One day I was working with a chap named Graham Riley; he had attached the back clip to the run and off he went in the front going downhill with me walking behind the run, we had just got over the brow of the hill when the haulage rope broke. The vehicles hurtled down the drift smashing into the Warwick girder sited at the bottom of the drift; vehicles had turned over shedding their loads blocking the access to the bottom of the drift and crushing the structure to the conveyor belt. I called out for Graham but could not get a reply; when the dust had settled I could see his light underneath the front of the
derailed vehicles, the colour drained from me I thought that he must be dead. I had to crawl over the top of the damaged conveyor belt to get to him terrified of what I might find and almost in tears, finally I reached Graham; he wasn’t dead but soon would be if I could have caught him! He had reached a place of safety in a refuge hole just in front of where the vehicles had come to rest and had crawled back under the front end of the tangled vehicles just to give me a fright. I was relieved to see that he was unharmed, boy did that frighten me.
The ponies were generally well looked after and most of the gangers were very fond of their ponies, but there was the odd young man who could be cruel to them, I only know of one who was; though I have heard many stories of cruelty I have never witnessed any. When a pony was returned to the stables’ at the end of the shift it would be brushed down, fed, watered and examined for any injury; a statutory report book had to be filled in by the person who took the pony out stating the condition of the horse. All of the ponies were kept in stalls alongside of each other, but if a pony fell ill or be injured it would be placed in a separate stall away from the others and visited by a vet.
I remember one sad day when one of the ponies named Ned was killed in an accident on the Main Intake Roadway. I understand that there was a “runner” and that the run-away tubs collided with the pony. Ned was Archie Ryde’s pony; Archie was travelling back to the pit bottom stables with Ned when the accident occurred and there was absolutely nothing that Archie could have done to prevent the accident. All of the gangers were sad to hear about the loss of Ned; Ned was one of the better ponies, Archie was devastated by the death of his horse. I don’t remember the names of all of the men who worked with the ponies, after all it was over fifty years ago, but I do think that I should give the names of the pit ponies and their regular handlers. I should mention that the handlers did change often but the names given are right for a particular point in time:
- Sam, Terry (Knocker) Riley
- Duke, Mick (Chonger) Fottles
- Bob, Edgar (Eggar) Marsh
- Ned, Archie Ryde
- Billy, Ken (Charlie) Osbourne
- Ben, David Roebuck
- Danny, John (Poach) Rhodes
- Brit, Malcolm (Mank) Roebuck
- Don, Jeffry Roe.
I am not sure who had the remaining ponies Taffy, Fly
and I do believe that there was a Tommy
the names in brackets are the nick names of the gangers.
The Coal Board held an annual Fire Fighting Competition where a number of local collieries would enter a team of men who would carry out a number of tasks against the clock. Teversal Colliery entered a team that consisted of a number of young chaps of which I was one; we used to practice on the surface at the end of the shift and occasionally get a Saturday shift to hone our skills. The task was to run out a number of hoses, connect the branch (nozzle) turn the water on and knock down a target; then to turn off the water disconnect the hoses, insert a dividing breach ( this is a Y shaped connection that enables two hoses to be operated from a single hose). Connect two hoses to the dividing breach plus two branches to the hoses and turn the water on and knock down two more targets and that was it, end of competition all we had to do is roll up the hoses and put our equipment away for another year.
It was fun to see one of the opposing teams make a mistake and get a soaking by disconnecting a hose before the water had been turned off.
It was 1961 when it was our turn to win the competition but I do remember going to Teversal Miners Welfare to celebrate. Kevin Bestwick was part of the team and he had cycled from Tibshelf to take part and like most of us was not old enough to drink, but that didn’t stop us. We had a few drinks paid for by some of the older chaps and we clubbed together to buy a few more. Kevin was absolutely legless and how he got back home I’ll never know. He fell off his bicycle a number of times before he had left the Welfare grounds.
Pictured left to right kneeling: David Roebuck, Malcolm Roebuck. Kenny Osbourne, Kevin Bestwick and Jeff Carnel. Standing Perce Hinds the colliery fire officer.
|Hover Over Faces For Names
Coal Face Training
In the late summer of 1963 I commenced my coalface training; the first part of my training was to take place on 30s coal face in the Dunsil seam which was less than three feet in height, this face was a hand filled system where the coal seam was undercut, bored and fired using Airdox, (compressed air) explosives were used to advance the roadways. This type of face system was more commonly known as a "Stint Face"; this comes from the name of the set length of coal that a man had to fill off. In this case the length of a man's stint was eight yards. After all the coal had been filled off a man known as a "Borer" would start to go through the entire length of the face and bore shot holes at set intervals. He would be followed by the "Belt Flitters" whose job it was to advance the face conveyor belt; these would then be followed by a team of men known as "Packers" who would withdraw the steel supports set the previous day and build packs filled with debris. (A pack is rectangular in shape and built like a dry stone wall filled with debris and made tight to the roof) The next two men known as "Cutters" would start work and their job were to undercut the coal the whole length of the face using a machine with a jib on it, around which ran a chain with picks attached to it.
My first task was to purchase a set of tools (you bought your own tools then) I would require a shovel, not a normal shovel, one with a large pan and this shovel would have to have its back broke. A normal shovel is designed for you to use in a standing position and has quite an angle between the pan and the handle; a coal shovel needs to be flat with little or no angle as you are on your knees when using it. A visit to the colliery blacksmith would solve the problem; he would heat the connection between the pan and the handle so that he could straighten it out without cracking the metal, he would also punch a hole in the pan. Next was an eight pound hammer, this would require a hole in the shaft, a trip to the "Joiners Shop" would soon get a hole of the required size drilled. Now for a pick commonly called a "shaft" this comes in two parts; the wooden shaft and a pick blade, the shaft don't require any alteration but the blade needs to be made needle sharp. This required a trip to the "Pick Sharpener" (Herbert Hayes) a man that you paid a weekly fee to sharpen your blades; he would punch your "Check Number" (A unique works number issued to you) on all of your tools and keep your blades sharp. I now use the plural as you required more than one blade, one for use and one to be left with the pick sharpener. My final tool is known as a "Ringer", a ringer is best described as being a type of crowbar about four feet in length with a wedge like structure at one end tapering to round steel and a ring with an hole through it at the opposite end.
All of the tools collected, only two more items required and that is a "rod" and a combination lock; you will now understand why holes are required in all of the tools. It would be too much of a chore to carry your tools in and out of the mine; so you locked them together by passing the rod through all of the holes in your tools and then attaching the lock. Thus the tools could not be used by anyone else unless they had the combination to your lock or the skill to pick it; I must admit that many had the skill to do this and on more than one occasion have found my tools in different locations.
All Tooled Up And Ready To Go
I was introduced to Sid Cooper who was to be my instructor and went with him to the coal face; we ate our snap on the manrider on the way inbye as he told me that there wouldn't be time for it once we had reached the face. It was quite a walk from the manrider to the face; Sid assisted me with my tools, the "cutters" were still at work and the air was thick with white dust as dust suppression was not being used on the cutter it was also very warm. On arrival we stripped to the waist, had a quick drink of water and crawled onto the face; Les Bostock a man in the next stint to Sid got onto the moving conveyor belt in a lying position and Sid placed all of our tools on the conveyor behind Les who would take the tools off the conveyor when he reached his place of work. We had to crawl about fifty yards to Sid's stint, I finding this very awkward; you only had two feet on the face side of the face conveyor in which to travel and this was littered with "gummings" (Piles of dirt left behind by the cutter) and steel props pushed into the cut underneath the coal so as to support the coal to prevent it falling over. This effectively reduced the height of the face to about two feet or less and this soon encouraged me to learn how to ride on the face conveyor; as I have stated earlier a third class ride is better than a first class walk, in this case a first class crawl. The first job in your stint was to clean these gummings up to facilitate better travelling conditions as often you would be travelling in different directions out of the way of shot firing operations.
The first task completed Sid chose the spot where he would "break in" (Prepare for the first shot) and clean out the undercut at the site of a previously bored shothole; this done Sid shouted for the shotfirer, explosives were not used and shotfiring was carried out using a system called "Airdox". Airdox is where a thin metal bursting disk of varying thickness is placed in a steel tube (Gun) connected to the compressed air supply; the tube is placed in the shot hole, everyone moved from the area and the compressed air supply turned on. Subject to the thickness of the bursting disc it would burst at different pressures and in effect cause lesser or greater charge to the shot hole. When the disc bursts not only does the sudden discharge of the compressed air break the coal down, a set of claws on the inner end of the gun open up to help break the coal and to hopefully prevent the gun from flying into the "gobbings" (void left behind as the coal face advances)
It was the shotfirers duty to charge the gun with a bursting disk and to place it into the shothole, post sentries and then fire the "shots" but to be fair, this did not happen. The shotfirer Jack (Blocker) Patricks had an assistant called a "Gun Dog" Sam Fox whose duty it was to drag the gun and associated compressed air hose up and down the face for the shotfirer. In fact it was Sam that did all the work and blocker just stayed at the compressed air valve and waited for a signal from Sam; this consisted of Sam waving his cap lamp up and down and then Blocker would acknowledge the signal by doing likewise and then turn on the air pressure to fire the shot.
I remember an incident when one of the workmen Malcolm Humes was riding down the face conveyor as Sam was making his way up from a charged shothole; Malcolm waved his cap lamp up and down to see if it was ok for him to continue his journey which at that time was common practice. Blocker signalled him back thinking it was Sam who was signalling and turned on the compressed air; the force of the discharging shot knocked Malcolm off the conveyor and into the gobbings, fortunately Malcolm was uninjured just a few bruises and as white as a ghost.
Another incident that I remember was when Sam Fox was waiting by some compressed air hose for a shot to be fired; suddenly the compressed air hose ruptured and the explosive force of the compressed air projected coal particles with such velocity that many were injected into one of Sam’s arms, Sam was off work for a considerable time due to this accident. After the first shot was fired we started to fill out the broken coal; most of this was in lumps that were too large to place on the conveyor, these had to be broken into smaller pieces using your shaft. I didn’t realise that there was an art to this; but I soon learned that coal has a grain to it and you could strike the coal along the grain and with a twist of the shaft split the coal without smashing it to bits. This made it easier to load out as the more you broke the coal the more shovelling you had to do; it was much easier to place the lumps of coal onto the conveyor. It was whilst using the shaft that I learned how important it was to keep the blade sharp; when striking coal with a blunt blade the blade crushes the surface of the coal causing small sharp pieces to fly off, these often struck you in eyes causing soreness and irritation. Another reason is that with a blunt blade you do not penetrate the coal and it is more difficult to split as there is not any purchase for when you twist the shaft to break the coal. Once sufficient coal has been filled off and there is room to set roof supports, you start to "timber up" and to someone who has never done this I assure you that it is not easy and you can be made to look a right clown; much to the amusement of the experienced men. The first thing that you have to do is to get a corrugated steel bar some six feet in length, a piece of cap wood 6x4x1 inch's and a steel prop. Balance the roof bar on your shoulder holding it up to the roof; then lift up the prop with the cap wood in position on top of the prop and pull the prop towards you until it is sufficiently tight to the roof to support the bar. Now if you have got it right you can hammer the prop tight to the roof and that's it your first bar is set, so you think. This takes a lot of practice; firstly when you pick the bar up it spins around like a windmill, then when you attempt to pick the prop up you drop the bar. After succeeding in picking up both the bar and the prop you discover that it is nigh impossible to pick up the cap wood and keep it on top of the prop and when you do, it doesn’t fit. After sweating buckets and loads of swearing you finally achieve your goal; no you don’t, you have set it in the wrong place and you have to start all over again.
All of the props have to be set in line; before you set your props and bars you measure the distance required from a line marked on the roof, this is usually marked up by the “chargeman” (A workman who is sort of a team leader but inferior to the deputy) Once all of your coal is filled off and all of the supports set you are free to leave the district; however you are part of a regular team and if one of your colleagues has had problems you would stay and assist him to complete his work. The only time that this did not happen would be if you were a “strag” (not a regular team member) and you would often be left on your own to complete your stint unless one of the regular men was a friend or took pity on you I remember on more than one occasion on a Monday morning when one chap “Mo Parr” often turned up for work a little worse for wear due to an over indulgence of alcohol, the men either side of his stint would dig him out so to speak. You would see Mo lying down with an ashen face looking like a ghost, the only time that he would move was either to empty his bladder or to empty the contents of his stomach.
If the conveyor belt was stood for any length of time some of the men would play draughts; they would draw a draughts board on the back of a shovel and use pieces of stone and coal to play with.