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Dec 4

Coal Miner's Day

Absolute Darkness
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Coal Miners with Davy lamps
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"Each dawn as we rise, lord we know all too well,
We face only one thing-a pit filled with hell,
To scratch out a living the best that we can,
But deep in the heart, lies the soul of a man.

With black covered faces, and hard calloused hands,
We work the dark tunnels, unable to stand.
To labor and toil as we harvest the coals,
We silently pray 'Lord, please harvest our souls.'"

~ The Coal Miner's Prayer, W. Calvert

Coal mining in the United Kingdom dates back to before Roman times. Stone and Bronze Age flint axes have been discovered embedded in coal, showing that it was mined in Britain even before the Roman invasion. Early miners first extracted coal already exposed on the surface and then followed the seams underground. In the United States, coal mining can be traced back to the 1300s, when the Hopi Indians used exposed surface coal for burning. And in Canada, coal was first exploited by underground mining methods in Cape Breton in 1720, with the French Port Morien mine supplying the fortress of Louisbourg. Such mines entailed difficult and dangerous work. Air circulation had to be maintained at all times, while, in many cases, water was pumped constantly from the mineworks - particularly (as in Nova Scotia) where mining tunnels often extended far out under the ocean floor. Volatile and combustible coal dust and methane gas inevitably floated throughout these mines; even the smallest spark or ignition flame could cause a massive explosion! This tartan, developed on behalf of the Cape Breton Miners Museum recognizes the lives and legacies of coal miners and coal mining communities everywhere.

International Coal Miners Day highlights this toughest of professions and the people past and present who have worked the coal mines. On this day several organisations, communities raises funds and awareness for other organisations in the coal mining area and workers.

The history of coal mining goes back thousands of years. Archeological evidence in China indicates surface mining of coal and household usage after approximately 3490 BC. 

In 1575, Sir George Bruce of Carnock of CulrossScotland, opened the first coal mine to extract coal from a "moat pit" under the sea on the Firth of Forth. He constructed an artificial loading island into which he sank a 40 ft shaft that connected to another two shafts for drainage and improved ventilation. The technology was far in advance of any coal mining method in the late medieval period and was considered one of the industrial wonders of the age.

 

It became important in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, when it was primarily used to power steam engines, heat buildings and generate electricity.

 

This tartan is a tribute to celebrate their lives and commemorate the legacy of coal miners and their families. Their struggles, sacrifices and contributions live on in story, song and now in textile. Colours: blue represents the sky and ocean the miners work beneath; yellow represents sunshine; grey is for the steel rails and black is coal.

A Miners Tribute, written by Deana Lloy and fourth-generation former coal miner Steve Drake

  • “This tartan takes us to place where Darkness is Absolute. A place where reliance on your brother is a means of survival. A place where the working man carries his lunch can far beneath the ocean, and under the earth’s surface working the black seam; an endless ribbon of steel his only link to fresh air and blue skies.

  • Family, friends and sunshine are the simple pleasures that fill a coal miner’s life. Their struggles, sacrifices and contributions live on in story, song and now in textile.

  • Blue represents the sky and ocean, yellow sunshine, grey identifies steel rails and black is coal.

Designed by Deana A. Lloy, this tartan is intended for use by those with a coal mining background, family and community friends.

For more on women in mining, the 'Pit Brow' lasses of the 19th century, click the miners!