Remains Associated With Explosives Used In Mines.

 

A Blast From The Past

 

This article primarily sets out to show some of the artefacts associated with the use of explosives that have been found in numerous mines over many years. In the Northern Pennines it is not uncommon to find detonator tins, the remains of cardboard cartons which once held explosives and in some cases actual explosive materials lying around, usually in a short blind heading. The problem is that even if the area is relatively dry, the high humidity within the mine causes almost everything to deteriorate. Detonator tins turn into blocks of rust and any paper based materials go totally discoloured and so soft that they take up the shape of whatever they are lying on and cannot be touched.  Having said all that, occasionally, against all the odds, you come across something that has survived.


It would appear that most explosives were supplied with a leaflet that explained to the uninitiated their correct use, maybe one per box/carton. Part of one such leaflet that I saw some years ago in Smallclough Mine, Nent Head,  was printed on green paper with the instructions in three separate columns, one in English, one in Welsh and the third in Gaelic. Unfortunately it could not be moved and was in such a cramped position to render a photograph impossible.

The 1898 Nobel’s Leaflet

In 1995 the leaflet shown in images 2 & 3 was found in the Scaleburn Vein of Rampgill Mine, Nent Head Cumbria. N.G.R. NY 782 435. It is amazing how it managed to survive in such good condition for nearly one hundred years. The date shown is January 1898. See below for a transcript of this leaflet. The original size of the leaflet is 5¾ x 9½ inches.

Image 1

Notes on the transcript.

You may notice that the spelling of certain words varies, such as fuze/fuse so these are reproduced as per the original. In the few cases where the original text could not be determined, due either to discolouration or damage, the assumed text has been entered in parenthesis thus {}. 
 

Note that the person preparing the shot at the top of fig.3 in the leaflet has a small box under his sleeve. These are his matches and the detail that the engraver has added is seen in image 1. “VESUVIANS” was presumably the brand name of the matches in use at the time.

In image 2 you can just discern an emblem on the left plus text running vertically on the right of the diagram “Fixing Detonator on Fuse” Fig.1 in the leaflet. On the original these are in red ink and appear to have been over-stamped, making them very difficult to interpret. The emblem is identical to the one shown under "Nobel" in the labels section of this article. The words “NOBEL’S EXPLOSIVE COMPANY LIMITED” appear above and “GLASGOW,” being curved to fit the emblem below. The signature Alfred Nobel is split to either side. The vertical text reads as follows: -

THE GELATINE EXPLOSIVES
Are much superior to Dynamite.
They are unaffected by damp or water. They are in the end much cheaper.
{…?…} Dynamite is much more economical. Gelatine Dynamite {…?...}
{…?...} Blasting Gelatine No.{1} is fully half as strong {again} as Dynamite

Image 2

Transcript of Image 2

INSTRUCTIONS
FOR USING DYNAMITE, GELIGNITE,
GELATINE-DYNAMITE, BASTING-GELATINE,
and NOBEL ARDEER POWDER.

The following instructions for preparing, charging and stemming Holes, and for
Treatment in cold weather, apply equally to all these explosives.

Unlike Gunpowder, all the above explosives require a special mode of firing, which consists of a very strong exploding cap, called a “DETONATOR,” Attached to a piece of Safety Fuze.
The fuze fires the composition in the DETONATOR, which then explodes the CARTRIDGES.

 

 

            Prepare a charge as follows:-
1st. - Cut a piece of safety fuse. clean, and insert it into a Detonator; push it gently home till it reaches the composition.  If the fuse be rather thick to enter the detonator easily, cut the end of it obliquely thus –                        It can then be entered with a slight turn. The company’s special nippers, which are adapted for this, can be procured from their Agents at cost price. 
Squeeze the neck of the tube firmly onto the fuse, with special nippers (as shown in fig 1.) To ensure a good joint the mouth of the tube should be just visible at the reverse side of the nippers. Squeezing is important, as it secures the position of the fuse, and serves to develop the power of the detonating charge.


Fig.1

 

FIXING DETONATOR ON FUSE

N.B. - For use in wet surroundings, take care to have the mouth of the Detonator made water-tight, were it joins the fuse, to prevent the composition from getting damp. (Grease, Tar, or similar material may be used for this, and the tube should be {covered all over})

2nd. - Open a Cartridge at one end, after thawing it if necessary, and push the Detonator into it; not more than 2/3rds. of the Detonator should be in the explosive, 1/3rd. remaining clear to prevent the fuse igniting the Cartridge before the fire reaches the Detonator. Tie the loose paper at mouth of Cartridge firmly around neck of Detonator, the cord laying well into the hollow made by the nippers. The paper thus shields the explosive from sparks of the fuse.

N.B. - When Electric-Detonator-Fuses are used, bury the Detonator entirely in the explosive.


Fig.2

 

FIXING DETONATOR (WITH FUSE ATTACHED) INTO CARTRIDGE OR PRIMER.

(TURN OVER)  

NOTE. - Only Specially strong DETONATORS (known as Nobel’s Patent Gelatine Detonators), should be used to explode GELATINE EXPLOSIVES. These Detonators are supplied by the Company through their various Agents.
N.B - Never expose open boxes of DYNAMITE, GELIGNITE, GELATINE-DYNAMITE, BLASTING GELATINE, NOBEL GELIGNITE, NOBEL CARBONITE, or NOBEL ARDEER POWDER to the direct rays of tropical sun.

        JANUARY,  1898.
 

Image 3

3rd. - Insert, one at a time, into the bore-hole, such Cartridges as the charge may require, and squeeze each with a wooden stemmer (as shown in Fig. 3.) so as to leave no space around the charge. Never push more than one Cartridge in at a time, and never force them in by blows.    IN SQUEEZING HOME CARTRIDGES NEVER USE METAL


FIG. 3

SQUEEZING HOME THE CARTRIDGE.


4th. - Over the charge as shown in 3rd. operation, insert but do not squeeze the last Cartridge with Detonator and fuze affixed. For tamping Dynamite, loose sand may be used; but with Gelatines use {firm} tamping, taking care not to begin stemming until several inches of tamping have been dropped in on the top of the Detonator Cartridge. Instead of the above, water tamping may be used for Gelatines. The charge is then ready for firing.


FIG. 4

FIRING A CHARGE.

CAUTION. - In Cold Weather these explosives become more or less frozen, and gradually lose their plastic or soft condition, but thaw and resume it when warmed. In chilly weather greater safety in charging and firing, as well as more effect of the shot are secured by heating the explosives in an approved Warming Pan for a couple of hours before use. This should be done in cold weather, although the explosive may not appear frozen.
    Accidents have occurred through warming cartridges on or before stoves and fireplaces or in kettles of water; this is highly dangerous for these explosives when slowly heated beyond the boiling point of water, are liable to explode with great violence.
FROZEN CARTRIDGES are easily and safely thawed, and made to resume their {plastic} condition, in an empty water-tight tin, which if suspended in a vessel of moderately warm water, without touching the bottom, will safely soften the cartridges.
SPECIAL PORTABLE WARM-WATER HEATING PANS may be procured at a nominal price {from} the company, or their Agents, wherein the Cartridges can be safely kept warm, {in} a soft plastic state, for several hours in the coldest weather.
NITRO_GLYCERINE EXPLOSIVES whether frozen or not, {should always be handled} with care.

Transcript ends

Tools

The tools shown below are all related to the slate mining industry in the English lake District. They were found at different locations by Terry Wright and Kindly donated to the authors collection.

The stemming bar is 23 inches long by 5/8 inch diameter and made from brass. Half the length having a recess to allow clearance for the fuse, with the top half remaining round as a hand grip.

 

The nippers are comprised of a pair of blades for cutting the fuse and serrated jaws for crimping on the detonator. One of the nippers handles has a copper tip brazed on the end. This is provided for pricking the explosive to allow easy entry for the detonator. The manufacturers stamp reads "Forged Steel Nobel" and on the rear "Geo Ibberson Made in Sheffield England". It is shown here with a number six copper detonator between the jaws. The stemmer and the nippers were found separately underground in the Honister Pass area. NY 225 135 

Recorded in: White's Sheffield & Dist. directory 1871.  Ibberson, Geo. (, cutlery mnfr.).  Address: 85 Hanover Street (Lower).

The steel handled copper pricker dates from when black powder was used for blasting. The powder was inserted into the drill hole which had to be dry. This was usually done with a twist of straw for example. The powder was then put into a half round scoop and dumped into the back of the drill hole. The pricker was inserted and then the stemming which could be clay or anything which could wedge it up tight added. Then the pricker was withdrawn to produce a hole where the fuse could be inserted. Sometimes the prickers were quite long being anything up to two feet or more. This one was found on the surface at Hodge Close, an area of extensive mines and quarries. NY 318 017 

Detonator Tin

As mentioned before, most detonator tins that you may see are very badly rusted, but the one shown here. managed to survive in a very dry area with low oxygen levels at Wellhope Mine, near Alston, Cumbria. N.G.R. NY 7790 4661

The warning on the side of the tin reads -

Must be HANDLED WITH GREAT CARE and KEPT DRY. The Composition MUST NOT BE SCRATCHED or PRICKED with a Pin, Nail, Knife Blade or other

hard substances, AS ANY ACT OF THIS KIND MAY CAUSE EXPLOSION.

The inside of the tin was lined on the bottom and sides with thin cardboard and very fine sawdust was used as a packing agent. The cardboard label which was placed inside the tin between the lid and the detonators reads -

CAUTION.

BEFORE USE

SHAKE ALL SAWDUST FROM

DETONATORS

AND

CUT SAFETY FUSE STRAIGHT

ACROSS NOT SLANTWISE.

IF CUT SLANTWISE THE END MAY GET TURNED BACK AND PREVENT THE SPIT OF THE FUSE REACHING THE COMPOSITION, THUS CAUSING A MISFIRE

Labels

The labels  shown below have been found in various abandoned mines within the UK. It is a pity that my memory of where they all came from hasn't lasted as long as the labels.

Nobel's Explosives Company Ltd. Regent Works, Linlithgow, Scotland.

1871 Nobel established the British Dynamite Co. Its first factory was at Ardeer, on the coast of Ayrshire.
1873 The manufacture of nitroglycerin and dynamite started at Ardeer.
1877 The name of the company was changed to Nobel's Explosives Co. 
1900 The Nobel's Explosives Company Ltd was registered on 27 December, to take over the properties of a company of the same name.

After a series of amalgamations, the company became part of Imperial Chemical industry (ICI).

 

Found Bog Shaft area, Smallclough Mine, Nenthead, Cumbria.

 

Before I removed the labels. Photo Dave Gough

The British Explosives Syndicate. 124, St. Vincent Street, Glasgow.

1898/9 Started to make and supply cordite to the War Office.

1918 Incorporated into Explosives Trades Ltd as part of the merger of 29 makers of explosives.
 

 

1918. From Kempes Directory.

 

1918. From Kempes Directory.

The Carbonite Syndicate Limited, London.

THE LONDON GAZETTE, 17 MARCH, 1916

TRADING WITH THE ENEMY AMENDMENT ACT, 1916.

 

Orders have been made by the Board of Trade requiring the undermentioned businesses to be wound up : —


Carbonite Syndicate, Ltd., 220, Winchester House, London, Explosive Merchants. Controller: Francis J. Saffery, 14, Old Jewry Chambers, London, E.G. 13th March, 1916
 

Cooke's Explosives Limited, Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales.

 

The Company stamp on the flyleaf

The main manufacturing industry in Penrhyndeudraeth was established in 1872 to make guncotton.
Ralph T Cooke inherited a grocery store in the mining village of Annfield Plain, Durham, from his father. He sold it and set up a business selling mine explosives. As there were many different products on the market often lacking significant testing information, and testing them himself was not without its risks, he decided to set up as a manufacturer and supplier, purchasing the Penrhyndeudraeth factory in 1921. After a disastrous explosion in 1928, Cooke sold part of his company to ICI which contributed technical expertise to the manufacturing process and bought the remaining shares when he retired in 1958 aged 78. The works – including at one time a Male Voice Choir - closed in the 1990s.

The British Film Institute have footage entitled “Cooke’s Explosives Limited – an account of explosives manufacture in Penrhyndeudraeth”. From 29 minutes onwards the film shows the labels being wrapped around the newly made explosives. See -
http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-cookes-explosives-limited-an-account-of-explosives-manufacture-in-penrhyndeudraeth-1960/

The ariel ropeway in the film is described in “The Engineer” July 25th 1924 pages 102 to 104  entitled “A Ropeway for Explosives.” See -
http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/images/d/d6/Er19240725.pdf

 

Amonal Explosives Ltd London, 29 Great St. Helens, London.

The photograph shows the central part of a lid from a metal container which was approximately ten inches diameter. The embossed emblem appears to show St. George & the Dragon with the words AMMONAL EXPLOSIVES Ltd LONDON.

1903 The company was registered in November, to acquire patent rights in the United Kingdom and other countries relating to the manufacture of an explosive named Ammonal.
1913 merged with Roburite Explosives Co.


See -  http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Ammonal_Explosives
 

Cotton Powder Co. Ltd.  Works Faversham & Melling.

The photograph shows an emblem printed onto a section of a substantially constructed cardboard carton. It appears to depict a bottle shaped container with a fuse at the neck surrounded by a blast of material.

Manufacturers of Propellants and Explosives. Head Office: 24, Walbrook, London, E.C. . Works: Faversham, Kent, and Melling, near Liverpool. Hours of Business: Usual. Established in 1873 by R. Prinslow. Incorporated as a Limited Company in 1873. Directors: Major H. B. Strange, General S. Nicholson, C.B., W. H.-Topham, B. E. Todhunter (Managing Director), P. A. Ransom. Premises: Very extensive. Stall: 600. Staff Clubs: Rifle, Provident Fund. Specialities: Cordite, High Explosives, Permitted Explosives, Sound Signals, Ship Distress Signals, Tonite for Mining and Submarine purposes. Patentees of Flash and Sound Distress Signals. Connection: United Kingdom, Foreign, Colonial. Telephone:* No. 7942 Central. Bankers: Williams Deacon's Bank, Ltd. (20, Birchin Lane,. E.C.)

See - http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Cotton_Powder_Co   Then search for "1914 who's who in Business Company C"

Phœnix

GELATINE DYNAMITE
PHŒNIX

?
MADE IN GERMANY
1897

From Brownley Hills Mine, Nenthead, Cumbria. N.G.R. NY 776 466

 

The 1897 is the date of manufacture, with the remaining  digits presumably being  the batch number. Two other labels found at different locations within the mine have the date 1900.
 

Cheg Chester  2016

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