British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access



Series Name
Mining Review 16th Year


Issue No.
Date Released
Sep 1962
Stories in this Issue:
  4. 4(Untitled record)


Story No. within this Issue
3 / 4
BFI synopsis: John Slater visits a Coal Preparation Plant at Bates, Blyth, Northumberland, and explains the various processes involved in coal ‘washing’.
NCB Commentary - John Slater: ... Science of coal preparation and Britain’s washeries some of the most up to date in the world were on show to the people of many nations.
(The lights come to full brilliance)
Voice off: Cut!
Slater looks enquiringly towards the voice - thumb raised.
Voice off: Okay, John.
John Slater: Well, that’s another commentary for Mining Review in the bag! It’s my voice you’ve been hearing for just about fifteen years, and when you’ve been at a job like this for that length of time, people ask you questions - questions about coal. That’s fair enough, but one subject keeps cropping up; people are surprised to know that coal is "washed" - after all, it still makes your hands dirty. But "washery" is a bit of a mis-nomer. Really, the washery is a coal preparation plant where the muck and stone is taken out and the coal is graded into sizes.
Once, and it still is in places, it used to be done like this - by hand. Nellie, there, has a quick eye for a chunk of slate. But, of course, it needed an awful lot of Nellies.
W. Heath Robinson saw it this way.
Washing day for him was rather like Monday at home before washing machines were popular.
Now it’s a lot more scientific. First the coal is screened to get the small stuff out. That’s treated separately and the rest of it goes through a series of baths containing liquids with different specific gravities, that’s where the name washery comes in.
Let me explain - the labs. the place for that. That’s the coal. You know how it’s easier to float in the sea than it is in the baths. It’s because the salt in sea-water makes it thicker and helps to hold you up. That’s stone he’s mixing in. It’s heavier than coal so, with the right thickness of liquid, you can make the good float and the bad sink.
That’s the simple principle which Mr. Miles, the Plant Manager at Bates Colliery, showed me working in practice. With the paddles stopped, we picked the floating coal from the surface. The noise is terrific - you have to shout to be heard.
That’s the good floating coal being scooped off.
All over a prep. plant there are scenes like this. Here, like me, they are washing off the solution used in the baths. It will go back in for nothing is ever wasted in a washery. Even the sort of coal you and I call dust. This is the size power stations and many large industries like it.
Finally, the coal is sorted into exact sizes. The washery’s job is to see that everybody can get the sort of coal they want - the sort that burns best in any particular stove or fire.
Every effort is made to avoid breaking the carefully sized coal. Movable conveyors lower it gently into the wagons, but coal is brittle stuff and even shooting it into your bunkers doesn’t help.
But, by and large, (or should it be small and large), you get it the size and grade you order, or should do if the man you buy it from knows his stuff.
This coal preparation business is terribly important to the industry and to the consumer - so important that every four years there’s an International Conference about it. This year, we were the hosts - over seven hundred delegates from twenty different countries came to Harrogate, to the Royal Hall. Of course, simultaneous interpretation of the technical papers is quite an undertaking, and the sound engineers were working hard to get everything ready for the opening day.
Sound proof booths had been set up for the different interpreters and all the equipment was being checked.
A new system was being used - the heart of it was a large number of individual head phone sets, which could be tuned to any of three languages.
An inductive aerial to carry the signals was laid around the hall.
Everything was working when the opening day of the Conference arrived. Soon, Harrogate and its Royal Hall would resound to the languages of many nations.
Visits had been arranged to several of our preparation plants. There was also an exhibition of the latest equipment.
Lord Robens, Chairman of the National Coal Board, was to open the first session.
His speech of welcome underlined the importance of coal preparation.
The, the conference began its real work with speakers from many nations making their contribution.
Whatever their native tongue, the technicians were able to discuss freely the latest trends and developments in the science of coal preparation and Britain’s washeries, some of the most up-to-date in the world, were on show to the people of many nations.
Researcher Comments
Commentary recorded at Kays Carlton Hill on 30th July 1962.
Industry and manufacture; Mining; Fuels
England; Northumberland; Blyth
Written sources
British Film Institute Databases   Used for synopsis
Film User   Vol.16 No.193 November 1962, p595.
The National Archives COAL 32   /13 Scripts for Mining Review, 1960-1963
Production Co.
Documentary Technicians Alliance
John Slater
National Coal Board

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