to the bottom of the shaft and made their way nearly a mile and a half distance to the coal face where they saw the wonderful and powerful Diamond Coal Cutter at work in the Jubilee Seam, which has a rib of fireclay and course coal about 5 ins thick in the centre of the seam, which is about 5 feet thick. The machine undercuts 5 feet 6inches and cuts at a rate of 20 yards per hour along the face. The greater portion of the company, including the ladies, made a much shorter journey when they reached the bottom of the shaft, but they saw a great deal which interested and delighted them, the comfortable stables and well cared for ponies receiving their due share of admiration.

Meanwhile, a resurvey of the various apparatus and operation at the pithead deepened the impression of the completeness and the efficiency of the equipment. Traces of the presence of the master-mind directing and controlling the powerful machinery and the labyrinth of complicated processes became more discernible. The visitor in the cage may not know whether they are ascending or descending, but the man who guides the winding engine knows where they are in their journey through the darkness. He regulates the speed of the descent or ascent, and stops the cage at the appointed place with a nicety suggestive of the line which is a twelfth of an inch.

The fan, which raises a storm and windworthy of King Aeolus himself, and gives off 160,000 cubic feet of air for the maintenance of ventilation and of the healthy temperature underneath, is under the control of another engineman, as calm and serene as old Neptune, and much more watchful in the preservation of his sovereignty. And while air is artificially poured into and diffused throughout the workings, water is taken out through the agency of the huge main pump at the rate of 1300 gallons per minute. Each man, too, seems to know his place and do his work without rest and without haste.

Mr Muir has been remarkably successful in surrounding himself with a staff of capable officers and steady workmen. And he deserves all the effective assistance he receives. For, while he is enthusiastic about his pit equipment and the remarkable success which has attended the working of the colliery, he is still more enthusiastic about his men. With every department of the work and of the machinery he is familiar; he is a born leader of men as well as a skilful engineer; and one of the secrets of his success is the completeness of his sympathy. He makes it his aim to raise Bowhill Colliery to a proud pre-eminence for comfort and safety. Yet knowing that perfect immunity from accident cannot be guaranteed, he has a full ambulance equipment always in readiness, and when a casualty of any kind does occur, the workmen all know that no one is more deeply grieved than their highly capable manager.

It may be added that the Company have built 274 new houses for the use of their workmen, all of which are fitted with the latest improvements. They also own 700 wagons - 500 to carry ten tons, and 200 to carry twelve tons of coal. There is a brickwork in connection with the colliery, which produces about eight to nine thousand common bricks per day. Besides this, the handmade bricks of fireclay and composition of various shapes and sizes and vents, chimney cans, etc. are also made in large quantities.

[The above supplied by Jim Campbell, Lochore.]



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