Shedding Light and Sparking Discussions: A Collection of Miners’ Lamps

A collection of 26 miners’ lamps acquired by National Mining Museum Scotland in 1995 with an NFA grant of £1,000.

A life-saver, a tool, an explosion risk, a light in total darkness and a museum object – the miner’s lamp is many things to many people. A vital piece of mining equipment, today it is a crucial part of National Mining Museum Scotland’s story. Lamps are some of the most evocative objects in our collection. They, quite literally, shed light on the difficult conditions faced by the miners and show, in a visual way, how technological advances have improved safety underground over the years.

The display of mining lamps forms an important part of the 'Story of Coal' exhibition at National Mining Museum Scotland

The display of mining lamps forms an important part of the ‘Story of Coal’ exhibition at National Mining Museum Scotland

In 1995, thanks to the National Fund for Acquisitions, NMMS was able to expand its collection of these important objects through the purchase of 26 miners’ lamps. Many of these are now on display allowing visitors to see how they developed through the years and to better understand the story of mining in Scotland. Furthermore, two of these wonderful objects now take pride of place in our ‘Memories in Your Hands’ reminiscence outreach boxes, sparking discussions and memories in real and emotional ways with people who used them in the past.

'The Wee Hutch' is part of the 'Memories in Your Hands' outreach resource, allowing users to create their own exhibitions of objects important to them. Lamps are often a popular choice.

‘The Wee Hutch’ is part of the ‘Memories in Your Hands’ outreach resource, allowing users to create their own exhibitions of objects important to them. Lamps are often a popular choice.

 

Lamps from 1850 to the present day show how technology progressed. From left to right: Davy, c1850; tallow lamp, 1920s; Scotch Davy, c1880; modern battery cap lamp used from 1960s; carbide lamp used to 1950s. (Image used under Open Government Licence, original source: NCB PR department)

Lamps from 1850 to the present day show how technology progressed. From left to right: Davy, c1850; tallow lamp, 1920s; Scotch Davy, c1880; modern battery cap lamp used from 1960s; carbide lamp used to 1950s. (Image used under Open Government Licence, original source: NCB PR department)

The collection features a variety of different types, from the earliest tallow lamps to the more advanced flame-safety lamps. They clearly show the development of technology and advancement of safety measures over hundreds of years, from the dangerous naked flame of early tallow and carbide lamps to the Davy lamp or ‘flame safety lamp’ which first enclosed the flame in gauze and then glass to reduce the risk of explosion

Tallow lamp      Carbide Lamp     Flame Safety lamp               Battery Cap Lamp

Tallow lamp                            Carbide lamp                   Flame Safety lamp         Battery Cap lamp

The battery cap lamp is a design still worn by miners today and by our museum tour guides. I’ve held one and they are incredibly heavy! Can you imagine carrying that around all day along with all the other required equipment?

NMMS tour guides still wear battery cap lamps today. John Kane was a Mine's Deputy so he also carries a Flame Safety Lamp which he would use to test for gas.

NMMS tour guides still wear battery cap lamps today. John Kane was a Mine’s Deputy so he also carries a Flame Safety Lamp which he would use to test for gas.

In 2015 the Museum will celebrate 100 years of the Davy Lamp with demonstrations, talks and possibly an exhibition. I don’t doubt that this wonderful collection of lamps will continue to play a hugely important part in telling this story and the story of mining for many years to come.

Lynsey Anderson
Assistant Curator
National Mining Museum Scotland

http://nationalminingmuseum.org.uk/

 

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