Coal - the rock that fueled a nation

As winter approaches, we get closer to that archetypal British tradition of relaxing in front of a fire during the dark and often dreary winter months.

When you take your first coal delivery of the winter, consider that 300 years ago, the dusty black, carbon-based, sedimentary rock you will use to warm your home played a vital role in allowing the United Kingdom to become one of the world's most rapidly evolving nations.

British coal production had reached 16 million tonnes by the Napoleonic War in 1815, and the reason was down to its versatility. Town gas, homes, electricity, railways, factories and the steel industry all relied on coal - the UK had become a nation powered by it.

The powerhouse regions of the thriving industry were concentrated in Scotland, the North East, Yorkshire, Lancashire, as well as North and South Wales. The industry sparked not only a huge upsurge in jobs, but also in the populations of previously medium-sized towns. Newcastle, for example, was home to 34,000 people in 1801. By 1901 the population had shot up to 234,000 - a complete transformation. In addition to coal's boost to the local economy, ship building also had a massive part to play in Newcastle's growth, along with other heavy engineering.

In the first half of the 20th Century, the UK was plunged into two world wars, and coal played a crucial role as an energy source which supported the Allies' eventually successful efforts.

Over the last 50 years, while coal has seen its competition grow as an energy option, it is still the most traditional and treasured method of preparing a log fire or having a barbecue, and remains the backbone of important industries in countries such as Russia, the USA, China, India and Japan. According to the World Coal Association, those countries account for 76% of global coal use.

 

So here's to many more nights wrapped up in front of a coal fire, or outside enjoying the unmistakable aromas of meat on the grill. And let's not forget the history behind the humble black rock.