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The Decline Of The Industry Continued
After Nationalisation 1947


  1953    1    2    3 

1953 - Page 2



My main duty was to be available for work underground, office and surface at Teversal colliery where I learnt the basics of underground lining and measuring progress etc and assisted on surveys, holding on the back lamp and the back end of precise measuring bands and holding the staff for levelling, however I was called upon “to make the number up” at Silverhil, Pleasley and Sutton collieries, the other pits in the Sub-Area (Group) on routine surveying or check surveys. How one got to these other pits was anybody’s guess, there was no transport of course, so sometimes I walked, but a bicycle certainly came in handy, as each pit had a different riding time and one had to find the office or lock up to start with where the tackle was kept so you had to get there early. I was a leg carrier and backsight man and backend of the tape to begin with or holding the levelling staff and gradually progressing to front man or booker. Teversal was generally 9.30am, Sutton 7am, Pleasley 10am and Silverhill more often than not 2.00pm because Percy Hett (2111) the Surveyor did not like to do survey work during the busy day shift.

I had a railway pass to allow me to walk down the line to Pleasley, a more direct route. There was the occasional night shift and weekends for special work such as correlations at all pits to contend with also. No overtime payments of course and no time off.

And of course for most of the first year I had to bathe at home, there being no locker room at Silverhill, as Teversal men used to share the lockers and showers with them until 1954. Therefore I had to know whether I was down the pit or in the office, so a weekly roster was worked out every Saturday morning by the Sub-Area Surveyor and the Unit Surveyors to plan what surveys required doing.  I would dash to see the roster posted on the board as soon as it was hung up to see what fate I had in store and at which colliery. Saturday was the busy day, starting at 8.30am and we didn’t knock off until 12.45pm.

Other pits in the Area knocked off at 12.30pm. That extra few minutes was vital when you wanted to catch the train to Nottingham to see Notts County or Nottingham Forest football match. Apart from the 3 people on the staff from each pit, TeversalSilverhillSutton and Pleasley there were usually 2 linesmen as well brought in to update the weekly Progress plans and other minor duties, such as copying up the previous week’s work. That meant there were 22 people including me in the office from the 4 pits and the teapot served about 7, so being the last one in, tea mashing for the Saturday horde was my task as well besides my other work! I think it was a Godsend for June Baker the Lady Tracer as it relieved pressure off her to be able to do her work. By the way there were only 4 stools, one each for the Unit Surveyors and a chair for the Sub-Area Surveyor. Everyone else stood up and leaned on the tables. Other surface work besides levelling and general measurements for buildings, tips and so on was to assist on major triangulation work. Prior to 1957 when the Ordnance Survey issued new plans only 1:2500 County sheets showing surface features were available and the National metric grid was needed prior to this for orientation of the underground workings, so surveys were carried out over areas of the colliery take (when the weather was fine) and the County sheets were fitted to these surveys and the grid was calculated and plotted thereby marrying the two together. I had learned how to measure up and plot buildings and trace same using a drawing pen and title plans by freehand lettering at the Architects so that part of the learning curve was relatively easy. I had used a printing machine before also. The bosses thought I was a quick learner as I did’t say that I had done these jobs before.

I didn’t return one day from bathing at home, which was expected, and an ‘important job’ was waiting for me but because I was missing, ‘someone else’ was allocated the task, but to be fair though I had been down Sutton colliery on that day on a survey, starting at 7am down the pit, but the job had finished early, and we were up the pit at 12 noon, so I thought that was a bonus and I was home and bathed by about 1.30pm, – but oh no, for when I turned up next day, after the up and a downer, the Sub-Area Surveyor Clary Skeavington ‘dragged me’ up to Silverhill baths in his Standard Flying 10 so that I would have no excuse in future, where he pressurised Mark, the grumpy Bath Attendant, who said there were no lockers spare, even for staff personnel but after several requests (threats) I was eventually allocated a top locker (No52) to share with two others who I didn’t know. Because I generally got changed around 8.45am Mark would then decide that it was my alley to hose down, just to be awkward, and then I was paddling about in cold water and also water from the hosepipe bounced off the lockers just sufficiently to get you wet with a fine spray. He would always pretend he didn’t know I was there whilst he was cleaning the neighbouring alley, but I know he did. When one opened the locker door, dependent upon which shift the others were on, a cascade of clothes would fall to the floor and I would snatch them up quickly before they got wet and then have to sort mine out amongst the others. Invariably I would find that sometimes some of my clothes, socks or towels or soap was missing.  It was the old saying “first there, best dressed”.  Who would put up with such things today? The 4 Surveyors and Clary had a bath and a toilet at the rear of the building so they were o.k.

Anyway fortunately Teversal pit-head baths that I had helped to set out the previous year with Denis Hill and Keith Mitchell were built shortly afterwards and in August 1954 along with all the Teversal men I transferred there and was allocated a brand new bottom locker of my own – what luxury! Also the Baths Superintentdant was Wilf Eley, a nice pleasant chap. We also had a lovely new canteen where we could have a hot meal instead of going up to Silverhill canteen for a meal on the odd occasion.

No more waiting for the “paddy train”, the old pull and push steam loco and the windowless boarded up wooden carriage that served as the transport, to take one from Teversal to Silverhill to bathe, or in the worst instance, trudging through the sludge and grime when walking it, particularly in the rain or snow.  On the train you had to smoke or you were forced to inhale and ‘smoke’ somebody else’s as you could not breath in the gloom. Everyone it seems used to hide a cigarette and a match in a nook or crevice in the carriage. I don’t know what happened to the old 1903 NE railway coach but from now on the push pull steam loco was only used for coal and dirt traffic fromTeversal to Silverhill washery and empties back of course plus shunting operations in the fulls and empty sidings.

This carried on for about 18 months until I was permanently based at Teversal colliery and carried out most ofl the surveying duties there, i.e. using the 6” Casartelli glass topped magnetic / fixed needle dial in the first instance.

Denis Hill (2186) was transferred to Pleasley and Brian Barlow (2730) was appointed Surveyor. Keith Mitchell the Assistant then transferred to Newstead and that left me next in line. No other Assistant ever replaced him. Mind you, one day on a dial survey in Dunsil seam 40s Top gate, on the North side, to check on the position before passing the old workings from the South side of the pit, just two of us, me and a new linesman recruit.

I was having to explain to him everything to do, as well as run back to the ‘backsight lamp’, then forward to the ‘foresight position’, then back to the instrument to take readings, then make sure he was doing what I had told him whilst running the tape out along the rail.

We were measuring up to the lip, when the pony driver (ganger) told the pony to go for its snap. The ponies knew certain basic commands and that was one that they reacted to quickly. I suppose it was because they were always fed at that time and that would be the incentive. Of course I didn’t give a thought when the pony went past me on its way back down the gate however when I returned to the dial position some 10 minutes later after painting the centre line on the girders on the new bearing the dial and all its bits and pieces had disappeared. That’s right, bits and pieces, because that’s all I could find, bits of wood and brass, the remnants of a set of a rigid dial tripod. The pony in the pitch dark of course, had not seen the instrument set up and had just ploughed straight through it and had knocked it flying, trampled on it and broken it. I was panic stricken as I collected the bits of wood and brass together and tied them up with a piece of shotfiring wire, wondering where the smashed Casartelli dial might be. Then lo and behold, there it was undamaged and complete with unbroken glass cover nestling upright on top of a small heap of stone dust. What a relief, that is until I entered the office, where I was torn a strip off, Again I was greeted with the statement from the Sub-Area Surveyor – “‘who’s the father of this ******* ?” Once again I was threatened to be reported to the Area Chief Surveyor, and warned with paying for the tripod out of my pay. However when I explained that there were only two of us on a normally 4 man job, things simmered down once more, and it did one good thing – in future there was to be at least 3 men on a job!  It turned out the ‘pre 1920s’ rigid wooden tripod had signs of woodworm holes anyway, and could have snapped like a carrot at any time. That shows the age and type of equipment we were using at the time. Thank goodness the dial glass was not broken, I dare to think the consequences should it have been, because they were rarer than ‘rocking horse muck’. Also when I think back I was taught by Tommy Pickering the Linesman on my first shift with him how to extend the painted white line on the girders by myself.

A forward mark was made on the roof and lined in by sighting through the previous screweye positions through at least 2 weighted strings or usually shot wire, back down the gate to the backsight oil lamp some distance outbye.

Precariously balancing on 2 or 3 chocknogs or spragging split bars into the side to stand on, with a hand drill one drilled a hole, inserted a wooden rawlplug and fixed in a screw eye occasionally grabbing at the cambered girder that were the gate supports. Once the correct position had been achieved a piece of thick string called millband was hung loosely between the marks. You then took off your battery from your belt and laid it on the floor. The cap lamp was then manoeuvred into position on the floor so that a shadow of the millband was cast on the roof and girders taking care to ensure it was straight and in line with the  strings or wire. Generally ‘borrowing’ a Shotfirer’s ramming stick from nearby the lip you bound a 1” (0.025m) paint brush to the end with shot wire then carefully dipping it into the tin of whitewash trying not to get too much on the brush that it ran down the pole and down your arms you gingerly lifted the pole and painted a line on the roof  on the shadow line. Of course you had to keep out of the lamp shadow yourself so in virtual half light you made your way along to the end of the millband hoping that you didn’t trip up over a sleeper or piece of dirt or chocknog etc too many times which of cause one did from time to time. That again was at least a 2 man job, sometimes 3, but I managed. 

I then graduated onto the ‘bomb’ (shown above), a Cooke Troughton and Simms 2 minutes (of arc) dial with the aluminium tripod legs (exempt from the Regulations and allowed to be used underground by surveyors because all other  mining equipment such as bull rails and sylvesters made from aluminium had been withdrawn and banned because they could cause sparking if knocked). This replaced the ‘horse hair’ dials. 

After about 3 years along came the modern Watts 1 minute dial (shown right) with adjustable wooden legs and knuckle adjustable tribrach. Previously I was taught the rudiments of underground levelling, firstly holding the staff and shining on the readings for the instrument man, necessary of course in the pitch black darkness underground, then taking over the job of carrying out the routine levelling in each gate with a linesman holding the staff, with me using the instrument. I didn’t let on at the time but I had already used a levelling instrument similar to the one shown whilst working at the architects before joining the NCB

The staff to the far left is a rigid folding staff reading in feet and when looking through the instrument the readings would appear the correct way up whereas the staff to the right of that is a metric staff and extendable to 3m as there is a coiled spring at the top allowing it to do so and can be used almost anywhere in a pit. A surface levelling staff usually has 3 pieces and they slide into one another and when wanting to extend it one portion slides up and is clipped to the one section below and with the third extension can usually be extended to 14 feet (4.25m).

The levelling survey is carried on using this method either underground or on the surface. Readings are taken looking through the instrument eyepiece and on the lens are cross hairs the centre one being the one to take the reading on the staff. By starting from a BM (bench mark) of known value either above or below sea level or Ordnance datum one can by sighting to the staff held on the BM by the assistant who shines on the staff with his light, having first having made sure that the instrument is perfectly level by observing that the bubble on the instrument is exactly central in its run. The instrument is then turned and the staff man moves to the new position and a further reading is taken and so on. These readings are logged in a special book that has columns for back sight and fore sight and columns for the arithmatics of the difference either higher or lower than the previous mark. The end column is for the value of each levelled position relevant to Ordnance datum and remarks are made on the page opposite.

I graduated then from the dial to the Watts theodolite (shown above right), firstly booking the readings that the observer read out, then check reading the instrument, and finally taking over the general routine of laying up the theodolite bases in the districts, in effect running most of the underground part of the job whilst the boss saw to the other jobs. Teversal and Silverhill surveyors had to share one theodolite for several years due to lack of funds. That meant jobs had to be carefully planned, however on occasions jobs had to be cancelled at the last minute so nothing got done. Unfortunately surveyors had no monetary budget and had to get authorisation through Colliery then Area mining personnel who could not appreciate the need for a separate instrument at each pit, but later on it was realised that it was necessary and soon every pit had a selection of instruments.  Various theodolites were used, one shown in the top photo above is an old vernier one which were traded in. Later models by Cooke Troughton & Simms and Hilger & Watts were to an accuracy of ± 20” of arc, although far better results than that were obtained. The next stage was a 1” (1 second of arc reading) theodolite. Sightings through the telescope similar to the level were made to illuminated targets as shown or to an oil lamp flame the lamp being suspended by shot wire or string from a theodolite base mark in the roof of a roadway, could be a screw eye in wood or plugged into the roof but latterly from special clips fitting on the flange of an arched or straight steel girder.

As well as using simple, and accurate floor measuring techniques marking along the tub rails generally the survey team was taught the art of leg (and string) catenary measuring (that was to stand me in good stead in later years). Although classed as a ‘small pit’ there were still 5 or 6 panels working on 2 separate districts, plus several development headings, so I had plenty to do. Steadily my time down the pit eased off as I approached the 2,000 hours required for to take the exam. Being a small team I had to learn quickly and my learning curve was almost vertical, but I enjoyed every minute and in doing so could soon do most jobs required with little or no supervision and also imparted knowledge and supervised new Apprentices.

It was noticeable that at college where we met for lessons that lads working at large collieries with big staff numbers never had the same experience as me because the Apprentice was always the last man to be able to use the instrument on a job. He was one of the carriers of the tackle and a backsight man. The task of using the instrument was usually done by the boss or the assistant. Because there were only two of us plus 2 linesmen and a young apprentice I got involved in almost every job.

We had 2 British Rail surveyors attached to us for about 18 months each, one after the other because they also had to achieve 2,000 hours underground like me. (My wide experience came in useful when I was appointed Surveyor at a large million tons per year colliery, Ollerton, which unfortunately for me was still in the dark ages as far as surveying goes and I went back to a dirty 1927 vintage upstairs office. The challenge was great. After a couple of years of very hard work changing everything to my way of doing things, trained a new staff and with a nice new clean private and general downstairs office I felt that I had achieved a miracle. Efficiency was the ticket as a colleague used to say, and it worked).

However whilst at Teversal I still had to go up to Silverhill Group Wages office to collect my pay every Thursday afternoon (...and ‘be quick about it’. Nobody thought about running me round there in their car), walking up the railway line or going round by road if the ground was messy. Occasionally I went on the push pull paddy train earlier on but only in an emergency you might say. ‘It was always full of dirty clothed colliers and you could cut the air with a knife through cigarette smoke’, in fact you could hardly breathe.

I was obliged to join the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme when I reached the age of 20 paying 4% of my salary, and when married in 1958, I took out family benefits, another 1%.  Fortunately this would stand me in good stead later when I was made redundant after 38 years in the industry and a good retirement pension was available. I then had a couple of years as a Consultant. The young lads who had set on at the pit on general duties were usually on haulage, pit bottom dogging on or off (coupling or uncoupling sets of tubs) under the scrutiny of a well qualified person, (not doing as in the photo where you can see it was easy to trap ones head if a tub block was not set between the tubs. I cannot recall seeing one except in the Training gallery). Why they didn’t make the buffers that extra couple of inches longer I shall never know because that would have stopped the head-trapping accidents. Of course it was to maximize the size of the tubs on the cage.

Some lads were set on as pony drivers, again assisting a well qualified driver etc, ‘always’ for a minimum of 20 days close personal tuition.  This then allowed the ones who had been doing that job to be ‘promoted’ to more intricate haulage work or to coal face work (usually at 18). At least one of the young lads would be picked on and debagged, usually the smallest and a generous lump of tub fat slaumed across his privates as an initiation ceremony – it took some getting rid of in the baths at end of shift. It was bullying I suppose, but everyone turned a blind eye to it for there were very few instances that were reported!  By the way, I never had 20 days close personal supervision before being let loose on my own down the pit, I think I had 5 or 6 at most. I happened to meet Jack Clews the Training Officer down the pit one day who inquired who I was, for he was unaware I had started work, because I was on staff books and not pit books. Even so I should have been supervised...but…. I believe the boss received a rocket for not informing him, however my ‘passing out paper’ duly arrived within a couple of days and I still hadn’t had my 20 days CPS.

I took Mary my wife and several groups of visitors and a couple of Cost Clerks down Teversal up to 1970 and Ollerton from 1972 on, via permission from the respective Manager of the mine of course. Gerrit Groeneveldt from Holland an old friend of my Uncle Jack since 1944 during the War was one such visitor I escorted down Teversal in 1963, shown in the photo. I arranged an underground visit at Ollerton for my wife and both daughters and husbands. On another occasion for Paula my Lady tracer in the office, as this would give her an insight into the work she was doing ‘blind’ so to speak. I also arranged for some of my friends to visit, and accompanied many visitors from outside Engineering firms on behalf of the Board, Area photographers on numerous occasions when new mining equipment was installed, visitors from abroad, Mines Inspectors and Higher Management of the NCB etc. One party of Chinese Mining dignitaries I accompanied, wanted to know where all the women miners were?

The leader of the group, when I explained to him through the interpreter, was quite bemused to learn that we had none and that it was outlawed to employ females down a mine! Following that visit several of us on the management team including the Undermanager and Engineers were entertained to a ‘proper’ Chinese meal at a restaurant at Nottingham.)

No6 Area Training Centre

The Training Centre at Bestwood (Nottinghamshire) for the No6 Area was considered too small and early in 1953 two thirds of the entrants were transferred to the Training school at Portland Road, Hucknall and by September 1953, all were accommodated there. The 1953/54 session had 552 trainees start, and 539 completed the course satisfactorily.

At that time of course many lads would start at the pit then leave after a short time because they didn’t like it but they could walk into another job the following week, there was so much choice, not like it is today where one needs a ‘Degree’ to get a job as a sweeper up.

Amendment to BTC and NCB Agreement

An amendment was made to the British Transport Commission and NCB Agreement of 1949.  The NCB were now to subscribe 20% of the actual cost of remedial works to BTC for damage by authorised working

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Pit Terminology - Glossary
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