This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
We close this chapter with Mrs. Wakefield's account of her Visit to a Coal-Pit. - "Near the town of Newcastle, in the county of Northumberland, are vast beds of coal, which lie far beneath the surface of the earth: they are often found at the depth of 100 feet. Our visit to one of them was rather a droll adventure. The first ceremony was, to put on a kind of frock that covered us all over, to prevent spoiling our clothes. We were then shown a prodigious steam-engine at work, at the mouth of the pit, in. order to drain off the water; and close to it, a ventilator for purifying the air in the pit. Our guides now seated us on a piece of board, slung in a rope like the seat of a swing, and hooked to an iron chain, which was let gently down the suffocating hole by the assistance of six horses. I must confess, I did not like this mode of travelling: my spirits were, however, rather cheered when I reached the solid bottom, and saw my friend at my side. He congratulated me on my safe arrival; and pointed to a huge fire, burning for the purpose of keeping the air in proper temperature. Gaining courage by a nearer examination, I walked about the chambers with as much ease as if they had been the apartments of a dwelling-house. The coal is hollowed out in spaces of four yards wide, between which are left pillars of coal to support the roof, ten yards broad, and twenty deep. After exploring a dozen or two of these little apartments, our curiosity was satisfied, as there was nothing more to be seen but a repetition of the same objects to a vast extent. A nuni-oer of horses live here for years together, and seem to enjoy themselves very comfortably: they are employed to draw the coal from the subterraneous passages to the bottom of the opening of the pit. The machine which raises the coal to the surface of the earth, is worked by stout horses. The coal is brought in strong baskets, made of osier; they contain each 12 cwt. and while one ascends, the other descends. A man receives these baskets as they arrive at the top, and places them on a dray, having hooked an empty basket on, instead of the full one. Before he drives the dray to a shed at a little distance, where he empties his load, the dust passes through holes prepared to receive it; while the large coals roll down the declivity in heaps, where they are loaded in waggons, and carried to wharfs on the river side, to be put on board the vessels that wait to convey them to distant parts. The waggons, very heavily laden, run without horses to the water side, along a road ingeniously formed in a sloping direction, with grooves to fit the waggon wheels, and make them go more readily. The dust, which is too small for common fires, is put into a kiln well heated, and when it is burnt, the particles unite, and run into large cakes or masses: in that state it is called coke, and this substance is used in many manufactories, where a strong heat is required.
"There are also coal-mines in several other parts of England Near Whitehaven, in the county of Cumberland, are some that extend half a mile under the sea. The collieries employ a great number of hardy sailors, who, in their frequent coasting-voyages, are accustomed to face all the dangers of a sea-life. In time of war they contribute to man our navy; and, from their courage and skill, form a very valuable part of the crews,'