HUMPHRY DAVY AND THE DAVY MINING LAMP

Louisa Cornell

One of the major industries in the north of England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was mining. From Yorkshire, through Cornwall, and throughout Wales it was a way of life and a way of living for many of those areas’ poorest citizens. Whilst most mines were owned and run by private industrialists, some were part of the financial support of the great estates of the aristocracy. It was an industry that employed men, women, and children with very little discrimination between their duties. Mines producing coal, tin, and arsenic were the most profitable. They were also the most dangerous.

 

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the use of steam engines for hoisting and water pumping enabled the deepening of coal mines in England. Because seams were being dug at deeper levels, explosions in coal mines increased. At deeper levels fire-damp, what we know as methane today, was more prevalent. As a result, in the early nineteenth century many pitmen died in northern England due to large mining explosions. In fact, between 1786 and 1815, major explosions accounted for 558 deaths in Northumberland and Durham alone.

Explosions occurred when fire-damp, released by miners tapping into a gas pocket in the mine, met with the point of the flames of tallow candles used by miners to illuminate their work areas. These meetings of fuel to flame initially resulted in a violent out-rush of gas from the ignition source. However, almost immediately after that an in-rush, called an after-blast by miners, filled the vacuum left by cooling gases and steam condensation.

A catastrophic mine explosion not only killed with the violence of the blast and fire, but it also wrecked the brattices in the mines, destroyed corves, tubs, rolleys, ponies, and horses. The resulting debris made it nearly impossible for miners to escape or for rescuers to reach them. The destruction of the ventilation systems led to the asphyxiation of miners by lethal after-damp resulting from the combustion. After-damp was a lethal gas formed in mines after oxygen was removed from an enclosed atmosphere. It consisted of argon, water vapor, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.

On 25 May, 1812, the mining operation at Felling suffered one of the worst major pit disasters in England. In the end, it claimed ninety-two lives. It was the first major explosion to provide reasonably accurate records of the incident. Situated between Gateshead and Jarrow in Country Durham, the explosion at Felling was heard up to four miles away. A cloud of coal dust fell over the neighboring village of Heworth like black snow. It took nearly seven weeks to remove the dead after putting out the fires and waiting for the after-damp to disperse. Ninety-two men and boys lost their lives and their funeral procession was made up of ninety coffins when it finally reached the church.

After the Felling mining disaster there was a public outcry for mine safety. The Reverend John Hodgeson (1799-1845), who comforted the bereaved and buried the dead, began a correspondence with Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829,) a prominent man of science.

Sir Humphry Davy was the director of the laboratory at the Royal Institution of Science from 1801-1825. He was the professor of chemistry there from 1802-1812. He was an honorary professor from 1813-1823. He discovered the physiological effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas.) He used the newly devised electric battery to isolate sodium and potassium. He did a great deal to establish the Royal Institution’s reputation for excellent lectures and important scientific research.

As a result of the efforts of Reverend Hodgeson, Sir Humphry traveled to Durham to conduct an investigation of fire-damp. He was provided with samples of fire-damp in sealed wine bottles from the mines at Hebburn. A number of other men began to study the phenomenon as well. Most prominently George Stephenson, about whom I will write in another blog post.

Sir Humphry Davy

After a great deal of investigation, Davy discovered a flame could not ignite fire-damp if said flame was encased in a cage of wire mesh. He showed a mesh of twenty-eight openings to the inch, if configured into two concentric mesh tubes, cooled combustion products so that the flame heat was too low to ignite the gases outside the mesh. His final prototype was a wick lamp encased in the double mesh cage. The lamp also provided a test for the presence of gases. The flame of the Davy lamp burned higher and with a blue tinge if flammable gas was present. If the mine was oxygen-poor the flame would be extinguished completely. This gave miners the chance to escape the mines before they were asphyxiated.

The Davy lamp

The first trial use of his lamp was carried out at at Hebburn Colliery on 9 January, 1816. The trial was a great success and the Davy lamp immediately went into production. Did it stop explosions in mines in England? No. With the advent of the Davy lamp, many mining companies only strove to dig deeper mines exposing miners to other dangers. Many miners still insisted on taking candles into the mines to light their way. Some miners were suspicious of the lamps, as happened all too frequently in this era when it came to science.

Trial usage of the Davy lamp.

 

However, the advent of the Davy lamp and other versions of mining safety lamps did eventually create a safer work environment for those working in England’s mines. It was the beginning of efforts by the British government, the mining industry, and men of science to make mining a more survivable employment. It opened the way for more mining improvements and oversight that continued well into the twentieth century.

 

I discovered a great many fascinating things about the early mining industry in England whilst researching for my latest historical romance Thief of Broken Hearts. The heroine, Rhiannon Harvey de Waryn, Duchess of Pendeen, has run the family seat of the de Waryn family since she was a young girl and part of the estate’s fortune is in the tin and arsenic mines. She introduces the Davy lamp into the mine operations against the wishes of many of the miners there.

Excerpt from : Thief of Broken Hearts

Endymion, having shed all curiosity as to how these people knew who he was, raced in the direction the woman had pointed until he came upon a wide chamber, shored up by thick timbers at regular intervals. He came to a precipitous stop. In the middle of the chamber, dressed in a dull brown kerseymere dress and pelisse, stood his wife, covered in dust and perfectly at ease.

I’m going to kill her…right after I turn her over my knee.

A bandy-legged miner, hat in hand, argued with the duchess whilst an older man with a greying beard and dressed like a gentleman farmer looked on, some sort of lamp in his hand. “I don’t like it, Yer Grace. It ain’t natural. Not a thing wrong with the lamp I had,” the miner said, eyeing the lamp in the older man’s hands as if it were a snake poised to bite.

“I’ll tell you what isn’t natural, George Watts.” Rhiannon pushed a strand of hair off her face. “Blowing yourself and half your mates to kingdom come because you are too stubborn to try something new.” She snatched the lamp from the bearded man and shoved it into the miner’s chest. “Either you use the Davy’s lamp or you can join your wife and mother-in-law at the calciners.”

Torn between admiration and anger, Endymion stepped to his wife’s side and, before she noticed his presence, dragged her arm through his. “Do as she says, George. You’ll keep your wits longer. If this is settled, I’d like a word with you, madam.”

Her eyes wide and her color high, Rhiannon tried to free her arm. “What are you doing here? I don’t have time to entertain you, Your Grace. I have work to do.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER LOOK AT LORD ALVANLEY

We first introduced you to Lord Alvanley in a previous post on this blog, but as his Lordship has recently been mentioned in Waterloo posts about Countess Brownlow and Katherine Arden, his sister, we thought it was time that we encountered him once again.

William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley (8 January 1789 – 16 November 1849) was the son of Richard Arden, 1st Baron Alvanley. He was an officer in the Coldstream Guards, attaining the rank of Captain in the service of the 50th Regiment of Foot. In 1835, Alvanley fought a duel with Morgan O’Connell. According to a near contemporary report “[Alvanley] went through the business with the most perfect sang froid, but on his way to the field he whimsically intimated a singular alarm. Having descended a hollow, ‘My Lord’, said he to his second, ‘you get me down well enough, but’, alluding to his full size, ‘should I fall, I do not know how the devil you will ever get me up again.'”
Underbank Hall

It was to Alvanley that Brummell turned whilst in exile in France for help and for many years Alvanley regularly sent the Beau financial support. However, because of his spending habits, his family estates had to be sold to pay debts. Underbank Hall in Stockport was sold by auction in 1823, most of the Bredbury estate was sold in lots in 1825, the Arden Hall mansion in 1833. He was forced to dispose of his half-pay on 10 June 1826. He later served in the Forest Troop, King’s Regiment of Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry, as a cornet, but resigned on 17 January 1840. He did not marry and had no children. On his death, the title went to his only brother, the Hon. Colonel Richard Arden.

From The Letter-bag of Lady Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope

“But a yet more celebrated leader of fashion mentioned by Mrs Stanhope as being present at the ball given by the Duchess of Bolton was Lord Alvanley. One of the accepted dandies in the same category as Lord Petersham, the Duke of Argyle, Lords Foley and Worcester, Beau Brummell and his great friend, Henry Pierrepont. Lord Alvanley had served with distinction in the army, and further enjoyed the reputation of being one of the wittiest men in Europe. Short and somewhat stout, with a small nose and florid cheeks usually adorned with a lavish sprinkling of snuff, like his rival Lord Petersham, he cultivated a lisp which accentuated the humour of his utterances. He also adopted much the same method of enhancing his value by indulging in certain peculiarities which, however inconvenient to his fellows, appear to have been accepted by them with surprising amiability. For instance, being fond of reading in bed, when he at length felt sleep overpowering him, he would extinguish his candle by the novel method of popping it alight under his bolster, or flinging it into the middle of the room and taking a shot at it with his pillow—but if the shot was unsuccessful, with a heavy sigh he left it to take its chance. So well known, indeed, was this little habit of Lord Alvanley, that hostesses who were anxious not to have their houses set on fire at midnight would depute a servant to watch in a neighbouring apartment till his lordship composed himself to sleep, a precaution which was invariably adopted by Mrs Stanhope when he paid his annual visit to Cannon Hall.

Cannon Hall

“However, despite such minor failings, Lord Alvanley enjoyed a popularity seldom surpassed. To his other recommendations was added that of being a celebrated gourmet, and the excellence was proverbial of the little dinners which he gave in his house in Park Street, St James’s, to which never more than eight friends were bidden, and at which there was an apricot tart on the sideboard all the year round. Moreover, although like Brummell and Sheridan, many a bon mot was fathered upon him to which he had never given utterance, yet his reputation as a wit was well deserved, and at a date when both the dandies and the fine ladies prided themselves upon their undisguised insolence, Lord Alvanley remained a shining example of good-nature, so that, save, perhaps, in one instance recorded in this book, his wit never offended.”

Originally published in 2011

 

A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK – Part Two – Mrs. Delany Continued

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition called “Mrs. Delany and Her Circle,” at the Yale Center for British Art. The show, organized by the Center for British Art and Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, included work in every conceivable medium.

Tiffany and Company were inspired to create a china pattern called “Mrs. Delany’s Flowers.”

One of the items included in the exhibition was the needlework Mrs. Delany executed on a black ground for the court dress mentioned in a previous post and shown here.

The piece of fabric was placed between two panes of glass, allowing visitors to examine it closely. I have been doing crewel, embroidery and needlepoint for decades and must say that I’ve never seen anything so astonishing. Mrs. Delany’s stitches were neat and well placed, but that was only the beginning. The reverse of the fabric had been as neatly wrought as the front, with nary a knot in sight. The threads were as vibrantly coloured today as they must have been two hundred years ago, showing the detail of the design and the subtlety of color variations throughout the work. It is astonishing to realize that the designs for Mrs. Delany’s work originated in her own mind. Perhaps she worked her pieces directly from that picture in her mind’s eye. However, she was also able to translate those designs onto other pieces of fabrics and to write instructions and colour directions down, thus making needlework “kits” for her friends and family to execute.

In 1861, Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover) edited a volume called The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany. In the appendix, the editor wrote:

“Were it possible to give a list of the work designed and executed by Mrs. Delany with the needle, independent of the quantity of various works in various ways designed by her for her friends to execute, it would be a much more extraordinary exemplification of what may be achieved by human industry and ingenuity, aided by natural talent, than the catalogue of her paintings. The Editor is not able to give an account of more than the specimens of Mrs. Delany’s needlework which are in her own possession, and that of her sister, and a few other relations. Of these are a number of chairs, the backs and seats of which are embroidered in a manner entirely different to anything that has ever (in the knowledge of the Editor) been done for a similar purpose. They consist of magnificent groups of flowers from nature, some on light and some on dark grounds, all different from each other, and all executed in worsted chenille, (made upon linen thread;) possessing the finest semi-tones of colour, which produce a variety of tint and harmony, as well as depth of colour, which never appear in the modern dyes of wool of any description. Some of these chairs are worked in embroidery stitch upon canvas, by which means the utmost freedom of outline was possible, and the most exact imitation of nature. In other sets of chairs cloth was used as the ground upon which the outline of the flowers must have been sketched, and the shades and colours filled in by sewing down the worsted chenilles by the eye, and cutting them off where required. These specimens prove Mrs. Delany’s marvellous talent for design, as well as ability in execution, and are suitable for furniture which though ornamental was yet useful; but there also exist bed hangings, and chair and sofa covers, which combine in as remarkable a manner striking effect with every day utility. Some of these were the covers of her drawing-room chairs in London, where the ground was brilliant dark blue linen, bordered with leaves cut out by herself in white linen, and edged and veined with white knotting of different sorts and thickness, sewed down along the edge. A bed completed by herself, and her sister Ann Granville, was of nankeen, with designs executed in white linen, for the headboard and hangings, all different, but well adapted to the various parts, and of a washing material, the durability of which as well as the excellence of the work is best proved by its endurance for near a hundred years in continual use! Mrs. Delany did not employ silk for her furniture, but woollen or linen materials; and the worsted chenilles, made on linen thread, never were attacked by the moths: there is now a box of them in the Editor’s possession left from Mrs. Delany’s work, which are still fit for use; it ought also to be mentioned that all these chenilles were wound on two cards folded together by herself in a peculiar manner, which prevented the chenilles being cut by the edges of the cards.”

Mrs. Delany died April 10th, 1788, and was interred in a vault belonging to St. James’ church, where a monument has been erected to her memory.

For further reading on Mrs. Delany read Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden (ISBN: 071418022X / 0-7141-8022-X ); Mrs. Delany (Mary Granville): A Memoir, 1700-1788 by George Paston (ISBN: 1150362642 ) and The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany by Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover).

A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK – Mrs. Delany

Mary Granville, or Mrs. Delany, is remembered for her letters and for her elaborate paper flower work and her magnificent needlework. What’s most remarkable about Mrs. Delany is the fact that she only hit her artistic stride after reaching the age of 72! Twice widowed with no children, Mrs. Delany became a royal favorite and sought after by society, numbering Handel, Jonathan Swift, the Duchess of Portland, Fanny Burney and the king and queen of England among her closest friends, all while executing an astonishing body of work that includes the Flora Delanica – almost 1,000 botanical collages that took a decade to complete.

Mary Granville was married at seventeen to the Cornish squire, Alexander Pendarves of Roscrow, who was more than forty years older than she and described by a contemporary as being ‘ugly, disagreeable and gouty’. After he died in 1724, Mary discovered that she’d been left annuity in the hundreds of pounds, far less than she’d anticipated, yet enough to allow her travel amongst relatives and forge ties and friendships that would serve her well in later life.

In the following years, Mary designed an unusual court dress of intricately detailed floral embroidery on black satin. Portions of the dress, preserved in frames by her heirs, reveal the sort of attention to detail that would later be the hallmark of her lifelike floral collages.

While in Dublin in 1740, Mary met Patrick Delany, a Anglican cleric, widower and close friend of Swift’s who would become her second husband in 1743. The marriage was a true love match and Mary flourished under Mr. Delany’s affection and his support of her talents. She had her own workroom at their home in Ireland, with a large bow window overlooking the gardens. Here, Mary made landscape drawings, silhouettes and “japanned” (lacquered) objects. A larger project was the garden grotto Mary designed and executed at  Alexander Pope’s estate.

Upon Mr. Delany’s death in 1768, Mary took up residence with her friend and fellow widow the Duchess of Portland. It was the Duchess who introduced Mrs. Delany to Queen Charlotte, and she became a firm favourite at court, where her talents, intellect and ‘social refinement’ were much admired.

Mrs Delany’s tools from needlework pocket-book, given by Queen Charlotte to Mrs Delany, 1781.

The Duchess of Portland died in 1785, and the King and Queen, concerned for the welfare of their old friend, offered Mrs. Delany an annuity and a small house at Windsor.

Queen Charlotte

On September 3rd, Queen Charlotte wrote: ‘My dear Mrs. Delany will be glad to hear that I am charged by the king to summon her to her new abode at Windsor for Tuesday next, when she will find all the most essential parts of the house ready, excepting some little trifles that it will be better for Mrs. Delany to direct herself in person or by her little deputy, Miss Port. I need not, I hope, add that I shall be extremely glad and happy to see so amiable an inhabitant in this our sweet retreat, and wish very sincerely that our dear Mrs. Delany may enjoy every blessing among us that her merits deserve, and that we may long enjoy her amiable company. Amen. These are the true sentiments of my dear Mrs. Delany’s very affectionate queen, Charlotte.’

Mrs. Delany wrote the following account of her arrival at Windsor to her friend Mrs. Hamilton : ‘I arrived here about eight o’clock in the evening and found his Majesty in the house ready to receive me. I threw myself at his feet, indeed unable to utter a word; he raised and saluted me, and said he meant not to stay longer than to desire I would order everything that could make the house comfortable and agreeable to me, and then retired. Truly, I found nothing wanting, as it is as pleasant and commodious as I could wish it to be, with a very pretty garden, which joins that of the Queen’s Lodge. The next morning her Majesty sent one of her ladies to know how I had rested, and how I was in health, and whether her coming would not be troublesome. I was lame, and therefore could not go down to the door as I ought to have done, but her Majesty came upstairs. Our meeting was mutually affecting; she well knew the value of what I had lost, and it was some time after we were seated before either of us could speak. She repeated in the strongest terms her wish and the king’s, that I should be as easy and happy as they could possibly make me; that they waived all ceremony, and desired to come to me as friends! The queen also delivered me a paper from the king: it contained the first quarter of £300 per annum, which his majesty allows me out of his privy purse. Their majesties have drunk tea with me five times, and the princesses three. They generally stay two hours or longer. In short, I have either seen them or heard of them every day, but I have not yet been at the Queen’s Lodge, though they have expressed impatience for me to come, as I have still so sad a drawback on my spirits that I must decline that honour till I am better able to enjoy it, and they have the goodness not to press me. Their visits here are paid in the most quiet, private manner, like those of the most consoling, disinterested friends; so that I may truly say they are a royal cordial, and I see very few people besides. I have been three times in the king’s private chapel at early prayers, where the royal family constantly attend, and they walk home to breakfast afterwards, whilst I am conveyed in a very elegant chair which the king has made me a present of for that purpose.

While at Windsor, Mrs. Delany would befriend Fanny Burney and receive regular visits from Mrs. Garrick, the late actor’s widow. Perhaps it was the Duchess of Portland’s friendship that had the most influence on the art Mrs. Delany would undertake later in life. Each year, Mrs. Delany made a visit of several months to Bulstrode, the duchess’s estate in Buckinghamshire, where she had access to an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities that included rare and exotic plants and flowers. Also at Bulstrode were the botanist John Lightfoot, the botanical artist Georg Dionysius Ehret and other advocates of the revolutionary taxonomy developed by the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. Mrs. Delany observed their dissections of flowers and taught herself the art of the “hortus siccus,” or pressed-flower composition. These experiments would give her the knowledge and understanding of flowers that would breathe life into her collages.

Eventually, Mrs. Delany devised a means of cutting tiny pieces of paper to create her flower collages and she went on to create several volumes of these ‘paper mosaic’ plants and flowers. So amazing were their realistic qualities that King George III ordered the volumes to be preserved in the British Museum “as a standard work of art unparalleled for accuracy of drawing, form, and perspective, as well as colouring, truth of outline, and close resemblance to nature.” Horace Walpole called her collages “precision and truth unparalleled,” while author William Gilpin wrote, “These flowers have both the beauty of painting, and the exactness of botany.”

Part Two coming soon!

BOXING DAY — WHAT IN THE WORLD?

In Britain, the day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day.  Every December 26 I wonder what in the world that means — and I never find out for sure.  Maybe someone can tell me, Victoria, what it is. Definitively!

This Cartoon has the right spirit IMHO

Here’s what Wikipedia says: “The exact etymology of the term “boxing day” is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive.”  This comes after they have already defined Boxing Day as a time when servants get their gifts.

So I turned to Snopes — which says the claim that Boxing Day means it is time to get rid of Christmas boxes is false… so where besides Nordstrom’s do stores have boxes any more?

Snopes goes on: “The holiday’s roots can be traced to Britain, where Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. Reduced to the simplest essence, its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after. And that’s about as much as anyone can definitively say about its origin because once you step beyond that point, it’s straight into the quagmire of debated claims and dueling folklorists.”

I was amazed to find how many images Google has for Boxing Day, though they hardly solve the mystery.
As far as I can tell around here (midwest US), it’s the day to run around and buy next year’s decorations and wrappings at half price. Perhaps the cats should have the last word on the subject!