JUST THE JOB
My father had said to me, " If tha wants, I'll
get thee a job down't pit".
My initial reaction was to cast it
off out of hand. The mere thought of going down a
hole in the ground and working underground was totally
awesome and more than a little frightening.
My name is Jack Gale and being just Fifteen and
a half years was not long out of school. The year was 1951 and I
was lucky in the fact that my generation enjoyed full employment.
It wasn't just a case of which job to take
after leaving school but more the fact of how much wages one
received at the end of the week.
Not having the advantages of a grammar
education, I had left school with only a basic level of
knowledge. In all ordinary senses my life was mapped out,
I would leave school, get a job, meet a future wife, save up to
get married, get a house, have kids, grow old and then retire.
Probably a not too long a retirement at that, very old ex-pit men
were few and far between. But of course I thought
of nothing much further ahead than the end of the
working week when I got paid and what I would spend my money on.
I was born into a coal mining family.
Father did, and his father had, worked down the same
pit, Middleton Broom Colliery, in South Leeds, Yorkshire.
All my young life, it seemed, my father
had said "No son of mines going down't pit" And now here he
was offering to get me a job down that self same mine.
Although it was sometime
after, that I realised my father had an ulterior motive
behind his suggestion.
Having had some success in schoolboy boxing, he
was thinking bigger things for me in the amateur and then the
professional ring. I, on my part, had no thought of boxing as a
future. Although I was always afraid when actually entering the ring,
as soon as the bell went I would enjoy boxing. The problem was
that I hated the time spent training, which was necessary
if anyone was to succeed in that or any sport.
Basically I was very lazy when doing something that was
less than exiting or interesting.
My dad had reasoned that if his son
spent less time at work he would have more time to rest,
and be refreshed, before going training in the
evening. He realised, having been a Semi professional boxer
in his day, perhaps his son could aspire to the greatness he had
never achieved. He reckoned that sport was the only way his
son would be able to get out of the normal working class routine
and actually make something of himself.
In the days that followed I slowly came
to the realisation that a move from my present
job as a labourer, for a tiled fireplace
fixing company, was long overdue. I had been working
for my Uncle, who owned the company, for all of
three months. The work was boring and the pay was relatively
small, two pounds Ten Shillings. The hours seemed long,
Forty Four hours a week. In comparison to the colliery's Six
pound odd, for Thirty Seven and a half hours work.
The more I thought of a mining job the more I
realised that there were more pros than cons.
When I asked finally of my father, "Exactly how
much are the wages at the pit would I get" he must have done some
research, for I received the reply.
"Six pounds Seven and Six, when
tha's done thee training" This sounded an
enormous sum to me but the clincher was " An tha'll
not have to go in 't' Army."
National Service was in operation
at the time, all able bodied youths, unless
they were a deferred apprentice, had to enter one of the three military
services on attaining the age of eighteen, for a period of two years.
Coal mining was an exempt
occupation, well, underground working was.
The ones that entered mining to evade the services were
nicknamed 'Bevin boys' after Earnest Bevin who saw an act through
That last remark of not going in the
army, was the clincher for me, I had never been away from home for
any length of time in the past. When I had thought
about it, the Army seemed an unattractive
"Will you ask about a job for me then Da?" I
"I'll see Benny Wilkie in the morning" replied
dad. Benjamin Wilkinson. was the Colliery Safety and Training Officer.
True to his word father returned home the
next day with the news that he'd arranged for me to see the training
officer on the following Saturday morning.
"What makes you want to
work within the coal mining industry,
Jack?" was the interview opening question from Ben Wilkie.
Being unused to interviews or answering
technical questions, I had to study for a moment,
before replying "Cos there's more money in it" It was the
only answer I could think of.
"That's true Jack, but there is also
danger, dirt and hard work as well. And the
good money only comes when you actually work underground.
Surface work is no better or worse paid than most jobs."
"Oh! of course I want to work
underground that's why I'm here" says I. Although I hadn't really
thought that once coal was brought to the surface it had to be
processed. I think that I had expected to go straight down the pit.
Ben W. went on, " You will start work on
the surface in the screens for a few months. Then if you
are acceptable to us and you are happy to remain with us then we
will send you for Sixteen weeks training, prior to your start
You will be trained underground at a training
pit and at the surface training college at Wakefield. Eight
alternate weeks at each. Do you understand all that and do you
have you any questions for me?"
"Yes when can I start"
"Okay then Jack, you look big enough to work
here and coming from a mining family you should have an insight
to what pit work entails, can you start on Monday"?
"Yes", I responded.
"OK Monday morning at six report to the
Screens. See Joe Garvey. there, He's in charge. He'll show you
what to do"
"Where are the screens?" I enquired.
Pointing out of his office window Bennie W.
replied, "That tall building next to the Headgear,
see you on Monday". And with that the interview was obviously
It was some time later that I realised
that to do what was right, I should give
at least a weeks notice to my present employer.
But on thinking, I owed them nowt nor did they owe me. My mam would
phone my uncle and put it right, which she did.
Monday morning came all too soon.
My mother woke me at a Quarter past Five to a mug of tea
and a fried egg sandwich. My 'snap' was waiting in a tin.
Father just happened to be on days also this week.
He worked the 3 shifts about, days, afternoons and nights.
I escorted him on the walk to the pit. We
arrived there about quarter to Six, him going to the 'lamp
room' after directing me to the screens.
My first impressions of the pit yard was
what a dirty, dusty, muddy, dull place it was.
Everything was a mucky black and grey. I was certain I had made a
mistake and would not like it here.
Climbing the steps to a first floor large
'gantry' type building l saw that all around was
covered in stone and coal dust. I felt filthy just by
being in the place. Even though there was no machinery in
operation, the air still seemed thick with dust.
It was the dirtiest place I had ever been in.
Down the centre of the large room lay a
steel conveyer with giant hoppers at each side and a walk way in
between. The room was empty of others save for a youth
about the same age as myself.
"Is this the screens?" I asked of the youth.
The youth nodded in reply and said,
"Are you just starting today as well? I've been
told to wait here for Joe Garvey. I'm Tommy Clapton.,
"Jack, Jack Gale" I replied.
Just then a steam generated hooter
sounded, to signal the beginning of the Six O clock shift. Almost
before it had finished a group of about
Twelve to Fourteen persons entered, some young
some old and some that seemed very old. I saw that the only
mid-aged man had only one arm.
"You two, over here" The one armed man shouted.
As we both joined him he said" I'm Joe, You'll
be Tommy and you Jack . Is that right?" We both nodded in reply.
"Jack I know your father, he's okay, don't let him down. I'm in
charge of the screens. Both of you do as you are told and we'll
all get on okay".
With that he pulled a long
handled lever and the steel conveyer trundled
into action, moving quite slowly.
He then turned a switch that
started the 'Shaker'. This machine was a
series of giant riddles, which were
situated slightly higher than the conveyer. The riddles moved to
and fro. The noise was as loud as I had ever heard in my
life, it was deafening.
Coal with added Rock, after having been
washed and riddled to separate all the dust and smaller pieces,
fell on to the conveyer. The other workers
spaced themselves out on either side
of the conveyer and were beginning to sift for
pieces of rock or other debris that was mixed among the coal.
As they picked it out they discarded it
overhead and behind them into the giant hoppers. I realised that at the
end of the conveyer was a metal slide that deposited
the sifted coal into the railway wagons below. I had
noticed the wagons earlier when climbing the screen steps.
The rock hoppers operated to a
similar operation, only the discarded debris would eventually
find it's way to the many spoil tips that surrounded the colliery.
"You go on that side," he ordered Tommy, " and
you stay this side," indicating me. "Do what they are doing."
The trouble with the screen job, I soon
learned, was that it was boring. The high lights of the day was when
little or no coal came down the conveyer.
Because the pit machinery was old and great
demands were put on it, periodically some part of it would
breakdown. Then the coal output of the colliery stopped.
This happened at least once or twice a day, usually for
only a few minutes but sometimes the stoppages could last
for an hour or more. When a
stoppage occurred the workers tended to gather in small
groups and all manner of discussions began, mostly about
The younger lads congregated
together and the older men formed their own groups.
I noted that they were very few mid- aged
persons among the screen workers. I learned
that the younger ones were only employed
there prior to going on underground training
and the older ones were men who were too old or physically
handicapped to work underground.
Most of the older screen
hands were old colliers, many suffering from
'lung'. Pneumoconiosis or Silicosis were diseases
that affected breathing due to the very dusty
atmosphere underground, especially at the coal face. At
least three of the older men had fingers missing due to
underground pit accidents. One walked with a pronounced limp, I
later learned that he wore an artificial limb the result of an
On later enquiring about Joe Gs missing
arm I was told that he had been the victim of a underground accident.
The story was:-
Joe was part of a coal cutting machine team. At
a time when the team was engaged in 'turning the machine round',
ready for a return cut. He accidentally had his arm sheared off
with the fast revolving cutting blades. The tale went on
that Joe was brought to the surface on a stretcher minus his arm.
When the pit ambulance room attendant
enquired where the missing arm was, no one really knew. His mates had
been in such a rush to stretcher him to the surface and to the waiting
ambulance, no one had thought that it was important. It had not been
brought out of the pit with Joe.
An immediate order was made to locate the
arm and to bring it to the surface.
It later transpired that the arm had been
thrown into the 'gob' by an unthinking worker. The
gob is the void which is created after the coal has been withdrawn.
All rubbish and rock waste is discarded into it. All
supports in the gob are withdrawn and the roof is allowed to fall in.
All manner of panic surrounded the
face for although the person who threw the arm
into the gob was found, he could not remember the exact
spot where he had thrown it. Coal faces can be over a Hundred Yards
long. Coal production on that face had to be stopped. For
the rest of the following shift, work ceased until
the arm was located.
The arm was found and wrapped up
in an old piece of sacking. Supposingly,
because the sacking was not long enough, it had the
fingers and part of the hand protruding.
A collier carried the limb out of the pit,
under his own arm in full view of all. It is
said that when the hospital took charge of the
arm it was immediately disposed of
via the incinerator. So much for Joe's arm.
The working day, because everything
was new to me, passed rather quickly. At exactly Two Thirty
Joe Garvey told us that those who were under eighteen could go,
their shift was up. The over eighteen's had another Half hour to
go and in a lot of cases, overtime if they wanted it.
I was walking home in my 'muck,' for
there were no pit head baths at this time, they
were not to be installed for at least another three
years into the future. It seemed quite normal for me to
walk the streets of Middleton covered in coal dust and dried sweat. No
one gave me a second glance for Leeds had once boasted a number
On my journey I began to reckon how many
hours I would be working. Six till half past Two, less half hour
for 'snap' was, Eight Hours. Multiplied by Five shifts, reckoned up at
Forty hours a week. That was more than my father had said.
Sometime later at home I put the times to my father
and got the reply. "Thirty Seven and a half hours only
applies to underground workers. Anyway you will be working
Four hours a week less than your old job and there is very little
travelling to work time. and no tram fares."
I supposed he was right and had to agree.
Anyway at the end of the week my wages would double, I consoled.
Mid-shift sandwiches 'Bait' or 'Snap' as
it was usually called was taken from about 10 'O' Clock onwards.
Joe G. would tell Three or Four of us at a time, to go for
their snap. Usually it would be taken in a small ante room
to the rear of the screens. There was a canteen in the pit
grounds but it sold no hot food other than sandwiches and
tea. Coffee was a rich mans luxury and wasn't even on the bill
of fare. A few cold sandwiches or pork pies were on offer but the
canteen was mainly used by colliers who had just finished a shift or
needed a bite to eat because they were, or had been, working
On the second day of working
Tommy, a lad called Eddie and one called John
and myself were ordered to go for our snap.
Eddie was a likeable lad who, it
turned out, was just Eighteen years old. He informed our small
group that the following week he was to go on his underground training
and because he was eighteen or over he would only have to
'do' three weeks training. I didn't know whether to envy him being able
to begin working underground so soon. On first appearances I took to
Eddie, I soon realised that if I ever was at a loss as to what to
do and needed advice, Eddie was the one to see. I felt he
would not put me far wrong.
I had still not really likened to the
idea of working underground. The thought still frightened
me somewhat. Did I suffer from claustrophobia?
Would I be able to work in very
dark surroundings? I know we would be issued with a lamp
but would it be enough? I had already heard of tales of old
colliers who had been killed down the pit and
whose spirits still haunted the underground galleries. I
still was unsure if I believed in ghosts and I did not relish the
idea of knowing for certain that they did exist.
The other youth John C. was Sixteen and a
Half. Although slightly shorter than me
he was squat and built like the
proverbial brick WC. He had thick curly ginger hair. His neck was as
wide as his head and he looked as if he easily outweighed any of the
other lads and older men of the screens. Although his IQ
was obviously limited he made up with it with his mouth. I
took an instant dislike of him.
As the Four of us were eating, Johnny said to
both Tommy and me, "You realise that you will have to be
initiated before you can be accepted by the screen team?
Being unsure as to what initiation meant
and not wishing to appear ignorant I said nothing.
What's initiation? and when will it take
place?" asked Tommy.
"You'll know when we come for you" laughed
Tommy relayed to me that he had
been told by the training officer that it would be Six to eight
weeks before he and myself would go on underground training. I
was a little relieved for the confirmation that Benny Wilkie had told
me at interview. At least it would give me time to reconcile to
Johnny interrupted by stating "I go in
Four weeks time, I cant wait, I'll show em how to shovel
coal". The way he said it I believed he could do it as well. John
seemed to ooze confidence. I secretly wished he would go tomorrow.
Although I disliked him, I grudgingly admired his self
confidence, something I lacked a little of.
At about Ten O Clock, on the
Wednesday of my first week at work, coal suddenly stopped coming
down from the shaker.
Joe G. stopped the steel convey and said to one
of the older men, "Colin, go up to the pit bank and see what's up. Take
Jack and Tommy with you, show them around up there if you have time.
Colin beckoned the two of us to follow him. We
went out of a side door which led to some steel stairs. As we were
climbing the steps I noticed that a steel roof
supporting 'H' girder was erected directly
across our stairway path. On the girder someone
had chalked, in capital letters, 'DUCK' on it. A further wag had added
in lower case, 'Donald' before it. I was busy looking
around my new surroundings and on reading 'Donald
DUCK' wondered why anyone would want to write that on a
girder. As I climbed the steps I hit my head on
the girder. Feeling my scalp, a little
blood formed on my fingers. Now I realised why it said
'DUCK', it was a low beam warning. I quickly recovered myself
pretending not to have hurt myself.
Colin asked, "Are you all right?"
I shrugged, "Yeah I hardly touched
it." But secretly my ego hurt more than my head.
The steps led up to the pit bank.
The bank was situated three floors from the ground.
When Colin asked the 'bank' foreman what the problem
was, he was given the reply that a
main underground conveyer belt machine
had broken down. It was estimated
that it would take about two hours for repairs to be
At this news Colin began to explain
to Tommy and I, the workings of the pit bank:
Rails on which Tubs run on were laid from
the front of the pit shaft in a large circuit, with a few
diversions, around the pit bank space. The rails eventually led
to the rear of the shaft, they continued through and were fixed in the
The shaft was surrounded by a Five
Foot (1.5m) high steel safety fence, with risible gates at the
front and back.
Two tubs of coal are raised to the surface in
the cage as it is called. Each tub contained about a
quarter of a ton of coal. The safety gates are raised
automatically by the cage.
At the rear gate of the cage, empty tubs on
rails are pushed on to the cage by two workers. The full
tubs are ejected at the front, being replaced by empties.
When the full tubs have been replaced, the
'banksman' signals that the cage can begin the descent of the
shaft for the process to be repeated. There are two cages
whilst one is rising the other is descending. The banksman is the
only person allowed to operate the cage signals and is in charge of the
The full tubs are then pushed round to
the 'Tippler'. The tippler is a round cage type device that is
closed in at the sides but open at the top. The
tippler is electrically rotated a full 360 degree circle. The coal
falls out and the empty tub is then fed to a parking space, ready to be
forwarded back down the pit.
The coal from the tippler is directed down
a series of slides into what is called the 'washer'.
The washer is a large rotating drum where a
series of high pressure water jets clean the coal of dust and
other small impurities. The water is drained off and the slurry saved
for drying out. The resulting coal dust is still valued and used
in industrial blow furnaces. The coal is then fed onto the shaker and
thence to the screens.
Colin took Tommy and myself over to the
pit shaft. Both of us looked over the gates down the shaft.
It was a large round hole about Eighteen
feet wide. The sides were brick lined. I wondered ,did
they have to dig the shaft out and then brick lay the sides?
Obviously they couldn't do it the other way round,
then how did they do it? We could not see the bottom
of the shaft, it was in total darkness.
Besides the Two steel ropes that hauled the Two
cages up and down there were Eight guide ropes. Four
for each cage ensured that each corner of the cage remained
exactly in it's position in relation to the shaft.
We were told that it was well over Six Hundred
Yards (600m +) deep to the Ebor Seam of coal. There were other seams of
coal but the Ebor seam was the one that the pit was currently working.
"Does tha still fancy working down there then?"
Both of us nodded affirmatively,
"Yeah of course, can't wait", replied
I but secretively I felt very anxious
at the thought of it.
"Come on then we'll get back" added Colin.
Back down at the screens on hearing
of the probable two Hour delay, Joe G. instructed all
workers to have their snap. Joe then left, telling
one of the older men that he was going to
the canteen for a mug of tea.
As was usual during a break all the
younger lads gathered together, as did the
older ones in their own
group. The discussions arguments and wishful dreams
put forward were many and varied. A lot
of talk among the young was about what they would do when they
eventually got down the pit.
John C. as usual tried, and in a
lot of cases succeeded in commanding attention. John had two
young followers who looked up to him and would usually be at his side
John said "I think now is the time to initiate
the new uns". It was said in a light hearted manner.
He looked to his two mates. They immediately nodded
agreement and glanced first at me and then at Tommy waiting for John's
To pre-empt the decision I,
who had been expecting this would come around
sometime, laughingly said, " The first one that comes near me
gets this wrapped round his neck" and with that I picked up a
piece of pit timber that was handy. I tried to appear to be
joking but at the same time I wanted them to think twice
before tackling me. I made it obvious that I would take nothing lightly.
John realising that I would
not be one to come quietly, commanded, "Take Tommy
first" and with that the Three surrounded and grabbed Tommy.
The scuffle that followed was playful and
humorous even to the older workers who were
watching but probably not to the receiver,
Tommy, although even he was laughing and
seemingly taking it in good part.
The rest of the youth of the screens joined in.
I hung back a little but not too far back, because I wanted to be
one of them, but not too constructively.
Before Tommy knew it he was trussed up
with his arms behind his back. His trousers were pulled down and
removed, displaying the fact that he did not wear underpants.
He was then manhandled on to the unmoving conveyer belt.
A rope was produced and a noose was
placed around his neck. The other end was thrown over a steel
roof carrying girder and held. Someone then
set off the conveyer Tommy had to start
walking in the opposite direction of travel in order
to maintain his balance.
Another youth had a small bucket of axle
grease and was stirring it with a stick. He then
menaced that he was to smear Tommy's private parts with
the grease. Everybody, including myself was
The episode at first glance looked dangerous.
If Tommy lost his footing it appeared that he
would be in danger of being hanged. He
would be unable to regain his feet because of the
moving conveyer and his bound hands. I looked over to the person
who was holding the other end of the rope to see that it
was Eddie. It was being held loosely. I was
relieved that if a problem occurred Eddie would certainly
let the end go and avert any serious result.
Just as the lad holding the grease laden stick
began daubing Tommy's privates the conveyer stopped moving.
A loud shout ordered "Eh! stop that yer
silly buggers, ave yer no more sense?" All eyes turned to the
command. It was Joe the foreman. He had stopped the
conveyor. "Enough's enough", he pronounced, "untie him".
And with that the episode ended. No
recrimination were made or given by Joe,
he seemed to accept it as normal
"They tell me that you've done a bit of
boxing," John C. asked of me on my Fourth day of working.
"A little at school" I replied. I
would have liked to put John in the picture and boast of my
boxing successes being Four times Leeds schoolboy champion and a single
time Yorkshire one. I decided against saying owt, it wasn't done
in those days to brag.
"I've done a bit myself" continued John. "What
weight do you fight at?"
"Just over Ten stone." I
"That's just about my weight," John said,
"give or take a couple of pounds."
I was amazed that John was within my weight I
would have put him at least two stone heavier.
"We will have to have a spar sometime" Johnny
"Yeah' I'd like that," I replied, I
probably sounded not too convincing. I felt that if Johnny could punch
as hard as he looked he would probably take my head off with his first
The conversation ended there. I was
satisfied that it had gone no further. I was a
little afraid of John but knowing myself I would not
have backed down under any circumstances. I have always been able
to hold myself against most, in the ring or out, I always had
that feeling of being afraid before any action but also knew that
once any action started I could rise to the occasion. I
have never sought a confrontation nor ever backed
down from one.
Another youth of the screen
team was of Irish descent. George O' Neil.
George was a fine upstanding youth and a very good worker.
He never seemed to complain or
raised his voice, preferring to speak
quietly. Consequently when ever he spoke people
tended to listen to what he had to say. And what he had to say always
I now felt that I had three new friends,
Tommy Clapton. the youth who started at the same time
as me. Eddie Barker. who was soon to leave the
screens to do his three week underground training and George O'
It came as a little surprise
to learn that the colliery operated a Week in hand
when paying out wages. When I told my mother
she obviously knew of this fact. She said she would help me
out, which I knew she would. She had done so many times in the past. My
wages would be Five pound odd rather than the Six pounds odd that
my father had said that I would be
earning. The difference in pay being underground
working. Still it was twice what I had been getting at my
I was slowly coming round to the fact
that I hadn't made a mistake in taking a job at
the pit. In general there was a feeling
of togetherness that I hadn't realised had been
missing in my old job. Although I still did not like
getting up of a morning and going to work, I did not mind
actually working. Perhaps I hadn't made a mistake in taking a job at
the pit after all.
Swearing at the pit was the norm. Although I
have tried to keep out the swearing in this written account, please
take it as read.
Everyone swore, from the Pit
manager to the lowest worker. Every sentence was strewn
with expletives and it seemed every second word was usually punctuated
by a Four letter expletive. Nobody listened or took notice of you
if you did not or could not swear.
I and my younger brother Jim were
brought up in a family that did not swear. The most
we had heard from our father was an occasional 'bloody'. My
mother not at all.
At the pit I soon learned to swear like
everyone else. It is hard to explain but when I was away from the pit
and swearing was not the norm I did not swear. But as soon
as I entered the pit yard I lapsed into a swearing mode. And I
could give as good as I got. Which brings to mind:
One weekend the family were eating
our Sunday lunch, or dinner as it was called
then. I was explaining, to all at the table, of an
event of the last week at work. I was so immersed in my pit tale that
momentary I was at work. I forgot myself. "So when
Johnny said that, I told him to Fuc..." I realised my mistake as
soon as I had uttered the first few letters of the
offending word. I lapsed into silence. In fact the whole table
was silent, until my mother said, " We realise that
everyone swears at the pit but leave it there when you
finish work." It wasn't meant as a put down or a reprimand merely a
statement of fact.
"Now what was you saying
about Johnny C." continued my mother. The incident
was as if it had never happened.
"Er! I told him to go away." said I feeling my
An additive to this story on swearing. The
first time I heard my father swear was when I was with him at the pit
top. He was cursing and blinding about
something that had earlier happened down
the pit and was berating one of his mates. I was astounded, my
father did not swear, I honestly thought he did not know how to swear.
What impressionable minds we have when we are young.
It had to come. I had been working at the
screens about two weeks.
Joe G. had stopped the screen
conveyor, a large piece of rock had descended on to it
and it was too heavy to lift off and throw it into the hopper in one
piece. Joe said to John, "Get the hammer John and break it up"
John C. then said to me, "Jack go get the
hammer for me, I've got to break this lump up," and with that he
jumped up on to the conveyor.
On reflection if John had asked me to get him
the hammer, I would have done so. The hammer was no more than a few
yards away. But it got my back up to think that he was ordering me
"You want it, you get it for yourself.
Joe said for you to get the hammer not me." I retorted.
"Are you getting me the
hammer or do I give you a
leathering?", threatened John with an expletive of words.
"If you think you can give me one," The
whole screen team heard the heated words.
Neither person could now back down. John sounded
the more confident of us. "Are you going to get the
hammer or do I give you a good hiding after work?"
"No, get your own hammer and if
that’s how you want it, so be it" I had no intention of backing
"Jack, get me the hammer will you?" asked Joe
It was said more as a way of cooling the
"Yes," I answered, "but I'm getting it for you not him." and
with that I went and got the hammer and gave it to Joe, who
in turn gave it to John.
It was all a bit petty but my place in the pecking order of
the screens was at stake. I always felt that to show weakness was not
manly, although at the time I was trembling.
Soon after Joe called time for the under
"I av'nt forgotten," said John as he
passed me on his way out of the screens.
"Nor me" I responded. Although secretly I
wished John had.
"Behind the 'lamp hole' then". The lamp
hole was the building were the miners electric lamps were stored and
"Right I'll be there within Ten
minutes." I was hoping to sound the confidence that I did not feel
The area behind the lamp hole was considered out of
the colliery premises. It was common knowledge that fighting anywhere
on the pit surface or underground was not
tolerated by management. Instant dismissal was the
threatened punishment. In later years I saw
and heard some really heated arguments
that looked like coming to blows. They never did, not on
pit premises anyway.
All the under eighteen screen team and a
few others who had heard that there was a fight on,
gathered at the scene of the proposed fight.
A ring of spectators formed. My adrenaline
began to flow and I was no longer afraid. A feeling of self
preservation was taking over. I always felt like this
before every fight in the ring or out.
"Last chance to apologise," offered
Did I detect a note of uncertainty in Johns voice?
I hoped so, it was to my advantage. "No way," was my reply
and with that Johnny lunged forward like a charging bull.
I was not taken by surprise, other than
being surprised how easily it was to step to one side and hit
Johnny fair and square to the side of his head as he continued past.
True to a bulls action he turned and made
another rush forward, exactly the same thing happened. I could
not believe my luck.
My father had always coached me to
try and get the first punch in, and if you can
keep that one ahead you should win in the end. Here was I with
the first two full on target.
I was a boxer and John was a natural
A fighter is usually the one to come
forward both hands punching. He does little
covering up and is prepared to accept punches to get some of his
own in. He is quite happy to stand toe to toe with his opponent,
A boxer uses his feet to avoid any rushes and punches. He is
always prepared to counter punch and
learns to hit whilst retreating. He is not
usually prepared to stand toe to toe.
It is a well known fact that you
should fight a boxer and box a fighter. If you were
losing a match change your style of fighting. I had no
reason to change my style John was doing all the work for me.
The fight carried on in much the same vein with John now
trying to come to grips with me and me
keeping my distance. Throughout the whole of
the fight I wary of the fact that if I relaxed and let John get
just One punch in it could be curtains for me. Luckily this did
Suddenly John stopped and said, "Enough's
enough," with that he held his hand out to shake hands.
In those days it was the done thing to shake hands to call
the fight off.
I took Johns outstretched hand and said
something to the effect of. "Fair one." I could not believe
my luck I had just finished a fight with quite
a worthy opponent and come out without a solitary punch landing
on me. I felt elated.
Although I went home with a little
spring in my step, I still realised that
if John had connected with just one good punch the
outcome would have been vastly different.
As I reached our house I could see father
clipping the privet hedges with hand shears.
"What you doing Da?" I enquired.
"What does it bloody look like? Salmon fishing?"
"No, it's just that I don't understand it," I
joked "it's not like you at all, I didn't know you liked gardening, are
we entering our garden in the Tenants best kept garden competition this
year?" I carried on indoors before he had the chance to fling the
shears at me. My father hated gardening and only just managed to keep
On asking my mother what the story was about
Da's gardening she replied. "We got a letter from the housing place
this morning, giving us 14 days notice that if the hedges are not
pruned to below the regulation maximum of 6 feet then they will apply
for an eviction order. Anyway It's frightened your dad into doing
something about them."
"I'll give him a minute when I’ve had my
tea." I offered
"Yes he'll appreciate that
After my meal I gave Dad a break. funny that,
if he'd have told me or asked for help I'd probably make some excuses
as to why not. By not asking me he'd put me to shame. Besides I was a
little short this week Dad will probably now lend me something.
It was November the Fifth. Tommy C.
had invited me to his Bonfire. He had said that he had some
brilliant fireworks. The fireworks of those
days could be described in many ways but
brilliant was not one of them.
When I arrived at the bonfire the party
was in full swing. There were plenty of peas and pies and
bonfire toffee. Lots of fireworks and bangers were
let off, but as of yet I had not seen any that were unusual.
I asked Tommy where these brilliant fireworks
He went into his house and came out with
a 'pill' of mining explosive.
"Where did you get that. I gasped,
"You'll get Ten years if you are found with that in your possession
"It's nowt" he said "I found it in the screens.
It came over the shaker."
I had seen a few cartridges, or pills as they are
called, of powder come over on the screen conveyer. At such times
they were handed to Joe Garvey. I think he took them back to the
"What are you going to
do with it? I was becoming
"Set if off of course"
"It won't go off. I've heard you can hit
them with an hammer or put it on the fire and it still won't go off"
"It will with one of these" he said. With that
he produced a 'Little Demon' firework. The little
demon fireworks were the strongest of the day and gave out
a very loud bang.
"You can't let it off here," I cautioned "there
are too many people about"
"We'll go over into the back field then." Tommy
I agreed. It would be
something most unusual. A little exiting.
With that we both went to the
field at the rear of his house.
Tommy, with a penknife, slit open the grease proof
paper of the pill and then sliced it in half lengthways. It
was a little like plastericine, quite pliable. We placed
the little demon in the centre of the cut open mine
explosive. Then it was moulded around the firework, leaving
the blue touch paper protruding.
He placed it on the ground upright and lit it.
We raced away as fast as we could.
The firework exploded but it did not set the
We further tried a few more times, all to no
By the time we had finished the pill was in
numerous pieces. We collected them all up and returned to the bonfire.
Throwing on the pieces. They burned with a slight blue flame.
Afterwards I realised what fools we had been.
We could both have been maimed for life, or even worse.
But it did prove how stable the mines
The day after our fight if I had expected
Johnny to say something about the scrap
to me, I was very mistaken. He
was loud, vociferous and as self assured as usual. It was
if the day before had never happened. I thought, at
one time during the day, I heard him say to one of his
mates, that my punches had not hurt him. I was
not sure but if he indeed said that, I could well
believe it. My punches seemed not to have affected him at
My kudos in the screens team rose a
little. One good point in my favour was that no one tried to
involve me in any further initiation rites. Other newcomers were
not so lucky.
Over the next few weeks I gradually
became accepted as a full screen member and often the
screen charge-hand would send me on short errands. This would
enable me to look round other parts of the pit yard. If
nothing else I was always interested in my surroundings.
One morning, during a lull,
Joe sent me to have the First Aid box brought up to date.
Screen workers were very susceptible to cuts bruises and trapped
fingers. Bandages and plasters were used quite often.
At the 'ambulance room', as it was called
then, there was a man in attendance. It was questionable if
he had any medical qualifications, other than a first aid
certificate. This was a time when safety first at work was not a
priority, producing coal was.
The ambulance room was more of a storage room.
It had a long couch for the placement of injured miners waiting for an
ambulance to ferry them to hospital. Other than the meagre medical
stores it also served as a soap and towel sale room.
As I have said there were no baths
at the pit for normal workers. Deputies and
upper management had a small makeshift place
were they could have a lukewarm shower but for
the normal workers there was nothing.
Once a month all colliery workers were given
the opportunity to buy subsidised soap and towels.
The soap was of the hard wearing variety but it was
cheap and did the job. The large bath towels were luxurious by
the standards of those days. Usually all workers took advantage of
buying the pure white heavy towels when they could, even if
their own towels had not worn out. A ready resale value was placed on
them to friends and neighbours. A small money making sideline.
As I was leaving the ambulance room I looked
across the pit-yard and saw Fred W. Firey Fred as he was
usually called. Fred was another old collier. He was about Forty
but looked at least Fifteen years older.
He had worked underground most of
his adult life until a fall of roof underground had trapped
him. He was supposed to have been buried for over a hour
before he could be released. His resulting head
injuries were not just physical but mental as
well. He never seemed to be quite with it. Normally
he had a pleasant disposition. He would always wave
or shout greeting and pass the time of day. It was
also common knowledge that if anyone upset him he could
lash out, with anything he could lay his hands on. Firey
Fred was employed to do the menial surface jobs. He
was presently engaged in cleaning the pit-yard toilets.
The only surface toilets (there were none
underground) other than 'management only' toilets, were a Six
cubicle block. Every cubicle had a wooden seat with a galvanised
metal can underneath. Each can had been doused with a toilet chemical.
The back under-wall, where the cans stood, was left open to the
elements to create an air circulation.
As I was walking past, Firey Fred
was pulling a bucket out from under the rear wall. As he usually did,
he hoisted it to his shoulder. John normally then
transferred the can to the top of his head, his hands holding the
side handles. He did this usually as a little show of his competence,
proudly walking the length of the pit-yard.
The contents of the can would be then
poured down a washer drain.
"Hiya Fred", I shouted,
although it was doubtful that he knew me. Firey Fred was
hoisting the can from his shoulder to his head, as I called out
to him. At that moment, as he turned round to look at me,
his head went through the bucket bottom.
The galvanised bottom
must have been weather eroded allowing
the inner metal to rust, causing weakness.
Fred's head went almost through the bottom.
A cascade of liquid and solid human waste cascaded
over his head and shoulders. Fred let out a
howl of protest. Taking the bucket from
his head, he threw it in my direction.
It was the funniest thing I had ever
seen. I just could not help but laugh out loud. Firey Fred
obviously did not think it was something to
laugh at. He began to run over to me,
seemingly to blame me for his misfortune. I wasn't waiting around to
explain. I was off like a shot.
It still remains the most hilarious incident of
CHANGE OF JOB
Eddie B. left the
screens to go for his three weeks
underground training and Johnny C. to do his Sixteen weeks.
I was promoted, if you can call it
promotion, to the pit-bank. It was a less boring job than the
screens but somehow there was less opportunity to 'muck around'
My job, with another worker, was to push
the empty tubs on to the waiting cage, displacing the
full tubs. Then a short interval before
the next cage and a repeat of the
process. Looking down the pit shaft no longer filled me with dread
One Monday morning the bank foreman
instructed me to report to the 'Wood yard' There I was to stand in for
the regular worker who was off sick. I was to work with
Alan, an older collier. Our job was to load
tubs and 'Chariots' with
materials for transportation underground.
Chariots were Four wheeled bogies with open sides.
The wood-yard was the easiest job I'd had
since starting at the pit. Provided Alan and I did the work no one
questioned us on what we were doing. Snap time was always well
over an hour sometimes Two. Alan could tell a tale or two and I
was fascinated by his underground reminiscences.
Each day we were given a order
form, detailing what was needed down the
pit. The wood-yard contained all sizes of pit props.
All roof props down Middleton Broom Colliery were timber. There
were no steel 'Dowty' props at that time. The longest wood props
were some ten feet in length and the shortest
was only Twenty one Inches. When I looked at the smallest
pit props and placed them end on it seemed impossible that
anyone could work under such low conditions. Alan
confirmed coal face workers did. One time I even placed upright Two One
Foot Nine (54cms) pit props, Six Foot apart and then placed a 'bar', or
a flat piece of timber, on top of them. I tried to imagine what it
would be like to work in such cramped conditions. I seriously doubted
if I would be man enough to endure such places. In later years I would
work in such, and lower, conditions.
'Bars' were wooden planks to support the roof.
Usually with props at either end and one in the
middle. They were Six Foot (2m) long by Six
inches (15cms) wide and about 2 Inches (5cms) thick.
'Rings' were steel H girder type
supports. Semi circular with one end of the bend
straightened out. Two rings were erected together with a steel
'fishplate' bolted to connect the them. They ranged
from the shortest at Six Feet (2m) to Fourteen Footers
(5m). Rings were transported down the
mine on Chariots.
I spent two enjoyable weeks
in the wood-yard until the previous youth returned.
My next job was back to the pit bank. No mind, I had
only two more weeks to do before I went for
my Underground training.
Prior to the Coal Mines (Training) General
Regulations Act of 1945 the only training given to a new worker would
be what a boy learned from his father, big brother, uncle or such
who took him below ground as a 'helper'
On the First of January 1947 the
coal mining industry was nationalised under the National
Coal Board. They soon began to regulate and enforce the
Coal Mines Training Act.
Before I knew it Monday morning came. It was to
be the first day of my Mining Training. Along with
Tommy Clapton. George Lee. and George O 'Neil. We had to
report to the Wakefield Technical College in Bell Street. We were to
spend a week there full time. Then to the Lofthouse
colliery for a week then weeks 'about' for Sixteen Weeks.
Besides being a full time
educational establishment, the college had a department
geared for mining theory. It catered for entrants like
myself, through to higher education for
those studying for the Ordinary or Higher National Certificate in
The day started at Nine O Clock and worked to
normal School hours. There were Twenty Three lads in
the class, all under Eighteen. They came from
various collieries of the number Seven Area. It was quite
pleasant to be working in clean clothes, just like being back at school
only getting paid for it.
In the weeks to come we would be
instructed in mining theory, the history of coal and
the mining of it, mine
safety, mine Fires, Ventilation, Gases,
the rules and regulations of
mining, management, methods of working coal, underground machinery,
first aid, fire fighting, mine rescue and a host of other subjects.
The first week was devoted to the theory
of mine safety and the need to be constantly vigilant to potential
The general history of how coal was formed was
It was the constant laying down of
pre-historic forests over long periods. This timber and
vegetation residue was overlaid with sediments
which later became rock. The great
heat and pressures, formed the great
forests residue into coal. This happened
Hundreds of millions of years ago in the carboniferous
period of time.
A very interesting point was made by one
of the instructors of that time. He stated "That the
original surface of the Earth has never been found within man's present
As that time was the early Fifties I have
often wondered if man's knowledge now has progressed far enough
to realise Earth's original surface.
I was surprised to learn that there
are several types of coal. Anthracite,
more usually found in the
areas around Wales, Cannel, Brown Coal,
Lignite, and even peat, all being forms of coal.
We were informed that in the Yorkshire coal
fields alone, it has sufficient reserves of coal for
an output of Fifty Million tons of coal a year for the next Few
Hundreds of years.
I could relate to the forest theory. I often
found specimens of plant fossils embedded in the
rock whilst working in the screens. At
one stage I used to collect them. Fossils of plant leaves
were common. The only fossil of a true life form that
I found was an ammonite this was from the Jurassic period of time but
it was a poor specimen.
Different methods of mining were discussed,
from the general collection of coal that is sometimes washed up
on some beaches, to early Bell pits through to the modern mining
practices of the day.
Again I could relate to the
Bell pits, there were many examples of them in the
Middleton Park woods. Bell pits were dug where the
coal seam is relatively near the surface, sometimes
only a few yards deep. When the top surface was removed and
the coal was reached, it was hewn out all around the sides. Hence the
name Bell pits, because of the shape of the excavation. Few roof
supports were used. When the roof became unstable it would
fall in. Another Bell pit would then have
to be excavated. The examples at Middleton
Park, and there are many, are round shallow holes.
I made a host of new friends at the college.
Every weekend we would all meet in Wakefield centre
for a night on the town.
Wakefield had a wide and varied
slice of weekend night life, much better than Leeds. The
starlight ballroom catered for teenagers like myself. Every Friday and
Saturday night a group of us would sneak into the Station Arms where
the oldest looking of us, or the one most daring, would go and order
and collect pints of beer. Underage drinking was quite exiting at the
time and it made us feel quite macho. Then after a couple of beers time
for a dance. The Rock and Roll era was upon us and although at the time
I could not jive I secretly envied those who could. Dancing is only a
matter of confidence something I lacked. Occasionally a fight, or
should I say a minor scuffle, might break out. Rival factions would
usually be involved and although I never started one I usually ended up
in the middle. The skirmishes of the time involved unwritten rules, no
weapons would be used only fists. Putting the boot in was frowned upon
and was considered to be taking advantage. A fight would end when one
side acknowledged the superiority of the other. Then it would be
handshakes all round.
Although looking back they seemed very serious
confrontations I now realise they were just part and parcel of growing
up. I was finding my pecking ordered place within my society.
In the coming future, many would be the
time when I had to run to catch the last train from Westgate
Station, to Leeds, which left at one minute to
Midnight. And many is the night I have missed it,
sometimes on purpose.
It was around this time I began courting
seriously. For a number of years I had been a member of a youth club
held of an evening in the local school. It was a mixed club with
members ranging from 12 to 18 years of age. There were many various
activities held there and one of them was weight lifting. Nothing
sophisticated or anything, we didn't even get changed into training
shorts and vests. The group was not even properly supervised except for
a slightly older person in charge. Members of both sex's would wander
in and out of the classroom willy nilly. I had previous noticed a young
lass whom I found out to be about my age and named Brenda M. I took an
instant shine to her. Whenever she was around I tended to show off.
Laughing that littler bit more at mates jokes or talking more louder
whenever she was in earshot, trying to show her what a fun person I
was, which was not strictly true. I never seemed to be able to get
Brenda to notice me or get her in a position to 'chat her up'
One evening a few of the lads were having a
friendly weight lifting competition. I initially wasn't taking part but
then Brenda and her friend Mary S. entered the room. Trying to impress
them I announced that I could lift the weight most of the others had
failed at. Room was made for me and I took my stance at the weight. I
squatted down and grasped the bar in preparation for the lift. I had
mentally decided on the squat method of lifting the weight. All eyes
were on me at this time including Brenda's, she was the one I was out
to impress. Suddenly I heaved at the load and as in the correct manner
I managed to swing and raise the weight with my arms straight above my
head whilst still in the squat position. So far so good now all I had
to do was straighten my legs and move from a squat position to a
standing one. It was going to be harder that I had thought. Straining
to regain an upright standing position I felt my trouser crutch split
and with it I lost all concentration with the lift. The bar began
falling backwards taking me with it. The whole class, including Brenda,
erupted in fits of laughter, with me laying on my back, legs akimbo
with an obvious split in the seam of my strides. I vowed and declared
to my self at the time that I would never try and show off again, what
a foolish promise.
The following week
George O' N. George L. and Tommy C. and myself reported
to Lofthouse Colliery. It was to be our first
taste of going underground. All students were issued with a pair of
steel toe capped boots, a pair of dark blue cover-alls, a hard miners
helmet and a leather belt. We were then each allocated a locker for our
outdoor clothes in the 'clean area' of the showers.
After stripping, we walked naked, clutching
only our towels, through the shower area to the dirty
locker area. Our working clothes would be stored in the
Dressed in our Pit wear attire we were
led to the lamp room and issued with a lamp and instructed how to use
The lead acid lamp is in the form
of an electric battery, which is slung on your belt, with a flex
that connects to the cap lamp. This lamp is designed to give about Ten
hours use between charging.
The instructor then led us to the
man riding shaft. The winding gear in the man
riding shaft is usually Electric driven. We had been
instructed that this shaft has greater controls
incorporated in it and the speed at with the cage
ascends or descend is governed, giving a safer smoother
The other Shaft is usually steam driven.
Greater speeds can be used at this shaft
as coal is outputted and materials
inputted. The faster the winding speed the greater the potential coal
All persons about to descend
underground must first be searched thoroughly for
'contraband'. Contraband being matches or any smoking materials.
(In all the years I worked in the mining industry I
never ever saw or heard of any miner flouting
the contraband rules. In this area all miners are
very responsible persons)
Before one enters to the input pit shaft one
must go through two 'air doors' These doors are needed to
maintain a regular air flow underground and will be explained later.
The cage held Twelve persons. I was in
the Second batch. I did not feel afraid but was a
little apprehensive. I knew I would not panic or do
anything silly, but who knows.
My turn to enter the cage came. We
were packed in and the gates were closed. The banksman rang the
winding station for the cage to descend and we were off.
The cage, although closed in
at the sides has large open grill type gates back and front.
Going down is not unlike being in a lift. It
travels a little faster but on the whole it is quite
smooth. The brick lined shaft flashed by. Water drained
down the brick lined walls. It would collect at the bottom of the shaft
into the 'sump' to be pumped out to the surface.
As we descended, my thoughts
returned when I had first seen the shaft at Middleton.
I had thought then, how can you brick lay a shaft as you
dig it? It can not be bricked before it is dug nor can
it be safely dug then bricked. It is impossible
to stick bricks under, instead of over other
bricks as you dig. At college I had found out that the shaft is
dug to a short depth, say 20 yards (7 m). Circular H
rings are then secured at the bottom. The
virgin shaft is then bricked up from the lower ring to the higher one.
The shaft is then excavated again.
Lights from the Black Bed seam flashed by. This
was the seam being currently worked at Lofthouse. We were headed deeper
to the Silkstone seam. This seam had been worked out of
coal years ago and now was used only as an underground training seam.
At last the cage came to a controlled stop,
we had arrived. I had expected to feel some emotion, elation,
afraid, pleased, at least something but everything
seemed normal a bit of an
The pit bottom opened out into what can only be
described as a large irregular shaped brick lined room. The
walls were white lime washed. It was well lit
by electric overhead lights and was about Twelve Feet
high. To one side was a brick office type room for
management use. Inset in one of the office walls was a sliding window.
I had an idle thought, occasionally the office window will get dirty
and someone will have to clean it. So being a window cleaner down the
pit is not as silly at it sounds.
On the floor of the pit bottom
large metal sheets had been laid. The sheets had became
polished with the tramp of feet and the many turnings of wheeled
tubs. Rails were laid across the area. three dark tunnels
led off somewhere.
We had all been issued with a 'check.'
This is a coin like piece of metal with a
number that is registered to the
The check is handed to the underground
onsetter. It would be retrieved on leaving the pit and handed to
the surface banksman. The system worked that if your check was down the
pit you were, or in theory were, down the pit.
It has happened when a miner has
forgotten to retrieve his check and underground search parties
have had to be made for him, whilst the miner is home in bed.
There were two instructors to the Twenty odd of
us and were told to follow, in single file, one of them. The other
brought up the rear.
Our first day underground was to be just
a general tour of the workings. After going through a
series of Air doors we were shown the Stables where the pit
ponies were kept. The stable contained about
Thirty stalls for horses but only Two were now in use. When
this seam was working some Thirty odd years ago, Pit ponies
were much in use.
As ponies were still
being used in most pits for the
transportation of materials, we would be instructed in the
handling of them.
As we walked down the main inward roadway
of the Black Bed seam we were aware of a flowing, quite
strong, passage of air. It was like a strong wind at a constant
speed. The main heading was about Twelve feet (4m) high.
The floor was very uneven and at all times you had to watch
your footing. Everywhere there was coal dust
but this had been diluted with white limestone dust.
We had been instructed that coal
dust by itself is potentially very explosive.
In correct proportions the limestone neutralises it.
To one side of the roadway, rails had
been laid. In between the rails lay a thick steel plaited rope.
Near the side wall was another length of rope. Rollers were
placed at intervals to carry the rope and to prevent friction from the
floor. We were told that it was called an endless rope
haulage. In the past tubs of coal would have been
lashed with chains to the rope and would have
been hauled to the pit bottom for their extraction out of the pit.
The main roadway, we were told, was
about Four miles long. Every few Hundred Yards other
roadways branched off at right angles to the main
roadway. These were old headings to bygone faces.
When these faces were in operation the
coal was, in general, hand hewed and
loaded into tubs. The tubs would be brought by
pony power to the main roadway. Then lashed,
with chains, to the endless rope to be hauled to the pit bottom.
On the walk down the main roadway the
instructor stopped our group and ordered everyone to turn
off our lamps. Other than miners, very
few people have ever experienced total darkness. Down a
mine there is a complete absence of light. It is
impossible to see anything. Usually if we are
in darkness on the surface a chink of light can be seen,
however small. Down the pit nothing can be detected.
Whilst our lights were off the
instructor told us that in the event of a light failure it
is possible to 'feel' your way, by use of the
tub rails that line the floor of the roadway.
Providing you know the general layout of the
mine, the wind direction will help you to decide in
which direction to feel your way out. Other than that, and
if you are quite safe, stay where you are. A search
party will come to find you when you are
missed. Your 'check' is still down the pit, proving that you also are.
We were told to re-light our lamps and we
continued on our tour.
One of the old
coal faces had been preserved
for instructional purposes. We were allowed to crawl under
the face and see the coal seam. I had expected to feel
claustrophobic but I was very surprised not to be. A more
detailed description of the working of a coal face will be
The first week we were instructed mainly in
mine safety and what to do in any emergency.
It was then back for a further week at
This second week of training,
at college, was dealt with ventilation, fires and the
gases that are released when coal is worked.
Ventilation is achieved within pit
working by a huge fan situated at the top of one ( up
cast) of the two shafts. Usually the man riding shaft.
The fan sucks air up the shaft from the underground
workings. Because of this air displacement, air from the
top other shaft (downcast) is drawn down this shaft into the
workings. A system of air doors allows the air
to circulate around the mine. A
good ventilation system is an
Roadways that connect intake and
return roadways need to have a barrier to stop
circulation from taking a shortcut. This barrier must be movable.
Air doors are a movable barrier. There is always at least
two airdrops in tandem. If one door is opened the other remains
closed. To have Both doors open would interrupt the correct circulation
of air and would cause serious circulation problems.
When coal is released from a
coal face, poisonous and potentially explosive
gases are also released. Providing there is good ventilation these
gases are easily dispersed out of the pit.
The 'deputy' or 'Fireman'
is the charge-hand of the
district. He is responsible for all aspects
of 'his' area, usually a coal face.
The deputy and the 'Shotfirer's', both of whom are explosive
trained, are constantly aware of the need to test for the
presence of 'firedamp' which is a methane mixture of gases. Deputy's
and Shotfirer's are middle-management.
Methane is easily detected with the
aid of a safety lamp which they both carry at all times.
The modern safety lamp is an updated version of the original lamp
Sir Humphry Davy designed in 1816 Since its introduction the Davy
lamp has stood the test of time and has been the means of saving
innumerable miners lives.
The safety lamp incorporates an oil lighted
wick. The flame cannot make direct contact with the outside
of the lamp because of small mesh metal gauze. The flame cannot
traverse across this gauze. Air can circulate within the lamp.
In normal air the safety lamp flame
burns yellowish. If methane is present in
the air, the flame burns with a slight bluish tinge
at the edges of the yellow flame. The amount of gas
present determines the shape of the bluish
flame. An equilateral triangle of the blue flame indicates
approximately two to two and a Half percent presence of methane.
A mixture of between Five and Fifteen
percent gas in air is explosive. Any percentage of gas showing its
presence on a safety lamp is regarded as potentially dangerous.
Underground fires we were informed are
caused in a number of ways. Naked lights, Flames from explosives,
friction caused by machinery, defective
electrical apparatus and
spontaneous pressure combustion.
All were discussed and the urgent need to
be aware how they can start and what actions to take, to
contain them at source.
It was around this time that I had managed to
make myself known to Brenda. I had already learnt that on Thursday
evenings she and her friend would go to the local fish and chip shop. I
made a point of just happening to leave the Youth club at the same time
as her. I shouted to my mates, within Brenda's earshot, that I was not
going their way home this Thursday night but that I intended to go get
some chips. (At that time a bag of chips cost Four pence (2 p)
Following close on Brenda and her mates heels I closed up on them and
casually announced that I might as well walk with them part of the way,
announcing quite off handedly that I was going to get some chips. When
they said that was where they were going I pretended surprise and said
that I may as well accompany them. I had tried to appear to make myself
look 'cool' but I suppose I was fooling no one. The upshot of it all
was from that point I began to regularly to escort Brenda home of an
evening. Slowly I progressed to be allowed to walk with her, hand in
hand. It was the high point in my life at that time. Gradually it
progressed to a quick peck on the cheek as a good night kiss and after
I would walk home with a spring in my step. Throughout my courtship of
Brenda, very little happened sexually, though not for want of my
trying. Good girls didn't in those days.
TEDDY BOYS PICNIC
Each Friday we were allowed out from training
early. trainees had to return to our respective pits for wages.
After receiving my pay one Friday I was
approached by Bennie Wilkie. the Training Officer. He asked
me how I was getting on and I replied. "Fine, I'm enjoying
my training. I can't wait to work underground"
Bennie said, " A week tomorrow is the Wakefield
Miners Gala. Middleton is to put on show a lorry float. It
has been suggested that we have the theme as 'The Teddy Boys Picnic'.
You and your mates have Teddy boy clothes haven't you?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Are you interested in being on the float. You
will get paid for it and you may even win a prize"
I was all for it, and said so.
It sounded like a good day out. I'd heard of the famous Wakefield
"Can you arrange for yourself and
two others to get dressed up in their finery
and be here at Nine O Clock Saturday week?" Continued Bennie.
"Yes, I'm sure I can arrange something." I
"Good I'll see you next Friday pay day,
to finalise things. I'll leave you to organise your mates."
I was quite looking forward to the gala.
Most of my pit mates would be only too
willing to have a day out and get paid for it.
At that time the Teddy Boy fashion was in and
anyone who was anyone had a Zoot suit.
As promised Bennie met me on the following Friday and
asked if all was okay my end. It was. He said the float had
all been prepared and was ready for the morning. "See you
tomorrow morning at Nine" he said as he left.
The following morning Six lads had turned up,
my two new friends Peter W. and George L. and Three other
acquaintances, one was to act as
Bennie Said, "I can only pay for Four of you,
but you are all welcome to ride the float. The more
the merrier." and with that he handed me Four Brown
Envelopes each containing Two Pound notes.
Bennie then led us to the Float. It
was a lorry decked out with flowers and coloured
crepe paper With 'Middleton Broom Colliery',
emblazoned on the side. A smaller sign said
'Teddy Boys Picnic'
On the open backed lorry there was
a table and chairs and what purported to be a
small bar with beer pumps. all the
furniture had been screwed to the lorry floor.
One of our crew was to be dressed as the
We all, except the barman, were dressed Teddy
boy style. We had amongst us red, blue, black and two purple full
drape, finger length, jackets. Black drainpipe trousers. White shirts
with Black boot lace ties and Tony Curtis, DA style haircuts.
We felt that we looked like true Edwardian
gentlemen, Royalty, real Counts. Is that the way to spell Counts?
We were issued with make believe coshes and
open razors and told to make believe that we were drunk and having a
good time in a bar.
Bennie then handed us
two crates of Beer. Each crate contained
Six pint Bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale.
It was suggested that we should share the
bottled beer and use the eight pounds Bennie had given us,
as a kitty. We could buy more beer at the gala.
We all agreed. Then Bennie said, "If that's the case, here
is an extra Four quid, I'll claim it back in expenses."
It was a pleasant summer morning.
The Lorry was driven to Wakefield Town Centre
which was the meeting venue for all the floats of the other
By the time we had reached the start
point we had drunk the beer Bennie had supplied. One
of our crew dropped in to 'The Bridge End' pub for a
further supply of bottled beer.
At Eleven O Clock the gala procession
began. All floats then began a very slow convoy drive to the main
park in Wakefield.
The journey took about an
hour. Walking along side the floats were school
children carrying buckets in which spectators along the route
My mate George Lee. oozed confidence in the
presence of females. In many ways his was the confidence I wished I
had. George would do anything for a laugh. He tended to jump in both
feet without looking where he was going to land. Halfway through the
procession George said "Watch this" and with that jumped off the moving
float. He ran forward to a group of teenage girls, grabbed one of them
and put his arms round her. He bent her over and kissed her full on the
lips, just like we had seen film stars in Hollywood do it. A roar of
approval came from the crowd. George then demanded that the girl put a
sixpence in the nearest collectors charity bucket for the benefit of
being kissed by a Teddy boy. She complied. He then went to a second
girl and repeated the action, getting the same response. The crowd
loved it and applauded for more. All Five girls succumbed to his
advances and half a crown extra went to charity because of
Reading my last paragraph the recounted event
dose not sound very daring by today's standards but in the early 1950s
it almost reached the point of rudeness
When George clambered back onto the float he
urged each of us in turn to repeat his performance but none took him
up. I personally would have loved to enact his daring do but lacked his
Each time the beer ran
out then one of our team would dismount the slow
moving float. Sprint forward into a pub. Order the beer and by
the time the float drew level he would be waiting to deposit the
bottles on it. This happened to each in turn.
By the time we reached the gala proper we were
not pretending to be drunk, we were.
Inside the gala grounds was a beer tent, my
mates and I headed for it and spent most of the early afternoon there.
Just before 2-45 the tannoy announced that the floats were
now to be judged and that all interested persons should report to the
Peter W. was missing, no could remember him
leaving.. No matter there were plenty of us to enact the scenario. Our
float was supposed to depict a group of drunken Teddy Boys having a
good time. We did not need to act our part, we were Teddy Boys, we were
drunk and we were definitely having a glorious time.
We managed to win third prize of a
standard lamp that would be later raffled off at the pit.
The proceeds, like all the collections at the gala, went to
a miners charity.
After the judges had made their decisions were
all set off for a further round in the beer tent. As we were
approaching it we espied Peter in confrontation with another group of
young Wakefield miners. They were Five to One-ing him but we would soon
make up for that.
To cut a long story short it seems as if Peter
had tried to move in on one of the other groups girls, she had been
quite willing but her boy friends had caught up and collared her. With
our group turning up, the numbers were now more even. A fight ensued
but before very long it was broke up by the Gala Marshals. Eventually
we and our opposers were ejected from different ends of the grounds. It
meant that we would have to make our own way home but no matter Four of
us had already previously decided to remain in Wakefield for the
Peter's new found bird, we now knew to be
called Jayne, remained with him. It was proposed and accepted that we
adjourn to the Railway pub and later The Starlight Ballroom.
As we entered the dance hall a quartet on stage
were playing old time music. The Paul Jones, Military Two Step and such
like. There was a friendly atmosphere in the room. It was usual that
there would be half an hour of differing types of music. Old time first
then modern dance, quick step , waltz etc. and afterwards a rock n roll
session. The jive music being played by one of the quartet from
records. The name Disc Jockey had not yet been coined.
Peter got his bird up to jive. Jayne was quite
good at it although Peter dancing was very limited. When they returned
to our table Peter suggested that she learn me how to jive. I had
secretly always wanted to learn bop but was too shy to try. Probably
the beer gave me Dutch courage but when Jayne suggested a dance I
agreed and enjoyed every minute of it. All I seemed to have to do was
to stand there and keep holding out a hand, Jayne would take it and
dance around. I had no idea what I was doing but because Jayne was so
good it made me look presentable. I relished in the idea that at the
next Youth club dance session I would get Brenda up and show I could
dance after all.
The Rock and Roll half hour ended and the
quartet came on again. Because it was a Valletta and none of us wanted
to dace to old time music it was suggested we retire to the bar for a
drink. As we entered who should be there but the Wakefield gang who
we'd earlier had a set to at the Miners Gala. We walked up to the bar.
Jayne suggested that we leave it but to a man we, nor they, were having
none of it. Something was said, by whom I know not, it wasn't important
both groups knew what was going to happen, again a fight started. The
whole place was in an uproar. Tables were overturned , buffets and
anything handy, were flung across the room. It was just like a scene
from an old time Western film. It seemed that the fight was only
seconds old, actually it was much longer, when into the room rushed a
single policeman and a couple of bouncers. Both factions respected the
Police uniform and the fight stopped. All males involved were placed
under arrest and thrown into a 'Black maria' Police van and taken to
the main Wakefield Police station. Each person was taken to an
interview room and statements were taken.
We had seemed to be in the cells hours when an
Inspector came in and cautioned us, each in turn, that on this occasion
the ballroom had decided not to press any charges and so the Police
were taking the matter any further. Providing we returned home
peacefully the matter would be dropped. NFA (No further action) as he
A great time had been had by all.
THE BLACK BED SEAM
The Third week of training at Lofthouse
Colliery we were taken on a tour of the working Black Bed
seam. This working seam was very modern by the standards of
At Lofthouse the coal that was initially
loaded on the face conveyers was carried by a further
series of conveyers, gate, main, heading, main
heading. Eventually cascading their loads into Mine
cars which were hauled to the pit bottom
by large Diesel engines. Each mine car could hold over
three tons of coal.
The Shaft at Lofthouse was
wide enough for mine cars to be hauled to
the surface. The raised coal then began a
somewhat similar process to that of our pit at Middleton.
A more detailed explanation is later given of
the layout and working of a typical mine of the period.
Basic first aid is taught to all miners in
training and they are encouraged to take a more detailed course
of study to obtain the St Johns First Aid Certificate.
Part of our underground training dealt with
ponies and their handling of. Pit ponies we
were informed had almost as much regulations
pertaining to them as humans. Part three
of the General regulations of the Coal mines act of 1945
dealt with the care and treatment of horses and similar animals.
It specified the hours and places in
which they could be worked. The ill treatment of them
was subject to a fine or even discharge.
We were shown how to harness the ponies, the
usual orders of command, their feeding and welfare.
Signalling underground can be made in a number
of ways, from switching your cap lamp on or off, to making
a telephone call.
All mines of that time had a
telephone system. Some more sophisticated than
others. The most basic involved revolving a small handle a
number of times with short intervals between. The number of
complete rings indicated who you wanted to contact.
Middleton had this basic system.
At the Lofthouse colliery they had a
modern dialling system and even the pit manager could be
contacted directly from almost anywhere in the pit.
Another method of underground signalling
consisted of a pair of wires, Six inches apart. These
separated wires were strung overhead, the whole length of a
conveyer belt or an endless rope haulage. A small
electrical charge (by mining regulations not more than 25
Volts) ran through the wires. By connecting the two wires at any
place along the whole length, a circuit was created. This caused
a warning bell to ring at the machine
operators station. One ring instructs the operator to stop the machine,
two rings tells him to restart.
FIGHT TO A STANDSTILL
During the forth week of training
underground we trainees were queuing to be 'rung out
of the pit. There was always an amount of jostling to
be among the Twelve to get into the first cage.
As most were trying to get to
the front of the queue I managed to edge my way near
the front. A voice directly behind me said, "You get on that cage
before me I'll have you on top".
I recognised the voice but pretended not to
hear him. I was tempted to 'hang' back, but there was no way I
would lose face in front of all the others who had heard the threat.
The person who uttered the threat was Brian Greatorix
I had heard that he had signed professional forms for Castleford
Rugby League Club as a prop forward. I was slightly in awe of
him. Although he was as tall as I and about my weight he looked, to me,
I got on the cage,
secretly wishing that he would also managed to get
on the same cage. He did not, he was resigned to the second
I was already getting washed when Brian entered
the showers. I was hoping he had forgotten the incident but no.
He uttered in front of everybody within earshot, "I told
you what would happen if you got on the cage before me, you've got it
I mumbled something but I didn't feel too
confident to say much. The upshot of it all was
that most of the course congregated
just outside of the pit premises, a ring of people
was formed and the fight began.
I tried boxing him and because he
obviously had some boxing experience I didn't feel very successful.
He must have tried the same thing with the same result that in
the end we both stood toe to toe slugging at each other. My blows
on him were full blooded and on target, but his also were the
same on me. My punches did not seem to be having any effect on him but
his were on me.
We seemed to be 'at it' for ages when we both
seemed to step back before a further onslaught.
As we stood back he said something to
the effect "You've obviously done some of
this before", meaning fighting, I immediately
recognised this as, he was willing to talk.
My answer was "So have you, do you still want
to carry on"
"Call it a draw then," he offered. I was
more than thankful to call it off. My answer was an immediate, "Yes".
I had just had the hardest fight of my life,
inside the ring or out. I was relieved to get out of it evens.
The surrounding spectators broke
out into spontaneous clapping which in itself was
unusual. At least they had enjoyed it.
With that we both shook hands and
went our separate ways. There was no animosity felt or given.
Throughout the rest of our training we had a new found respect
for each other. We both bore our black eyes and facial bruises
with a little pride for most of the following week.
I grew to like Brian when I got to
know him. We became quite good friends. He sometimes
joined our group of mates during our evening weekend jaunts round
THIRTEEN END OF TRAINING ?
I was surprised to learn during
training that when a roof support is erected, it does not
'hold up' all the rock seams and strata above it, through
to the surface. It only supports the weight of the
rock seam directly above that support. The strata of rock above
the immediate rock seam, usually remains intact.
That was the theory anyway in practice it
was something else.
Towards the end of the course at
the Technical college we all were informed about the
opportunity for further study to management
level. We were told that anyone
interested could submit an application for interview. I
decided to apply.
I and two others were required to take a
short written test to show an education level. I was a little
apprehensive of this because I realised my education wasn't that
I must have passed the initial test
because I was invited for interview.
At the interview I was informed that the
course entailed a day a week release from work and 2
nights a week of my own time. The course of
study was to H.N.C. level and would last Four years.
The qualification was to pit
Numerous questions were asked of me
but I must have given satisfactory answers because I was
offered a place on the next course. This would start in
about two months hence.
Before I knew it the Sixteen week
training course was over and I became qualified to work
I felt a little sorry that the training course
had come to an end and having to say good-bye to my new
found friends. I promised to continue meeting them in
Wakefield at weekends.
I was still attending the youth club a couple
of nights a week and because I took part in the many sporting
activities, Boxing Swimming and Athletics etc., the youth leader asked
if I would be interested in applying for an Outward Bound Course being
sponsored by the Leeds City Corporation. I replied in the affirmative
and he promised to make further enquiries on my behalf.
My courtship of Brenda continued.
It was to be my first day
underground at Middleton Broom Colliery, Leeds. Tommy C.,
George L and George O' N .and I were to be taken on a tour of the
underground workings with Bennie W. We had been instructed to go
to his office at 9.O clock on our first Monday.
When we duly reported
we were informed that Benny was already
underground attending to another matter. We were to make our own
way and meet him at the pit bottom.
Booking out lamps, we went to the man riding
shaft. There we were informed that the shaft was
undergoing maintenance. All men riding would
temporary have to use the other shaft.
We walked round and climbed up the steps
to the coal shaft pit bank.
Whilst waiting, with others, the
banksman, who knew that it was our first time down Middleton said.
"First time down eh lads, I'll have a word with the winder to let you
down steady". He had a slight smile on his face.
As I have prior
explained the Man Riding Shaft was
electrically driven and governed to
restrict the speed of descent. The
cage we were about to enter was steam driven and
greater speed could be used.
The time came for us to alight the cage. The
banksman 'rang' the cage off and we began our descent.
Suddenly the speed of descent greatly
increased until it felt as if it was out
of control. The weight of my body seemed to decrease. Never
had we travelled any way near as fast when descending the
Lofthouse Colliery. I was truly frightened. The
others riders in the cage did not seem unduly
perturbed. We reached the bottom with a juddering
halt. The others alighted as if nothing had happened. I was glad to get
out in one piece. George L. looked as white faced as I felt.
I was to find in later rides that
it was quite normal to ride fast down the coal shaft
whereas the electric driven, man rider, was quite smooth
and comparatively slow.
Benny W. met us, as
promised at the pit bottom. After telling us
to hand our checks to the onsetter he led us out of one of
the exit tunnels.
Ben explained that he was to take us to
one of the numerous 'faces' of the seam. He told us
that there were Six faces in operation at that time. He
would show us the workings of the face and we would then follow
the progression of the coal as it was extracted out of the
We walked down roadways varying from
Twelve to Six Feet in height for about three
Miles. Evidence of the weight of the forces acting on
the steel ring supports was evident, especially in the tail gate
On our travels inward Bennie explained the
working of a pit, in particular Middleton. He explained:-
A seam of coal can be imagined as the filling
in a sandwich. The bread above and below is the rock, with the filling,
coal, in the middle. The area of coal can be tens of miles
square. Due to rock Strata faults, the workable
'Ebor' seam at Middleton had about Four Miles
of square area. The coal seams can vary in
height from pit to pit. At Middleton the average height is
two feet and a few inches thick. Other pits boasted seams of Four
to Five Feet.
He went on that to describe a coal face.
It was easier to think of a plan view of the capital letter E.
With a piece of chalk, (all Deputies and
management carry a piece of chalk) he drew an end on letter E with the
legs pointing downwards. The centre leg of the E he called
the main gate and the outside legs were the two tail gates.
The coal face was the long upright of the E.
Coal face lengths vary. An average
distance between a Tail gate and a Loader gate is some eighty Yards
(80m). The Left and Right Faces combining at around one
Hundred and Sixty Yards (160m) or more.
The main gate usually is about 9 foot (3m) in
height and the two tail gates Six foot (2m).
Longwall or forward mining being
the extraction method of coal used at Middleton Colliery.
(A different method is now more commonly used, called retreat
He further explained that at the
start of a new coal face the main gate and the two
tail gates are driven forward about Fifty Yards (50m). The
coal, in between the gates is called a pillar. This pillar
is left intact to protect the main heading gate from excess
The coal is hand hewn and blasted out
with explosives, at right angles to both left
and right sides of the main gate. A coal face heading can
also be started from the tail gates driven towards the
main gate. Only about Nine feet (3m) width of coal
is taken. The rock above the coal is the roof.
The face headings meet somewhere in the middle,
with little more than a few inches (50 cm) out of
alignment. Great accuracy is achieved due to the mine survey
The coal or the strata under the coal is
then undercut by a machine. The jib that is at right angles to the
machine. The jib has a fast continuous rotating chain with
protruding tungsten carbide tipped picks. The jib of the
machine is about Six feet (2m) long.
Holes are drilled in the face of
the coal to a depth of about Six feet deep, at Six feet
A conveyer, or what is commonly called
the 'belt', is then installed the whole length of the face.
'Chocks' which are extra roof supports are set at the roof
break off point.
When all tasks are completed and running,
a shotfirer will stem the drilled holes with an explosive
charge and 'fire' the 'shots'.
Miners will then space themselves
out along the face and begin to hand shovel the loosened
coal on to the conveyer belt. A short pick would also be used to
hew coal from the face that has not been loosened by the explosives.
Wood props and bars would be set to
contain the new exposed roof as the coal was shovelled on to the
The coal cutting machine would be
turned around in one of the Tail gate 'corners' and a new
cut started to begin the whole process again.
As the face moves forward, Six Feet per
day, the void left becomes what is called the 'Gob'.
All supports were, or should be, withdrawn from
the gob area. The gob roof then falls in, relieving
the weight on the face roof.
All waste material is
deposited or thrown into the gob. Compacted stone packing
were built in the gob at either side of the gates. This packing
helps to take some of the weight from the gate supports.
The whole process from the cutting of the
coal to the hand extraction of it was designed to take Twenty
Four Hours. When all worked perfectly it did. Which was not all too
Bennie throughout our journey continued to
The coal from the face
conveyers fed on to the gate conveyer.
Each Gate conveyer in turn led on to series of larger
width Main gate conveyers. At each conveyer machine
station a worker was placed to ensure
that the conveyer belt can be controlled. His
job is to turn the conveyer on or off as required and to keep the area
free from accumulating spillage falling from the belt.
When we reached the end of
the conveyer system the coal tumbled into minecars.
The minecars, were slightly smaller that the ones at
Lofthouse, held about two and a half tons of coal
each. This point was called the loader end.
The Safety Officer told me this was to be my place of
work on the following day.
He introduced me to a youth called
Douglas G. He did not look much older that I.
It turned out that he was about Six months
older. I was told that I was to be under the
charge of Doggie for a period of three weeks. I was
to be within hailing distance of him at all times during
that period. After this probationary
period I would on my own and could
be placed anywhere in the pit that I was trained for.
We followed the trail of the loaded
minecars up the main heading. They were hauled
to the pit bottom by a diesel engine locomotive. George L. was to
be a diesel drivers mate. At the end of the
Main heading there was a huge tippler that rotated the mine
The coal was then fed again on to a short
conveyer. There it was loaded in to the smaller tubs that I had handled
on the surface at the pit bank. The tubs were then pushed on rails
round to the shaft cage. In turn to be loaded in to it for transport to
Ben W. then took us
to visit the stables. Tommy C. and George
O'N. were introduced to the stable manager, Alfred Day, for their three
weeks supervision. They were to become a pony drivers.
The following day I met Douggie, my
minder, as arranged at the pit top. He
escorted me about a mile inward to the main loader
end. My first days work underground was to begin.
As I have described the main loader end
is where the whole of the pit conveyer system empties the coal
into minecars. At this point the roadway
is quite wide and well lit by overhead electric
lights. Wide enough for the two sets of engine tracks
that are laid. Diesel engines, with their loaded mine cars,
can pass other mine cars that are being filled. Higher up
or lower down the main roadway from the loader end only a
single track is laid.
The procedure at the loader end was:-
Five minecars were loaded with coal.
A further Five empty cars are brought by a diesel.
The empties would be left and the full cars hitched up and taken
to the pit bottom.
A steel rope would be attached to the front
mine car. It was fed over a series of pulleys. At the other end of the
rope was an electric 'Tugger' engine. The rope was attached
to a drum on the engine. A switch decided which way
the drum would rotate. A handle controlled the drums
speed. With the switch upward and the handle drawn back the
drum would rotate winding in the steel rope. The
minecars would inch forward. By slow skilled use of the rotating handle
the minecars could be adequately filled.
At the change over between cars,
instead of stopping the conveyer, a metal sheet
was placed between the cars. The coal filled
steel sheet would be emptied
and placed over the space between the next
When the five cars were
full the steel rope would be detached and
by reversing the 'tugger' engine the rope could be hand
pulled back to be re-attached to the Five new empty
The engine driver would couple up
to the full cars. Push them forward to the single
track 'inbye'. The engine drivers mate would change over
the track points. They would then be hauled past the
loader end to the pit bottom, 'outbye'.
The process would be repeated many times during
The loader end was a two man job. At times
it was nice and easy with not a lot of work to do. At
other times when the coal was coming thick and fast, there was
lots of spillage which had to be shovelled back into the cars.
During the first and the last hour of the shift things could be
It was at these times that the devil made use
of idle hands
Out of the rock wall opposite the conveyer end,
a large room had been excavated to house the
electrical boxes and tugger engine. We called this
room the dug-out. Makeshift seats had been built out of
spare timbers covered with old conveyer belting. Different
items of tools were also stored within the dug-out.
When the coal was coming over the end thick and fast
both Douggie and I were on our feet all of the time.
When there was little to do
we sat in the dug-out probably reading a newspaper or comics.
Workers, management and other passers by
would briefly stop to pass the time of day or relay the current
gossip of the day. Most of the time there was a light
hearted mood at the loader end. Tricks, jokes and/or
'winding' people up was the norm.
As I have stated, there were no toilets down Middleton
Pit. Anyone who was 'taken short' or had to relieve himself, had
to go into any convenient place. The resulting waste would
then be thrown on to the nearest conveyer belt or mine car.
For safety reasons it was strictly
illegal to ride on the conveyer. But many men did.
They jumped on to it then, because of the low height of the roadway,
lay down full face forward. Many has been the
time when men coming from their place of work had jumped on the
belt only to have lain in someone's human waste.
A CUSTARD PIE
I had been at the loader end for two
weeks. One morning at the beginning of the shift, coal was only
lightly coming over the conveyer end. The diesel driver,
Colin T. having brought Five empties was
waiting for the current cars to be filled. As
he usually did, he came and stood with us in the dug-out for a chat.
After he had left, although we did not
realise at the time, the dug-out began to smell strongly of excrement.
We looked round all around the dug-out and on the dusty floor for
the offending smell but to no avail. Often excrement
came over the conveyer and into the cars but that smell was only
Soon the coal began to come
over thick and fast and the smell was forgotten.
Although every time Douggie or I neared the dug-out we got
a whiff of it. I accused him of the smell whilst he placed the
onus on me.
Even the pit manager Mr Poskitt. who visit us for a few
minutes on his rounds of the pit remarked on the smell.
Telling us, as he left to, "clean the place up."
Towards the end of the shift when the
coal became thinner I went to sit on the makeshift seat. As
I sat down the offending smell reared up again. I
realised my sitting down had stirred something up.
Taking up the piece of conveyer belt seating I
discovered that the underside had been
smeared with someone's human excrement.
Colin, the diesel driver arrived on the scene
and remarked "Oh you've found your present then? I just
thought I'd leave it for your coming Sixteenth birthday."
Douggie and I both called him all
the names under the sun and many more besides.
Although it seems now a filthy trick, taking it
in context it was a minor thing. A good laugh and I
was to get my own back, literally.
I had been racking my brains how I could get one back on the
diesel driver, Colin. Douggie suggested something and I
thought about it and decided to refine his idea.
One morning when I had time on my hands I
took my leave of Douggie and walked a little way down the track
for some privacy. I then defecated in a small white sweet
paper bag. Twisting the corners like a bag of sweets I
carried the 'parcel' back and put it to one side.
Colin came in his diesel to collect the Five full
cars. As he drove passed our dug out on the way
to the pit bottom I shouted "Colin,
have a birthday sweet" and threw the 'parcel' into
When he returned some Fifteen minutes later I was very
wary and expecting some retort, in action or words. But nothing, Colin
never mentioned it. It was as if the incident had never happened.
I was puzzled and a little disappointed that my
trick had fell on stony ground. The coal began to come over the
loader end thick and fast and work began in earnest. The whole shift
carried on as normal and I completely forgot the incident.
Towards the back end of the shift, Colin drove
down with the Five empties, the previous Five were not full.
Colin parked his diesel and came and
stood to my left hand side. I in turn was watching the conveyer
end spilling coal.
Colin asked, "All right Jack?" Without
looking at him I nodded a reply. With that he flattened
the Sweet bag full into my face. Imagine a clown thrusting
a custard pie into the face of another. That describes his
I had to scrape the mess from out of my eyes so that I could
see. It was all so sudden and unexpected. I was at a loss what to do.
I had to do something in retaliation. I swung
round and grabbed his coat lapels and pulled
him close to me at the same time trying to wipe my
excrement covered face over his shirt and coat.
We began to wrestle and ended up on the floor
in the dust.
Unbeknown to either of us the sweet
bag remnants had fallen to the floor, Douggie
gingerly picked up one corner and deposited it
between our wrestling bodies. We were totally unaware of this. The
upshot was the both Colin and myself became plastered.
I was reasonably lucky because the shift was
almost over and having cleaned down as best I could left for the
pit bottom for extraction out of the pit. I did not have a
change of clothes, there still being no pit head baths so I had to walk
Colin, whose shift started at Seven
O clock, had another hour to go before he could be relieved.
That day I really got my own back in more ways
Four days before I was to be released
from being under Douggie's supervision the deputy of
the district called on us. It was towards the end of the
shift, Douggie and I were waiting for our relief and preparing to
finish our shift.
The deputy, John Hindle. explained that our relief had not
turned in for work and that there was no one to step into his
place. He asked Douggie to do a 'double un'. This meant work over
time until Seven O clock in the evening. Pay at time and a
half worked out that you got another full days pay. A 'double
one'. Douggie had done this a few times
before. The loader end needed only one attendant
during the evening, very little material came over the belt end.
Douggie said that it was
impossible that day as he had somewhere to go.
John asked me if I would do it. I reminded him
that I was still under Douggie's supervision
for another Four days. John Hindle said it would be
all right, I knew the job.
I agreed, pleased in the knowledge
that the deputy trusted me to be on my own.
The diesel driver brought sufficient mine cars to
last the evening and night shifts. There were about Twenty
parked up. The main roadway had a slight decline.
The system was that when Five full cars were
full, he steel rope was uncoupled and a few of
the brakes of the cars were released. The
cars were allowed to roll slowly down the roadway under
gravity using the brakes to check their progress.
I was instructed to park the full cars well down,
past the cutting, on the single track.
The brakes on the individual
cars were not usually well maintained. The brake
shoes often too worn to do the job. Even with a brake full
on a car could roll under its own gravity.
The cars were usually checked by placing wooden
bars (planks of wood) across the rails tapping the
wheels. The bars were strewn down the side of the
I was reminded that Harry Silverwood. and his
men were working at the far end of the main roadway.
Harry S. was the Union president of the
colliery. He was arching out the main roadway making it
longer, about two miles down the track. His team only
worked the afternoon shift
All was going well, I had no problem.
There was very little work to do other than occasionally pull the
tugger handle to move the cars down little by little.
It is pointed out that when the
cars were pulled forward down the slight incline the brakes
were mostly on.
At about Six O clock, the Five mine cars had been
filled. I stopped the conveyer belt and 'tugged' them to the far end of
the rope. I released some of the brakes of the empty cars and gravity
allowed them to roll down the track. As they reached the
loader end I quickly locked on the brakes and the
The steel rope was reset and the conveyer belt
Then I had to lower the full
mine cars further down the roadway as instructed.
I released first one brake then another and because they
did not move, another brake was released. Still they did
not move. As I was releasing the Fourth
brake they slowly began to move down the roadway.
I quickly then began to pull on the
brakes but having reset them, all the
cars still continued moving forward. I
realised that I had to place bars over the rails to halt the
moving full cars. As I place one bar across the
rails the mine car wheels just 'jumped' over it and
continued unchecked. Although the full cars were only travelling
at a few miles per hour, to me it was very fast. I was panicking now I
kept throwing bars under the wheels but they refused to halt the
gathering speed of the cards. I was well aware of the
team of workers working at the far end of the heading there
would be no way to warn them of the runaway cars. They
would have no chance of survival. I carried on
throwing the bars across the rails until I was nearly out
of bars; except for one, a thick one.
In desperation, even in the certain
knowledge that it would not stop the runaways -the bar it was too
thick anyway- I threw it under..
The wheels did not jump the bar,
the wheels bit into the wood. The cars were slowing down. I
then realised I had a chance. Bar after bar I threw under the
wheels and slowly the cars came to a thankful halt. Somebody up
there did like me after all.
Gathering a handful of bars I
placed them under each and every wheel. I over spragged the
wheels being so relieved to have been given a second
chance. There was no way those cars were going to
Returning to the loader end I was full of
sweat, not from exertion but of fear.
Fear of what would have happened if the mine cars had
carried on out of control.
Over the two miles of downward
track, really high speeds would have been reached.
Harry S. and his team would never know how near to death
they came that evening. I will never forget the incident it still
brings me out in a cold sweat as I write this.
Later that year steel 'drop' Warwicks
were installed in the roadway. One above and one below the loader end.
A drop Warwick is a long H girder.
It is fastened to the roof of the roadway with a hinge.
Roofing Rawlplugs are used for fixing. The girder can
be lifted up until it is level with the roof. A hinged
bracket and release bar is fixed to the roof. The bracket can then be
slotted over the other end of the girder. A wire is
attached to the end bracket release bar and strung along the
roadway sides, upwards of the incline. A sharp pull
on the wire will cause the release bar to swing forward
allowing the Girder end to drop. With one end of the
Warwick to the roof and the other end to the
floor any runaway minecars would sprag against it
causing them to stop.
If there had been a drop Warwick in
situ when the mine cars ran away from me I
certainly would have used it and been glad of it.
Not long after the instalment of
the drop Warwicks, one of my new mates Peter Whitehead. who was now
a loco drivers mate was injured with one.
A drivers mate job is to couple/uncouple
minecars, change rail points, etc. When the
loco is in motion he would stand on the rear minecar coupling holding
the edge of the car for balance.
A loaded loco was travelling
underneath a raised drop Warwick. The coal was piled
higher than the Warwick. It dislodged a large piece on the
rear car. Peter fingers became squashed between the
coal and the minecar edge.
Serious injury was caused to his right hand.
His ring finger had to be amputated at the Second knuckle.
SAFETY OFFICERS ASSISTANT
That September I had notification from
the Training Officer that I was to begin my day release and two evening
classes at the Wakefield Tech. college.
Monday was the specified day. Tuesdays and
Thursdays, 7 till 9 were the evenings.
At college we were to be instructed in
all the subjects of our previous training but at a much
deeper level. I enjoyed my day release from work but the
two evening were a bit of a bind. I was now courting Brenda seriously.
Just after starting college Bennie Wilkie
approached me with the proposal that I become his assistant. His
previous assistant had taken up duties at a
nearby pit as a full Safety/Training Officer.
Ben outlined the duties that I would be undertaking and assured
me it was a responsible job.
I immediately agreed to the prospect.
The job appealed to me, there would be little manual work
attached to the new job.
I was Sixteen and a half and I had the
exulted title of Assistant Safety Officer. The
title cut no ice with my mates, they jeered and called me
'Bennie Wilkie's Bum Boy'
The first day in my new job, Ben
had left instructions to meet him at the pit bottom at Ten O
Clock. He was to take a party of civic VIPs on a tour of the mine.
When Ben and his party arrived
underground there were eight persons in all. Three of them were women.
Ben suggested that the party follow
him in single file and that I brought up the rear. We were
going to take a general tour of the workings.
We were walking inbye and came upon a pony
driver, Archie Brook., whose full tubs had been derailed. He was
bending over with his back to us, straining to lift the
tubs back on to the rails. His trousers were torn
from the fly hole, round underneath the crotch, almost to his
waist at the rear. He obviously was not wearing any
undergarments. It looked as if he was wearing two half pairs of
As we came upon Archie his wedding tackle
was showing to all and sundry. Normally
such a sight down a pit is not worth a second
glance. But with the ladies present Ben was a
little embarrassed. Not only was the pony driver showing
all his manhood he was swearing about almost everything and everybody.
He had not noticed who we were because without
turning round the driver said, "Give us a hand mate with
these (Expletive) tubs."
Ben waved to me to give him a hand. As we
lifted the tubs back to the rails it was then that Archie noticed Ben
and the ladies in our party.
He turned to Ben and said, "Sorry Bennie I
didn't realise it was you." and then laughingly
turned to the ladies and said. "This is the second
pair of trousers I've ruined today. Sorry
about my language."
Ben accepted this apology without comment
and we continued on our way.
A successful tour of the pit was carried
out with the VIPs giving us their compliments.
Two days later Ben handed me a parcel
that contained an old pair of Ben's trousers. I was instructed to give
them to the pony driver who we had met whilst taking the
VIPs on a tour of the mine. Ben was a large man, especially
round the middle.
When I handed them to Archie, he fell about
laughing. I've got to admit so did I. He put them on, over his
own trousers. He looked like a circus clown. There was no
way he could wear them and he told me so in no uncertain terms.
I explained they were given in good faith and he calmed
down. But there was no way he would wear them he would be
the laughing stock of the pit.
I reported back to Ben that the trousers had been gratefully
Once a month, part of my new duties was the
taking of dust samples. As described earlier, coal
dust in its raw state is potentially very
explosive. When any explosion
occurs the concussion wave that precedes the
fire causes the dust to rise into the air. So providing
fuel for a chain reaction. The coal dust can be
'diluted' and rendered comparatively harmless by the spreading of Stone
Stone dust a is white limestone dust that
is delivered down the pit in hundred weight paper sacks. The
person spreading the dust stands upstream of
the air current and using his hands scatters it all
around the sides and floor of the roadway. This scattering
of dust only adds to the general dusty atmosphere of a mine.
Dust barriers were situated at
certain key points. These were a platform like
apparatus that was erected near the roof. The platform was
filled with loose stone dust. In the event of an explosion
the barriers were designed to fall. The
stone dust would be spread out with the concussion
wave and hopefully halt the explosive chain reaction.
The mining regulation at that time
required that samples of dust be submitted to the Area mining
laboratories for analysis. All Roadways where men or air
travelled have to be sampled.
The safety officer instructed me on the dust sampling duties
and gave me the written mining regulations that covered this
subject, to study.
The method of sampling was that mine plans had
been prepared and zones of sampling designated. My duties
were to work to the plan. I had to walk
down the roadway in a zigzag pattern
collecting dust from the roof, walls and floor. I had
a small brush to sweep the dust into a round brass 60
mesh sieve. The sieved fine dust collected into
a holding bottom. A portion of the sample was then
placed in small envelopes and marked with a code that
corresponded to the mine plans.
I enjoyed the task of dust sampling,
within reason I could take as long as I wanted over the task.
I was allowed to travel to the surface as the need
arose. I travelled the whole area of the mine workings as
my duties required. I had the run of the pit. No one
ever questioned where I was or what I was doing. Answerable only to the
Manager, the Under manager and the Safety Officer.
One day I was on dust
sampling duties. I was near the coaling
pit bottom. A diesel driver and his mate and a few from the
pit bottom workers were going for their snap, as I had done many
times before, I decided to join them for mine. We all
collected in a small bricked office.
As always, the talk amongst the
lads was many and varied. A diesel driver Harry
related that at the weekend his next door neighbour
had died in bed. He had been asked by the Funeral director in
attendance to help carry the body downstairs. He described being
at the head of the body whist his mate was at the feet going down
backwards. As they passed a bend in the
stairs the body had to be twisted. This
caused residue air in the body to be expelled out of the
mouth. Harry described as "It moaned into my
face." He described having almost dropped the body in fright.
With the telling of the body story,
ghost tales in general were discussed.
One chilling tale that I remembered most was :-
It was circa 1926 The general
strike was at it's height. Most industries had closed down,
as were the pits. The strike at the Belle Hill pit, near
Leeds, had been going on for over two months. No workers went
underground, except for a deputy who, once a day, descended to
check water levels in the sumps. And to pump water out as necessary.
One particular day having done his tasks the deputy needed
to relieve himself of bodily waste. Going out of the pit bottom he
backed into a stall, a small opening cut into the rock side, and
dropped his trousers.
Just as he began to defecate a hand clapped on
his bare behind.
With a scream he pulled up his strides and
raced back to the pit bottom. He rang the bell to get himself out of
On reaching the surface he, obviously in
distress, was asked what the problem was. He managed to gasp that
there was someone, or something down the pit. He was assured that no
one, other than himself, had been down. The banksman should know he
rang them all down and out.
The deputy was insistent and pointed to a
bloody hand print on his behind. A search party was organised.
The deputy refused to join it.
On searching, where the deputy had
described, they found a man. All the front of his face, his
arms and body was covered in blood and gore. His clothing
was in shreds. By the time he was stretchered out of the pit he
The upshot of the story goes that just
across the road from the Belle Hill pit is The Wood Lane Insane
Asylum. (It is still there) The man had escaped from
the asylum and entered the pit shaft area. He
is supposed to have slid down the cage guide
ropes, hence the blood and gore. On
reaching the bottom he crawled out of the pit bottom
to the place where he had touched the deputy.
The deputy's hair is supposed to have turned
white overnight and he refused ever to go down a pit again.
The Belle Hill pit in the story was only a few
miles from Middleton. Their extreme workings
would probably extend to our far workings.
I was sixteen and a half and very
In the cold light of day the story
probably never happened it's too full of holes. But alone,
down a dark pit, tales take on a life of their own.
On hearing the story I have
to admit a chill went up my spine. Whilst I was with
others it was not so bad. After snap time was finished I had to carry
on with my dust sampling duties.
I had to sample a part of the pit known as the
old workings. It was a two mile long roadway that led to
the 'New pit'. Why it was called that I know not
because the new pit was last worked at about the turn of
the century. The roadway, to the new pit, was kept
open because every Second day the new pit shaft sump had to be
visited to inspect the water pumps. These continually
drain out collected water. The New Pit was at a slightly higher
level than our seam .If the pumps were stopped and the roadway
was closed eventually the water would eventually flood down into our
I went to seek out John H. the deputy of
the district I was about to travel. I had to inform him that I
was to walk the road to the new pit and that it would take
me about an hour. I was required to report, in and
out, whenever I travelled into 'out of way' places.
I began my dust sampling a little
slower than normal. My mind was not on my job. I was
conjuring up all sorts of terrors. I could not get rid of the
tales I had just heard. It was cold and quite windy in the
roadway to the new pit. I was feeling very lonely. I did
not want to go any further.
The wind blew up a piece of scrap paper
behind me, it made me start. My spirit jumped out of me and
probably hit the roof. I was going no further.
It was easy to fake the dust samples for
the whole journey it would be impossible to prove I had not
completed the task.
Without moving from the spot I just sat
down and forged the samples from the dust around me.
Half an hour later I informed John H.
that I had completed my tasks and was out of his area.
I went out of the pit to Ben's office to
prepare my samples for sending to the area laboratories. The
samples would take two weeks for us to get the results. Any
samples that were below a certain standard would be
highlighted and the offending area of the pit would be designated
for stone dusting.
That night my mind could not rest I had failed
in my duty.
What if there was an explosion made worse
by my actions What if men were killed because of me? I
could not think of a way out. I could not tell Ben W.
that I had been afraid to walk down a perfectly safe
This was the first time in my
life that I'd had such a terrible worry on my
For two days I wrestled with my
conscience trying to find a way out. Then I concocted a plan.
I went to see the
Safety Officer as I usually did for instructions
as to any duties that he wished me to carry
out. Sometimes I could suggest where I might be gainfully
employed. I said that whilst dust sampling the new pit road,
the area looked a little dark. Indicating a build up
of coal dust. It didn't really. I
suggested that I take any spare worker from the pit
bottom, there were always a couple, and stone dust the
offending area. Because he had nothing more important for
me to do that day, Ben agreed.
I went to see John H. and
asked him if he had any spare workers. I spoke of the
Safety Officer's instructions. John said that he had two I could use.
One of them went to the
stables and booked a pony out, whilst the
other lad and I began loading chariots with bags of stone dust.
On the arrival of the pony, we
hitched up the chariot and proceeded to the new pit roadway. We
gave the whole gate a really thorough dusting. A heavy
weight lifted from my shoulders, I had wriggled out of my
dilemma and learnt a great lesson of life
Coincidentally enough on the return of one of
the samples, a few weeks later, it showed that a
small area was a little over the permitted level of coal
dust. It would have had to have been stone dusted anyway.
JOHN THE STRONG
My college day release was going quite well I thought. I was
struggling a little with maths. I had only a very basic education
at school. Most of the class were ex. grammar school
boys. In maths for instance I had never heard the word
algebra, never mind calculate in it. Some of the others were used to
doing quadratic equations whatever they were.
When first year exams results were given I had
passed, not with high marks, but with sufficient to enable me to
be granted a second year of study.
It was during this first year that
I took a course of St. Johns First aid lectures which gave
me a qualifying certificate. From that point on I carried,
at all times, a satchel of First aid equipment.
A series of Morphine Safes
were installed at strategic points within the
underground workings. These were small sturdy safes set
in concrete into the rock wall. Only
responsible persons who were qualified in the use of morphine
were entrusted with a key. I felt very grand when I passed
a course of instruction and was given a key to the safes.
Morphine is given to seriously
injured miners who are in great pain and
it is thought there may be a delay in
being treated by a doctor. Morphine cannot be
given lightly to a patient and strict records must be
kept of any administration.
If Morphine is ever administered a large 'M'
must be drawn on the forehead of the patient to ensure that a double
dose, which may be lethal or habit forming, is not given.
Part of my duties was
to periodically check the safe contents and
I also had to
periodical check fire
hydrants and extinguishers. Both these
are usually situated at key points and where machinery is constantly
being used. A fire could break out where machinery bearings have
broken down and friction has caused the machine to overheat.
Prompt action by the person on the spot can save lives.
One shift I was checking the
Fire extinguishers in the coaling pit bottom.
There had been a hold up at the pit top. No coal was being
hauled up the shaft.
All the pit bottom lads had congregated in a
group. Amongst the group was Johnny C. I was
surprised to see him there because his usual job was as a conveyer belt
Johnny had been boasting about how
he had taken up weight lifting at his local club. The
discussion was about how much each could lift. It was suggested that
John should show us how he could lift a full tub
of coal off, then back on to the rails by
himself without using leverage.
He completed the task with ease and made it
look a non event. John was a very strong person all had to agree
There was an old tub to one side of the
roadway. It was in bad state of repair and was not used.
Someone further suggested that if it was completely
overturned and Johnny was under it could he lift it with his back and
be able to stand up?
It was obvious he could and John said so.
Ah! but if a lad sat on the
upturned tub could he still do it?
John said he would have a go. He got
under the tub. Instead of one lad getting on top, all of
them, me included, got on. There was no way he
could lift it There were about six people on it. Even then John was
almost moving it.
"Come on Johnny," they urged "you
can do it." John heaved and pushed. There was no way he
could lift the tub. I doubt if Charles Atlas, who was the
strong man of the time, could have done it.
One of the lads nodded to another and one
got off the tub, quietly telling all the others to remain on it.
As one lad got off then his weight would be
compensated with a couple of one Hundred weight sacks of stone dust.
They then put steel rings and fish plates on top.
No way could Johnny free himself he was
trapped. They remained ignorant to his pleas of release.
He was left him under the tub until the
Deputy came and made the lads release him. The whole
episode did not seem to faze or bother Johnny. There again nothing ever
One day the Safety Officer instructed me
to escort him to the Ebor Twenty Sevens. Ebor 27s was not a face
but a place on the underground plans at the extreme edge of our
Whilst we were walking to the 27s, it was
almost three miles away, Ben explained that new Coal Board policy was
such, that all pits were eventually to be coupled up. This
meant that roadways would be driven toward other pit workings to
connect them. It was to provide an emergency escape route.
The policy was being carried out with the atom bomb in mind.
They did not call it nuclear warfare then.
It was thought that if disaster occurred
underground and the pit bottom could not be reached then
the miners would have an alternative escape
route. The same could be said if an atomic bomb was
dropped in the vicinity of the pithead disabling the winding gear.
When we reached Ebor 27s all that was there was
a short tail gate about Six feet high and about 10 yards long.
The gate ended with a loose rock fall and a small
opening over the rock. It would have been
impossible to clamber over the rock into the opening.
We were there because air was leaking through, over the small
opening, from an adjacent pit into our
workings. Robin Hood, Rothwell, Near Leeds was our
Ben checked for gas
with his safety lamp. It was
indeterminable. There may have been a hint but not enough
to be certain. Ben was not satisfied. He
decided to surface and the next day return with a more
sophisticated gas detector.
The next morning we returned to 27s.
Ben had brought a McGlucky gas detector.
It showed that there was just under one percent of methane
gas escaping from the Robin hood workings.
Ben decided that further action was necessary.
Although one percent is not dangerous in
open air any build up can be potentially
explosive. It was necessary to monitor
the air outflow.
I was instructed in the use of the gas detector and was told
to remain there. An air sample was to be taken
every Twenty minutes and the results entered into a book
Ben had brought with him. I would be relieved at the appropriate
Robin Hood miners were driving their heading towards our 27s
I was to spend three weeks at 27s
doing nothing but take samples every twenty
minutes and read. After that first day I brought plenty of
reading materials. The easiest and most boring job I ever had.
The pit used to work on Saturday mornings.
Only certain faces produced coal. Most districts used
Saturday as the time to catch up on work that had fell behind.
It was purely a voluntary shift. Ben had given me permission to
work Saturdays, not for him, but for any deputy that needed a
One Saturday morning I had got a job working in the
coaling pit bottom. To describe the coaling bottom is:-
Because the shaft at Middleton, was not
wide enough to haul minecars to the surface, coal had to be
pre-loaded into smaller tubs. These were the type of tubs
that are described earlier on the pit bank.
After the coal has been emptied
from the minecars via the tippler it runs down
a short conveyor belt. At the end of the conveyer there is
a loader end. The coal is fed into tubs. the tubs
are pushed around on a circuit of the pit bottom eventually
reaching the shaft cage. The full tubs are pushed
into the cage displacing empty tubs. The empty tubs are fed
around to a short downhill gradient. they are held on the
gradient by means of metal lockers. Steel spikes with a
protecting handle. The lockers are placed into the wheels of the
tub and acts as a holding device.
When a tub is filled with coal the
loader operator pulls down a long handle that
stops the coal flow. The coal is held temporarily in a
chute. He nods to the locker man who takes out a locker and the
empty tub rolls forward into the full tub. The slight
gravity at the loader end, the speed and weight
of the empty tub causes the full tub to
be displaced. The circuit continues.
This particular Saturday my job was
to locker the empties and hold them on the incline until the
loader end man indicated that he wanted an empty to replace the
To forecast the empties arrival at just
the correct moment required perfect timing. At the
beginning I was way off getting it exactly right.
After much practice I felt I was getting
better. Towards the middle of the shift I thought I was
getting perfect. The empty tub reached the full
tub exactly as Dick B. pulled the loader handle to stop the
flow of coal entering the tub. He did not now need to indicate I
knew when an empty was required.
Dick B. the loader end operative,
was a natural comedian. He could turn anything around and
make a joke of it. It seemed that everything he did or said
was funny. A pleasant guy to be in the company of.
Dick, as tubs were to be changed over,
stopped the flow of coal with the handle at his Left hand.
His right hand controlled the tub. He was wearing
huge boxing type metal studied gloves. They protected
his hands from misplaced coal coming over the
He always allowed his Right gloved
hand to remain on the full tub until just
before the empty one rammed into it to
displace tubs. Exactly at that point he would remove his hand and take
control of the new empty.
Each time the change over I
would look to make sure he removed his
hand which he always did. After a while I
forgot about his gloved hand, I was skilled at my job.
Just as I was beginning to think
nobody could do this job better than me I released a locker.
The tub began to roll. Dick was not looking at me.
He had his gloved hand at the point of impact.
The empty was going to ram into the full tub and Dick's
hand was in between. I shouted at Dick. He took no
notice. I screamed at him. I tried running
forward to hold back the tubs forward momentum. But to no avail
the tub was well on its way.
He seemed to be unaware of my
screams and the impending crushing of his Right hand.
The tubs impacted, his hand was in between them. I
was almost sobbing. Dick just turned around and looked at me,
He had clenched his fist within the glove
and allowed only the glove to be between the tubs.
Although I could not have been held at
fault, even if an accident had occurred,
it did not relieve my feelings. The relief
knowing Dick was okay. I almost turned angry at what he had
put me through, all for a joke. He was lucky
I did not attack him out of sheer relief. But
there again that was Dick B.
On my travels to Ebor 7s I
used to chat to the Deputy, Willie R. He was a
likeable old rouge and seemed to take a shine for me and I certainly to
him. I was enthralled to listen to his old pit tales.
I could always be guaranteed a job on 7s if I asked
One Friday I had asked if he could find me a
job for Saturday morning. He had replied that although his
face was not working that Saturday he could
fit me in with something to do. It
involved getting a pony from the stables and 'acquiring' some tub
rails for his Right hand tail gate. His regular pony driver
was off that day.
To explain a pony drivers job:-
Every morning a tail gate pony driver
would hitch his pony to a number of Tubs of pit props and
bars. He would drive them from the pit bottom, via back
roads, to the face of his tailgate. On reaching the face he would empty
the supports, from the tubs, and throw them forward until they
reached the face. When the face workers called out for the timber,
he would throw them on to the conveyer. The face
workers would take off as many as
It was in every bodies interests that
tail gate rails were laid as near to the face as possible:
Both from the pony driver, he
had less distance to throw forward the props.
The face worker who got the roof supports as
required and on time.
The Management, greater safety for its workers.
The face advanced about Six feet (2m) a day.
Therefore the pony driver always had this distance every day
added to the distance he had to throw the supports forward.
If the driver did not 'acquire' sufficient rails, his work became
harder every day.
Often the pony driver had so many problems
reaching the district and he would be late supplying 'his' face.
In extreme circumstances the face would be 'filled off' (all
the coal shovelled to the belt) and the whole eighty or so Yards
of roof exposed without any supports. Until all
supports were properly set, face workers were in mortal
In later years I would
be in this position and this terrifying
uncertain time has to be endured.
Management never seemed to see the
bottleneck or potential danger, alleviated easily by the extra
orders of tub rails.
There were few, if any, new tub rails sent
down the pit. Pony drivers had to forage in old
workings for the much sought after old rails. Often
they would put themselves in potential danger in order to
fulfil their needs.
Willie R. had told me to bring a chariot of Six
Foot rings to his district and that he would meet me in the
tailgate later that morning.
I went to the stables and the stableman
said I had to take out a pony called Royal. On entering
Royal's stall I wondered if I could harness him correctly.
I had been shown at the training pit but could I remember?
We had been told of the importance of the harness exactly
fitting the horse.
In some sort of fashion I managed to put
the harness on the pony. If I had done the job correctly I knew not.
I was leading Royal through the air
doors, down the rather steep drift road from the stables. Royal
suddenly lay down to the floor and began to roll around in
the dust. All his four legs were thrashing about in the
air. He was rolling over and over. I didn't know what
to do. I was a little panicky. Had
I done something wrong? Given him too much, too
little water? Harnessed him incorrectly? I reminded myself of the
strict rules governing horses underground. Had I unwittingly
Suddenly almost as fast as Royal had gone to the
ground he got up. He carried on following me as if nothing
had happened. I later found out that all the horses on reaching that
point in the drift enjoy a roll in the dust prior to a shift.
I hooked the chain from the pony's
halter to a chariot of rings and set out from the pit
bottom. I had seen other pony drivers stop and
'locker' up at the top of the roadway called the Traveller
Drift. The traveller drift
is a long steep roadway.
'Lockering up' is to place, specially made, lengths of
hard wood between the struts in the tub wheels. This action stops
the wheels from turning. A locker acts as a brake. Because the
metal wheels are on metal rails there is little friction. The
tubs can still move forward under pressure or gravity.
Having secured my locker at the top of
the drift I urged Royal forward, which he did.
Although riding on the chariots or tubs was forbidden I,
like all the other drivers I had seen, jumped
onboard. We started going forward slowly at first but the chariot
slowly advanced faster. Royal instead of pulling the load now was just
going fast enough to keep just ahead of the chariot that was now moving
under gravity. The lockers were only just stopping the chariot
from being completely out of control. Faster and faster the
chariot sped until Royal was in a Four legged gallop.
The roof and sides of the roadway
flashed by only inches away. I dreaded to think
of anyone walking up the traveller at this point because
the roadway was only wide enough for a single tub or chariot. Anyone
would surely be mown down.
Although small refuge holes are cut into
the rock side they were few and far between, at least they were on the
It was a nightmare ride, I wanted to be off but
there was no chance of getting off at that speed. Had I made a mistake
and not put enough lockers in the wheels?
Suddenly the roadway widened
out and the end of the traveller
came into view. The roadway was also
levelling out. Royal, having done this Hundreds of
times before slowed his gallop until the chariot was once
more under his control. He began walking
and pulling the load. I ordered "Whoa".
Royal obediently stopped and I withdrew the locker brakes. It
would be all level or slightly uphill from now on.
I was to find out later
that all of the pony drivers experienced
the headlong flight down the Traveller every single working
day. How there were few accidents must be luck
or the good judgement of the pony drivers. Other times I did the
ride, it was very exhilarating.
I unloaded the rings in the tailgate as
instructed by Willie R. and waited for the deputy as arranged.
When he arrived he told me to re
hitch the pony to the now empty chariot and we both rode back out
down the tail gate.
He directed me to a crossing
gate and down to the Left tailgate of
Threes. Ebor 3s had been worked out of coal
many years previously. Although I knew where this tailgate
was I had never been down it as there was a single wooden bar
across the entrance denoting a no go area.
As it was now no longer a ventilated
section no air circulated in it.
We both dismounted the empty chariot and left it
and Royal at the entrance. There were no rails leading into
the gate. Some other pony driver had been before. When I
remarked on this fact to Willie, his reply was that there was further
I did not like to enter a
forbidden area but could not appear chicken in front
of Willie. We began our trek up the gate. The roadway when it had been
in use would have been Six Foot wide and high. Because it had
been abandoned many years ago, the roof and side
weight had seriously misshapen the metal rings
that supported the roadway.
In places we had to crawl forward on our hands
an knees. We advanced about Fifty yards inroads before we saw the
rails. They had been originally laid when the road was in
use. We walked a further Fifty yards before we
set about dismantling the rails. Throwing them back towards the
start of the gate where Royal was waiting.
Royal would wait there in the pitch darkness, as
commanded, until he became hungry or his inner time clock
told him it was shift end. He would the about turn and
slowly walk back the way he had come still in complete darkness.
Eventually he would reach back to the pit bottom and the
stables. Horses had done that before and
would do so again. How they found there
way in complete darkness is any one's guess.
It was slow laborious work getting the
rails up. The rails were laid on to wooden bars that
are set on the floor. 'Dog nails' are
hammered home to secure them. We had brought a large claw hammer
with us for the nail extraction. That part was easy but
because of there being no air circulation the heat
in the gate was overpowering.
We had to have a breather every Ten
minutes because of the heat. At one such point Willie lit his
safety lamp and held it up to the roof. The bluish tinged
Yellow flame showed the presence of Methane. Willie reckoned that there
was at least Seven percent gas in the atmosphere. Seven Percent
is an explosive mixture. He warned me not to say anything to anyone
about our escapade. I was more than a little glad to vacate the
We got the chariot loaded and made our
return to the Sevens tailgate. I was instructed to lay them up to
as near the face as possible and to hide any surplus rails at a
spot he designated.
Rails were valuable. It was a common
practice among pony drivers to go into other gates
and steal rails, even to the extent of ripping
up already laid rails.
The worse sin was to steal another's rails at
the beginning of the gate rather the other face end.
Although this did not happen on a regular basis, it
There was no honour among drivers where rails
Some ponies can be very clever and experienced.
If a tub was travelling too fast for a horses gallop, a
clever horse will use its hind quarters to help slow down the
tubs. It has been known for horses to kick their hind
legs and uncouple the chain leading to the tubs.
They then swerve to one side and allow the runaway tubs to carry
on without them.
In one tail gate the
roofing weight had lowered the roof
so that for a few paces it was lower
than the pony's hindquarters. A certain
clever horse would walk or stumble
forward on its front knees, the few steps to get under the low part.
There seemed to be no end to the talents of an intelligent horse. I've
actually seen them ride on conveyer belts with the driver. They can
also can be incredibly dumb.
Although I did not witness it,
I have got the story first hand:-
Archie B. used to drive Mousey.
Archie was, the fore mentioned, Dick's younger
brother and featured in the earlier trouser incident.
His pony, Mousey, was a
young inexperienced headstrong horse. Whenever
it could it would get the bit between its teeth and begin a
headlong gallop. Whenever a pony gets the bit between its Teeth no
amount of pulling on the reins will make it come to a stop.
By pulling on the reins you are in fact
pulling the pony's head. Its head is stronger than your
Archie's horse Mousey was not a very clever horse,
all it knew was how to run fast.
Archie had lockered the tubs before
progressing down the traveller. Mousey broke into a Four
legged gallop. Half way down a wooden locker broke.
Archie who was riding on a chariot at the back tried
to place another locker in the wheels. He was
unsuccessful they were going too fast and besides
the side walls gave no room.
Mousey who must have realised that the tubs
were running away. Instead of checking the tubs with
its hind quarters, like most intelligent horses did,
Mousey ran even faster to try and outpace the runaways.
Archie could see lights near the end
of the traveller flashing side to side,
a warning. He realised that there was a problem there.
He could not stop his horse. To save himself, his only action was
to jump off, which he did.
The obstruction was derailed tubs. Mousey ran headlong
into the back of them. Other horses would have moved to one side
of the tubs, there was plenty of room.
When Archie and other pony drivers
reached the scene, the horse seemed unable to stand.
Management was informed of the horses accident.
The Area Vet was called. Archie describes running the past
events over in his head and how he could have avoided it. He blamed
himself for the horses injuries but no blame could rightly be brought
to his door. He could not have foreseen the locker breakage nor that it
would happened at a very narrow part of the roadway, making it
impossible to insert another locker in the wheel.
He told me that Mousey was attempting to stand
up and with his, and others help, the horse managed it. Archie was then
left alone with his pony. The horse kept hobbling as though it was
about to fall but miraculously it still remained upright. The pony was
obviously in extreme pain. Archie examined the horses exterior for
signs of injury and of the obvious small cuts none seemed to be life
threatening. But most of the horses weight was on three legs, the right
rear leg hanging a little. It obviously hurt Mousey to place weight on
All the time Archie was talking to his horse,
trying to comfort it. He took out his snap tin and offered it a
sandwich. Mousey showed no inclination to eat, normally it would have
wolfed it down. He was aware that one does not give an injured person
anything to eat in case that person has to be operated on. This of
course would not apply to a pony. He tried to give it a drink of water,
more to make himself appear to be doing something constructive. It
drank a little.
After about half an hour one of the stablemen,
Joe, came down the road with a pony pulling a flat-bed chariot with no
sides. Archie was glad of the company. The stableman gave the pony a
cursory examination and pronounced there was no hope for it. "It should
be put down now," he said, "but I do not have the authority to dispose
of the animal." Just then Mousey began to urinated, Archie remembers
the urine was discoloured brown. The stableman said loudly, "that
denotes internal bleeding. That horse does not have a cat in hells
Archie remembers thinking how he wished that
Joe would not talk like that in the presence of his horse. It just
didn't seem right somehow.
The vet arrived Two hours later. He examined
the horse and pronounced that it had broken a fetlock
and had seriously damaged another. It was in great pain and could not
From his equipment he extracted an air
pressurised humane killer. The gun was placed to
Mousey's Forehead and the trigger pulled. A bolt killed the horse
The flat-bed chariot had earlier been placed
adjacent to the standing horse and most of the weighty carcass dropped
on to it.
The Vet then produced a small
shafted hammer and a set. Placing the set on
the dead horses spine he hit it, with the hammer,
with force. The horses back was broken.
The head and legs were then folded and roped up.
The horse, the stableman. had come down to the
scene with, was hitched up and Archie was instructed to drive the
chariot, containing the dead horse, to the pit bottom and
out of the pit.
Archie distinctly remembers sitting
on the dead, still warm, horse whilst talking
to the animal. He recalls saying to the
carcass, what a fool you, (the horse) had been. I tried my
best to hold you back. I could not help the accident.
How sorry he was. All of this and much more. He remembers
tears streaming down his face and when no one was around, openly
A very upsetting incident to all
concerned. A pony becomes part of a young driver, it is an
extension to himself.
The same pony driver, Archie,
remembers travelling towards the pit bottom a little too early to
finish. The Manager met him on the road that led to the stables.
He flashed his light for him to stop. Archie did so.
When asked where he was going
Archie replied, "To the stables. I've
The manager replied "Get thee self back down't road
lad, there's Fifty years work of coal still down there. Go get
some of it out."
Archie had to comply, turned his horse round
and returned to his gate.
Another Pony story which I can confirm:
A horse was needed in the pit bottom, a
place of work where height was at a maximum.
The work required a horse of great strength.
Any of the other ponies, although very strong, would
have found the work too demanding. A large horse was
especially ordered for the job.
Sam was a large Dapple Grey horse. By no
stretch of the imagination could he be called a
pony. He was much larger and seemed to have a more proud
bearing. Sam was put to work in the pit bottom.
It became not unusually to see Sam pulling Twenty
Tubs all in a line. Although this was not done all the time
occasionally a strong horse, like Sam, was needed. Sam always rose to
Sam worked for years in the present job.
He was such a fine looking and friendly horse he was
everyone's favourite. Lots of workers brought it carrots
and other titbits.
One shift whilst Sam was working,
a number of tubs 'ran away'. The runaways
trapped Sam and it fell to the
ground obviously badly injured.
The area vet was
called. He arrived on the scene and
diagnosed a seriously injured back. The horse could not be saved. It
would have to humanely killed.
The stableman at that time was Alfred D.
He loved his job, no, he loved his horses. He asked to be
allowed to take Sam back to the stables and try to save him. The
Vet told Alphie that he was on a loser but, reluctantly,
gave his permission for Alphie to try. The vet prescribed a
course of painkillers for the horse.
Alf, with others, manhandled Sam on
to an open sided buggy and it was taken to the stables.
In the stables Alphie D. concocted
a series of slings and harnesses to haul the horse to its feet. A
further set of cradles were made. These, using old
conveyer belting and ropes, were strung from the roof. The
horse legs could just touch the floor but most its weight was
supported by the cradle.
Many months elapsed before any sign of
the horses recovery could be seen. Slowly but surely Sam
was bought back to fitness. By the time the horse was ready
for harness again he had to be re- 'broken in' (Trained) again.
Sam had forgotten how to act on orders or pull tubs. With
love and perseverance, within the year saw Sam pulling
the same weight as before. Without question
Alphie D. saved Sam's life.
An end tale to this last story was that
when Middleton Pit became more modernised in 1968 Sam was made
redundant. He was brought to the surface and sent to
a Mine Pony's Welfare Home to live out its days.
Someone at the home decided that Sam was such a
fine looking horse he could be 'shown' at galas and fairs.
The horse went on to win many prizes and rosettes.
Sam's story was featured in the mining
official newspaper, The Mining Gazette.
One week I asked Willie R. if owt was doing
this coming Saturday Morning? The deputy said he could find something
for me to do.
Descending the pit and handing my cheque to
Willie he said that his Right Hand Gate pony driver rarely worked
Saturdays and I was to take his place.
I went to the stables and as before my horse
was Royal. Royal was one of the pits few 'Paint' ponies, in that he had
more than one hair or coat colour. Most of the other horses were just a
plain dark brown, one was a Mousy Grey. Royal was a rich Chestnut Brown
with a large White blaze to his forehead. He was, like most of the
other ponies, of Russian extraction. His forebears were originally bred
on the Steppes of Russia. They were distinctive in being small but
having great strength and a very hard mouth. Because of this hardness,
other ponies, not Royal, could sometimes be uncontrollable. However
hard one pulled on the reign, even if the bit was correctly positioned
in the mouth, it would be almost impossible to stop them if they did
not want to be stopped. Other ponies, when they were in the vicinity of
each other would attempt to kick or bite the other horse.
Royal was different, I had learned from others
that he was in a league of his own and almost docile in temperament. He
didn't need a rein and would stop or go on command. He was considered
by many to 'have a brain' and probably knew the job better than any
driver. He was a much valued horse down Middleton Broom Colliery.
Progressing through all the rigmarole as on the
previous occasion, harnessing him up and not being suprised at his roll
in the dust, I hooked his halter to two tubs of wood props and a
chariot of rings and urged the horse forward. We set out on our journey
to Ebor 7s. Royal stopped without command at the top of the Traveller
Drift to allow me to locker up the front tub wheels. Going fast down
the drift was not as frightening as before but whilst doing it I was
still a little apprehensive.
We reached the face uneventfully. The
faceworkers were screaming for the pit props to be thrown on to the
face conveyor, it transpired that I was a little late, in comparison
with the regular driver. When my task was completed the corner man said
that the deputy had left instructions that I return to the pit bottom
and collect some 9 foot rings to be delivered to the Main Loader Gate.
Leading my horse round to the front of the now empty train and hitching
it to the front chariot, putting a single locker into a back tub wheel
to check the train a little, we set out to travel down the slight
decline, which is about 600 yards long. Suddenly and without warning my
electric light went out. Royal was ordered to "whoa"
As previously described the cap lamp is the
Lead Acid Battery type. I had never experienced a lamp failure before,
the lamps are considered very efficient and hard wearing. First
beginning to fiddle with the lamp and then the battery I found there
was very little to be done.
There was I sat on a chariot, hitched to a
pony, in the middle of a roadway, in complete darkness. As before said,
few people have experienced the total absence of light that occurs down
a pit. What do I do? My thoughts went back to the mine training
instructor who advised that providing a person in darkness is not in a
dangerous position then he should stay where he is and wait for a
search party to come to his aid. Or, providing one knows the layout of
the mine, follow the rails by touch until coming to a lighted area.
I was in no danger and in a few hours miners
would be coming down the gate after filling off the coal.
Or there was another way I could consider,
maybe my Pony, will walk on without light. I decided to give it a try.
"Get up Royal." I commanded and the horse began pulling the load
exactly at the same pace, it was as though the horse could see.
It felt very strange moving in total darkness.
I began thinking my journey ahead. At the bottom of this gate the road
yards there is a series of two Air doors.
Air doors, as described earlier, allow air to
circulate efficiently round the mine. There are always at least two in
tandem. When one door is opened the other has to remain closed.
What would Royal do when he reached these
doors? Normally, if we were going in the right direction of an opening
door, he would 'Trap' the door meaning he would nuzzle with head to
push the doors open. We were going in the right direction but it could
/not be expected that the horse would know where the air doors were
when in complete darkness. He would, as likely, walk into the first
door and stop. It would not hurt him, I reasoned, we were walking
slowly and he was wearing a leather blinkered head cover. When Royal
walked into the door and stopped I could then feel my way forward to
open the door and lead my horse through.
I became aware of the chariots move round the
rails at right angles and into a lesser current of air indicating that
I had reached the bottom of the tail gate. We were now heading in the
direction of the Air doors and my expecting that my horse would
suddenly halt as he bumped into the first door.
I felt the movement of the horse check and slow
somewhat and then heard the noise of Royal 'trapping' the door. He had
not walked into it as had assumed, he was opening it. He could not
possibly have seen the door but was acting as if he had all the light
needed. The horse must have sensed our approach of the ventilation door.
Once we had passed through the first door I
heard it self close and felt royal approach and trap the second one
before passing through. We carried on at the same steady pace and after
turning into the Main 7s Loader Gate in the far distance I could see
the light from the Conveyer Loader End Station. We reached it
successfully and I relayed my drama to the attendant.
The old collier, whose nickname was 'Yungun'
looked to be well over Sixty but was probably more in the region of mid
forties did not seem suprised by my experience but merely said. "Horses
have a sixth sense with which we cannot even begin to understand.
I’ve known horses refuse to go into some districts where miners
have been killed in accidents. I remember one gallower I drove as a
lad, and I'm going back Thirty years or more, refuse to pass slowly at
a certain point. Always broke into a gallop well before it reached it.
It would run past this here point and once past would resume to act as
normal. I could never fathom it out. When I told the stable man about
its antics he told me that a horse and driver had been killed at that
point. The deaths had happened many years before my horse had ever been
born but somehow my Gallower knew. Stranger things have happened and
are still happening down a pit. Don't treat your horse like a fool, it
isn't. It knows things you don't."
I thought it all a bit far fetched and
exaggerated but my horse had just acted as though it could see in
perfect darkness there was no getting away from that.
"Changing the subject, Yungun" I said,
"I’ve often wondered why do they call you Yungun? that's not your
Christian name is it?"
Yungun laughed out loud, "No my names Bill.
When I were a lad I used to drink in the Madhouse, yer no the Market
Tavern in Leeds. One time I was in there I'd had a few to drink and
began taking the piss out of this old codger. He'll ave been about
Sixty if he was a day. He was saying nowt to me back and I took that to
mean he was scared shitless of me. The beer was talking and I was
ribbing him unmercifully. The more I took the piss the more it must
have been winding him up. I ended up calling him a silly old XXXX who
wasn't fit to lace my boots. That was the last straw, he jumped up and
gave me the hiding of my life. Me a young Twenty year old and him Sixty
Plus, it should have been a no contest, well he laced my hide and
really showed me in front of the regulars. 'That'll teach you to call
me old,' the pensioner said, 'ave some respect to your elders.' It
taught me a great lesson of life and from that day I’ve called
every body 'Young un' so as not to cause offence. Young one see?"
I had a bit of a laugh at his tale.
Again I changed the subject. "I'm thinking of
continuing my journey to the pit bottom without light. What do you
think? can Royal handle it?"
"Oh your Gallower can handle it all right,
that's not the problem but you should stay here until someone is going
your way. In about an hour or so, the Shot firers will be going outbye,
they will see to you."
I had One of Two choices, remain at the station
for an hour, or continue my journey. For safety reasons I should choose
the former but if I did that it would make me late getting my materials
back and then late again getting out of the pit at the end of the
shift. I was in a quandary but because I felt a little triumphant, a
little exhilarated and also a little afraid during my last ride, I
decided to carry on.
"No," I said to Young Un, I had found a new respect for the
ponies sixth sense after my experience and Young Un's tales,
"I’ve decided to carry on." The idea somewhat exited me a little.
Young un tried to dissuade me but I was having none of it, I knew what
I was doing.
Nothing untoward happened on my subsequent
journey, reaching the pit bottom quite safely. I reported to John H.
the area Deputy that I needed a fresh lamp sending down from the
surface lamp room. I boasted to him of my experience in the darkness.
After listening to me he gave me the bollocking of my life. I had
risked the well being of my pony. What would have happened if another
horse and load had been coming in the opposite direction? I would not
have been able to signal my presence, my horse and the oncoming one
could have been killed. I had to admit to myself that I had not thought
of that eventuality.
According to John there were more Mining
Regulations governing the welfare of a pit pony than there were for
humans." Think of all the forms that I would have had to fill in." He
I realised now, at the first Loader End Station
I had not thought my problem through. I should have considered all the
eventualities and stayed safe where I was. My actions had been
headstrongly foolish and completely wrong.
Wait a minute I studied, as John was berating
me, at no time has he mentioned that I might have been injured as well.
Does he think that the horse is more important than me? He had left me
with the distinct impression that it was.
A fresh lamp was dispatched from the surface
lamp room and my shift carried on as normal.
Another lesson of life learned, think twice
before you act once.
THREE THORPE HOTEL
No written account of my life could be complete
without a chapter about the Thorpe Hotel.
From being Sixteen and a half I have looked old
enough to pass as Eighteen and gain entrance into The Thorpe Hotel for
a drink. Although very rarely did I go in midweek, most Friday and
Saturday nights would be spent there either accompanied by pit mates or
The Thorpe was often nicknamed the
'Rattrap’ or just the 'Trap' because it was said that a rat had
been caught in the ladies toilets. The true story really was that the
local 'Wag', Eric M. had been ratting down at the local tip with his
Jack Russell dog. For a laugh he had fetched a half dead rat back with
him and placed it on the paper holder in the ladies toilet cubicle.
Alice C. an older customer, went into the cubicle for a pee. She sat
down and as she raised her eyes they became level with the rat. She
fled the toilet with her knickers round her knees screaming that a rat
had just tried to attack her. The rat may have moved, because it was
still alive, but it was in no state to attack her. A good laugh was had
The Rattrap was a large modern Two story
building with the upper floor being the licencees living premice's. The
landlords name was Charlie P. in his youth he had been a professional
Rugby League player for Bradford Northern and been capped for England.
He was considered by one and all to be a very 'hard 'man.
The ground floor consisted of a large 'Tap'
room, a singing or best room and a small tap and bottle outsales room.
The inside of the Tap room was quite tastefully
furnished by the standards of the day. There was real lino on the floor
that now covered the original painted concrete. Just recently the back
rest seats had been reupholstered in foam padding and a nylon covering
material, replacing the horse hair stuffed furniture. There was proper
curtaining up at the windows, instead of the late blackout curtains.
All was quite up to date although the nicotine stained walls and
ceiling could do with a lick of paint or failing that some soapy water
and plenty of elbow grease.
In the centre were 3 Domino tables, each table
had a strict unspoken pecking order of players who used them. The top
table was reserved for the elite players. Us young uns we were never
invited to play on that table we had to make do with the bottom one, or
sometimes to make numbers up, the middle one.
One evening, early on in my Thorpe career,
someone suggested getting a 'brag' school going. Up to that point I had
never played Three Card Brag for money I had played, at home, for
matchsticks but never seriously. I was invited to play. Soon
there was six seated players and a few
For the benefit of readers who are not familiar
with the game of Three Card Brag, each player puts the stake or ante
money, in this case sixpence, into the centre of the table and is then
dealt with three cards face down. In turn, each player is allowed to
look at them or remain blind. A player who has seen his cards must
double the stake of a preceding player who has not seen his cards and
is deemed to be bragging blind.
I was not very good at three card brag because
I always tended to 'see' my cards early on and so at that stage would
have to double the stake. If my cards were not too high then I would
'fold' rather than pay double. Sometimes I would have 'stacked' the
winning hand because of my uncertainty. If on 'seeing' my cards and it
was a reasonable hand I would happily pay double but then all the other
players would 'know' I had a good hand. Unless I was to seriously
gamble and brag blind I could not really
expect to win either way.
The game had been going about half an hour when
someone suggested a 'back break' meaning suspend the game whilst some
players went to the 'back'. (toilets) Not wanting to go, I remained in
At this point the earlier Eric M., who was also
a cousin of mine and well respected in the Middleton area, said to me
and around the table in general. "Jack you know that's a mugs game to
"Yeah so they tell me Eric, but it passes the
time." I replied. "Anyway I don't play for big stakes, I'm not that
much of a gambler."
As I was answering him he had picked up the
pack of cards and carried talking on about the evils of gambling. He
placed the deck in the middle of the table and said to me. "Cut them."
I did so and he began to deal out four hands of
three cards face down.
"Would you brag on that hand?" he enquired of
Without showing them to anyone else I looked at
my cards. I had an Ace, King, Queen all of the same suit. A running
flush. A very high hand indeed. I nodded in affirmation.
"Would you back that hand?" he said pushing one
of the hands towards another man.
"I most certainly would" was the response.
The third hand received much the same reply
from another man.
"How much would you each bet on your respective
hands." He announced to us all.
I said. "Every penny I have and then I would
start borrowing." and turned my hand over.
The second and third players said something
similar as they turned over their hands. One producing a One Two Three
and the other a prial of Fives. Very good hands in anybody’s eyes.
"Then you would all go home broke because I have the winning
hand." and with that, for the first time even for him, he turned his
cards over to reveal Three Three's the highest hand possible.
What he had just done seemed impossible at the
time. All onlookers were amazed I now began to realise how Eric had won
his esteem within the pub.
One time Ernie G. had been rabbiting with his
ferrets. He usually brought his catch into the bar and sell the rabbits
for upwards of half a crown and if he had been very successful give one
or two to old age pensioners for free. Freshly caught rabbit was to
most peoples taste and he had no trouble selling his catch, boozing
most of the evening on the proceeds. His two ferrets were tied up in a
cotton bag on the floor.
Eric M. had an idea. Winking to Ernie he picked
up the bag and undid the string at the neck and stood up. He called out
to everyone in the bar. "Can I have your attention please? I am now
going to draw out the names for the coming Christmas domino handicap. I
need a lady to pull out the first name. Mary, will you do me the
honours?" and with that he offered the opened neck of the bag. She put
her hand into the bag expecting to feel pieces of paper but as soon as
she felt the warm furry wriggling animals she let out a howl of shock.
She pulled her hand out very quickly but not fast enough to escape the
teeth of one of the ferrets. As her hand came out so did a ferret still
with it's teeth embedded in the fleshy part of her fingers. It was so
funny everybody in the pub fell about laughing, everybody that is
except Mary B. Eric hadn't planned, or wanted the ferret to bite Mary,
all he wanted was to give her a shock and everyone else a laugh.
Eric being an old ferret man soon dislodged the
ferret by gripping with his thumb and forefinger at either side of the
animals mouth and squeezing. The ferret released it's grip. Eric
apologised to Mary B. by buying her a double rum which he knew she was
partial to, so from her point of view it was almost worth it.
On Saturday nights after the first hour or so
in the tap room I would go into the Singing room which was quite large
and nearly always packed. At the far end of the room there was a small
raised stage with a piano and drums duo playing mostly the old time
Lily Mac, Eric's older sister usually got up to
sing. She was as beautiful as her voice and when made up was the
spitting image of Elizabeth Taylor. Lily's favourite first song usually
"Heart of my heart I love that melody
Heart of my heart brings back a memory
When we were kids on the corner of the street
We were rough and ready guys
But oh how we could harmonise."
All the pub patrons would join in with her
rendition of the song. Most could relate to a happy youth. When Lily
finished all would applaud for an encore. She would not be let down
until she had sung at least two more.
Other singers got up and sang current or one of
the older songs. How Walter. the piano player, kept in exact time with
the singers rather than the strict tempo of the music I don't know but
he always did. Having said that, Walter never did have any music shown,
could he read music? I doubted it we all assumed he played by ear.
Walters drummer accompanist was Plonker Bill.
He seemed to drum out the same beat whatever the song, only going
faster or slower as the case may be. I had always thought that he was
nicknamed 'Plonker' because of his playing style, plonking along
regardless. I soon revised this idea when I saw him stood up against
the urinals one night I gave him a double take, he was hung like a
babies arm that had an apple in it’s hand, a very large plonker
had plonker Bill.
My mind goes back to one episode. I knew I had
a good voice because I sounded good in the bath. I wanted the applause
and adoration Lily Mac received from the customers of the Thorpe. My
problem had been that I could hardly remember any songs words
throughout. I decided to learn exactly by heart the top song of the
1956 'Rip it up' by Little Richard.
All that week I practised in the bath and when
I was alone down the pit. I got the song off word perfect.
Saturday night came, I was to show them all how
well I could sing. I rather fancied myself as a pop star with all them
dolly bird swooning all over me. Getting up on the stage I told Walter
that I wanted to sing 'Rip it up'. He replied he was not too sure of
that one but to carry on he would follow me. I began to sing:-
"Well it's Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about money don't try to save
My heart says go go, go all the time
cos it's Saturday night and I feel fine
I'm going to rock it up..
gonna rip it up..
gonna break it up..
gonna shake it up..
gonna rock it up..
at the ball tonight."
I even managed a wiggle or two just like I'd
seen Little Richard do on film at the Tivoli Picture House.
Normally in the Rattrap everybody gets at least
an encouragement clap, most get an encore shout. Some times the
applause may only be a polite one but applause they always got.
I finished my song and... Nothing. No clapping,
no one was even looking at me. Everybody seemed to be talking amongst
themselves. Had the microphone been on? Had I suddenly become
invisible? I had even rehearsed another one being certain they would
clamour for more. The hadn't nor didn't.
I got off the stage puzzled and rejoined my
mates. None of them commented one way or the other and I could hardly
ask for their praise.
I decided on another tack and went over to the
table my mother and father were sitting at. My Ma always gave me
encouragement whatever I did. I sat down beside her, expecting her to
bring up the subject of my singing. She did not, she was busy talking
to her sister. "How did you like my singing mam?" I interrupted.
"Okay." was the only one word reply. She
carried on talking to my aunt. One word 'Okay' that's all my singing
was worth. Was my ego squashed or was my ego flattened.
I promised myself there and then that was the
end of my singing career and would never sing in public again. It was
their loss not mine.
That same evening by half past Eleven most of
the customers had left and as I got up to go I remarked to one of my
mates that the night had been incident free, with no fights or
disruptions. I had hardly got the words out of my mouth when in the far
corner of the room two fellars began fighting egged on by their women
From behind the bar came Charlie P., the
landlord. He rushed up to the two fighters and without no more ado
grabbed each by their coat collars at the scruff of their necks and
crashed their heads together. He released the two men as they bounced
apart and they fell to the floor poleaxed. It had all been done so
quickly and efficiently that the incident was nipped in the bud. I had
often seen scenes in cowboy films where the lawman does a somewhat
similar act but this was real life.
Most evenings I went home the worse for wear
because of drink often I would go to bed but as soon as my head hit the
pillow I would realise my mistake. I should have stayed up a little
longer and had some supper. The bed would start spinning and a deep
seated ache would grip my groin. Why does the bed always start rotating
when I’ve had some beer, I would moan to myself. I would only be
able to stop the spinning by opening my eyes. But I don't want to open
my eyes, I want to go to sleep. Eventually I would go to the toilet to
be sick, it usually helped.
Adjacent to the Thorpe Hotel was piece of spare
scrubland. In the centre, hidden from the road among bushes a space had
been cleared. Because of regular use there was a large circle where no
grass had been allowed to grow, a minor dust bowl. It was the venue for
the pitch and toss school. Every Sunday afternoon around 2-15 when
drinking hours were up many punters would congregate for an illegal
game of chance. Before the start of the game a lookout would be posted
near the main road. His job was to warn players of any oncoming Police
Patrol. Every few months the Police would arrive on scene but because
of the lookout the players would already have legged it across the open
fields of East Ardsley. Although on few occasions punters had been
caught and fined imposed at the Wakefield Magistrates Court.
On leaving the game most players would tip the
lookout at least the price of a pint and winners, dependant on how much
the had won, appreciably more. A dollar (5 shillings) or half a dollar
was not unusual.
A game of pitch and toss consisted of any
number of players, the more the merrier. They would congregate in a
circle. A punter would step into the middle to declare himself the
pitcher. He would balance two coins, usually pennies, on his index
finger or a flat piece of wood. He may announce. "I'll head em for a
dollar." or some such amount. The amount offered would be the maximum
he would stake on any single bet. The other punters round the circle
would decide if he could produce his forecast or not and bet
accordingly. The pitcher would accept as many single bets against him
as he could afford. Any person round the circle was free to engage in
any bet, for any amount, from anyone, as they deemed fit.
When all bets were taken, the pitcher would
toss the two coins high into the air and allow them to fall to the
ground. If the coins turned up two heads or two tails all bets would be
settled. If the coins came up a head and a tail then it was a 'no bet'
The pitcher would toss again until a result was obtained. Small
fortunes, well a lot of money for a working man, could be made or lost
in a Sunday Dinner time session of 'Tossing'
Certain pitchers would practice for hours a
home trying to perfect a method where they could throw coins to order.
They were trying for an impossibility. To correctly toss the coins they
had to be thrown above head height and spun. One time I was watching I
saw a short man stooping low to the ground when about to toss the
coins. Although strictly speaking the coins would travel above his
head, they would have only a short fall to the ground. The first time
he was about to toss the coins another punter came up behind him and
kicked him up the backside. As he floundered in the dust the ribald
comment was. "Get thee stood up and toss em properly or get out of
middle." He did toss correctly for ever after that.
One time I arrived home for Sunday lunch at
about 2-30 and my mother was preparing dinner, the smell emanating from
the beef roast was, as always, mouth watering. The meal was set for 3-0
clock when my dad always arrived home on time.
Three O clock came and went, no father. "When
did you last see your father?" My mother asked. The question reminded
me of something, I couldn't remember what.
"He was still in the Rattrap when I left." I
answered. " He was going to the tossing school with my Uncle Fred."
"But he always comes home on time even when he
goes there." was my mothers response. "Anyhow we are waiting no longer
come and get your dinner." We all sat down and ate in silence, dads
dinner was put on a plate and confined to a low lit oven.
After dinner I went to watch TV in the sitting
room. There was a repeat of a new astronomy series called the sky at
night with Patrick Moore. As was usual I fell asleep in the chair.
I was awoken my mother saying to my father
"What time do you call this? Your dinners been in the oven for nearly
Two Hours. It will be burned to a cinder." I got up and went into the
kitchen for a nosy. My father was covered in mud and grass stains. His
suit jacket and a knee of his trousers were torn. His hands and face
He began to explain his absence and appearance.
"At the Pitch and Toss school the lookout shouted that the Police were
on their way. We all scooped up our stake moneys and scarpered down the
track that leads to the Little Wood. The coppers, who normally give up
once we head down there kept chasing us all the way. As I was
scrambling over the barbed wire fence at the bottom I tripped over it
and ripped my suit. We all ran along the railway embankment that leads
to the road down by the Ardsley station. Who was waiting there for us?
the Police. Unknown to us they had been shepherding us into the only
exit where they were waiting. Twelve of us were bungled into a Black
Maria and taken to Wakefield Police Station where we were charged with
illegal betting. I'm up in the Magistrates court tomorrow morning.
And I had been winning as well, I was in front
almost Eight quid at the time."
It might not have seemed funny to my Ma and Da
but I had to go up to my bedroom before I dare laugh out loud. His
Eight Quid winnings would go towards his fine and a new suit.
Gadge, the window cleaner, and his brother
Tommy were two other characters of the Rattrap. Their's was a most
unusual brotherly relationship. One minute they would be as thick as
thieves and inseparable, the next sworn bitter enemies. They played
tricks on each other, often unmercifully. Sometimes the events went
beyond the pale but whatever happened one day bore no resemblance to
the day after, then all would be forgotten and forgiven.
For an example, one Friday Gadge had completed
his weeks round of window cleaning and in the evening was doing his
monetary collections. When he reached one long road where he 'did' most
of the houses, the first housewife said "I’ve just paid your
Tommy only Ten minutes ago." The next house he received much the same
response. "I’ve paid your Tommy."
Tommy being skint at the time and knowing
Gadges window cleaning round had decided to help himself to some beer
When Gadge caught up to his brother later that
night in the Trap all hell broke loose and it looked as if murder was
to be committed but resignedly Gadge had to calm down as there was no
way he would get his money back, by now it had been splashed down the
pubs urinal walls. The next night all was as before and the incident
was never mentioned again maliciously, other than to have a good laugh.
Gadge was single, he boasted of the fact. "I'm
going to be a bachelor like my dad." he would often announce. Although
being single was not to say he didn't have an eye for the ladies. He
often took out single, and sometimes not so single, ladies. When he was
hard up and he did not have anyone better, he would fall back on Ginny.
(Ginny is not the ladies true name) Ginny was a married women, somewhat
older than Gadge, who's husband had left her some years previously.
One Sunday evening Gadge related to me an
incident that had happened over that week-end, he explained:-
"On Saturday night after a session in the Trap,
I took Ginny home. When we got to her house the sitting room light was
off and only the kitchen one on. She said that it was more romantic in
that light but I knew it was to hide the mucky house. She and I,
without getting undressed, began to make love on the flock rug in front
of the coal fire. Afterward in the early hours of this morning I made
my way back home to my mams house.
When having today's Sunday dinner my mam
remarked that I must have been drunk the night before.
Well I'd had a few but certainly was not drunk
and told her so. Well my Ma wouldn't have it and said I must have been
drunk because I had been falling over on my way home. I told her I
remembered everything about the night before and I definitely had not
fallen over. Anyway how did she know? even if I had.
With that she got up from the table and fetched
my new Powder Blue trousers from my upstairs bedroom. She showed me two
great big mucky stains on the knees. Explain them then? she says.
I couldn't tell her that the stains on the
knees were not from falling down but from Ginny's mucky flock rug. I
had to take the grief and say nowt."
Real characters of the Thorpe were Gadge and his brother
Tommy and I still frequent their company to this day.
Jackie B. was another character of the Trap. He
regularly brought his dog Hox, which was a beautiful White English Bull
Terrier, into the tap room. The dog was a reputed fighter and would set
about any other dog on Jackies command. Jackie on the other hand was
also a fighter of repute. He would back himself, or his dog, with
money, against all comers. He had fought many times over the years and
no one could remember him ever getting beaten. His boast was that he
would fight any man, if the price was right, or any dog bare handed. He
frther boasted that he would back his dog against any other dog, or any
man who dared. Up to that time no one had ever taken on the man against
dog fight, but all knew Jackie was serious in his offer.
Hox was also quite famous around Middleton for
it's fighting prowess. Although not exceptionally large Jackie said it
had a fighting brain.
One time I was walking with my girlfriend,
future wife Brenda, in Middleton Park when I heard a commotion near the
lake. As we walked over I saw Jack’s dog Hox in a fight with
another, much larger dog. Hox had managed to get the other dog by the
throat and it was thrashing about wildly, efficiently Hox dragged the
other dog into the lake shallows and when deep enough held the dog's
mouth under the water. Hox from time to time released it's throat hold
to snatch a breath of air but at the same time it was holding the other
dog under the water with its paws. It then quickly grabbed it's
original hold. The hapless dog drowned rather than being killed in a
fight. The incident, Jackie often boasted, proved his dogs fighting
Incidentally Jackie was barred from the singing
room sine die, which I took to mean forever, because he had caused so
much trouble in there. And at one time Charlie, the landlord had barred
Hox from the Tap room for Six months for the same reason. Quite an
anomaly that, for at one stage Jackie was barred from the singing room
but not the tap room whilst his dog was barred from the tap room but
not the singing room.