the inventor (part 1)

During the period from 1938 until 1940, Jack was the Enginewright in charge of the project of the modernisation of one of the Hardwick Colliery Company's biggest collieries, Williamthorpe

The renovation spanned everything from the winders to the pithead baths. An album produced for Hardwick by the Derbyshire Times newspaper was presented to Jack. It was a comprehensive photo album which had before and after pictures from all around the pit top. We have now found this album in the possession of one of my sister's who had forgot that she had it , so more photos to follow.

Some of the photos are on the Picture the past website which is a great resource for old pictures of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Click on the link and have a look around

Picture The Past Website

The picture to the left is ©Derbyshire times. Jack is seated on the far right.

Longwall mining had been around since the late 17th century. Miners undercut the coal along the width of the coal face, removing coal as it fell, and used wooden props to control the fall of the roof behind the face. They called it Shropshire mining back in the day. It remained the way to work seams until the 1940's. This method essentially  hewed all of the coal from a broad coal face and allowed the roof and overlying rock to collapse into the void behind, while maintaining a safe working space along the face for the miners.

Some mechanical shearing machines were introduced during the first half of the century during the first period of mechanisation of the mines. These machines were what they called chain breast machines and had a cutting element consisting of "a heavy plate about 44 inches wide, known as the cutter bar, which projected about 6 feet in front of the machine. Around the outer edge of the plate was an endless chain fitted with removable steel bits. When the machine was started the endless chain revolved and the cutter bar was automatically fed forward against the coal. Although this was a great advancement in terms of labour reduction, the gallery was still made safe with wooden props and chocks. Also, cut coal was still being manually loaded into tubs before another cut was made.

From a logistical viewpoint, the fact that the coal had to be manually shovelled into tubs destined for the surface was the main downside of the process. Jack had the idea that if the hewn coal was to drop onto a conveyor belt, then to human input required would be substantially reduced and along with it the associated time cost.

Conveyor belts hadn't been used at the coal face before because they needed to be anchored to the ground so they would need to be dismantled and moved before the retreat could be allowed to collapse and because of the risks involved with the produced dust. To this end, Jack invented a conveyor system to collect and deposit the gained coal minimising the dust and efficiently transporting coal from the face. 

The following link leads to the  details of the patent for the device - Patent No. GB572337A  (link opens in another window)

Hydraulic jacks and props had been appearing in the mines for a few years and Jack was instrumental in putting the pieces of the jigsaw together. Jack devised a system where hydraulic roof supports were used to give the operator a safe travelling way from which to work whilst a chain breast machine 'got' the coal from the face and a plough attachment pushed the coal onto Jack's new continuous conveyor system which deposited the coal into the waiting tubs. When the cut was finished, the chocks  were 'shuffled' forward along with the cutter and conveyor by means of hydraulic cylinders. This was the birth of the Cutter/Loader. Jack's system was first installed at the Hardwick Colliery Companies Ramcroft Pit near Chesterfield. Ramcroft is on the site of junction 29 of the M1 motorway. It was the first colliery in the country to used hydraulic chocks. The system that Jack put together is still in use today in other deep mines of the world however, sadly deep mines no longer exist in the UK. 

Any early form of a Chain Breast Machine © unknown

Ramcroft Colliery ©unknown