Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans has recently ordered 16 tonnes of coal for his Carfest event which raises money for BBC Children in Need. The coal has been ordered for the vast array of steam engines that will be on show at the weekend long event being held at the Bolesworth Estate, Cheshire, between 28th – 30th July.

Now 16 tonnes of coal seems like a lot, but has got us at Jordans wondering how much is 16 tonnes and how much coal did the UK produce when the mines were running.

To begin with we need to look back at the history of coal mining. For years many historians thought that coal mining, like many things, was introduced to the UK by the Romans. But recently historians have uncovered evidence which shows the UK has been using coal since the Stone & Bronze Ages. It is believed that the early miners’ extracted coal which was exposed was on the surface.

In the 13th century there was reference to digging for sea cole in Durham and Northumberland. This was coal which had been washed ashore on the north east coast from either the cliffs or undersea outcrops.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century and the industrial revolution that coal production increased dramatically. It was used to power the early Newcomen engine, then the Watt steam engine and later on the steam train. Coal was the main source of power during the Victorian era and was widely used for domestic heating due to its low cost. It was used to generate coal gas, which was used for lighting and also for heating.

It wasn’t until 1913 that coal production peaked in the UK, with 287 million tonnes being produced that year. Until the late 1960’s coal was the main source of energy in the UK with 95% of it coming from the 1300+ deep mines which were operational at the time. The rest came from the 90+ surface mines.

Coal mining production in the UK, 1880-2012 (DECC data)

Coal mining production in the UK, 1880-2012 (DECC data)

As you can see from the graph above coal production in the UK declined after the 1960’s. There were many reasons for this, between the 1950’s & 1960’s over 100 north east coal mines were closed and in 1968 the last of the Black Country coal mine was closed and closure became common in many other areas. The National Union of Mineworkers started taking more action for the miners in the 1970’s gaining miner’s better wages.

There were less pit closures in the 1970’s but more money was invested into the pits. New production methods were introduced to get the most out of coal production, following the increase in the price of oil. One of these economic solutions was the Selby “Superpit” mining complex. This was a series of mines all connected underground with coal being brought to the surface at one site.

We all know about coal mining in the 1980’s and the year long strike from 1984-1985 following the governments announcement to close 80 pits. In 1994 British Coal was privatised but by this time British Coal had closed all but the most economical of coal pits.

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The pit closures caused coal production to slump to the lowest rate in more than a century, further declining towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s. This coincided with initiatives for cleaner energy generation as power stations switched to gas and biomass. A total of 100 million tons was produced in 1986, but by 1995 the amount was around 50 million tons. British coal-dependent industries have turned to cheaper imported coal. In 2001, production was exceeded by imports for the first time. In 2014, coal imported was three times the coal mined, despite large resources in the country. On 21 April 2017, Britain went a full day without using coal power to generate electricity for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, according to the National Grid.

But going back to the question at the beginning of this blog, how much is 16 tonnes of coal? To answer this question, we need to have a quick look at coal production. After modernisation of underground mining, a deep shaft mine could produce 700 million tonnes annually. British coal mines achieved the most economically produced coal in Europe, with a level of productivity of 3,200 tonnes per man year. In 1986 Kellingley colliery achieved 404,000 tonnes in a single shift! A single shift was usually 8 ½ hours but lets call it 8 hours. This means that 50,500 tonnes was produced an hour, with 842 tonnes per minute and 14 tonnes produced per second!

So the 16 tonnes of coal Chris Evans has recently ordered is just over a seconds worth of coal production!

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Jordan’s Solicitors has a department working with ex coal miners looking into their Vibration White Finger claims as it has come to light many were unsettled and many miners missed out on £1000’s. If you’re an ex miner and think you may have a claim contact a member of our VWF team free on 03303 001103 or click here.


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