Metal Spinners Blog

The History of the Miners Lamp

Mark Bellew - Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Davy Lamp

With coal mining playing such a large part in Welsh history and heritage, at J D Burford we are very proud to be the last manufacturer of reproduction ornamental miner’s lamps within Wales. Our range of handcrafted miners lamps are available in various sizes and finish that complement this important historical artifact that saved so many lives.

In any history of Coal Mining the invention of the Safety Lamp must be seen as a major scientific breakthrough. Until Sir Humphry Davy invented his Safety Lamp in 1815 the main form of lighting came from candles. These naked flames caused many explosions and colliery deaths were all too common. In 1814 alone more than 160 men died in mining explosions throughout Britain.

The original Davy Lamp consisted of an oil lamp enclosed in a wire gauze, the lower part being of glass allowing light to shine through. Davy found that while the gauze allowed air to pass through to the flame for combustion, inflammable gas catching fire inside the lamp would be extinguished in the wire gauze, thus not setting fire to the explosive gases outside. However, this ceased to be the case if the gauze became very hot or was exposed to a draught. For this reason later lamps had a shield screening the gauze from draughts.

Another function of the lamp was to detect the presence of gas. The flame would be reduced and any gas present would burn around the flame, forming a pale blue cap.

The invention of the Safety Lamp should have made life underground safer and have reduced the number of accidents, but with the colliery owners keen to exploit the new device miners were forced to work in gas-filled shafts where they would never have worked before. While some miners cursed Davy others were more grateful and Davy himself said he was:

“Never more affected than by a written address which I received from the working colliers when I was in the North, thanking me on behalf of themselves and their families for the preservation of their lives.”

Davy refused to patent his Safety Lamp, turning down a certain fortune, saying “My sole object was to serve the cause of humanity” and although future Safety Lamps differed greatly in appearance the same principle was retained.

View our extensive range of Miners Lamps here

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