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Because of the fact that in the salt mines of the Kraków region, i.e. salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia, salt lies deep underground, it was excavated through shafts by using the right tools, like devices with a horizontal drive shaft (windlass), handwheels, treadwheels (internal and external), devices with a vertical drive shaft (cross, water-mill), devices with a vertical-horizontal drive shaft (gear mill with a winding reel, gear mill with two winding reels, gear mill with a brake drum) and braking devices.

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Because of the fact that in the salt mines of the Kraków region, i.e. salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia, salt lies deep underground, it was excavated through shafts by using the right tools, like devices with a horizontal drive shaft (windlass), handwheels, treadwheels (internal and external), devices with a vertical drive shaft (cross, water-mill), devices with a vertical-horizontal drive shaft (gear mill with a winding reel, gear mill with two winding reels, gear mill with a brake drum) and braking devices.
The said horse mill, the so-called Polish horse mill, with a horizontal windlass, is a faithful copy of the oldest and largest of all the machines in the museum of Wieliczka – the horse-drawn transporting machine. Such devices had been installed over the shafts of the mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia since the mid-15th century. From the 17th century, they had been installed underground, too. They were used in the salt mines of the Kraków region until the 2nd half of the 19th century; however, they were then gradually replaced by more efficient horse mills from Saxony and Hungary.
The presented machine was assembled in 1957 from the parts found near the shafts of Franciszek and Ludowika at the first level and served for the preparation of the model. The missing elements were reconstructed on the basis of iconography. The dimensions of the machine are quite large: length = 16.4 m, width = 11.5 m, height = 8.8 m, and it is constructed from two units linked by means of a wooden gear unit with teeth and staves. The first unit consists of a vertical drive shaft, a gear and four arms. The second one comprises a horizontal drive shaft, a cable drum and a stave wheel. The machine could be blocked by means of a single shoe brake.
Driven by four pairs of horses, the mill could lift loads weighing up to 2 tonnes from a depth not greater than 80 m. The approximate daily performance was 80 tonnes.

Details of the operation of the Polish horse mill:
The driving mechanism consists of two main elements: the driving unit and the pulling unit.
The driving unit is the wooden gear placed on two crossed beams fixed to the vertical drive shaft, which moves within two wooden beds. The lower bed is mounted below the floor (2,940 mm) and fixed with thick beams (400 mm), whereas the upper one is made of beams mounted in the ceiling. The shaft’s ends are toughened by iron rims.
The pulling unit is the horizontal drive shaft with a stave wheel embedded inline on it and a cable drum. The rotational motion coming from the driving unit (turned by horses) is transferred to the pulling unit by means of a gear. The horizontal drive shaft is mounted on two beds. The bed that is closer to the vertical drive shaft is mounted on beams placed in a sidewall, toughened by metal rims, and additionally hung on the line fixed to the ceiling. The drive shaft’s end is toughened with metal rims. The active part of the shaft is additionally strengthened with thick planks with a length of 3,000 mm, width of 120 mm, and a diameter of 1,000 mm. The active part with the rope is located directly over the hole of the mine shaft. The drive shaft’s other end is embedded on the vertical framing beam structure (as beams embedded in the floor), whose height is 3,600 mm.
Precise sizes: diameter of the wheel for fastening T-bars, 10,100 mm; vertical drive shaft’s section, 450 mm; height of the lower bed, 400 mm; vertical wheel diameter, 5,330 mm; width, 910 mm; drive shaft’s length, 8,250 mm; section, 520 mm.

Elaborated by Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, © all rights reserved

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“A two-bit thing made of salt tops a crappy sack of gold” – a few words about miners

In the Middle Ages and modern times, mines were very profitable. Cities were springing up around them all over Europe. This was no different in the Kingdom of Poland, where “Wieliczka grew into a city from a vile hovel” (a quote from Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warsaw 1901, p. 522). In Poland, mines, or as they were formerly called żupy or gory were concentrated in the south of the country. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka and Bochnia, and in Olkusz, Chęciny, Sławków, Trzebinia, Jaworzno and Miedziana Góra metal ores – lead, silver and copper.

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In the Middle Ages and modern times, mines were very profitable. Cities were springing up around them all over Europe. This was no different in the Kingdom of Poland, where “Wieliczka grew into a city from a vile hovel” (a quote from Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warsaw 1901, p. 522). In Poland, mines, or as they were formerly called żupy or gory were concentrated in the south of the country. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka and Bochnia, and in Olkusz, Chęciny, Sławków, Trzebinia, Jaworzno and Miedziana Góra metal ores – lead, silver and copper.

Mining trolley, 19th century, Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, public domain.

Where there were mines, there were also miners, otherwise known as diggers. As early as in the Middle Ages, they performed the hardest and most dangerous work, which is why it is not surprising that there were slaves and convicts working on many excavation sites. Sometimes they did not even have the right to be buried in the same cemetery as free people.

Criminals sometimes volunteered to work in mines in order to avoid justice. People who preferred to serve in the army or toil away on a ship rather than to meet the master headsman were driven by a similar motivation. Miners from the Lesser Poland province were no saints either, as we know from the written accounts of the transgressions committed by diggers from Bochnia and Wieliczka. On the 10th of November 1593, a certain Stanisław, “a miner from Bochnie” (the original spelling) who belonged to a gang of bandits led by harnaś Paweł Swastak from Sobolów stood in front of a court in Sanok. Stanisław was caught together with several companions during the robbery of a synagogue in Rymanów. It is also known that in 1664 the city guard of Kazimierz had to defend the city against a group of over 100 armed miners who wanted to rob rich Jewish stalls and shops.

However, it was not the rule that the miners had an unenviable position and low social status. They mostly enjoyed personal freedom and their profession was treated with respect. Until the 20th century, even wealthy peasants, for whom a miner’s salary was only an addition to the basic income from their farms, worked at the mine in Wieliczka. They often did so to keep the tradition of practising a prestigious profession in the family. The respect for work underground is also confirmed in a proverb from Wieliczka: “A two-bit thing made of salt tops a crappy sack of gold”. The sense of self-esteem and being different from people doing "ordinary" work on the surface resulted in the creation of a peculiar mining culture which – although regionally diverse – was similar throughout the whole of Europe.

Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, 1534, Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, public domain.

In the Middle Ages mine administrators and diggers of precious ores as well as ordinary diggers, was a multinational environment, similar to city merchants and craftsmen. Germans and inhabitants of other Central European countries were attracted to Wieliczka as early as the 13th century. In the second half of the 14th century, they were joined by less numerous groups of Italians and French. Encompassing many different ethnicities, the profession of miners was similar to the urban environment of merchants and craftsmen. Fraternities of miners, similar to guilds, were established in Bochnia and Wieliczka as early as in the 13th and 14th centuries. A memorial of the greatness of the mining profession in the 16th century is the Horn of the Brotherhood of Diggers from Wieliczka presented on the website, carried on a chain by the fraternity’s elder during major holidays, like in the case of the silver fowler of the Krakow Fowler Brotherhood.

Miners also founded religious fraternities. They had their patrons, to whom they prayed in underground chapels, often decorated with statues and altars made by the miners themselves. Amateur sculpture was something that many diggers dabbled in. In the past, it was an activity particularly popular among disabled miners. The salt sculptures in Wieliczka are the most famous in Poland. Two of them can be seen in three dimensions on the website of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

St. Dorothy, St. Vitus, St. Procopius of Sázava, St. Clement, St. Anthony, St. Barbara and St. Anna enjoyed special religious significance in European mining centres. The choice of patrons was not accidental. For example, St. Antoni, who is the guardian of the missing, was to offer assistance when a miner got lost in the tangle of passages, and St. Clement, as the patron of drowners, was helpful in the event of mine flooding.

Painting “St. Kinga praying in the mountains” by Jan Matejko, 1892, public domain.

The most popular patron of miners was, and remains, St. Barbara – the guardian of hard work and a good death. The current liturgical memorial of St. Barbara, known in Poland as Barbórka, is the most important holiday in the calendar of mine employees. On this day, various traditional rituals are celebrated, such as the awarding of skewers to deserving employees and jumping over leather – a leather apron, also known as a backsider because it was used for the protection of miners’ buttocks while descending to an adit or resting on damp rocks. Miners also have songs traditional to their profession and even dances, like the famous sword dance performed among others by miners from Sankt Martin in Lower Austria. In Wieliczka and Bochnia, a special cult was enjoyed by  St. Kinga, with whom many legends are associated.

On the occasion of holidays such as Barbórka, miners wear a formal uniform. Diggers wore a distinctive outfit as far back as the Middle Ages – simple kaftans with a hood and mining leather garments which, at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, became part of the festive outfit of mining elites – although it was not a genuine uniform. The first uniforms appeared in the 17th century in Saxony, and in 1719 a real mining fashion show took place. More than a thousand miners appeared in festive uniforms on the occasion of the wedding of Frederick Augustus, the future Polish king Augustus III. In Bochnia and Wieliczka, the first uniforms were introduced by Austrians, a year after the first Partition of Poland. In the nineteenth century, wearing a uniform became common in most mines, and on the territory of the Austrian Partition, the final legal regulation regarding its appearance took place in 1850.

The uniforms from Wieliczka and Bochnia have not changed much since the partitions and in the 20th century, they became a model for mining uniforms for the whole of Poland. After the World War II, a women’s uniform was also introduced. Nevertheless, it was only in 2008 that Poland terminated the convention banning women from working underground. However, there is still a lack of relevant provisions which would fully regulate this issue.

Traditional mining sword dance, Sankt Martin (Lower Austria), photo by John Asher, CC BY-SA 3.0, source: Wikimedia Commons.

Górnicy jako ludzie wolni mieli też prawo noszenia broni, która do dzisiaj jest elementem uroczystego munduru pracowników kopalń. Na portalu prezentujemy pochodzącą z Saksonii bartę, czyli topór górniczy (niem. Bergbarten), oraz paradną szablę. Wysocy rangą górnicy wieliccy, jak wszyscy urzędnicy w monarchii habsburskiej, mieli prawo noszenia tego rodzaju broni do munduru galowego. Na Górnym Śląsku, który od XVIII wieku należał do Prus, tradycyjnie do uniformu noszona jest szpada.

Oprócz świątecznych zwyczajów i strojów, górników wyróżnia też zawodowy żargon, który nie ogranicza się tylko do sfery języka mówionego. W wielu kopalniach górnicy pracujący w hałasie wypracowali system porozumiewania się za pomocą gestów, a nawet sposób nadawania wiadomości poprzez stukanie w rurociągi. Metalowe rury przenoszą „zaszyfrowane” informacje na duże odległości.

Dziś wiele pamiątek dawnego górnictwa można zobaczyć na wystawie stałej Muzeum Żup Krakowskich w Wieliczce, a część z nich warto obejrzeć na portalu Wirtualne Muzea Małopolski.

Elaborated by: Adam Spodaryk (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License..

Bibliography:

  1. Brückner Aleksander, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 2, Warszawa 1939, columns 378–382.
  2. Burke Peter, Kultura ludowa we wczesnonowożytnej Europie, Warszawa 2009.
  3. Gloger Zygmunt, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 2, Warszawa 1901, pp. 224–226.
  4. Tenże, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warszawa 1901, pp. 521–522.
  5. Janicka-Krzywda Urszula, Górnicy wielickiej kopalni, Kraków 1999.
  6. Sasin Ewelina, „Gdzie diabeł nie może, tam babę pośle”, czyli dlaczego świat się kończy. O ślunskich dziołchach i ich szychcie z Karoliną Bacą-Pogorzelską rozmawia Ewelina Sasin, „Ha!art”, no. 49: Praca, pp. 39–44.
  7. Tenfelde Klaus, Bergarbeiterkultur in Deutschland. Ein Überblick, „Geschichte und Gesellschaft”, vol. 5 (1979), no. 1: Arbeiterkultur im 19. Jahrhundert, pp. 12–53.
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