Saturday, 5 September 2020

Voices in the Coalshed


Voices in the Coalshed



“The best thing since sliced bread”, so the saying goes. 1928 that was invented. 113 years earlier a thin slice of gauze wrapped around a flame saved thousands of lives. Humphry Davy’s miners’ safety lamp was the best thing as far as colliers were concerned.

To mark “Light in the Darkness”, the Davy exhibition in the Technology Gallery at the National Coal Mining Museum, “Voices in the Coalshed” invites you to nominate what you think is the best invention… “…since sliced bread”.

Simply say,

I think the best invention ever is…………………, because………………..

Send your idea to:

Suggestions will be post on and then become exhibits the virtual museum.


Dave Alton

Writer in Residence

National Coal Mining Museum of England


The Invention of Light


Candles! Count them on your birthday cake, then

Blow! Make a wish first, of course. Power cut,

Light a candle, the teardrop of flame makes

The shadows dance, a warm glow of past times

Until reconnection with the present.

Scented candles received as gifts, then wrapped

In coloured tissue they’re given again

As gifts.

Candles! Just the one and it stinks,

Just a stub of putrid animal fat

With a weak flickering flame that flutters

And gutters when the trapper hauls open

His trap for hurriers to hurry through.

Weak, but yet too strong when the mine’s bad breath,

The methane, the feared fire damp, concentrates.

Then blows!

Make a wish it isn’t so, of course.

Far, far better though to not wish but do,

Tame the flame, stop it becoming angry

With a wrap of gauze, simple, yet profound.

How many thousands of lives screened from death

By a plan with so many holes in it?

Light the lamp, labour in its yellow glow,

Know to go when it sputters and turns blue.

Davy or Stephenson? Stepping from darkness,

Colliers couldn’t care who invented the light.


                   Dave Alton


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