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The Hungarian-style horse mill was the best machine for the vertical transportation of salt. It was able to lift loads that weighed over 2 tonnes from a depth greater than 300 m. It was an improved version of the Saxon-style horse mill implemented by Austrians after the First Partition of Poland. Since 1861 it was replaced by steam engines and after 1913 by electrical machines.

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The Hungarian-style horse mill was the best machine for the vertical transportation of salt. It was able to lift loads that weighed over 2 tonnes from a depth greater than 300 m. It was an improved version of the Saxon-style horse mill implemented by Austrians after the First Partition of Poland. Since 1861 it was replaced by steam engines and after 1913 by electrical machines.
The presented model reflects the original Hungarian-style horse mill that was used at level I of the Mirów shaft. The winding reel of the rope (diameter over 3 m) was placed on the vertical shaft and was divided into two parts by a brake-pulley. The pulling arms placed high made the manoeuvring of the four pairs of horses easier when there was a need to change direction. The two-shoe brake was activated by the system of wheelworks linked with wooden poles. The suspended structure supported the mechanisms of the brake and rollers of transporting ropes.
The Hungarian-style horse mill consists of a vertical driver shaft with a winding reel, a braking device, a device located directly over the shaft that enabled vertical transportation of salt, rollers for rope transportation, a shaft cover and four T-bars.

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.

Miners, as free people, also had the right to carry weapons, which to this day are part of the festive uniform of mine workers. On the portal we present a “bart” from Saxony, a miner’s axe (Germ. Bergbarten), and the parade miner’s sabre. High-ranking Wieliczka miners, like all officials in the Habsburg Monarchy, had the right to carry this type of weapon with their ceremonial uniform. In Upper Silesia, which belonged to Prussia since the 18th century, tradition says that a sword is an integral part of the uniform.

In addition to holiday customs and costumes, miners are distinguished by their professional jargon, which is not limited to the sphere of spoken language. In many mines, due to the noise, miners have developed a gesture communication system and even a way to broadcast messages by tapping on pipelines. Metal pipes carry “encrypted” information over long distances.
Today, many souvenirs of old mining can be seen at the permanent exhibition of the Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, and some of them are worth viewing on the website of the Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

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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