Jewellery & Watch News
It’s been a while since Whitby Jet was mined. We’re talking around the late 19th century when mining of the rare gemstone was abandoned largely due to how dangerous it was. Although the mining of Jet is an interesting tale and an important part of our beloved gemstone’s history, it is no longer required today with all Jet found naturally on the stretch of coastline. Let’s look in more detail at how Whitby Jet was mined centuries ago.
Mining in the Victorian Era
During the Victorian era when Jet was in extreme demand, there were about 300 mines that have either collapsed or are unsafe to enter. Health and safety was non existent during this period in history and therefore, as you can imagine the mines were extremely hazardous putting those who dare to enter at risk. These mines were not propped, which is common practice in the industry, they relied solely on the Top Jet Dogger - a limestone strata that is a little harder then Jet - to provide support.
Excavations were mostly taking place inland within the North Yorkshire Moors. For those who know the area well will recognise the locations of Bilsdale and Osmotherly understanding how far they extended their search to keep up with the demand of the Victorian fashion trend. At the industries height in 1873, there were roughly 1500 men working in the 200 workshops that populated Whitby during this time. This gives you an idea of how much Jet was needed and despite their efforts to mine the highest quality Jet available they did turn to importing copycats from France or Spain, which caused people to question the authenticity of the gemstone.
The Mining Process
It all began in approximately 1840 along the coast between Ravenscar and Boulby. Mines were sited at the beautiful Esk Valley as well as the magnificent Cleveland Hills reaching as far as Osmotherly. The North Yorkshire Moors area was heavily involved in the Jet mining industry where small groups of men would make drifts (tunnels) into the hillside by just using a handpick - explosives were mostly avoided as the risk of damaging the Jet was too high. These tunnels were approximately 1.8m high by 1m wide, which gives an idea of the size and conditions. The soft shale was wheelbarrowed out of the mine and sorted through to find any Jet amongst the sedimentary rock. Eventually, the drift would become too difficult to dig so the men would collapse the roof, which became the perfect platform to continue digging until the Top Jet Dogger was reached. This was no easy task especially when the work was carried out by candlelight with no ventilation. Large spoil heaps are found throughout the North Yorkshire Moors as reminders of the mining days.
Sourcing Whitby Jet Today
The safer and legal way to source Whitby Jet is to find it on the the shore from natural erosion. This is how Jet retailers (us included) acquire the British gemstone to hand carve exquisite pieces of jewellery. Beachcombing is a much more sustainable, responsible way to source Jet than the Victorian methods protecting the coastline and Jet hunters - more on that here.