I Started Work, December 1952
- Training -
Mining must have been in my blood from my ancestors, being 5th generation. My Uncle Jack Osborne living at Aldercar, Langley Mill, had a drinking mate who was the Ostler at Moorgreen (Nottinghamshire), and he arranged for us to go on a visit with him one Sunday morning in February 1947 at Shipley Woodside pit (Derbyshire) where he had to go to check on the ponies there. We were issued with a lamp and two motties, one to hand to the banksman on the way onto the cage and the other to give him on the return, to prove that you were out of the mine. The winding engine man was tipped the wink that there were a couple of newcomers on the cage and he let the steam engine do its best. After easing the cage off the keps, which the banksman pulled back, the cage plunged down the shaft at what to me seemed to be the speed of light, but possibly travelling at the rate of 1,000 feet (305m) per min and apart from the feeling of insecurity I remember hearing the puff puff of the steam winding engine as we disappeared into the bowels of the earth.
As most people will agree, on one’s first journey down a shaft there can be a horrible feeling in the stomach and maybe nausea or even dizziness. A strange phenomenon occurs when the cages pass at the halfway point in the shaft, caused by air pressure then there is a feeling that you are rushing back up the shaft instead of going down. The old colliers will tell you to gulp several times or pinch your nose as the pressure on your ear drums increases as it can also leave you with a feeling of temporary deafness. For a 10 year old lad it was somewhat an adventure with mixed feelings.
So that the distance from the bank to the winding wheels could be at a minimum allowing for cage chains and ‘King plate hole’ etc, at many pits with 2 or sometimes 3 decks on the cage the cage decks were not very high, likewise with the pit bank and pit bottom with the low girders, so that particularly on one deck of the chair or level the men were quite doubled up and sometimes had to crouch in a most uncomfortable position whilst riding or waiting to ride the shaft. It also generally meant that the opening or shaft eye in the pit bottom need not be high. The main concern of the colliery companies was to have sufficient height for the tubs to be loaded with little else to spare, simultaneously if possible which allowed more coal to be raised.
I remember us travelling for quite some distance inbye, dipping and diving along dark roadways before scrambling through a tight space between props and bars at the ripping lip, then having to crawl along a Piper seam coal face about 2’ 6” (0.8m) high where every small lump of coal or dirt seemed to dig into my hands and kneecaps and every upward movement of my head managed to hit a low beam (my only protection was a soft leather miners’ helmet, nothing like the strong plastic helmets of today). Jack and the Ostler only wore ordinary flat caps as at that time it was not required by law to wear a very strong compressed cardboard helmet. Returning to the pit bottom a couple of hours later, my hands grimy and my face covered in dust, and having been bent double for most of the way.
Stepping off the cage at the pit top I vowed never to return, although I would not have missed the experience at that time for anything. Feeding the ponies in the pit bottom stables with a few tid bits of carrots and apples before returning to the surface brightened the day.
However I was to return to the pits 6 years later not being able to pursue my chosen profession as an Architect at Warner & Dean, of Sutton due to £3 3s 0d (3 guineas or £3.15) being required to be paid by me per week to them, known as articles for training. A wage no matter how small was an immediate ‘doubling’ of money.
Had I stuck to my first statement about ‘never going down a pit again’ in 1947, none of this book would have been written.
An underground life is so very different from other work and I feel that it is imperative that a miner’s family should experience a journey down a mine to appreciate where and under what conditions their men folk work. Sadly most never did and probably could never appreciate why the man needed to get to the club for a pint or two, particularly after a gruelling shift.
Derbyshire miners were offered 46s (£2.30) a ton for any concessionary coal they did not
require out of their allowance.
Alan Hill Area General Manager No6 Area EMD based at Bestwood HQ awarded OBE, the only one in the mining industry.
At a pit in the South Midlands on 17th February 1953 two brothers Arthur and Frank Vaughan were two out of a team of 5 men when the roof collapsed. One man Albert Mottram was killed by the fall and buried. Two other men James Smith and Arthur Timbrell were trapped. The 2 brothers were both awarded the Edward medal for bravery in rescuing the 2 trapped men and recovering the body under dangerous ground.
National pay rates were increased in February 1953. Minimum underground pay was £7 6s 6d (£7.32½), a rise of 1s (5p) a shift. The same 1s (5p) increase applied to surface rates which gave a new minimum of £6 7s 6d (£6.37½) a week.
I would be 17 in May and my salary then would be £3 per week. Quite a difference! You had to be interested in the job but those days in the 1950s one could walk out of one job on Friday and start an entirely different one on Monday.
Underground lads at 15 received £4 and at 16, £5 per week. At the time there was a heavy recruitment drive. I started work on 22nd December 1952 then it was 2 days off for Christmas. I thought this is just the job, 3 on and 2 off! Mind you we didn't have New Year’s Day off then. Several Training schools were operational and originally I was destined for Bentinck but fortuitously I received a letter cancelling that and the one I attended was Silverhill. It was a very icy cold day I remember as I had set off from home to wait for the Midland General bus. Two men were waiting at the bus stop. It was just about 6.15am and one asked ‘Where are you off to lad?’ ‘Silver’, I replied. ‘We’re going to the same place but we work at Butcher’.
15 Year Old Trainees Cross The Yard To The Time Office
We got off the bus in the pit yard and I knew several of the lads who were standing about in groups. All new starters were herded into a corner of Silverhill canteen after the night shift men had left, given a cup of hot tea then we were issued with a black compessed cardboard helmet, boots, belt and blue boiler suit. We then went across the yard to the time office where we were given 2 brass checks, one round one to hand in to the Banksman when getting onto the cage and an oblong one to hand to the Banksman when coming out of the pit. All the other lads were issued with a number, I was not. Mine had number 184 punched on it but I didn’t have to clock on like the others. Then it was into the lamp cabin to be issued with battery and cap lamp and shown how to put the battery on the belt and check the pilot light and main beam on the cap lamp. I had been down a pit before so the ride down the No2 UC shaft was not unfamiliar as I remembered hearing the puff, puff from the steam winding engine as before when the cage began to drop down the shaft. One young lad began to shout and cry and another was scared out of his wits when the cages passed one another at speed half way down. They were comforted by a couple of Instructors who were with the dozen of us on that bantle. We were told to gulp or pinch our nose as we approached the pit bottom where we breathed in that unusual smell of the pit and noted the swift flow of air as we alighted from the cage that had gently come to rest on the baulks and to be cheerily greeted by the Onsetter. Several rides were necessary to get all the new recruits to the Training Gallery that was only about 70 yards (65m) from the pit bottom. We all walked in line following an Instructor and were taught the rudiments of following behind one another and always passing the words on.
‘Hold up’ was the phrase as the Instructor stepped over an obstacle in front of him and the second in line, a new lad repeated the same as he got to it and so on all down the line....’hold up, hold up, hold up.... The idea was to make sure that nobody tripped up.
We turned into the Gallery and were hustled down a ladder into a schoolroom that was under the floor and there tuition was "dealt out" by Horace Marshall, the Senior Instructor. He was a martinet and his word was law. He was of small stature and wore an army tunic that seemed to give him even more power. There were about another 5 or 6 Instructors (Bill, Sam, Arthur, Tom were four I remember), drawn from other collieries such as Blackwell B Winning, Pleasley, Kirkby and Silverhill who taught us the rudimentary things about practical mining.
Note: Anyone aged 18 or over, or re-entrants to the industry were only obliged to do 3 weeks intensive training instead of the 16 weeks required for juveniles, 15 to 17. They did exactly the same underground operations but did not attend the Technical College.
A short ‘static’ Piper seam coal face was used for practical training. A rubber conveyor and top-belt structure was continually turned over, i.e. one week we assisted in building the conveyor in one track and on occasion a few blocks of coal were levered off a small coal face to the side and then casting coal and dirt onto the conveyor by a few of us wielding size 10 shovels. Props and ‘w’ bars were set, using a big hammer, and props drawn off from the ‘gob’ using a Sylvester and chain, packs rebuilt with chock nogs with quick release, and dirt infill and so on. The following week the conveyor structure was dismantled, the rubber conveyor rolled up in sections and then the structure was moved into the previous track again, the conveyor joined up and tensioned and then the whole process continued again, packs put on, bars and props reset and so on. On the other days we were taught all other aspects of mining such as clipping tubs onto a moving endless rope, lockering moving tubs, etc, etc, and a lesson or so in the underground classroom, a similar one shown is shown in the photograph above.
All this was done under the watchful eye of the Instructors. Of course being young, the object of the exercise was to try to get as dirty as possible, to emanate an experienced collier. Two days a week were spent at the Technical College at Mansfield, where we learnt about the “academic side” of mining and also how to do practical work in a workshop such as constructing a spanner out of a solid piece of steel. First aid was also an important role in mining and St John’s Ambulance Brigade methods were taught. Some days at the mine were spent helping to gang some drawing off materials from the closed Threequarter seam workings. Snap time was sometimes hilarious as most of the others and the instructors had sandwiches of bread and cheese or jam. I lived with my grand parents and my Grandma used to pack my snap tin with numerous slices of bread cut thinly with such a variety of fillings that it made the others drool or laugh at. There were sometimes 10 double slices with something different on each, such as potted meat, jam, marmalade, cheese, tomatoes, pork pie, bacon etc.
Not bad out of the 30s (£1.50) a week board I paid. I was always treated slightly differently to the other lads as it was known that I was a staff man and one day would be a ‘gaffer’ and for a few of us who were well up with our studies and practical work etc, several visits were arranged to various working panels in the mine where we saw miners at work. I even saw my friend Ron Clayton wafting ripping dirt into the gate-side packholes on 71s Deep Hard panel as the chargeman Joe on top of the heap kept wiping his brow of sweat but as Ron said, not because of the hard work but because he might have to do some.
There is always some hilarity in a pit and instant one liners are the best. I then appreciated the very heavy work that he did and although he probably drank 4 pints of water out of his dudley (water tin) why it was almost ‘necessary’ to have a few pints at the local pub in the evening to slake the dust. He always used to treat me as he was then earning a good wage. At the end of the 16 weeks course in April 1953 there was an examination, both academically at the College where we were tested on our studies, and on the accuracy of the spanner.
Also at the mine we were examined practically on all aspects of haulage work, such as clipping on a tub using a Star clip and a Smallman clip, lockering, harnessing and ganging the one and only pony and various other things and answering questions at an oral exam by Mr Harold Eley (Undermanager in charge of both Silverhill and Bentinck centres) and Mr Horace Marshall, Chief Instructor. A further exam was on St John’s Ambulance Brigade assimilated tests. Due to my expertise and dexterity I was chosen to accompany a set of tubs down the gallery and out onto the main road and down to Silverhill No2 UC pit bottom where they were to be sent up the shaft on their way to the dirt tip. The tubs contained all the detritus and urine from the latrines for the past 4 months and the job of filling these tubs rested with the ‘not so bright ones’ on the course.
The tubs were lowered down the gallery by haulage rope and I duly unclipped the Smallman clip at the front of the run of four then carefully put some wooden lockers in the back tub wheels whilst I knocked the Star clip off with the iron bar. So far so good until the tubs began to move and gather speed down the slope due to the weight. I ran quickly to the end of the gate and as the tubs came by at a fairly fast rate I was still able to flick some more oak lockers into all the wheels assuming that to by doing so it would halt the run, but no, the tubs began to gather more speed as they rounded the bend onto the main haulage road some 55 yards (50m) from the shaft.
Manhole (refuge hole) was for safety, to get out of the way of tubs passing and was numbered and sometimes whitewashed as shown, but this is a 'deluxe' one
One by one the old oak lockers (as shown in the photo), snapped like carrots and by now the tubs were picking up speed. Horace Marshall and a couple of other instructors by this time had run after the tubs and were trying to hold on to the back tub in the hope of stopping the run. This proved impossible and we were all shouting ‘Runner’ and waving our cap lamps to attract the attention of the onsetters at the shaft side. Fortunately they saw our signals and dived into a manhole at the side of the roadway. Unfortunately as the tubs hit a run of tubs that were on the jack catches which were there to steady tubs before releasing 2 at a time to load onto the cage, the weight of the 4 tubs together as they hit the catches caused the front tub to stop dead and the others cascaded into it and bucked up into the air and threw some of the contents into the roof of the roadway. Lowside of the catches the smell was indescribable and would be for several days. I had gone to earth by this time as shouts of abuse from the onsetters resounded up the gate.
I was exonerated as I had been seen by the instructors that I had indeed placed wooden lockers in each of the tub wheels as ordered and some more besides. It was found that the wooden lockers were so old and dry that there was no strength in them and they could have broken earlier at any time.
From that day only steel lockers with handles were ever used again. I didn’t know at the time that I had achieved almost full marks in all parts and was quite shocked when it was announced and I was awarded first prize as the best trainee of the session. Mr Harry Hicken, (ex Union man and the East Midlands Division Director of Labour) presented me with a clock and a St John’s Ambulance Brigade Certificate at a ceremony at Bentinck Welfare on 13th April 1953. I was extremely proud and treasured the clock. He was renowned for not wearing a shirt with a collar but always wore a pristine white shirt with a copper collar stud.
I began work as an Apprentice Surveyor next day (14th April) at Teversal Sub-Area Office for Teversal, Silverhill, Pleasley and Sutton collieries, and found that my duties for 5½ days a week, apart from making sure the fire was burning before the ‘gaffers’ arrived and the tables had been cleaned down, and all the drawing tackle put out, was to learn to mash the tea etc and take prints for all and sundry using the clapped out motorised traversing carbon lamp printing machine that was about 5 feet (1.3m) long but had a missing cog.
You had to utch the lamp along at that point otherwise the lamp stopped and burnt the image away and you were left with a blank piece in the middle. After getting a few tellings off for that for wasting printing paper and time I soon learned not to stray too far away from it. When the carbons burnt away after getting approximately 2 inches (0.05m) apart you had to push them closer together leaving about a half inch (0.01m) gap again so that the electric spark ‘jumped’ the gap but in doing so you could get a mild electric shock that certainly made ‘you jump’. It was same when replacing the carbon sticks. It was deadly. I had to do all that before learning the basics of surveying and drafting from the Unit Surveyors in the office. Any one of them could find you an extra job to do, but at least I was willing. Because I couldn’t remember what job I had been doing the week before I had my first brush with a telling off from my boss Denis Hill so I was issued with a small book to make a diary and was to back track for the few days before, when I started, and to carry on recording in the future. It was the best thing that happened to me because for the next 40 years I kept a work record plus other things for every day that is why I am able to quote things with confidence.
The Survey department occupied the complete first floor of the 1870 building (to right in photo) with 2 large drawing tables for Teversal and Pleasley Collieries surveyors who used one table and Silverhill surveyors and June the Tracer worked on the other in the right hand office where the Sub-Area Surveyor had a private office at the rear. Sutton Colliery surveyors occupied the left hand office and the print room was between the two.
Answering and using the wall mounted Ericsson telephone with the ear flaps and a hand wallower was another ‘achievement’ to take or send messages to manual telephones on the surface or underground in the pit bottom office. Of course it was the reverse at knock off, put the tackle away, damp down the fire, put the covers on the tables etc. I remember once when I started to do these jobs just two minutes before the recognised finishing time and the Sub-Area Surveyor asked me ‘If I wanted to leave early?’ I was always later than them usually. Another part of my ‘training’ was to try to stop the others from taking money off me when playing cards at lunch break. The first couple of weeks I was abysmal, however things changed when the ‘penny dropped’ and I began to win. That’s what we played for those days, pennies. It was half an hour’s break from the general turmoil of a busy job as all new plans had to be created to comply with new Regulations and Code of Surveying Practice Pt 1. Of course there were no modern aids like today and everything had to be done by hand and most calculations done using logarithmic tables.
I joined the union, BACM (British Association of Colliery Management) via the union man Stan Brunskill the Area Geologist.
The No4 Sub-Area Surveyor Clary Skeavington had a newspaper delivered every morning. I think it was the Nottingham Guardian. He had to read the Public notices to see if there was anything related to the erection of large buildings etc in his ‘patch’. The other three Sub-Area Surveyors did same for theirs. It was his duty to investigate the possible subsidence factors that could arise etc so it was important. Anyway one day I couldn’t get the fire going as there didn’t seem to be any draught and after several attempts to light the sticks I did what we’ve all done at one time, that is put the newspaper across the chimney breast aperture to cause an updraught which 9 times out of 10 would get the sticks to light. This time it did, but not before sucking the newspaper up the chimney, that was one bollocking I was going to get because the paper hadn’t been read, but to top it up I set fire to the chimney. Black smoke was puthering from the chimney pot and several cracks in the stack (it was a very old building, 1870). Occasional puffs were sent down the chimney and into the office. I quickly raked out the fire as best I could as the coals hadn’t set fire yet. ‘Panic’...I went racing up the yard to find the Enginewright, Horace Parsons who quickly arranged for some men up the yard to come and help. I remember one climbed on the roof and poked a long stick down the chimney. Too late.....huge chunks of soot that had been waiting for such a day went hurtling down and bounced onto the office floor. What with the smoke and now the soot. I really got pasted with that one when the gaffers came a few minutes later. I had to spend all day cleaning up. They all went off and left me to it. There was no hoover. It was a brush and pan to start with then hands and knees with soapy water and rags for the rest of the day. Fortunately I hadn’t removed the large table covering sheets so the tables were o.k. but the cloths had to be washed. Every window in the upstairs had to be opened to get rid of the smell. I also had to clean out dozens of metal pigeon holes where all plans apart from working plans were rolled up and kept. I had to make a small mop on a piece of stick that I could poke to the back and rake out years of dust. I can’t remember whether the Manager Jimmy Wright at the time, (later Deputy Director for South Nottinghamshire Area) was at work that day. His office was directly underneath. Anyway I didn’t get sent for.
The other offices on the ground floor was the Chief Clerk Jack Limmer, next door the Safety Officer Fred Daft and Fire Officer Maurice (Mod) Jones and Ventilation Officer Jack Barker and next door to them Jack Clews the Training Officer and of course most of them came to ‘admire my handiwork’. Things simmered down and the nightshift boiler man Joe next day gave me some tips. In future I was to go down to the boiler in the cellar get a shovelful of burning coke, run upstairs, tip it into the grate, put a few sticks and coal on top and within seconds the fire was blazing away. That was fine until one day I slipped on the stairs and red hot cokes were everywhere. Without thinking I quickly scooped them up until the last piece stuck to the end of my finger and burned some of it away. I still have a different fingerprint now. I daren’t tell the bosses what I had done that time but when they turned up a few minutes later they remarked of the smell and why had I got my handkerchief wrapped round my finger? But the fire was blazing up the chimney back and I had opened some windows. I was extremely careful after that and I had no further problems. I could have burnt the office block down, it was as dry as a tinder box. We only had a fire during the cold spells in future just to top up the temperature from the large ‘school type’ radiators. I escaped getting sacked again.....