Eric W. Edwards: 23rd April 1944 – 13th July 2017


It is with great sadness that I announce that my father and author of this beautiful site passed away peacefully on 13th July 2017. A brilliant mind and exceptional father.

His site will remain here and I will also add on any further pieces for you all enjoy in time. Thank all you of who have enjoyed this site over years.

Owen P. Edwards




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The Legend of Saint George and the Dragon



St. George and the Dragon. Raphael.


St. George is a Christianised representation of the mythic sun-horse that reflects the inter-changeability of the hero and the horse. Another example is the ancient Celtic mare goddess known as Epona. Therefore, as a saint George is a patron of “…soldiers and sailors, the protector of rocky and dangerous coasts.” (Brown, 1950). In another aspect a descendant of the seafarers horse (Clarke, ). St. George is a representation of the Thracian ‘Rider God’ depicted in Hero-reliefs as a fight between a hero and a boar. The image has a religio-mythic significance of a hunting god that is “…principally honoured as a chthonic divinity.” (Kazarow, 1938). The Hero is presented as a powerful nature divinity, an ancestral image of the hunter-rider-hero.

Tradition places the birth of St. George at Lydda on the coast of Palestine not far from Phoenicia. The two locations where the activities of St. George centre are firstly those of Lydda or Ludd in Palestine where he was martyred, and secondly in Libya where he killed the dragon. The Phoenician version of the legend is derived from the hero and dragon in the myth of Perseus and Andromeda. In their turn the Phoenicians took the ancient story with them to Carthage and thence to Gades, the ancient Roman colony of Cadiz. It is most likely that the myth, the legend, became attached to the saint, each representing “…the powers of light destroying the powers of darkness.” (Brown, 1950), with the dragon that threatened Andromeda coming out of the sea.

In folklore St. George is closely connected with the ‘hero’ although he “…appears to be almost as mythical as the monster he disposed of…” (Leach, 1955). Two reliefs from Moesia show him protecting two horses accompanied by Epona. The Thracians, who were later absorbed by invading Slavs, had their beliefs absorbed by the Slavs as they overran the Balkans. There developed a mutual influence of Thracian and Christian beliefs. It is noteworthy that in Thracian beliefs the quake, or ‘Kraken wakes’, is a symbol of the soul not that of a dragon.

The cult of St. George is of greater antiquity than that of St. George himself, and one of “…those saints whose history is almost entirely a matter of mythology of folklore.” (Heath-Stubbs, 1984). The legend of St. George centres about a soldier martyred by Diocletian for refusal to denounce his Christian faith. The offender was a Roman soldier who tore down Diocletian’s edicts of his intention to persecute the Christians. This historical incident refers not to but to George but to Nestor. The dragon is the mythic element, a “…typical specimen of the maiden-eating variety.” (Leach, 1955). There is some identification with George of Cappadocia, the Arian Bishop of Alexandria who died in 362 and a nameless hero executed for destroying the edicts of Diocletian. George of Cappadocia was a corrupt and unattractive individual, put in prison for his crimes, and thence released by a pagan mob and torn to pieces (Heath-Stubbs, 1984).

The question therefore arises concerning the existence of a cult of an entirely fictitious saint. In the legend the hero, St. George, was tormented and then executed seven times in succession, whereupon on each occasion he was resurrected to life by St. Michael. to life. St. George was worshipped widely from the 3rd century onwards in the Near East, though it “…seems doubtful whether there ever was an historical St. George.” (Leach, 1955), who was adopted as England’s patron saint only at the time of the crusades.

The popularity of St. George of England has nothing to do with Richard the Lion Heart ((1157-199), but originates in the 15th century (Morris, 2009). The cult of St. George did originate in the eastern Mediterranean during the 4th century AD , being transferred to England at a later date. It was during the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III, that interest in royal and aristocratic circles became centred on St. George. Indeed, it seems that the belief in St. George, who was known to the Anglo-Saxons as an early Christian martyr, was transferred to England only in the middle ages.


Sources used.

Brown, T. (1950). Turtullian and Horse-Cults in Britain. Folklore LXI (1).

Clarke, C. P. S. (1927). Everyman’s Book of Saints.

Davidson, H. R. E. (1984). The Hero in Tradition and Folklore. UCL. London.

Heath-Stubbs, J. (1984). The Hero as Saint: St. George. In: Davidson (1984).

Kazarow, G. (1938). The Thracian Rider and St. George. Antiquity, 47, September.

Morris, M. (2009). Slaying Myths: St. George and the Dragon. History Today, 59.

Williams, M. E. (1936). Whence came St George? Bulletin de la Societe Royale d’Archeologie d’Alexandrie.

Leach, E. R. (1955). St. George and the Dragon. In: Myth or Legend. G. Bell & Sons. London.


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The Earth Mother


Notes on ‘Mothers’

Spencer, B. & Gillen, F. J. The Native Tribes of Central Australia. Macmillan. 1889.

`A man, for example, will call his actual mother Mia, but at the same time he will apply the term not only to other grown women, but to a little girl child, provided they all belong to the same

group…the term Mia expressed the relationship in which she stood to  (58).

Bachofen, J. J. Myth, Religion and Mother Right. Princeton UP. 1967.

`Every woman’s womb, the mortal image of the earth mother Demeter will give brothers and sisters to the children of every other woman; the homeland will know only brothers and sisters until the day when the development of the paternal system dissolves the undifferentiated unity of the mass…’ (80).

Frazer, J. G. Totemism and Exogamy. Macmillan, 1910.

‘…we confuse our word “mother’ with the corresponding but by no means equivalent terms in the languages of savages who have the classificatory system. We mean by “mother” a woman who has given birth to a child: the Australian savages mean by “mother” a woman who stands in certain social relation to a group of men and women, whether she has given birth to any of them or not.’ (34, vol 1).

Briffault. The Mothers.

`The word “medicine” is derived from a root meaning “knowledge” or “wisdom” — the wisdom of the “wise woman”. The name of Medea, the medical herbalist witch, comes from the same root… ‘ (486, vol 1).

The power of witchcraft is universally regarded as appertaining specifically to women. The witch is a woman, the wizard is but a male imitation of the original wielder of magic power…every woman, wherever magic powers are believed in, is credited with the possession of those powers because she is a woman.’ (556, vol 2).

Malinowski, B. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Dutton, NY. 1961. it is clear that in a matrilineal society, where the mother is the nearest of kin to ter children in a sense quite different to that in our society, they share in and inherit from her all her possessions.’ (178).

Reed, E. Woman’s Evolution. Pathfinder Press, NY. 1975.

`…the maternal clan system was the original from of social organisation.’ (xiii).

‘…a clan and tribal system based on maternal kinship and in which women played a leading role.’ (xiv).

the maternal clan…was founded upon a collectivity of women who were sisters to one another and mothers to all the children of the community…’ (14).

`…the maternal clan system, which gave an honoured place to women, was also a collectivist order where the members of both sexes enjoyed equality and did not suffer oppression or discrimination.’ (xiv).

matriarchy was the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.’ (xv).

`To us as mother is an individual woman who bears a child; she does not become a mother until and unless she gives birth. But in primitive society motherhood was a social function of the female sex; thus all women were actually or potentially “the mothers’ of the community” ‘. (13).

`Women’s pre-eminence as cultivators was registered in the fertility rites and other practices conducted by the female sex, as well as their glorification as “goddesses”.’ (131-132).

The hearth fire has always been associated with women…The renewers of fire, the tenders of fire, and the transporters of fire were from the most ancient times women.’ (145).

The witch and the sorcerers were predecessors of the goddess. In primitive society women were witches because of their mysterious powers of production and procreation. They could bear children and make crops grow; they could control fire; establish settlements, and make rules for the disciplined social behaviour of men.’ (148).

`With the rise of patriarchal influences some of the witches became transformed into goddesses, the subordinate wives or companions of the gods. In the transitional period from matriarchy to patriarchy, former female deities were even replaced by male figures.’ (149).

‘…the male culture-hero of the matriarchal epoch evolved into the patriarchal god…’ (149). After this shift took place ‘…the mythical world was no longer populated by mothers and culture-hero sons and grandsons but by gods and their sons (sun-gods). The goddesses were by and large reduced to wives bearing sons for the gods.’ (149).

‘As Mother Earth or the Goddess of Fertility, women bring forth abundance of food from the earth and also bear children. In their cooperative groups they are known as “The fates”, the spinners and weavers of the destiny of mankind, as well as “The Graces” and “The Charities”. But whatever the specific names given to women — whether Pot or Venus, witch or goddess — in the beginning they were the mother-governesses of the matriarchy.’ (151).

‘Once men came into possession of their own disposable property, they could effect the full transition from the matrifamily to the one-father family…the new social order founded upon private property and the father family vanquished the matriarchy.’ (405-6).

‘Baal, the lord deity of the sacrificial era, now takes an earthly, patriarchal form as lord and master of livestock, of women and children, and other properties… a new posture is ordained for women… down on their knees in worship of their lords on earth and in the heavens.’ (428).

Smith, W. Robertson. Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia. Beacon, Boston. 1903.

On ‘dominion marriage’ — ‘Accordingly the husband in this kind of marriage is called, not in Arabia only, but also among the Hebrews and Aramaeans, the woman’s “lord” or “owner” (bag,

ba’al, be’e/) ….I propose to call it ba’al marriage or marriage of dominion, and to call the wife be-ulah or subject wife.’ (92-93).

Hoebel, E. Adamson. Man in the Primitive World. McGraw-Hill, London. 1949.

‘The word chattel, which means any object of personal ownership is derived from the Old French chatel… cattle has the same origin. Chatel has its ultimate etymology in the Latin caput, or head. Chatel in ancient France referred to the property of greatest value, head property. Cattle were so much the chief form of property among our pastoral ancestors that our specialised word for personal property grew from the same root.’ (342-43).

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The Miners’ Safety Lamp



Miners’ lamps in the Pitt Rivers Museum

In case 141.A in the Court are displayed three examples of miners’ safety lamps. One lamp (1932.88.1152) was collected by Henry Balfour and donated by him in 1932. This lamp is of the type invented by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1816 and is an example employing wire gauze to make a naked flame safe in a gaseous atmosphere. Another lamp is made of brass and has a glass safety surround with above it a metal gauze tube. Another example is a later safety lamp (post 1839) with linear wick possibly burning naphthalene (lighter fuel). The gauze does not go all the way to the top but ends in a gauze cap. The lamp is topped by a brass arch and hook for suspension. Situated in between these two is a later model (1930.22.2) that was once owned by Alfred Walter Francis. Fuller and donated in 1930, and is the French Marsaut type made after 1882. The lower part has a glass surround with an upper gauze chimney completely enclosed in a metal bonnet. Most miners’ safety lamps made after 1882 had gauzes protected by such bonnets. The miners’ safety lamp was first and foremost a methane detector. Moreover “…you can still buy one, because even today every pit deputy must carry one, despite the universal use of electricity for lighting collieries.” (Adams, 2005).

Mine explosions due to fire-damp

Towards the end of the 18th century explosions in coal mines increased because seams were being dug at deeper levels. The use of steam engines for hoisting and water pumping enabled colliery deepening in England. At deeper levels fire-damp (methane) was more prevalent. At this time all explosions were attributed to fire-damp because the explosive nature of coal dust clouds was not recognised. Most explosions occurred at the point of a                      SDDDDDXtallow candle flame. Developing ventilation technology, which meant the presence of large pumps and winding gear both below and above ground, pushed the danger of fire-damp explosion into the background. Consequently, in the early 1800’s many pitmen died in northern England due to large colliery explosions. Indeed “…major incidents alone accounted for 558 deaths in Northumberland and Durham between 1786 and 1815…” (Adams, 2005).

Fire-damp or methane (CH4) is carburetted hydrogen. The gas is lighter than air and usually colourless and odourless. Fire-damp derives from bacteriological decay of the vegetable matter cellulose. Fire-damp in mines is really trapped marsh gas produced by chemical processes completed many millions of years previously. Fire-damp is able to combine with twice its volume of oxygen and after explosion leaves one volume of carbon dioxide (CO2) and two of hydrogen. In order to become explosive fire-damp has to achieve critical mixtures. A mixture of 90.5% air and 9.5% fire-damp can cause a devastating explosion but a mixture of about 7 or 8% of fire-damp is easier to ignite. The range of explosive capability is approximately mixtures of 5 to 15%.

A devastating mine explosion will create havoc amongst the equipment situated below. Not only will the violence kill by blast and fire but wreck brattices (shaft partitions), destroy accumulated corves (baskets), tubs, rolleys (vehicles), ponies and horses. Moreover, the destruction of ventilation systems will lead to the asphyxiation of colliers by lethal after-damp resulting from combustion. This after-damp is a toxic gas mixture consisting of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Another lethal gas, black damp or choke damp (also known as stythe) is formed in mines when oxygen is removed from an enclosed atmosphere. This asphyxiant consists of argon, water vapour, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The term damp is believed derived from the German dampf or vapours and similar mining terms are white-damp (carbon monoxide) and stink- damp (hydrogen sulphide).

Initially an explosion is a violent out-rush of gas from the ignition source, but an inevitable and following in-rush (termed an after-blast by miners) fills the vacuum left by cooling gases and steam condensation. There are many causes of ignition of fire-damp in mine explosions. In the early days explosions resulted mainly from naked flame lamps and the accumulations of gas called blowers. Other reasons included the use of the early flint steel mill, defective safety lamps, flame from shot firing tunnel explosives, and sparks from faulty machinery, metal implements, and electrical equipment.

Historical background

The Felling mine explosion, on the 25th of May 1812, was one of the first major pit disasters in England, and claimed 92 lives. This was the first great explosion that provided reasonably accurate records. Felling colliery, situated between Gateshead and Jarrow in County Durham (now South Tyneside), was extended in 1810 with a new deeper seam — Low Main. The pit had two shafts in use — William Pit and John Pit.

The colliery was owned by John and William Brandling and their partners Grace and Henderson.

It was in the new seam that the engulfing explosion took place. An ignition of fire­damp triggered a coal dust explosion with devastating effect. The blast was heard up to 4 miles away and around the pit small coal, timber and wrecked corves (wagons or large baskets) rained down. Both headgears of the shafts were destroyed and a huge blanket of coal dust caused a dusk-like twilight in neighbouring Heworth where it descended like black snow. It took nearly seven weeks to remove the dead after putting out fires and waiting for the after-damp to disperse. Ninety-two men and boys lost their lives and the eventual funeral procession comprised ninety coffins when it finally reached the church. The aftermath of the tragedy was first effort to establish a properly co-ordinated movement of public opinion in favour of mine safety. This movement not only aroused scientific interest and endeavour in the cause of accident prevention. It also drew attention to the need for a flame lamp that would not ignite fire-damp, and to devise a means of lighting safe in a gaseous atmosphere.

A major protagonist in the campaign was one Reverend John Hodgeson (1779­1845), ministrant to the bereaved and he who buried their dead as incumbent of the parish of Jarrow and Heworth. Hodgeson was instrumental in establishing the accident prevention society which came to fruition in Sunderland on 1.10.1813. Sir Humphry Davy was enlisted by the Society in Sunderland to investigate the phenomenon of fire-damp. It was correspondence between Hodgeson and others that caused Davy to journey to Durham in 1815. Davy began work in August of that year on fire-damp dispatched from Hebburn Colliery in sealed wine bottles. Meanwhile, inspired by the Felling disaster “…an almost untutored genius at Killingworth Colliery on the north bank of the Tyne was trying independently to discover the means to produce a reliable lamp.” (Duckham, 1973). This was George Stephenson, a then unknown engineer, who was backed by a Nicholas wood, a Richard Lambert, and the Bramblings as owners of Felling Colliery.

Spedding devised the flint and steel mill in 1740 as the first serious attempt to provide pit lighting, but it proved to be of dubious safety as well as cumbersome and clumsy, requiring constant working by a boy. A famous medical member of the Society was a certain Dr William Reid Clanny (1776-1850) who himself since late 1811 had been attempting to devise a safety lamp. His efforts eventually had him awarded gold and silver medals by the Society of Arts. William Martin (1772-1851) also invented a safety lamp, accepted by pitmen but not by the mine-owners and it was suppressed. Martin, who lectured on Davy’s “murder” lamp tested his lamp at Willington Colliery, near Wallsend 1n 1818 (Adams, 2005).

William Reid Clanny was an Irish inventor born in Bangor, County Down, in 1770, and who died in Sunderland (after practising as a physician for 45 years) in 1850. Clanny invented the Clanny Safety Lamp in 1813 and published his observations in 1816. This lamp was first used Herringham Mill pit where Clanny had experimented in person. Northern coal owners and other contemporaries noted the value of his lamp which was emphasised in his obituary in the Sunderland Herald. After his first “blast lamp” of 1813 he maintained his interest in lighting in gaseous environments and created six other lamps.

The last two are regarded as true Clanny lamps, between 1839 and 1842. The 1813 lamp, which was an oil lamp, was operated by a bellows with the flame isolated behind glass by water reservoirs. It was seen as clumsy and, as it went out in the presence of gas, of little practicality in a coal mine. On Clanny’s lamp Stephenson considered “…it as constructed upon a principle entirely different from mine, that of separating the external and internal hydrogen by means of water.” (Stephenson, 1817 a).

George Stephenson’s Geordie lamp

George Stephenson was born in Wylam (as was William Hedley the inventor of the locomotive “Puffing Billy”) nine miles west of Newcastle on 9.6.1781 and died 12.8.1848. He was the second son of Robert Stephenson, foreman of the Wylam Colliery pumping engine. Aged 14 he was an assistant fireman to his father at Dewley Colliery, then at Duke’s Winning Pit at Newburn. Aged 17 he was engineman at Water Row Pit west of Newburn and in 1801 began working at Dolly pit at Black Callerton Colliery as a “brakeman” (controlling pit winding gear). Married in 1802 he moved to Wilkington Quay east of Newcastle working as a brakeman. He moved again, as a brakeman, in 1804 to West Moor working at Killingworth Pit and the adjacent Mid Hill Winning Pit. The pumping engine at High Pit, Killingworth, had to be repaired by him in 1811. As a result he was elevated to an engine-wright for the surrounding collieries of Killingworth. Yet it was not until 1799 that he began, in his spare time, to learn to read and write.

After the Felling disaster Stephenson began, in 1813, experimenting with a safety lamp that could employ a naked flame without igniting an explosion. It was his conclusion that “… if a lamp could be made to contain the burnt air above the flame, and permit the firedamp to come in below in small quantity to be burnt as it came in, the burnt air would prevent the passing of the explosion upwards and the velocity of the current from below would also prevent its passing downwards.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1962). It was after 1811, to Stephenson’s credit, that he started to apply his inventive capacities to design a miners’ safety lamp. His design was one which used small tubes to allow the entry of air to support combustion and passage of gases.

This lamp design was arrived at by trial and error and the prototype was tested at Killingworth on 21.10.1815. An improved version was tested again on the 4.11.1815 and 30.11.1815, and shown to R. W. Brambling and a Mr Murray on the 24th of November, when he “…had just built his first locomotive at Killingworth Colliery.” (Adams, 2005). The test was at a fire-damp issuing fissure underground in Killingworth pit a month before Sir Humphry Davy presented his design to the Royal Society in London. Stephenson showed his successful safety lamp design to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society on 5.12.1815.

Stephenson’s lamp became known as the Geordie lamp. Unlike the Davy lamp it had no gauze but glass around the flame, gave a brighter light and was popular with miners. Glass breakage was a problem with the Geordie lamp but, with the invention of safety glass, this was later resolved. The Geordie lamp, unlike the Davy lamp, was employed exclusively in the north east pits. Stephenson was unaware that Sir Humphry Davy was working on the same problem. Sir Humphry applied scientific methods and analysis whereas Stephenson relied on practical empiricism and, lacking Davy’s laboratory facilities, worked in his own home and was obviously “…blessed with a fertile mind and considerable mechanical ingenuity.” (Barnard, 1936).


Sir Humphry Davy’s lamp

The Davy lamp of 1815 contained a candle, even though he is recognised as the inventor of the safer oil burning lamp, and some of the ideas of Canny and Stephenson. The Sunderland Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Mines charged Sir Humphry Davy with investigation of the problem of mine explosions. It was Davy who surmised that a flame cannot ignite fire-damp or mine-damp if contained with a wire mesh. He showed this using a 28 openings to the inch metal gauze. This mesh screen, using two concentric mesh tubes to increase safety, cooled combustion products so that flame heat was too low to ignite the gases outside the gauze. This gauze contraption functioned therefore as a flame arrestor. The fine mesh permitted methane to pass through but stopped the passage of the flame itself. The first trial was carried out at Hebburn Colliery on 9.1.1816.

Flammable gases were noted to burn with a blue tinge flame and when placed on the ground the flame went out due to accumulations of the asphyxiant gas (CO2) known as black-damp or choke-damp. Davy was performing experiments with fire-damp at the same time as others. In 1815 he realised that the holes of fine metal gauze acted the same as narrow tubes (viz Stephenson’s lamp), thus mine air passed through small orifices fed a flame that would not ignite the outside gas. Davy’s original experiments with fire-damp “…discovered its ‘lag’ on ignition.” (Barnard, 1936). Davy’s lamp [see 1932.88.1152] was eventually surrounded by metal mesh and thus differed from Stephenson’s lamp with its glass surround. Thus Davy wrote, in a communication of 1816 that his “… invention consists in covering or surrounding the flame of a lamp or candle by a wire sieve…”, and further that his object “…at present is only to point out their application to the use of the collier.” (Davy, 1816 b.)


The controversy over priority

Davy was in France and Italy 1813 to 1815 but on his return started experiments with lamps for colliery use. H. R. Clanny and the then unknown George Stephenson had already shown the idea of a safety lamp. In 1813 the Society for Preventing Accidents in Coal Mines was formed in Sunderland (TWAS 1589 cited Smith, J. 2001) and which was directed by Reverend John Hodgeson who invited Davy in 1815 to research fire-damp (Northumberland Record Office, cited in Smith. 2001).

George Stephenson was directly involved as a mining engineer and already experimenting with fire-damp and a safety lamp (Stephenson, 1817 a). In his own time Stephenson’s research led to “…the consequent formation of a Safety Lamp, which has been, and is still, used in that concern…” which his friends considered “…as precisely the same in principle with that subsequently presented to their notice by Sir Humphry Davy.” (Stephenson, 1817 b).

It was to Stephenson that we were “… indebted for the discovery of the Principle of Safety…” that hydrogen will not explode down narrow tubes and “…will hereafter recognise as the Stephenson Principle.” (Charnley, 1817). The Principle was pointed out to several persons long before Davy came into the County, and Stephenson’s lamp was in the hands of the manufacturer during Davy’s visit. (Stephenson, 1817 b.). Stephenson made “…three lamps, all perfectly safe: and by following precisely the same steps,  Sir Humphry Davy was enabled subsequently to construct one…” (Charnley, 1817). The Northumberland Record Office possesses 37 unpublished letters signed by Davy dated September 1815 to March 10th, 1818, and known as the Hodgeson Bequest. Within this context Davy made “…complete acknowledgement of the priority of Mr Stephenson’s claims”, and moreover “…acknowledges the same principle of safety which Mr Stephenson had previously established and proceeded with his experiments in the same way.” (Charnley, 1817).

Admitting that “…my habits, as a practical mechanic, make me afraid of publishing theories…” Stephenson avowed that the principle “…has been successfully applied in the construction of a lamp that may be carried with perfect safety into the most explosive atmosphere” (Stephenson, 1817 a). Davy’s response described the dispute as a “…indirect attack on my scientific fame, my honour, and veracity.” (Davy, cited in Smith, J. 2001). It seemed to many that “…the invention of a miners’ lamp, similar in design to Davy’s, with a measure of evidence to suggest priority, by a largely uneducated colliery engineer, stuck in Davy’s craw.” (Smith, J. 2001). Especially as Stephenson had previously announced to many associates the principles of his lamp and begun its manufacture (Newcastle Chronicle, 1815, November 2nd). Davy only announced the results of his fire-damp experiments on 19th October.

In 1816 Davy was awarded £2000 as a public testimonial for his lamp whereas Stephenson received a miserly 100 guineas. The following furore at such a snub resulted in a local subscription that raised £1000 from local dignitaries, colliery owners and managers. A Resolution of the Coal Trade, August 319% 1816, considered the award to Davy for his safety lamp, but an adjourned coal owners meeting, 11.10.1816, credited Davy with inventing the safety lamp. At this point Stephenson joined the fray with letters, with supporting correspondents, in the Newcastle Chronicle.

A supporter opined “Mr Geo Stephenson, of Killingworth Colliery, was the person who first discovered and applied the principle upon which lamps may be constructed.” (Brandling, 1816, Newcastle Chronicle, August 29th).

Davy among many derided Stephenson and poured scorn on his invention and the priority dispute became “…characterised by local patriotism on the one hand and academic sneers on the other…” (Duckham. 1973). The experience with Davy made Stephenson distrust theoretical and scientific experts based in London for the remainder of his life. Davy has been described as “…less than fair to the man who was to father Britain’s railways” (Duckham, 1973), especially for others as the evidence awards conclusively “…the priority to Stephenson in the invention of the miners lamp.” (Smith, 2001). In token of gratitude Davy was awarded £2000 at the same time as Stephenson was accused of stealing Davy’s idea, and it is regrettable that “…Davy regarded Stephenson as no more than a pirate…” (Knight, 1996). It is noteworthy that Davy received his award “…at a banquet presided over by his old friend John Lambton, afterwards Earl of Durham, who had been with him at Bristol under the care of Dr Beddoes.” (Hartley, 1971).

Stephenson was exonerated by a local enquiry committee, termed Stephensonians, who awarded him £1000 but this proved unacceptable to Davy’s supporters. They refused to recognise how an uneducated man had arrived at the solution he had. It was only in 1833 that Stephenson was given equal claim to priority by a House of Commons Committee.


The miners’ safety lamp was an “… icon of the industrial revolution every bit as powerful as Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ or the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale.” (Adams, 2005). The miners’ lamp, to whomever its invention may be credited “…should be regarded as a landmark in the history of civilisation.” (Barnard, 1936). With regard to his lamp Stephenson said it “…might be considered a want of candour were I not to take notice of the lamp constructed my Dr Clanny…” (Stephenson, 1817 b). Whereas it seems “…less than justice to Stephenson, that history seems to accept Davy’s right to priority, when the evidence suggests otherwise.” (Smith, 2001).

After the introduction of the Davy lamp there was an increase in mine explosions for a number of reasons. Firstly mine-owners delayed in installing gas extractors: secondly it encouraged re-opening dangerous pits, and working in methane rich seams was not curtailed. Also lamps were purchased by the miners, as well as the expensive candles from the company store, and not provided by the owners. Stephenson’s lamp became popular in the north east coalfields but Davy’s lamp was introduced elsewhere.

The priority controversy continues to reverberate to the present day as it has come to be recognised that “… Davy was not the inventor of the safety lamp…” and that “…his lamp was not really safe.” (Adams, 2005). Davy’s lamp was cheaper and thus preferred by the mine-owners. The attitude may mean the “…liberty of laissez-faire might imply the coal-owner was master in his own house; for the collier it merely secured his freedom to die violently by earth, fire or water.” (Duckham, 1973). Also Davy’s lamp, in wet conditions, deteriorated rapidly and rusting metal gauze made it even more unsafe.

Both the Davy Lamp and Stephenson’s lamp became “… unsafe in rapidly moving air-currents.” (Barnard, 1936). In effect — fire-damp explosions increased. Nonetheless the wire gauze of Davy’s lamp was eventually used in every subsequent safety lamp, with modifications, for nearly 200 years. It is noteworthy that Stephenson later adopted the principle of Davy’s gauze instead of tubes — it is this revised design that became known in the 19th century as the “Geordie Lamp”.

Regardless of who first invented the ‘first’ safety flame lamp for mines there is an important point to note. Its success was the culmination of principles discovered by three men — William R. Clanny, George Stephenson, and Sir Humphry Davy. Neither Davy or Stephenson patented their lamp designs. All three inventors worked independently, all around the same time, and each had some knowledge at least of each others work. It was Clanny who separated the flame from the firedamp atmosphere of the mine. It was Davy who first enclosed the flame in wire gauze. It was Stephenson who first left a space above the flame for burnt air. And indeed the lamps of the three were all eventually fitted with wire gauze. The lamps were thus the fruits of work representing an “…untypical conjuncture of requirements of growing industrialism and the resources of scientific enquiry.” (Duckham, 1973). The modified lamps have remained an integral part of the mining industry up to and beyond the demise of most of the coal industry after the colliery closures following the miners strike of 1984.

References and sources consulted

Adams, Max. Humphry Davy and the Murder Lamp: Max Adams Investigates the truth behind the Introduction of a Key Invention of the Early Industrial Revolution. History Today, Vol 55, August 2005. Bod Camera, S.Hist. Per 12.

Barnard, T. R.. Miners’ Safety Lamps. Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd, London, 1936. RSL: 186415.e.34

Brandling, 1816. Newcastle Chronicle, August 29th.

Charnley, E.. A Collection of all the Letters which have appeared in the Newcastle Papers, with other documents, relating to the Safety lamps. By S. Hodgeson, Newcastle, 1817. Bod 247828.e.4.

Clanny, William Reid. Practical observations on safety lamps for coal mines. Garbutt, G. Sunderland, 1816.

Davies, H. George Stephenson. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1975.

Davy, Humphry. (a) On the Fire-Damp of Coal Mines and on Methods of Lighting the Mines So as to Prevent Its Explosion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol 106, 1816, 1-22

Davy, Humphry. (b) An Account of an Invention for Giving light in Explosive Mixtures of Fire-Damp in Coal Mines, by Consuming the Fire-Damp. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol 106, 1816, 23-24.

Davy, Humphry. (c) Philosophical Magazine. 47 (212). 1816

Davy, Humphry. On the safety lamp for preventing explosions in mines… Hunter, R. London, 1825.

Dictionary of National Biography.

Duckham, H. & B. Great Pit Disasters: Great Britain 1700 to the Present day. David & Charles, 1973. Bod Stack 1795.e.569.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, London, 1962. Vol 19 (809d). Hartley, Sir H. Humphry Davy. S.R. Publishers Ltd, 1971.

Hendrick, D.J. & Sizer, K. E. “Breathing” coal mines and surface asphyxiation from stythe (blackdamp). BMJ. 305, August 29, 1992.

Knight, D. Humphry Davy. Cambridge U P, 1996.

Lawrence, C. The Power and the Glory: Humphry Davy and Romanticism. In Cunningham, A & Jardine, N. Romanticism and the Sciences. CUP, 1990.

Newcastle. Report upon the claims of Mr. George Stephenson, relative to the invention of his safety lamp. Constable and Co. Edinburgh, 1817.

Newcastle Chronicle, 2.11.1815. Newcastle Courant, 26.10.1815

North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. See:  Northumberland Record Office. ZAN/M.14/A.1.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004. Smith, Alan. Newcomen Bulletin. September 1998 (cited in Smith, J. 2001).

Smith, Jeffrey. George Stephenson and the Miner’s Lamp Controversy. North East History, 34, 2001. Bod Stack P.F.04009

Stephenson, G. (a) A Description of the Safety Lamp, invented by George Stephenson, and now in use in Killingworth Colliery. 2nd Edition. Constable and Co, Edinburgh, 1817. Bod 247828.e.4

Stephenson, G. (b) Philosophical Magazine. March, 1817.

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Eric W Edwards. Balfour Library Assistant. July 2009.

3620 words excluding reference

Chronology of the Stephenson and Davy Lamps

Sept 1815.                         Stephenson publishes principle of lamp.

15.10.1815                        Davy receives fire-damp

19.10.1815                        Davy realises explosion will not pass through small tubes

21.10.1815                        Stephenson tests his tube lamp in Killingworth Colliery

25.10.1815                        Davy announces discovery to Chemical Society, London

30.10.1815                        Davy describes his principle on tubes in lamps

4.11.1815                          Stephenson tests improved lamp in Killingworth Colliery

9.11.1815                          Davy announces Tube Lamp to Royal Society, London.

Report in Newcastle Chronicle, 23.12.1815.

24.11.1815                        Stephenson orders double perforated plate lamp.

Lamp shown to Mr Brambling and Mr Murray.

30.11.1815                        Stephenson tries modified lamp in Killingworth Colliery

5.12.1815                            Stephenson shows his successful lamp to the Newcastle

Literary and Philosophical Society

23.12.1815                        Davy announces principle of gauze lamp.

Date of Newcastle Chronicle report of Davy’s gauze lamp.

9.1.1816                               First trial of Davy’s gauze lamp at Hebburn Colliery.

9.11.1816                         Davy writes in Newcastle that double gauze in preferable.

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Irish Chronicles

The Book of Leinster or Lebor Lainech or Leabhar Laighneach.  A 12th century medieval Irish manuscript of circa 1160. Formery known as Lebor na Nuachongbala – the Book of Nuachongbail.  It comprises early Leinster histories and poetry.

The second best source of Irish myth and legend after the Book of the Dun Cow.  Its monastic site = Oughaval. Date and provenance – composite work – principal compiler and scribe = Aed Ua Crimthainn. Abbot of the monastery of Tir-Da-Glas on Shannon.


Manuscript – produced by Aed + pupils – long period of time between 1151 and 1224. Written between 1151 and 1201. Probably complete by 1160’s. The Dinsenchas = lore and history of places – some is 11th century.

Manuscript may have been commissioned by Diamait Mac Murchada – died qq71 – the king of Leinster. Stronghold or dun = Dun Masc, near Oughal = An Nuachongbail.  History – whereabouts in 13th century unknown. In 14th century it came to light at Oughval. It may have been kept in the vicarage in between.

The Book of Leinster owes its present name to John O’Donavan, died 1861.  Commonly accepted manuscript originally known as the Lebor na Nuachongbala = the Book of Noghoval. Now Oughaval in County Laois.

Manuscript = 187 leaves. As many as 45 leaves lost.  Wide-ranging compilation = medieval Irish literature, sagas, and mythology. Therefore = Tain Bo Cuailnge – 8th century version of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Also contains – Lebor Gabala Erenn – the Book of Invasions + Deirdre story + the grim tale of Boroama.

In addition – contains – metrical Dindshenshas + De excidio Troiae Historia. Plus the Martydom of Tallaght, the Exile of the sons of Usnech, Melodies of Buchet’s House, and the Destruction of Dinn Ris.

The Book of Ballymote = Leabhar Bhaile an Mhota.  Named – parish of Ballymote, County Sligo.  Compiled circa 1390 to 1391 in Sligo town.

Therefore = late 14th century manuscript of West of Ireland.  Contains mainly historical materials produced by the scribes Aolam O Droma + Robertus Mac Sithigh + Tonnalttagh McDonah.

Manuscript purchased  1522 by Aed Og O’Donnell, prince of Tir Conaill.  In 162 – given to Trinity College, Dublin.  In 1875 – returned to Royal Irish Academy.


Contains one version of the Birth of Cormac + adventures of the Sons of Eochu Muigmedon.  Contains motif of – loathly hag transformed to a beautiful woman by the kiss of the young Niall.  Contains the key to the Ogham alphabet + Irish version of the Aenid.

Leabhar Gabhala –  a narrative recounting the invasions of Ireland.  The work – presented as historical fact = based on myth and legend. Material is a source of Irish mythology.

The Book of Fermoy = A mid-15th century manuscript housed in the Royal Irish Academy.  Includes the text of Alcrom Tige Da Medar.  Fermoy – small town in north-east County Cork, 16 miles east of Mallow.

The Book of Lecan = sometimes called the Great book of Lecan. Distinguished from earlier Yellow Book of Lecan – by the same family of scribes in the same location.  This was thus – Leabhar Mor Mhic Fhir Bhisigh Leacain.

Compiled – circa 1400.  Manuscript = 600 pages contain genealogical material.  Also – a Book of Rights.  Lecan is a ruined former castle in the west of County Sligo – 2 miles north of Inishcrone.

The Book of Ui Maine = in Irish the Leabhar Ui Maine or Book of Hy Many. The manuscript includes portions of the Lebor Gabala or Book of Invasions. Also – genealogies, poetry, and family pedigrees.

A small early 14th or 15th codex.  Long possessed by descendants pf the Ui Maine sept that in medieval times much of County Galway + some of Roscommon.

Book of Armagh = the Liber Ardmachanus.  Includes both Irish and Latin materials.  Begun around 807 AD by Feardomnach in Armagh = the seat of the primate of Ireland.

Irish passages amongst earliest possessed.  Many Latin passages deal with the life of St. Patrick. An 11th century insertion is about Brian Borama (Boru) describing him as the Emperor of the Irish. Manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin.

The Book of the Dun Cow = Lebor na hUidre.  Irish vellum manuscript of 12th century AD.  Oldest extant manuscript in Irish. Badly damaged.  Held in Royal Irish Academy.


Book of the Dun Cow.

Only 67 leaves remain. Many texts incomplete. Made from the hide of a dun cow by Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Compiled before 1106 AD.

Contains the Mythological Cycle + the Ulster Cycle + the Voyage of Maelduin.  Included is the Tain Bo Cualilnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley. = the oldest epic in ancient European  sagas.

Disappeared at Cromwellian conquest and reappeared in 1837 – in a bookshop.

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