Voices in the Coalshed: Fire
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Voices in the Coalshed: Fire

It’s that time of year again! The fireworks are in the shops and anticipation is growing for tonight. Unfortunately, as many of you will know, or experienced working underground, there has always been fire and explosions.

Underground there is no sunlight. Hundreds of years ago, it would have been difficult to see your own hand. So, many miners either carried a torch or fixed candles on where they could – on their headgear, in rocky crevices or on ledges. The source of light way back then, were open flames. When gas, often firedamp, and oxygen met a flame it would cause a fire and often explode.  So, the “fireman’s” job in the 1700’s was incredible.

It was perhaps the first use of the word “fireman.”  It literally explains his job. He LIT the gasses (a bag of foulness) that collected in the tunnels!

Yes, he LIT gasses. His job, hundreds of years ago, was to creep through the mine workings wrapped in wet rags. He carried an open flame on a stick to set any gas alight. As flames passed over his head, he would crouch low on the ground until the gas had burnt away.

Fireman is yet another example of the economic use of words which clearly explain what it means… often referred to as “pit language.”

Find this story and more in our Technology Gallery (opposite the Adventure Playground). You will even find a dark tunnel to creep through…if you wish. It houses a fascinating collection of artefacts,  illustrations and information showing the early mining conditions.

Written by Volunteer Lesley