1902 Encyclopedia > England > Mines and Minerals.

(Part 4)


Part 4. Mines and Minerals.

Next to agriculture, first foundation of the wealth of all countries, the material resources of England lie in its minerals. The earliest traces of its mineral riches appear in the visits of men from the Mediterranean, who braved the dangers of unknown seas to gather the tin of Cornwall. Cornish tin still holds the first place in the annual reports on the "Mineral Statistics of the United Kingdom" drawn up by the keeper of mining records; but, though by no means an unprolific source of riches, it has sunk far behind a number of other minerals, unknown, even in name, at the time the Phoenicians visited, in search of it, the island of Britain. In the last of those annual reports the mineral produce of Great Britain is summarized as follows, in regard to quantities and value, under nineteen headings, or classes, representing the produce of the year 1876:—


Under another calculation, the keeper of mining records gives the following summary of the total value of minerals, together with metals, obtained from the mines of the United Kingdom in 1876;—


The metals obtained from ores are classified as follows, according to quantities and value, in 1876—


It will be seen by a glance at the preceding tables that the mineral wealth of the United Kingdom lies, in substance, in two articles, namely, coal and iron ore. From these springs, as immediate produce, a third, namely, pig iron. Coal and iron ore together form, as regards value, over nine-tenths of the mineral produce; while pig iron by itself holds nearly the same position in value among the metals produced in the United Kingdom.

Coal. In the production of the by far most important article of Great Britain’s mineral wealth, to which all others are but appendages, England and Wales stand foremost to such an extent as to throw the other two divisions of the United Kingdom intro comparative insignificance.1 To the total coal produce of the United Kingdom in the year 1876, England and Wales contributed 114,554,278 tons, being five-sixths of the whole. The remainder, 18,790,488 tons, was produced almost entirely in Scotland.—the mines of East Scotland furnishing 11,667,648 tons, and those of West Scotland 6,997,904 tons. The production of coal in Ireland in 1876 was not more than 124,936 tons.

England and Wales are officially divided into nineteen colliery districts, very unequal in size, but so arranged, geographically, as to be within the constant and regular table gives a list of these districts, with the number of collieries in each, and the quantities of coal taken from them in the year 1876.2


Seeing the supreme importance of coal as the chief material agent of modern civilization, and one the value of which, instead of lessening, is likely to become infinitely greater in future years, with the expansion of science and arts, the question has frequently been discussed whether the British coal-fields may not become exhausted at some time or other. The subject more especially engaged the attention of parliament and the Government in 1866, through the publication of a work by Professor W. Stanley Jevons, of Manchester, entitled The Coal Question, which, while admitting the immensity of England’s wealth in coal, asserted that the present ever-increasing rate of supply could not continue in the same proportion for any great length of time. This theory found much opposition, others maintaining that he coal deposits of Great Britain were virtually inexhaustible, and that, properly managed, and with constantly improved scientific appliances, their riches would last as long, if not longer, than the probable life of the nation.

The discussion in and out of parliament on "the exhaustion of our coal mines," important as it was, scarcely settled the main points of the question, namely, first, to what depth the coal mines of Great Britain can be practically worked, and, secondary, to what extent the use of coal may be limited in the future, by the discovery of other motive powers. As to the first point, Mr Edward Hull, a well-known authority on mining subjects, laid it down, after practical inquiries, that the limit of coal-mining was not reached till the depth of 4000 feet; but this again was disputed by other investigators, who expressed confidence that the limit was 2500 feet, a depth already reached in some existing mines. Greater still must be the uncertainty regarding the possible or probable discovery of other sources of motive power as substitutes for coal. The opponents of the widely expressed theory that such discoveries were not only possible, but of the very nature of scientific progress, which having, quite recently, taught mankind the high value of coal, was not likely to stop here, found powerful support in Professor Tyndall, who insisted that coal was the absolute monarch, present and future. "I see no prospect," he wrote to Professor Jevons, "of any substitute being found for coal as a motive power. We have, it is true, our winds and streams and tides; and we have the beams of the sun. But these are common to all the world. We cannot make head against a nation which, in addition to these sources of power, possesses the power of coal." Professor Tyndall concludes of this nation is not in the hands of its statesmen, but of its coal-owners," adding, emphatically, that, "while the orators of St Stephen’s are unconscious of the fact, the life-blood of this country is flowing away."

Professor Tyndall wrote this letter in 1866; and if, as he and other thoughts, the "life-blood of this country" was then flowing at too high a rate, it has been flowing much faster ever since. In the ten years form 1856 to 1866, the production of the coal mines of the United Kingdom rose from 66,645,450 tons to 101,630,544, and after another lapse of ten years, in 1876 it had risen to 133,344,766 tons. The gradual rise in production is indicated in the subjoined table, which shows the quantities and the value of the coal brought from the mines of the United Kingdom every third year from 1855, when the first accurate returns were published, to 1876:—


It is an admitted fact that the price of coal, which has been gradually rising in recent years, must continues to rise, both on account of its increased consumption, and of the constantly growing expenses of raising it. Although the total area of coal-fields of Great Britain extends, according to the most authentic estimates, over 5400 square miles, comparatively few new pits have been opened in recent years; and the ever-increasing demand has been supplied by the deepening, as well as widening, of the best collieries. This could only be achieved at an increased outlay, inasmuch as the coast of raising coal to the surface and the attendant expenses of administration and supervision are far greater than the cost of the actual displacement of the material from its beds.

From the returns of one of the oldest and best-managed collieries in England, the South Hetton, in Durham, it appears that out of 529 men employed, only 140 were hewers of coal. The account, interesting in various ways, stands as follows:—


The extraordinary large number of persons required in a colliery, over and above the actual producers of coal, to attend to the working of the establishment, is explained by the mine and its machinery requiring the most strict and unceasing supervision to prevent dangerous accidents. Thus a large staff of workmen and artisans of all kinds, such as smiths, joiners, engine-wrights, masons, and others, has to be kept, to watch over the complicated apparatus by which the mine is ventilated and the precious mineral raised from the bowels of the earth. It may be said that, as a rule, the working of the collieries of England and Wales is most satisfactory, the superintendence, both on the part of the private owners and the Government, being the best that human ingenuity can devise. Nevertheless, the annual loss of life is terribly large. In the ten years from 1857 to 1866, the number of deaths from colliery accidents averaged 1000 per annum; and though in the next ten years the death rate decreased, it never fell under 800 a year.

The production of coal in the United Kingdom was more than doubled in the period from 1855 to 1876, but the exports to foreign countries during the same time increased nearly eight fold. From 4,976,902 tons in 1855 the exports rose to 9,170,477 tons in 1865, and to 11,702,649 tons in 1870. They further rose to 13,198,494 tons in 1872, to 13,927,205 tons in 1874, to 14,544,916 tons in 1875, and to 16,299,077 tons in 1876. Of the total exports of the year 1876. France took 3,160,555 tons, Germany 2,242,722 tons, and Italy, Russia, and Sweden and Norway each a little over a million tons, the remainder being distributed over thirty other foreign countries and British colonies. Vast as has been the amount of the coal exports in recent years, they still represent less than one-eighth of the coal produce of the country. The mines of the district of South Durham alone produced in 1876 considerably more coal than was exported to all foreign countries.

Iron Ore.—Though vastly inferior, as a source of national wealth, to coal, and deriving nearly all its value from it, still the second most important produce of English mines, the iron ore, has the greatest effect upon the industrial character of the country. England and Wales alone produce iron ore, the amount raised in Scotland and Ireland being quite insignificant. It amounted in Scotland to 5226 tons, valued at £3432, and in Ireland to 116,066 tons, valued at £60,748, in 1876. The whole of the rest of the produce of the United Kingdom, 16,720,291 tons, valued at £6,761,525, was raised in England and Wales.

The following table exhibits the quantities and value of the iron ore raised exhibits the quantities and value of the iron ore raised in the chief producing counties and districts of England and Wales in the year 1876:—


Iron ore lies widely distributed all over England and Wales, and though at present mainly raised in the northern and western counties, and all the districts which contain coal, the union with which alone gives it industrial value, the geological strata containing it are equally to be found in the south and elsewhere. The earliest use of the iron ore in England, before the important discovery of the manufacture of pig iron by coal was known, was almost exclusively in the southern counties, more particularly in Sussex. "I have heard," say John Norden, the topographer, in his Survey of Middlsex, published in the latter part of the 17th century, "that there are, or recently were in Sussex neere 140 hammers and furnaces for iron." William Camden, writing about the same time, adds that Sussex "is full of iron mines in sundry places, where, for the making and founding thereof, there be furnaces on every side, and a huge deal of wood is yearly burnt." Other writers refer to the burning of "cole," that is, charcoal, in the iron manufacture of the south of England.

The old iron manufacture came to an end towards the middle of the 18th century, with the destruction of the once plentiful woods and forests of England. However, the production of iron in the country was still estimated in 1740 at 17,350 tons, made in 59 "hammers and furnaces," being less than half the number mentioned by John Norden as existing in Sussex. Within the next few years the trade sank still lower, and was on the point of being extinguished, when at last the efforts of a number of enterprising men to make use of "pit coal" for making iron were crowned with success. Like most discoveries, this great one, destined to give a new course to the industrial and commercial history of England, was not the work of one man, but resulted from the labours of many; still an important share of it fell to the Darbys, father and son, the men, the celebrated Colebrookdale ironworks, in Shropshire. The father did not reap the benefits of his great enterprise, but the son was fully rewarded. He sat "watching the filling of his furnace for six days and nights uninterruptedly, and was falling into a deep sleep, when he saw the molten iron running forth." In December 1756, the Colebrookdale iron works were "at the top pinnacle of prosperity, making twenty or twenty-two tons per week, and sold off as fast as made, at profit enough."

At the date here given, the total production of pig iron in England was probably about 225,000 tons a year, but from that time it rose with extraordinary rapidity. It is estimated that 68,300 tons were produced in the United Kingdom in 1788, which amount had increased to 125,079 tons in 1796, and to 258,206 tons in 1806, a doubling in ten years. The production had again doubled in 1825, when it was 581,000 tons; and once more in 1839, in which year it had risen to 1,240,000 tons. In 1848, the total amount of pig iron produced was estimated to be over two millions of tons; and in 1854, the first year for which trustworthy statistics were gathered by the mining record office, the production surpassed three millions.

The following table exhibits the quantities and value of pig iron produced in the United Kingdom in every third year from 1855 to 1876:—


The pig iron produced in the United Kingdom in the year 1876 came from 17,813,818 tons of iron, of which amount 16,841,583 tons were raised at home, and the remainder, 972,235 tons, imported from foreign countries, principally from Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

The following statement shows the amount of pig iron produced, and the quantity of coal used in its manufacture, in each of the divisions of Great Britain in the year 1876:—


It will be seen that the quantity of coal used in the manufacture of pig iron represented nearly one-eight of the total coal produce of the year 1876.
The following table exhibits the number of furnaces in blast, and the quantities of pig iron made, in the various counties of England and Wales, in the year 1876:—


The iron manufacture was not in a prosperous condition in the year 1876. The total number of existing furnaces in England and Wales was 771, so that more than 200 were standing idle. The total number of existing furnaces in England was 626, and in Wales 145, showing that the depression of trade was greatest in Wales, exactly one-half of the furnaces standing idle. The total number of active ironworks amounted to 159 in England, and 24 in Wales, at the end of 1876.

Lead.—In comparison with coal and iron, all the other mineral products of the country are of small importance. Of these minor products, the highest on the list, as to value, is lead ore, raised in the United Kingdom to the value of £1,218,078 in 1876, and producing lead valued at £1,270,415. The quantities of lead ore raised in the year amounted to 79,096 tons, and the metallic produce to 58,667 tons. Of this total, 73,361 tons of ore were raised in England and Wales, producing 54,363 tons of lead. More than one-half of the lead ore and lead produced in England came from the counties of Durham and Northumberland, while two-thirds of the produce of Wales came from Montgomeryshire and Cardiganshire. There were altogether 392 lead mines in the United Kingdom in 1876, and of this number 387 were in England and Wales. The mines were very unequal in extent and produce. Derbyshire contained 140 lead mines, producing 2441 tons of ore and 2149 tons of metal; while Durham and Northumberland produced 23,285 tons of ore and 16,730 tons of metal in 28 mines.

The produce of the lead mines, after remaining stationary for many years, declined considerably from 1870 to 1876. In the fifteen years from 1854 to 1868 the average annual produce in the United Kingdom amounted to about 68,000 tons, valued at £1,400,000. The culminating point production was reached in the year 1870, with 73,420 tons, valued at £1,452,715, after which there was a steady falling off, down to the amount of 1876. The decrease in the home produce of lead was accompanied by an increase in the imports of the metal, which amounted to 61,987 tons, valued at £1,411,988, in 1874, and rose to 79,825 tons, valued at £1,801,962, in 1875, and to 80,649 tons, valued at £1,749,978, in 1876. It will be seen that he imports of lead are considerably larger than the home production.

Tin.—Next to lead in value, among the minor ores and metals, stands tin, 1876 there were raised 13,688 tons of tin ore. In 1876 there were raised 13,688 tons of tin ore, producing 8500 tons of metallic tin, valued at £675,750. Tin ore is found nowhere but in Cornwall and Devonshire, the famous mines of Cornwall, which attracted foreigners thousands of years ago, producing the greater part. At the end of 1876 there were returned as existing in England 135 tin mines, of which number 104 were in Cornwall and 16 in Devonshire, the remainder consisting not of "mines," in the ordinary sense, but, more strictly, of "finding places," situated on rivers and near the shore. The number and produce of tin mines have suffered a great decrease in recent years. In 1872 there were raised 14,266 tons of ore, producing 9560 tons of metal, valued at £1,459,990; in 1873, only 1,056,835 tons were raised, producing 9972 tons of metal, valued of £1,329,766, and in 1874 but 788,310 tons of ore, producing 9,942 tons of metal, valued at £1,077,712. The year 1875 showed a further falling off to 735,606 tons of ore, with 9614 tons of metal, valued at £866,266 upon which followed the first mentioned still lower production of the year 1876. During the same period, the imports of tin, in blocks and ingots, from foreign countries gradually increased. They amounted to 166,840 cwts., valued at £1,154,578, in 1872, and rose to 304,551 cwts., valued at £1,1,48,542, in 1876. It will be seen that while the total quantity of tin imported within the quinquennial period underwent a considerable increase, the total value not only did not augment, but actually decreased. The decline in price was probably one of the main causes of the decline in production of tin.

Copper.—Next to tin in value, among the minor ores and metals, stands copper. The total product of copper ore raised in the United Kingdom in 1876 was 79,252 tons, of which 71,756 tons were the produce of England and Wales, while 680 tons came from Scotland, and 6816 tons from Ireland. The total amount of the metal produced from the ores was 4694 tons, valued at £392,300, of which 4222 tons were made in England and Wales, 33 in Scotland, and 449 in Ireland. There were at the end of 1876 copper mines to the number of 101 in the United Kingdom,—England and Wales possessing 93, Scotland 1, and Ireland 7. Only the copper mines of England, and more particularly those of Cornwall and Devonshire are of any importance. At the end of 1876 there was one copper mine in each of the counties of Cumberland, Cheshire and Lancashire, 15 in Devonshire, and 65 in Cornwall, the latter producing 43,016 tons of ore and 3034 tons of metal. Even more than lead an tin, the production of copper has been greatly declining in recent years. In 1855 the total produce of copper was as high as 21,294 tons, valued at £3,042,877; which amount had fallen to 15,968 tons, valued at £1,706,261, in 1860. In 1865 the quantity had fallen to 11,888 tons, valued at £1,1,34,664; and in 1870 it had further declined to 7175 tons, valued at £551,309. Thus the decline continued, with slight fluctuations, till the production and reached the small amount of 1876. As with lead and tin, the copper imports grew while the production declined.

Zinc.—The remaining metallic ores—zinc, silver, and gold—are but of trifling value. Zinc is found in five counties of England and seven of Wales, which together possess 53 mines. There are 3 more mines in the Isle of Man, and 1 in Scotland. In 1876, the total of zinc ore raised was 23,613 tons, producing 6641 tons of zinc, valued £158,011. The production of zinc trebled in quantity and value in the sixteen years from 1852 to 1876. It amounted only to 2151 tons, valued at £50,548, in 1876, and in 1872 had risen to 5191 tons, valued at £118,076. The increase in production did not prevent a simultaneous increase in imports, which more than doubled in the decennial period from 1866 to 1876, amounting in the latter year to 29,327 tons, valued at £662,190 being more than four times the amount of the home produce.

Silver and Gold.—Silver and gold, the so-called "precious" metals—though iron is infinitely more valuable under every point of view—form but imperceptible additions to the mineral wealth of the country. Of silver, always found in combination with lead ores, 483,422 ounces, valued at £106,222, were raised in the year 1876 in the United Kingdom, and of gold, 293 ounces, valued at £1138. There were, according to the returns of the mining record office, two "gold mine" in the United Kingdom, the one in Merionethshire, and the other in the county of Wicklow, Ireland. The former, situated at Clogan, produced 288 ounces, valued at £1119, in 1876. As for the Irish "gold mine," its yield was just 4 ounces, worth £18. The returns do not state the sum expended in raising the 4 ounces of Irish gold.

Salt and Clays.—The sum total of England’s mineral riches is completed by a variety of miscellaneous substances raised from the earth, such as salt, clays00including porcelain, potter’s clay, and fire clay—coprolites, oil shales, barites, and gypsum. None of these are of much importance except salt and clays. The centre of the salt production is in Cheshire, at Northwich, Middlewich, Winsford, and other places; but there are also salt mines in Staffordshire and Worcestershire. In 1876 the total quantity of salt raised amounted to 2,273,256 tons, valued at £1,1,36,628, of which 854,538 tons, valued at £529,547, were exported to foreign countries, chiefly to the United States and British India. Of clays of all kinds, the total produce in 1876 was 3,971,123 tons, valued at £744,224. The finest of the clays, known as kaolin, or porcelain clay, is the produce of Cornwall and Devonshire, the former county raising 105,275 tons, and the latter 25,000 tons, in 1876. Of importance next to it, as potter’s materials, is the "Poole clay" of Dorseshire, of which 72,105 tons were produced in 1876. Raised in much larger quantities than both the kaolin and the "Poole" are the five-clays, the production of which in the year 1876 amounted to 1,514,902 tons. The five-clays are found chiefly in the north and west of England and in South Wales. There were 171 fire-clay pits at the end of 1876, the largest number of them. 45, in Northumberland and Durham, and the next largest, 33, in South Wales.

Miners.—In the census returns of 1871 there were 376,783 persons distinguished as "miners," the number comprising 371,105 males and 5678 females. At the preceding census of 1861 there were 330,446 persons enumerated as "miner," of whom 330,352 were males and only 94 females. Thus there was a total increase of 46,337 persons so designated, comprising 40,753 males and 5584 females, in the ten years from 1861 to 1871. There were besides enumerated as "workers in stone and clay," 152,673 at the census of 1871, comprising 149,567 males and 3106 females. At the census of 1861 the total number of persons so classified was 144,773, so that there was an increase of 7900 persons in the decennial period.


FOOTNOTES (page 226)
(1) See also COAL, vol. vi. p. 49.
(2) Compare with this the table at vol. vi. p. 79.

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