Coal Mining the Old-Fashioned Way
Much coal today is extracted in gaping open pit mines where gargantuan equipment—largely unmanned and automated—claws away at coal seams 24 hours a day, dumping tons of rock onto conveyors that snake for miles through these labyrinthine complexes. Processing facilities—also largely automated—separate, wash and crush the coal into the form needed for power plants, steel mills or other facilities. Such industrial mining tears apart landscapes, poisons water and pollutes the air, while employing fewer and fewer people as machines become more advanced and efficient.
But in a corner of southwest England, a community of miners is sticking to the old ways and hacking coal out of seams deep underground much as people did more than a century ago. While the mining style mirrors the Victorian age, however, the labor practices do not. Unlike the exploitative arrangements of the 19th century, when rich landowners reaped huge profits at the expense of workers' health and lives, the “Free Miners” of the Forest of Dean near Bristol are independent miners working for themselves.