1957 - Page 1
Mines and Quarries Act 1954 Implemented
The Mines and Quarries Act of 1954 came into operation on 1st January 1957. Until now, although all entrants to the industry had pit helmets issued to them, and had done since the late 1940s, it was now compulsory by law to wear them. Some coal face workers preferred skullcaps of cloth, with a clip at the front to position the cap lamp. Also many workers in pit bottom areas preferred to wear cloth caps. Some of the older workers continued to do so, with a pit helmet perched on top! They did look comical. Some colliery companies had introduced safety helmets in the mid 1930s.
The Undermanager at Teversal, Jim E Davies (1489) usually wore a flat cap, and also knee britches with long socks (similar to man in photo) with his hand lamp and later a cap lamp cable dangling round his neck whilst on his inspections throughout the pit previously, but he along with everyone else was now forced to wear a helmet. He usually wore a blue pinstriped suit and flat cap down the pit bottom in the early mornings, standing on a box shouting and bawling whilst setting out the men, usually ‘market men‘, the Deputies standing in a line at the side noting the men’s names and numbers in their books (necessary for payment at that time).
He would then ride back up the shaft and go home for breakfast, as his house was located in the end terrace nearby the offices, just at the end of the pit yard. He would ride down the shaft again in his pit gear to go about the pit on his examination duties and would always be found in his pit bottom office at the end of the day shift gathering information from his Overmen and Deputies before returning to his dirty scruffy surface office in the pit yard where he would deal with other mundane duties and talk to the Overmen on the going on shift. A typical example of an underground office is shown. He would then go home to bathe before reporting to the Manager on the day’s activities. Jim Davies' father James and his uncle William were both killed in the explosion at Whitwick 1898. How Jim ended up at Bilsthorpe where he became a Senior Overman before being promoted to Teversal is a mystery.
Although stringent medical examinations had been in force for some years for all entrants to the mining industry to be passed as first class fit, there were still men working underground with one lung, one arm, one leg or one eye or stone deaf. Of course there were many men working underground past the normal retirement age of 65 and some continued to work on the coal face or in the gate ripping, driving engines etc well into their 70s and on rare occasions into their 80s.
Under the M and Q Act 1954, Sec 37 referred to roadways where vehicles or conveyors run to have standard height and width, the max load carried, and max speed, and arrangements for manriding if permitted.
'You've never had it so good'
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (Conservative) Jan 1957- Oct 1963. Minister of Power, Lord Mills
(Con),14th Jan 1957-1959. President of Board of Trade, Sir David Eccles (Con), 13th Jan 1957-1959.
Studies would be undertaken at all mines in the future to determine norms for production and development heading tasks. Many jobs were created in this department in order to cover the numerous tasks throughout the Coalfields.
During January 1957, the Manager of Kirkby colliery (Nottinghamshire), Les Cumberland (5563), and the NUM Secretary Alf Mead, represented the East Midlands Division on a two-week Method Study course at Hastings.
Denby Drury Lowe
The Ashgate seam at 2’ 7” (0.79m) thick and the Mickley at 2’ 6” (0.76m) thick were abandoned at Denby Drury Lowe in February. The Silkstone coal 1’7” (0.48m), shale 4” (0.10m) and coal 2’ 3” (0.69m) was abandoned in May at Denby. One shaft at Denby was called Anna, (Derbyshire).
Surveyors Moved From Sub Area
The Surveyors now had offices at Sutton and Silverhill and had only recently moved from the Group office at Teversal (Nottinghamshire) and were based in the old Medical centres – white tiled walls and all ! New office accommodation with more suitable features would be built later, or the Surveyors would move into larger offices vacated by other departments, such as the Group offices at Silverhill. The Surveyor at Pleasley (Derbyshire) moved out first in 1954 to a large office upstairs in the main office block there.
A Vic Hallam type building was added to the office block for the Surveyors at Sutton.
Incidentally there were still 20 ponies in use underground at Pleasley (Derbyshire) and around 10 at Teversal, 1 at Silverhill Training Gallery and 2 or 3 at Sutton (Nottinghamshire) in 1956/57.
Training Centre Opened At Grassmoor
On 11/1/1957 a Training Centre costing £77,000 was opened at Grassmoor (Derbyshire) for new entrants to the industry.
Hungarians Drafted In
Many Hungarian mineworkers drafted into the local pits of the East Midlands Division following their fleeing of the Russian invasion of their country in Dec 1956, found themselves living in the hostels e.g. the first batch at Forest Town Miners’ Hostel having completed their training for work in the mines by March 1957, were on pay but doing no productive work, as there was reluctance from the local workforce to accept them and the idea was eventually abandoned. By August 1957 250 Hungarians had found employment outside of the industry.
The hostels at Alfreton (first 150 sent there) and Hucknall were re-opened, but were now run by the Hostels Corporation Ltd instead of by the Government. They were taught a smattering of the English language. By the end of the year only 73 out of 4,186 Hungarians were in work, earning up to £9 per week, despite country wide NUM ban on Magyar labour. There were 173 at Forest Town and 238 at Alfreton by July, (but the hostels were closed in Oct 1959).
Sutton Colliery Explosion
On 21st February 1957, there was an explosion at Sutton colliery (Nottinghamshire) at 11.30am. A large fall had occurred at the Loader gate end of 28s, a new shearer face in the Low Main seam, which was advancing along a previously driven Duckbill wide coal-heading gate. The face had only advanced about 20 yards (18m) from the face head position. To advance the face meant taking down the pack built previously, allowing the machine to cut in and out of the stable hole then rebuilding the pack again. The strata was completely broken and a large cavity was created some 21 feet (app 6m) wide and high above the loader gate centre-extended arches. A piece of stone approximately 3 feet cubed (1m³) fell from the top of the fall approximately 21 feet (6m) high above the face entry, and broke off the pummel end of the face panzer motor cable.
There was a flash, which ignited methane gas, that was brought down out of the fall area by the falling stone, and an explosion blasted along the face line and also up the Loader gate to 30s main gate.
According to witnesses, there was a ball of red and blue flame and a big bang and then thick dust and smoke. 3 men were killed outright with 2 dying later from their wounds and 15 others injured, some seriously burned, including the Acting Undermanager Willis Bacon (5574) on loan from Teversal who was badly burned on his face.
Those who were fatally injured with multiple burns were:-
- W Savage (29), face man, on face side of machine
- JW Betts (55), ripper, 43 yards (39m) away from scene of explosion
- J Lemm (35), shearer assistant, 8 yards away (7m)
- L Reeves (45), stable-hole worker, on face side of machine
- J Godber (16), supplies hand, 37 yards (34m) away.
Those who also had multiple burns but survived the blast were:-
- G Atterby (28), face worker
- S Brewer (46), shearer driver
- F Bradley (32), face worker
- Willis Bacon (37) (5574), acting Undermanager, 2 to 3 yards (1.8 to 2.7m) away. (He required about 12 months of plastic surgery before returning to work)
- F Clayton (33), face worker
- GI Deakin (16), supplies hand
- W Fudge (23), face worker, 19 yards (17m) away
- C Fudge (29), face worker, 19 yards (17.5m) away
- JW Kirk (52), Deputy, 2 to 3 yards (1.8 to 2.7m) away
- T Lindley (30), face worker
- W Middleton (33), shearer assistant
- W Riley (45), face worker
- H Sage (17), belt driver
- S Ward (39), face worker
- S Wilson (32), face worker.
Andrew Stones (2nd class) the Undermanager was Acting Manager. He always insisted that everyone called him Andrew and not Mr Stones. The previous Manager ER (Teddy) Maiden (5341) had just transferred to Pleasley at the beginning of the month, as had Jack Brown (2414), the Unit Surveyor the previous December. Jack Frith (3831) was the Group Manager.
Just by chance I was one of a team carrying out subsidence levelling on Stoneyford Road, Sutton-in-Ashfield on that morning, when the Sutton colliery pit hooter began to toot continually. Generally apart from a couple or so short blasts at shift times, a continual use of the hooter meant that a serious incident had occurred. This was firmly concurred when the Group Surveyor Clary Skeavington arrived shortly afterwards to inform Barrie Tideswell, Colin Burlinson and me of the explosion, and that we were required to attend at the pit as soon as possible. We piled into his car and returned to Teversal office and changed into our pit clothes in the pithead baths. Clary Skeavington, Brian Barlow, Unit Surveyor Teversal, Colin Burlinson Assistant at Silverhill, and I raced to Sutton colliery post haste. With Stan Hays, Unit Surveyor and Geoff Austin Assistant at Sutton we were allowed down the pit to go to measure up the site, unfortunately shortly after seeing the injured and dead bodies being carried out of the mine.
The two three-man teams of Surveyors, with Clarence Skeavington (1347) and WE Brian Barlow (2730) and myself on one team, and J Stan Hays (2988), Geoff Austin and Colin Burlinson on the other team we measured up the scene and aftermath of the explosion in minute detail, following close on the heels of the Rescue teams and Area officials. We worked until late in the evening measuring details in order to prepare plans of the district. Referring to the plan below I was the one on the end of the tape and called out the information, Clary Skeavington read out the measurements and Brian Barlow did the booking. I particularly remember finding the remnants of a charred piece of shirt front with 3 buttons (just the vaporised outline of the shirt was to be seen on the gate side) and also a ‘baccy’ tin that contained a wisp of ash only, inside its silver-foil wrapping, the extreme heat from the flash having burnt the pigtail tobacco away. A flame lamp to test for firedamp and canaries in cages were left at the site for some hours as a monitor against carbon monoxide gas and were our only companions. The smell of burning lives with me today. After we had finished measuring up in the Loader gate I was asked to go round to the other gate to see if they wanted any help.
The old 30s tail gate was the way to go but as I stooped and crawled part of the way I came across a small wooden door which seemed to be fixed and I assumed it was stopped off so I returned to the Loader gate. It appeared though that that was the way to go so I retraced my ‘crawling’ and pushed open the small door which was stuck a little and found another similar small door which indeed did lead to the tail gate. The other team had just about finished. The reason for the small door was that due to floor lift, gate crush etc that was the maximum size possible. This shows what diabolical conditions existed in the Low Main seam. We all walked outbye to the shaft via the main intake conveyor road trudging through a layer of grey dust deposited by the blast.
The plan below of the aftermath of the explosion shows the position of everything that was needed to be measured in order to reconstruct and find out how the explosion happened.
Dust covered every inch of the way back to the pit bottom. When we arrived back at the surface we were all ushered into the canteen for a ‘free’ cup of tea, bought by the Area Surveyor Les Watson who quizzed the Surveyors about the incident, completely ignoring Geoff and me, as we were Apprentices at the time. Much ‘bye work’, such as back ripping along the main road to the area was carried out to improve the ventilation flow to the panel. ‘Andrew’s overcast’, a wooden one constructed of pine tree trunks laid side by side and another set at right angles had to be replaced, as it leaked air badly. A new diesel operated fan that should have replaced the old fan earlier was commissioned a week later. Coal turning resumed on 7th March 1957
Sutton was one of the pits that had poor conditions and in some of the supply gates no rails were laid and supplies or cambs (cambered girders) had to be pulled along the gate using old belt strippings by lads known as ‘timber draggers’. If the supplies were late, it was not unknown for the rippers to go back partly down the gate and take out a camb girder to set at the ripping lip, leaving a heap of shale in the gate. I saw it happen on 60s Piper tail gate whilst on a statutory survey. I was gobsmacked. In the Piper seam particularly, supplies could only be taken up to the lip by ponies, in the Loader gates. Even there the ponies sometimes had to stand partly on the gate belt to be able to turn around.
A Public Inquiry was held. Three senior NCB officials were fined £50 each and one £20 later on 9th May 1958 as a result of malpractice causing the explosion. The new Anderton shearer cutter-loader with a 20 inch (0.51m) wide drum had been installed on 28s Low Main face on 28th January. The seam at about 3 feet 3 inches (0.99m) thick lay at about 580 yards (530m) deep. The large fall referred to had happened between 6 and 7am on 21st February. Normally there were 34 men on the district, but on that day the number had increased to 40, including an electrician and fitter and also the Acting Undermanager Willis Bacon on loan from Teversal colliery. The district Overman was T Buckley and the Deputy for the panel was JW Kirk and the Shotfirer was S Derbyshire.
Italians, Geordies, Scots etc
Italian workers had been drafted in and a few of those willing to work hard found good jobs. On top of this the local miners found themselves deluged with Geordies, Scots, Northumbrians and Welsh, as the poor producing pits in their Areas were closed down. It was necessary to build thousands of houses to accommodate them, such as at Welbeck, Ollerton/Boughton and Rainworth. A few of the Geordies living at Welbeck were bussed daily to Teversal and back.