|Sir Humphry Davy by Thomas Phillips|
Coal mining goes back many generations in my family and is a heritage I am extremely proud of. I grew up in Nottinghamshire and the headstocks of a pit were a common feature on the landscape, though of course those days are long since gone. Since today marks the anniversary of the birth of chemist and inventor, Sir Humphry Davy, I thought I would offer a closer look at the Davy lamp, an iconic bit of Georgian engineering and one that is familiar to anyone who knows mining history!
Like all of England, Davy was horrified by the severity and impact of mining explosions caused by the fatal cocktail of open flame and the methane gas prevalent in the mines. Davy hit upon the idea that a shielded lamp would be the ideal answer, as it would contain the flame and massive reduce the risk of explosions. To this end, he developed an iron gauze that would shield the lamp, dramatically cutting the risk of disaster.
When news spread of the new invention, Davy's lamp swiftly became the subject of no small amount of controversy as other inventors claimed that they had reached the solution of shielding the flame ahead of the Cornish inventor. Other safety lamps were certainly in use prior to the 1816 trial of the Davy lamp and though in theory the invention was sound, in practice it was far from ideal. Even minor damage to the lamp could result in its effectiveness being drastically reduced yet miners, who had to buy their own safety lamps, were happy to put their trust in it, no doubt hoping that the odds were at least better than with flame alone!