Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Tue 09 Aug 2016
Alan Davies – Mining & Art from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times


Alan has previously given us some excellent presentations about the history of mining and we were delighted to welcome him back to talk about the depiction of mining in art.
Alan was brought up in Atherton with many family members employed in the local three coalmines. It was inevitable that he would be involved in mining but his interest in art meant that he studied art for 3 years at the Bristol College of Art and Design. However, he began to pine for the slagheaps and mines of home and returned to involve himself in mining. He was the curator of the Lancashire Mining Museum, Salford from 1985 to 2000 when financial cuts caused its closure. Alan’s interest in art continues and his presentation showed how the mining has been illustrated through history.

Alan Davies

The earliest illustration was on an Etruscan pot from around 200BC. The earliest in the UK appears to be a mid-15th century Dean miner brass at Newlands parish Church, Newland, Gloucestershire. It is interesting to note that the miner’s pick is single sided.
There has always been a very extensive mining industry in Germany and they also have the best mining museums in the world. The earliest publication showing the mining industry was De re metallica by Georg Bauer and published posthumously in 1556.

Miner's brass, photo by Phil Draper

Many English landscape painters such as John Laporte (1761 – 1839) would include mine workings in their landscapes.
Around Chorley there were many collieries and some were known as ‘Land Sale Collieries’ where small scale coal production was sold locally and people could go and buy coal themselves.
One of the most famous paintings was by Henry Perlee Parker (1795–1873) and the depiction of ‘Pitmen at Play’ which was accepted at the Royal Academy.

Georg Bauer illustration

Henry Perlee Parker (1795–1873)

The Children's Employment Commission (Mines) 1842 report was the first to be extensively illustrated with line drawings in the pre-photography age. The main purpose was to show how terrible the underground conditions were for children and women employed in mines.
Alan pointed out that the act prevented women and children from working underground but in Belgium they were still working underground until 1908.
The majority of underground disasters caused deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning and lack of ventilation. A very chilling fact is that between 1850 and 1950 over 100,000 men and boys died in underground disasters.

Children's Employment Commission (Mines) 1842 report

Queen Victoria commissioned photographers W. & D. Downey to record the Hartley Colliery Disaster in January 1862. 204 miners were entombed and eventually suffocated when an engine beam broke and blocked the only working shaft. The pit was then sealed.
The Illustrated London News would show many mining related illustrations and even double page spreads so they could be removed and displayed on a wall.
By the 1880s improvements in photography meant that mines and even underground photographs could be taken.

Hartley disaster 1862

Around the 1890s postcards were very popular for most people to be able to communicate across the country, and not just holidays. Many were illustrated and some were of mining scenes. The card manufacturers soon realised the popularity of photos of ‘Pit Brow Lasses’ the women and girls who worked above ground in the mining industry. A whole series of numbered cards were produced around the Wigan area. In the early days of Alan’s collection of cards he could pick them up for 25p, a similar card would now be worth £25.

Pit Brow Lasses

Pit Brow Lasses

By Bill Brandt 1937 scene

Hartley disaster in the
Illustrated London News

Walker's Costume of Yorkshire (1814)
The Collier

Norman Phillips (1920–1988)
Meal Break (Snap Time)

Until recently Alan was involved in an actual working mine near Bacup. The coal was sold at Farmers Markets and the variation of price between large coal and screened coal that had gone through the riddle (slack) was immense. Large was £240/ton and slack £40/ton.
In 1922 The Atherton Colliery commissioned the famous artist Heath Robinson to produce a series of drawings for their Company calendar. They include some hidden messages that may have been overlooked by the colliery owners.
Many photographers such as Bill Brandt (1904–1983), have photographed the mining industry and many other scenes of working Britain.

One of Alan’s current projects is to advise on a Wigan Town Centre Memorial to the Mining Industry.
The presentation showed how history is brought to life with the use of drawings, paintings and photographs and the detailed commentary that Alan added.

Atherton Colliery by Heath Robinson