Influence of German mining techniques

Influence of German mining techniques in sixteenth-century England

Early coal-mining techniques were borrowed from metallurgical miners. The declining supply of wood was an incentive to find methods to produce an alternative fuel - coal. New methods described by Agricola were introduced in the reign of Elizabeth I, which marked a great era in the history of coal.

Queen Elizabeth I invited the German mining engineer, Daniel Hechstetter from Augsburg to Britain, who brought German miners with him. They were invited to search for and extract minerals. Their mining techniques were mainly based on drift or outcrop type mining, as described by Agricola.

Source: Peter Ford Masons, Pit Sinkers of Northumberland and Durham (Stroud, 2012)

Germans Miners in Keswick 

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German mining words

Alongside German mining methods, German mining terms were introduced into England, often as derivations and not translations of the original terms. Here are a few examples:

Druhe/True – described a box or container which was used to carry coal from the coal face. It is suggested that this term was distorted to ‘drug’, meaning a small coal tub in English.

Hund – which translates as ‘dog’, may have been derived from the growling noise a moving metal tub made. For example, it is thought the term dog-belt (used in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire) derived from Hund, in reference to the leather strap/belt hurriers wore chained to the coal tubs to help pull them.

Source: John Threlkeld, A Pictorial Record of Mining Pits 2 (Barnsley, 1989), p. 29

Queen Elizabeth and coal

Experiments using coal to smelt minerals instead of wood or charcoal were taking place in the sixteenth century. Although Queen Elizabeth I owned many collieries, and there is evidence of her activities in coal mining, she did not like coal smoke and this discouraged many members of the upper classes from using it. Coal was, however, used as a domestic fuel by many people as a cheap alternative to wood. When King James I came to the throne in 1603, coal was introduced for the royal household, who were accustomed to using coal in Scotland.

Source: Robert L. Galloway, Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade: I (Newton Abbot, 1971), p. 126

Illustration of a truck;  reproduced from Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica (Basel, 1556), p113

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