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Naked flames used by miners were really dangerous Sir Humphry Davy made mining much safer with his invention
Sir Humphry Davy

Coal mining is a dangerous job; many miners have lost their lives underground particularly in the early days of mining when naked flames were used to provide light. The flames could ignite methane gas which is found underground (known by miners as firedamp) and could cause explosions.

In 1815, the famous scientist Sir Humphry Davy invented a ‘safe lamp’ that kept miners safer underground.

Over the next 150 years, innovators improved the lamp, making it into the iconic miners’ lamp that we know today.

In the exhibition at National Coal Mining Museum for England you can find out about the dangers that miners faced and how Davy was able to stop a flame igniting dangerous gas underground. You can explore the qualities that Davy and other innovators had that made them successful scientists and engineers; perhaps you will recognise some of these qualities in yourself! You can also hear about the legacy of the miners’ lamp and how it has come to be a symbol of the mining industry.

Important dates

Sir Humphry Davy invents the safety lamp

Did you know?

It wasn’t just science that interested Davy. He wrote poetry from a young age, and enjoyed sketching.

He discovered that nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’ was ‘capable of destroying physical pain’ by testing it on himself.

His lectures are thought to be part of the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.

He was friends with the Romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and William Wordsworth, even editing Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads.

He isolated the chemical elements sodium, potassium, barium, strontium, calcium, boron and magnesium. Many of these elements are essential to life.