Silverwood Logo by John Doxey background photo Mick Carver1900 - 1994

Dedicated to the Miners of Silverwood

History of the Mine


Silverwood Mine

Hollings Lane


South Yorkshire England

Webmaster John Doxey

Main Photos Jonathan Dabs.





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By John Doxey



Photo courtesy and copyright Stuart Tomlins

The Silverwood canaries photo courtesy and copyright Stuart Tomlins


Canaries where one of the first safety features used in mining and where introduced into mines in 1911 though I believe that canaries were used unofficially prior to 1911. Two canaries became the standard in each mine. With a fragile breathing system and metabolism  the birds would show instant signs of gas present  within a mine, gas at a low level which would be undetected by anyone working underground, the birds distress was an instant warning to the miners to leave the area. Carbon Monoxide in particular has no smell, no taste, and lacks colour hence the need for the birds.  


Gasses found in mines were:-

Carbon dioxide [CO2] also named Choke damp or black damp

Carburetted hydrogen [CH] also named Fire damp or marsh gas.
Sulphuretted hydrogen [SH2]
Carbon monoxide [CO] also named white damp.


 Often the birds would be seen swaying on their perch before falling to the cage bottom, also it would be noticed that they were no longer chirping. If the miners failed to notice the plight of the canaries then the birds would soon die, and the miners would be working in an extremely dangerous atmosphere.


Though mice were considered for the job they were not quite as delicate as the birds and had a slower less noticeable reaction to the gasses below ground.


In the bad old days once gas was detected the fireman would be brought in. Now playing Russian roulette and being a Kamikaze pilot would be the bottom of anyone's  list of a favourite pastime or occupation, and yet the fireman's job back then had a close affinity to the above. He would enter the mine with a lighted candle on the end of a pole, or a flaming torch and without any knowledge of how much gas was present he would ignite the gas. Needless to say quite a lot of them lost their lives, or received horrifying burns.

Often canaries would be taken underground by mine rescue teams in the event of an accident to determine the presence of gas, ensuring that rescue work could be carried out more safely. Dave Vicars tells me " The only thing I can remember about the canaries at Silverwood is the mines rescue had them they used to bring them down the mine in a special cage so that if they keeled over through exposure to gas they could isolate them and give them oxygen. When I was at the pit the Mines Rescue were the only ones that used them."
These feathered workmates of miners were very popular with the men and brought some colour and entertainment to the otherwise gloomy environment in which they worked.


By 1986 there was approximately 200 canaries employed within the British mining industry and this was the year the birds  were made redundant in Britain, to be replaced by electronic detectors over the following year. These detectors of course were said to be more economic than the birds and claimed to be more efficient in the detection of the various gasses below ground. I personally would hope that these detectors are more dependable than any of the electronic equipment I buy! A hand held digital mini computer with a screen, with my luck with gadgets, I would get the dud one!

However the memory of canaries in a mine will live on as there is now an expression used by businesses and everyday people:-

"Canary in a Mine"

When a business is introducing a new product on the market they will sometimes set up a " Canary in a mine company" If the small company survived and made reasonable profit on the new product then  a larger outlet would be implemented.

Likewise someone who appears very chirpy and acting if they don't have a care, when in actual fact their future is insecure are referred to as "Living like a canary in a mine"


If anyone has any memories of the Silverwood canaries please send them in.


Text and formatting John Doxey




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