Markham colliery canary
We are lucky at Chesterfield Museum to provide a home to who I affectionally call, ‘Mary’ the Canary; and who wouldn’t choose this little natural history specimen as their favourite object!
Being born and bred in Chesterfield, and having family connections with the coal mining industries and communities of the area, like myself, this little bird will hold a place in many families’ hearts.
Not only is she beautiful in her appearance with her bright yellow feathers, but she had a very important role, as she was an essential safety feature of mining. For ‘Mary’ is one of the last canaries to work at Markham Colliery, Chesterfield.
Canaries are susceptible to lower levels of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, so they were an early warning system that something wasn’t quite right. Any signs of distress in the canary would alert the miners. The birds were taken into the mines well into the 20th century as they were considered more sensitive than electronic detectors. In later years, they were taken down by rescue teams after an incident or accident. By 1986 electronic gas detectors were considered much more reliable and the birds were replaced.
Unfortunately, the Markham Colliery Canary isn’t on public display permanently, but you may catch her on one of our behind the scenes tours which take place throughout the year.
Kerry - visitor information and museums supervisor