New Lamps for Old
How safe were shale miners' lamps?
This safety lamp is over 100 years old. The faceman would hang it up when he went to work. When he lit it, it normally burned with a yellow flame. If he looked up and it had turned blue it meant that there was dangerous gas around called firedamp. The miners would have to get out of the mine immediately.
Shale Miner's Helmet
This miner's helmet is actually made out of compressed paper and strong glue. It's really small and it would probably just about fitted Queen Victoria!
You would attach this lamp to your helmet with a strap. They was carbide in the bottom and you put water in the top. When you turned the lever, the water trickled into the carbide. This made flammable gas. When you made a spark, the gas would light to make a flame. This gave you light in the mine.
This lamp was useful but dangerous because it had an open flame. Gas was rare in shale mines, but if it was around, the carbide lamp flame could cause an explosion. In West Calder in 1947 there was a bad accident. The the flame from a carbide lamp met some firedamp gas and caused an explosion. Miners couldn't escape and were suffocated by the smoke from the explosion.15 miners died.