Miners safety lamp
The three miners safety lamps on display in our coal mining exhibit are a favourite of mine for two reasons.
The first is that they show how such a relatively simple invention could have a lasting effect on those that use it. Before the invention of the safety lamp there was no reliable method of determining the presence of dangerous gases such as methane in coal mines and as a result many miners were killed in explosions. Once the safety lamp had been introduced the mines became much safer as one of the worst risks had been eliminated.
The second reason is that they illustrate a story about George Stephenson who most people only associate with the history of the railways. He was also a prolific inventor and he began his career working in the collieries of the north east. He was working on a design for a safety lamp in 1815 at almost the exact time as Sir Humphry Davy and came up with a model that some experts believed was superior. Davy was to become famous for his lamp which was widely used and he was unhappy that Stephenson had come up with an alternative design. At the time Stephenson was an unknown, uneducated provincial figure working for local mining companies whilst Davy was a celebrated inventor. Although the miners safety lamp would in future be associated with Davy we now celebrate Stephenson for his role as the great railway pioneer and some of his belongings are displayed at the Museum
Robert - museums assistant