Mines Drainage (by B Poole)

Taken from Volume 2 Issue 3 The Blackcountryman

The closure of Baggeridge Colliery, Sedgley, ends one of the most famous chapters in the Black Country's long industrial history.

Coal mining helped establish the region, and the problems which faced the pioneer coal masters presented engineers such as Thomas Newcomen with the opportunity to develop their inventive genius.

The 1968 BBC documentaries "The Workshop of the World" spotlighted the impact made on industry generally, and mining in particular, by Newcomen's invention of the atmospheric steam engine.

The coalmasters welcomed the engine because it gave them a reliable measure of control over flooding of their workings, and the miners themselves were probably as grateful if only because the engine enhanced their chances of not being drowned.

One of the earliest engines made by Newcomen was installed in 1712 at a mine near Tipton for disposing of flood water. The engine had a cylinder diameter of 22", and a stroke of 7'10" and was capable of 12 strokes per minute. It was a reciprocating engine, and through a beam and rods in the pit shaft operated a pump consisting of "working pieces, buckets and clacks all of brass". It could deliver 10 gallons (45 litres) per stroke and operated from a depth of approximately 50 yards. The engine was a success, despite being expensive, and several were soon operating in the Black Country.

The engines were soon used for other purposes, they were adapted so they could also be used to raise coal from the mines. An engine similar to a Newcomen was used until as late as 1920 as a Winding Engine at The Cobbs, Windmill End near Dudley. It was used for lowering and raising maintenance men and others up and down the pumping shaft. In 1930 Henry Ford acquired the engine for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village at Bearborn, Michigan. It stands as a monument to the ingenuity and inventiveness of the British engineers of the Industrial Revolution, and the regret is it is no longer in this country.

How then were the mines of the Black Country drained before the Newcomen engine? The fact is that there was very little effort used to relieve mine workings of flood water, except by driving addits through which the water could gravitate out by, and by barrelling.

Care was also taken in the early mines to leave unworked solid ribs of coal against the boundaries of the mining area "to prevent water seeping down dip". As time passed and mining expanded, it bacame more and more difficult to maintain the workings against increased water seepage. These workings were then abandoned and soon forgotten. Nevertheless they were a constant danger to people who owned new mines nearby because they were waterlogged, and there was always the risk of unexpected inrushes of water, sometimes resulting in death.

Towards the mid-17th century the necessity of relieving the mines of flood water was becoming more acute, and man's industry turned towards construction of machinery able to lift water in greater and greater quantities from mines, which were becoming deeper and deeper.

External links

Thomas Newcomen

The Newcomen Society

Animation of the Newcomen Atmospheric Engine