MY MEMORIES OF TEVERSAL COLLIERY
It was early in 1959 and I was approaching the age of fifteen and had decided that I wanted to follow the majority of the men in my family and go into coal mining; at that time, coal mines provided much of the employment for men in the local area.
I would try to get a job at Teversal Colliery as my elder brother had worked there; the boyfriend of my sister was presently employed at the mine and there was good public transport to and from the mine. So off I went to the colliery known locally as Butcherwood, I must admit that this was a bit of a frightening experience; here I was a young slip of a lad about to ask for a job in a man's world that I knew nothing about.
I arrived at the colliery and asked a man who was waiting for a bus the directions to the training office, he directed me across some railway tracks to a really dirty two storey building, to be honest it was the scruffiest place that I had ever seen and looked more derelict than occupied. This came as a bit of a shock, my first real welcome to the world of coal mining, not only was the "main offices" scruffy and covered in dust inside and out so was the whole of the area that I could see on that side of the railway tracks.
I entered the building and knocked on a door, a man appeared and I asked him if he could tell me where I could find the training officer, the man asked me what I wanted him for? I replied that I was looking for a job; I have no idea who this man was, but he did say that I would have to see the colliery manager Mr. Gubbins and that he would take me into the manager's office. The man knocked on the manager's door, and the manager replied in a loud gruff voice "Come in" and I entered the office in to what I can only describe as a terrifying experience
The ceiling was bowed down in the middle of the room, there was little light and the whole of the room was dim, the place was filthy and covered in dust and behind a desk that was piled high with dirty books and papers sat an equally scruffy looking man glaring up at me; he asked "What do you want"? The chap that had accompanied me into the office replied "He's come for a job boss" The manager looked me up and down and without even asking my name said "he'll do, set him on". That was it; I had got a job I was going to be a coal miner I didn't know it was that easy I wasn't frightened any more. I left my details with the man that took me into the office, he said that I would be getting a letter telling me when to start at Silverhill Training Centre and where I would have to go for a medical.
The last couple months at school couldn't pass quickly enough; I was going start work, I was going to be a miner and I was going to get paid for it...
The letter arrived and I was to present myself at Huthwaite Miners Welfare for a pre-employment medical on the 9th of March 1959 (two days before my fifteenth birthday) and I must admit that I found the medical a bit embarrassing; it was the first time that I had to lower my underwear in front of a doctor, although I was pleased to pass my medical.
I started my employment as a miner at Silverhill Training Centre on April thirteenth 1959 along with a number of other "young men" yes, young men, no longer school boys, we had now entered a man's world and we had a lot to learn.
Mr Knowles (I don't remember his first name) and Mr Frank Wycherly introduced themselves and that they were to be our instructors for the next fifty days for our preliminary underground training; most of this training would take place on the surface with trips underground for practical training and one day a week at Mansfield Tech on Chesterfield Road in Mansfield.
Mr Knowles was the main instructor in the classroom on the surface, he was more of a school teacher type of person; telling us about the Mines and Quarries Act, the history of mining, the dangers of mining and how to conduct ourselves in our working and private life, I must say that he gave us a lot of good advice. Frank Wycherly was a more down to earth character; he had lost all the fingers from one hand in a mining accident and he could tell a good story, he was the type of man that could hold your attention.
I will never forget my first trip underground; we were to enter the mine via number two shaft. We had heard all kinds of stories about certain events that can and have taken place whilst riding in the shaft and it was with some apprehension that after being searched for contraband (Any materials or contrivance for smoking) that we entered the cage. The cage is best described as a lift that would take you to different levels in a building although this cage has no sophistication about it and you do not personally control it. The cage was a double decked re-enforced steel structure attached to a steel rope designed to convey men and materials in and out of the mine. After we had all got onto the cage "packed like sardines in a can" a man called the banksman dropped the gate to the cage to prevent anyone falling out and gave a signal to the Winding Engine Driver (the winder) to lower us into the mine. The gate was made out of steel tubes with rings attached to each end that ran up and down vertical attachments to the side of the cage and covered in a steel mesh. The cage started gently to descend and then with ever increasing speed seemed to hurtle underground and then with a sudden gust of air the ascending cage passed us halfway through the shaft, this was quite startling as we did not expect it; as we approached the pit bottom the winder started to apply the brakes and you could feel the winding rope stretch as it slowed our passage and then with a slight jolt the cage came to rest in the pit bottom. Two things surprised me on leaving the cage, one was the foul smell of the air that was being sucked out of the mine by the surface fan and the other was the velocity of the ventilation, it was like being in a wind tunnel. Frank Wycherly told us that we would have follow him and to walk in a single file and if he was to say "Hold up" you were to repeat the instruction to the person following you as it was a warning that there was some obstruction on the floor and if he said "Hold Down" then likewise but this meant an obstruction in the roof. Off we went to the Training Gallery to a chorus of "hold up" and "hold down"
Bare Wires Transmit a Signal to a Bell
The training gallery was a short length of unsupported roadway in rock and was about 130 metres long, the first 90 metres was on a slight rise going inbye (travelling away from the pit bottom) it contained rail track throughout and a small bidirectional endless rope haulage system that terminated at the top of the rise. At the top of the rise the roadway turned left and continued on the level for about 40 metres, we were not permitted to pass this point, I’m not sure but I believe that this section of roadway was supported by arch girders; at the top of the rise immediately on the right was a stable where one pit pony was kept. It is in the first section of roadway that we learned to operate the endless rope haulage; we attached tubs to the haulage rope using smallman clips both to the front and rear of the vehicles. By pinching two bare wires together that ran the full length of the roadway we could transmit a signal to a bell situated at the haulage engine; this would tell the haulage driver what to do, one ring stop, two rings haul in, three rings haul out. Different systems used different signals, later on when I was employed on the haulage you often made up your own set of special signals to use other than the official ones. In the second section of roadway we were shown how to gear the pony up, (How to prepare the pony for work by fitting the collar, headgear etc.) give him commands and how to move vehicles with him.
Fifty days seemed to fly by and I had completed my preliminary underground training; at this point I expected to transfer to my parent colliery Teversal, but this was not to be the case. I could not be employed underground until I had attained the age of sixteen and as I was the only trainee for Teversal I was transferred to Sutton Colliery who had a number of trainees that were employed by that colliery. This colliery was known locally as Brierly or the “Bread and Herring” pit, I understand that the name Brierly derived from the location that some of the Staffordshire miners came from that formed part of the early workforce at Sutton Colliery. I’m not sure where the name “Bread and Herring” came from; when I was doing part of my “Deputies Course” some year’s later a colliery overman (Arthur Parkes) took me to some old workings so that I could see an excellent example of ”Herring-Boning”, this was a complex form of timber roadway supports. I have no idea how long this old support system had been installed but it looked as good as new and if you understand the tremendous geological forces at work underground then you could only marvel at its longevity. I’m not sure if this Herring-boning had anything to do with the name Bread and Herring, although I was once told by one of my uncles’ who worked there (Sam Reed) that it was due to the poor conditions and low pay. I understand that other collieries outside of this area were also known by the name Bread and Herring.