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GalleryMemories of Teversal Colliery 1959 - 1980  (Page 4)

Malcolm Roebuck - Photo Gallery

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Playing at Work

Along with the other trainees on our first day at Sutton we were introduced to Jack Trusswell the Training Officer (later to become the Safety Officer at Teversal) and Sam Clarke; Sam was to be the main man who dealt with us, supervising us on various jobs on the surface and taking us underground on visits and also to do some work underground. We were given lockers in the Pit Head Baths, shown where we were to "clock in" and taken to our surface cabin where we were to congregate in a morning.

The cabin was a dingy scruffy place but it did contain a pot bellied type stove on which we could boil a kettle and it was really dry, cosy and warm in the winter. Our first "real job" was to shovel about ten tons of coal into the bunker that fed the boilers for the pit head baths and I must admit that when you are not used to this activity it does make your arms ache.

One of the first things that I noticed on the surface was that there was a large bank at the side of the rail track painted white; it was a few months later that I learned that this was an emergency stock of coal, white washed so that it would show if anyone had removed any of the stock.

I remember being placed with one elderly chap (Watt Butler) our job was to "monkey muck" some pipes, I will leave it to your imagination as to why this material was called monkey muck; I only realized much later that this material that we mixed in a bucket with water, stirred with a stick and then applied to the pipes with our bare hands with no respiration protection was asbestos.

One of the habits that Watt had was to chew raw horse radish, he introduced me to this and oh boy did it set your mouth on fire. 

Another job that we had was to paint mine cars inside and out with black bitumen paint, it was a scorching hot summer and working inside of the mine cars was like being in an oven and a number of us had to be treated for sunburn in the medical centre.  Imagine that, miners being treated for sun burn!  I know that you shouldn’t act around at work, but one day we were told to discharge about fifty old foam fire extinguishers and, I must admit, this we did with great relish, we were unsupervised and took the opportunity to use the extinguishers on each other, it was the middle of summer and we all looked like snowmen and it was great fun. 

I will never forget the first time that I used the pit head baths at the end of a shift when all the colliers were taking a shower; I did have some mixed feelings about this, here I was a shy fifteen year old joining a large number of naked men taking what could be best describe as a communal shower.  Men black with dust gradually becoming clean as the coal dust was washed from their bodies, some stood in a line washing each other’s backs most of them were singing “She Was Only Sixteen” a hit song at that time by Sam Cooke and I have to say their singing lifted the spirits.  One of the biggest dangers in mining was brought home to me on that day, a man named Howard Sage asked me to wash his back, the whole of his back was scarred with burns and the tips of his ears had been damaged, he received these injuries in an explosion two years earlier at the mine when he was only sixteen.  Five men lost their lives from injuries received in this explosion; the youngest J Godber was only sixteen years of age, one of the other men that died Les Reeves was a friend of my father.

One of the habits that some of the miners had was to chew tobacco, they did this to keep their mouths moist and free of dust.  This tobacco would not normally have been smoked, though some did; it was called twist and was specifically for chewing. 

One day we went on an underground visit to a heading; a heading is a single entry roadway that is being driven for whatever purpose and is ventilated by auxiliary ventilation, what this really means is that a fan connected to ducting either blows air into or sucks air out of the heading.  This heading had two conveyor belts and the second conveyor loaded material in line onto the first conveyor; I don’t remember how far in this heading was, but it was common practice to illegally ride out on these conveyor belts and I had never ridden a conveyor belt. 

We had reached the inbye end of the heading and were talking to some of the workmen (Headers) there, one of them said to me “So you’re a man now are you” I sheepishly replied “yes” The header then said “You’d better have a chew then” and he gave me about one inch of twist; I dare not do any other than pop it into my mouth and chew on it as all the other trainee’s were looking on. It was the foulest tasting obnoxious thing that I had ever placed in my mouth. It was time to leave and we all jumped onto the conveyor belt to ride out, me with the twist in my mouth still not daring to spit it out; we reached the delivery end of the conveyor and popped over onto the other conveyor, I swallowing the twist as we did so.  After suffering the next eight or nine hours with heart burn and vomiting I vowed that I would never chew tobacco again.

14th of March 1960

I started work underground at Teversal Colliery on the 14th of March 1960 and my first trip down the mine gave me a bit of a shock, I travelled into the mine via number two shaft, this was the upcast shaft often referred to as "the Shonkey"; this shaft had only one single deck cage and a balance weight in it and at that time carried only eight men. As I was descending into the mine I could hear what sounded like volumes of water falling down the shaft and when the cage landed in the pit bottom I could see a curtain of water falling in front of our exit. A man called the "onsetter" dressed in waterproofs and what looked like an oversized sou'wester came forward and hung some cloth like material up to shield our passage into the pit bottom. This pit bottom was as you can imagine wet and the smell of the return mine air mixed with the dampness made this place really stink, I was to discover much later that a small stream ran from old workings in the Top Hard seam into this pit bottom. You would think that other than the miners and the pit ponies that there wouldn't be any other life down there; well I can tell you that is not the case, as well as a variety of insects and earthworms, there were a large number of rats and a cat that was kept in the stables to keep the rats at bay.
His job was to couple empty tubs
His job was to couple empty tubs

I was to spend forty days under the close supervision of Harry Lowbridge in number one pit bottom; his job was to couple empty tubs together at the top of number two creeper (a creeper could be described as a large type of bicycle chain with catches attached, these catches caught on the axles of the tub and transported the tub up a steep incline) and then to send them off in sets of twelve tubs to run uncontrolled down an incline for about 200 metres. Well I can tell you that this was backbreaking work as all you did all shift was to constantly pick up a coupler bend down to attach the tubs together and then stand up again, this was repeated hundreds of times each shift. Harry was a bit of a character, he wouldn't miss a shift at work for weeks and then he would go off on a bender and get so drunk that he would have to miss a few shifts to recover.

Every lad that I knew at the mine had to undergo a sort of initiation and that was to get “Fatted” I will explain what this is; in the pit bottom drums of dark brown almost black sticky axle grease were kept for the lubrication of the tub axles, this grease was placed into two containers that automatically greased the axles of the tubs as they passed over. 

These automatic greasers were known as "fatters"; now any new lad would be held down by his so called workmates who would strip him from the waist down and apply a large dollop of axle grease to his private parts, hence you had been "fatted". I can assure you that this is quite an unpleasant experience and causes much amusement for your colleagues when later they watch you attempt to remove the offending material in the pit head baths.

I was now one of them, I had been initiated and I could address any workman by their first name, or so I thought. I remember the pit bottom corporal (a chargeman, {not an official} in charge of the pit bottom) Tom Poyser. I was brought down to earth one morning when I called him Tom; I was immediately put in my place and instructed by him that his name to me was Mr Poyser. All I could say was "What an asshole, who the f**k do's he think he his"! Oops; did I swear then? Yes I did; another new found freedom, I could swear amongst the rest and the best of them without being frowned upon. The only unwritten rule was that you must not under any circumstances swear in front of a woman, swearing was only to be done in the presence of men.

I worked with various men on different jobs in the pit bottom, just to name a few Harry Lappage, Johnny Bacon, Dennis Ingram and David Parnell; the latter being quite a character, he never stopped joking or singing and was always happy in his work. I remember one Monday morning many years later when I was a deputy; we were being lowered into the pit bottom, one of my transfer point attendants Roy Hancock was at the front of the cage feeling unwell due to a heavy night on the booze. David Parnell instead of waiting for the cage to come to rest before he opened the gate to the cage was stood with his arms raised so that as the cage came into the pit bottom the gate would slide up as he held it. He did this so that he would not have to bend down to lift the gate up. This particular morning it back fired on him, there he was with his arms outstretched singing his head off just as Roy decided to eject the contents of the previous nights drinking all over David. David immediately stopped singing and appeared to do some sort of convulsive dance, vomiting as he did so and I am sure that he didn't stop spitting for a week.

It can be extremely cold in number one pit bottom especially in the winter months when temperatures are freezing; the wind chill factor has a dramatic effect due to the velocity of the air being drawn into the mine. At that time of the day men were not given any additional clothing, you wore your own clothes' that you bought from home and these were usually suitable for the place where you regularly worked. I remember one Christmas whilst on the way to work my twin brother; David commented on how cold it was and that he pitied any man working in the pit bottom, my brother and I were at that time working down the roads "inbye" (Towards the workings away from the pit bottom) where it was a much warmer level as that in the pit bottom. There was one job in the pit bottom right at the side of the shaft the coldest place you could be and this was called the "Brake", all you had to do was to lift and lower a lever that operated a floating platform in the bottom of the shaft. This operation was important as you had to get it right; this platform dictated the level that the cage came to in the pit bottom for the tubs to be run onto the cage and you needed to get the rail track the same on the cage.

Men used to ride this shaft at the end of the shift; on this day when I got back to the pit bottom I could see my brother operating the brake. He hadn't the winter clothing to wear, so he had wrapped damp sandbags around himself in an attempt to keep warm and these had frozen around him; you could see the ice crystals sparkle when you shone your cap lamp on him and his movements were somewhat animated similar to those of the "Tin Man" in the film The Wizard Of Oz.

The last job that I had in the pit bottom was to lower sets of twelve tubs full of coal from the loading point some 150 metres into the pit bottom; these tubs would run freely down an incline towards the pit bottom, I would position myself where the tubs had not increased too much in speed, probably about 5mph. and then slow the vehicles down using a wooden tool know as a "Scotch" or a "Dick" it was triangular in shape across it's width and about two feet in length. It was important that you got this right or you could derail one or more of the "coalers". (Tub full of coal, dotters if full of dirt) The scotch had to be placed under the back wheel of the leading tub in order to lock it, the set would continue to run towards the pit bottom, but at an ever decreasing speed and the trick was to bring it gently to a stop before it came to rest at the back of other vehicles waiting to be wound up the shaft. If you let the set in too quickly you could cause other tubs to derail or if you lost control there were a possibility for a tub to be pushed into the shaft.

One day as I was attempting to slow a set of coalers I missed the back wheel of the leading tub and caught the front wheel of the second tub, this caused the tub to derail and turn over onto its' side causing a delay in production as all of the conveyor belts had to stand. For this I was sent out of the pit bottom to go and clean the spillage up from underneath the conveyor belts; this was supposed to be my punishment but believe me it wasn't, although this meant shovelling all shift I was elated I was now "down the roads" and out of the freezing cold. Shortly after I had left the pit bottom to work elsewhere, work started on upgrading the pit bottom by installing a bunker that held about 250 tons of coal and the installation of a new loading point. This upgrade greatly improved the system as it did away with the manual control of runs of tubs gravitating into the pit bottom greatly improving efficiency and the safety of the men working there.


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