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.
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
Miner's brass, photo by Phil Draper
Many English landscape painters such as John Laporte (1761 –
1839) would include mine workings in their landscapes.
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.
the most famous paintings was by Henry Perlee Parker (1795–1873)
and the depiction of ‘Pitmen at Play’ which was accepted at the
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
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
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
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
Bill Brandt 1937 scene
Hartley disaster in the
Walker's Costume of Yorkshire (1814)
Norman Phillips (1920–1988)
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
In 1922 The Atherton Colliery commissioned the
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.
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.
showed how history is brought to life with the use of drawings,
paintings and photographs and the detailed commentary that Alan
Atherton Colliery by