6 min read

A visual history of the miners’ safety lamp 12

a photo of a hand holding a miners lamp held by its handle

© Courtesy National Coal Mining Museum for England

Using key objects from the collection, Mark Carlyle, Curator of Industry at the National Coal Mining Museum for England, offers a visual history of the miners’ safety lamp

Coal miners were frequently at danger from explosive mixtures of methane gas in the atmosphere of the mine. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, pressure mounted to find an alternative to naked flames that would provide adequate and safe light to enable miners to work underground.

In the end, two of the period’s finest minds raced to produce the first safe lamp for the mining industry.

The Davy Lamp

a photo of a tall lamp with brass base and long gauze

The Davy Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

Sir Humphry Davy successfully tested his prototype safe lamp at Hebburn colliery, Tyne and Wear, in early January 1816.

Davy found that flame could not pass through the small apertures in fine gauze meaning the flame inside the gauze would not ignite the gas in the atmosphere outside the lamp. Davy was one of the most celebrated scientists of his day and his discovery, based on scientific principles, became the foundation for most flame-safety lamps that followed.

The Stephenson Lamp

a photo of a brass lamp with central gauze

The Stephenson Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

At the same time that Davy was working on a design, George Stephenson had been creating his own lamp based on mechanical principles. While Stephenson later became well known for his work with locomotives, at the time he was an engineer and engine wright from High Pit, Killingworth in Northumberland.

His lamp used fine tubes and an internal glass to separate the flame and the atmosphere, and was frequently championed by miners from the North-East.

The Clanny Lamp

a photo of a lamp with brass to and base beneath a circular brass chamber

The Clanny Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

A long-term worker in this field, the doctor William Reid Clanny, continued to refine his ideas on lamps after both Davy and Stephenson had moved on to other work.

The culmination of his research was the invention, in 1839, of the lamp that now bears his name. The gauze around the flame was replaced with glass, both increasing the amount of light and shielding the flame.

The Mueseler Lamp

a photo of a bras lamp with central gauze

The Mueseler Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

A significant lamp emerged from Europe soon after the Clanny lamp was introduced. The Mueseler lamp was designed by a Belgian engineer, Mathieu Louis Mueseler, in 1840.

The lamp was similar to Clanny’s but, by adding a conical internal chimney to aid the air flow within the lamp, Mueseler reduced the tendency for the internal glass to become sooty and so gave a clearer light.

The Marsaut Lamp

a photo of a miners lamp with brass bottom, glass chamber and steel upper body

The Marsaut Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

In 1882 Jean Marsaut, a French mining engineer, adapted a Mueseler Lamp by replacing the internal chimney with a second conical gauze and added a full bonnet to protect the gauze.

The lamp was highly praised and many manufacturers went on to produce their own variations on what became the blueprint for the modern mining lamp.

The Clowes Hydrogen Lamp

a photo of a brass lamp with attached metal chamber in red

The Clowes Hydrogen Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

Soon after the introduction of the safety lamp underground, miners noticed that its flame changed if there were gases in the atmosphere. In the late-nineteenth century, lamp makers began to develop dedicated gas-testing lamps, such as the Clowes Hydrogen lamp, that would give more sensitive readings of methane levels.

The Electric Cap Lamp

a photo of a lamp with a large ribbed upper chamber

Electric Cap Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

In the 1890s electric hand lamps were being developed and by the 1920s, the electric cap-lamp began to take over as the miner’s main light source.

To compete with the strong light produced by the new electric lamps, makers started to produce high-candle-power lamps. These were larger lamps, often with elaborate bonnets, that produced considerably more light.

The Flame-safety Lamp

a photo of a steel lamp with glass chamber and brass base

Flame Safety Lamp. © The National Coal Mining Museum for England

As electric lamps became the standard lighting equipment, flame-safety lamps were still used to test for gas. Deputies were required by law to carry a flame-safety lamp and an electric safety lamp during their pre-shift checks.

Garforth Lamps

a photo of a small steel lamp with glass chamber inlaid with brass supports

The Garforth Wolf FG Lamp. © Courtesy National Coal Mining Museum for England

a photo of a steel and brass lamp with glass chamber

The Protector GR6S. © Courtesy National Coal Mining Museum for England

The final development in flame-safety lamps came when Protector and Wolf, the last major flame-safety-lamp manufacturers, produced their Garforth lamps.

The Wolf FG and the Protector GR6S were the result of many years of lamp development and research. By the 1990s, Protector had become the main supplier to the British coal-mining industry.


National Coal Mining Museum for England

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

The National Coal Mining Museum for England is a great day out and offers visitors the unique opportunity to travel 140 metres underground, down one of Britain’s oldest working mines, where models and machinery depict methods and conditions of mining from the early 1800’s to the present. Experienced local miners…

12 comments on “A visual history of the miners’ safety lamp

  1. David Page on

    This display of mining safety lamps is brilliant, informative and concise.
    The pics are superb.
    Many thanks.

    • Ricky Duncombe on

      Have found an old miners lamp wold like more information on. Writing on lamp DAVIS BOSS 3B.B . DAVIS JERRY . The number 20 stamped on tank. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Richard dingley on

    I notice you don’t mention the Holland lamp what was the lamp made before the Davy lamp and on top of that the Davy did not design the lamp both benny holland and Davy designed the lamp together but went behind benny holland and had patented the lamp behind holland back but Tamworth castle has the original holland lamp on show it gets on my nerves when people don’t do there research on things

    • Davy Jones on

      It gets on my nerves when people use the wrong word in a sentence. The word should be be “their” not there, as in “when people don’t do their research on things”.

      • Paul Mooney on

        Great pit lamp history showing the development and improvements to even great working lamps. Emigrated to Canada in 1958. Got a pit lamp in Stanley Co. Durham from my uncle while on leave in my old home town during 1970 from from my cruiser the USS Albany CG10. Took it back to the States then to Canada. My mom kept all my stuff for me and I’ve got quite a framed collection. Have 5 pit lamps now, all in original condition as they were found. My grandfather was a founder of the Durham Miners Association. He lost an eye down the pit and the monthly compensation was Tuppence. I have his 101 year old 50th anniversary Pioneers Association certificate framed with 8 pit lamps below it (3 are replicas). Used to play on the pit heaps and always came home filthy. Great memories and childhood. BTW I was always last in the bath after my brother and sister were bathed.

  3. david john winter on

    I have a clann,y style lamp c1860 in near perfect condition works great, just missing the hanger. made in Gateshead by J Abbot co ltd, where can i get the hanger and does anyone know the value

  4. Panos on

    Hello ladies and gentlemen from Greece. I own a Lamp from my father and would love to hear from you and your assessment. I believe from the moment I was informed I had the impression that this was a worthwhile piece. I look forward to your knowledge. Thank you very much.

  5. Richard Hamalian on

    Is there a way to determine the age of E. Thomas & Williams Cambrian lamp No. 7780. It also has no ETW stamp on the base.

  6. Edward Smith on

    I have a lamp made by: Protector Lamp & Lighting Co. Ltd. of Eccles.
    It is a Type 6 M & Q Safety Lamp, approval No. B/28, serial No. I 77/
    Is this a reproduction? Also how can you fill it with paraffin? There seems to be no filler point that I can determine.

  7. Seebo Smith on

    A really nice little article the photos I find particularly interesting. I am a writer and doing research for a fictional novel set in pre-WWII in a Northern mining village. Even though it is fictional I want the background to be accurate.

  8. Jonathan Barton on

    I have a Hailwood’s approved lamp type 01 supplied by Siebe Gorman & Co Ltd of London.

    There is a leather disc with shaped holes that has perished and is now in two parts, the wick raising mechanism is broken and the outer gauze has corroded to a hole in the top. It needs TLC/ repair. Is there anyone who does this sort of thing?


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *