Whilst working on 7s the mine was suffering from a shortage of shotfirers and the undermanager Harry Copell asked David and I if we would do some substitute shot firing; shotfirers were not paid as much as face workers so both of us declined as the rate of pay was too low. The face that we were working on was making as much 95 shillings per shift which was good money at that time; shotfirers were only getting around 65 shillings per shift and they had to work some week-ends for nothing, we thought that this would give some room to negotiate better terms. The undermanager agreed to pay us whatever the contract on 7s face made that week; we instantly agreed to this, the only downfall was that the contract only made 84 shillings per shift that week due to a mechanical breakdown. I was gutted; I had agreed to take a drop in wages, still this was better than shotfirers money.
Copell meant getting his monies worth out of us; most shotfirers would have a single place of work, but David and I were sent all over the mine to fire shots at different locations, often having to return to the surface to obtain more detonators. One day we would be firing shots on different coal faces and then on another we would be chasing around different developments.
It was at about this time when Harry Copell asked if we knew of anyone else who had their shot firing certificate that we could recommend that might come to work at Teversal; I did inform him that my brother-in-law Graham Bradshaw who worked at New Hucknall Colliery may be interested. The undermanager checked Grahams’ attendance records and they were found to be wanting due to him having problems at home, Copell pointed out to me that if he set him on and he failed to make good attendance that he would sack him and me for recommending him. Graham did take up employment at Teversal with an excellent attendance record; he was eventually promoted to a development overman.
If David and I were not required for shot firing duties we would be deployed to other work; our pay would remain the same so that we would not lose any money, if we went to work on a job where the contract made more, then we would get the higher rate. It was whilst being redeployed to one of these other jobs that I received the highest pay for a single days work. I was sent to work with one of the highest wage earners at the pit; his name was Jack Woodland, more commonly known to others as Mr Teversal, his workmate Arthur Hippy had not turned up for work that day. It was the hardest work that I have ever done in my life; I was sent on this roadway development which had previously been fired, it was on square work some twenty feet wide and twelve feet high. The heap of dirt (mudstone) was massive and this had to be manually shovelled onto the conveyor some four feet behind the heap of dirt; we never stopped shovelling all shift, going without a break for food or water. I did my best to keep up with Jack and by the end of the shift I was totally knackered and my arms hung like wet rags at my side. It had been worth it; I had earned £18 for one shift, nearly a full weeks pay for one shift.
One morning I was firing shots for a “Back Ripping” (roadway enlargement) when one of the assistant undermanagers caught me asleep; there I was holding a stick of powder (explosive) with a detonator in it, I had just dropped off and offered an honest explanation for my situation. My daughter was teething and I had been awake for the most of the night and was exhausted through the lack of sleep; he accepted my excuse and let me off with a reprimand, I could have been sacked for this offence.
I have said that in my opinion that there were very little safety culture at Teversal and I can tell you that this also extended to shot firing. Certain types of shotfiring were illegal; one such type of shot was called a “cuckoo shot” that is a shot fired in the roof of a coal face pointing towards or over the waste. Very often one of the hydraulic chocks would become fast between the roof and the floor of the seam; to release the chock, shots would be fired in the roof as it was easier to bore the shothole in the roof than in the floor. I have fired many such shots. I also admit to cutting steel girders with explosives and blowing out old roof supports; I remember once when by coincidence the power to a district was lost at the same moment when I had fired such a shot. Thank God it wasn’t my fault; I could have been sacked.
One of the many bad practices that were carried out was the false accounting of explosives; explosives were widely used all over the mine and had to be carried into the mine in a locked canister containing not more than 5lbs of explosives. Any unused explosives or empty canisters should be carried out of the mine and returned to the surface “Powder Mag” (explosives store) but this was rarely the case. Any unused explosives would be emptied into a sand bag and hidden underground for future use and the empty canister would be thrown onto the conveyor to be sent out of the mine with the coal. The shotfirer would book the explosives out as used and destroy a number of detonators by illegally placing extra detonators in a shothole about to be fired. When the time came to use the explosives that had been hidden, the shotfirer would record that he had fired shots containing smaller amounts of explosives than had actually been used.
The issue/control of explosives and detonators was far from being what it should have been and these bad practices started from the surface; the surface powder mag should have been staffed by a competent person who would issue and receive explosives and detonators and record and check the same. A weekly audit would be done in order to account and reconcile all the usage and returns; there is no way that this could have been done accurately at Teversal without false accounting.
The keys for the Surface Explosive Store were kept in the Surface Telephone Exchange; the issue of which should have been signed for and then only by a competent explosives store attendant or any other authorised person. Access to the telephone exchange was via a staircase on the outside of the building; any shotfirer wanting to gain access to the powder mag when the store attendant wasn’t available would stand at the bottom of the staircase and shout “Keys” The telephone exchange attendant would throw the keys to the ground without checking who he was throwing them to, let alone getting a signature for them. Considering that the troubles in Northern Ireland was taking place at this time really does bring home the shocking lack of security and mind boggling complacency that were taking place at Teversal Colliery.
I did gain a wide experience in all types of shotfiring and admit to dropping into the non safety culture that existed at the colliery; however there were some lighter and more humorous experiences and painful ones. I remember one chap called “Briggy” (Leonard Briggs) the shotfirer was about to fire a single shot in the coal on 10s stint face; he told Briggy to hold his arse in as he was not fully out of the line of the shot and could be struck by a projectile. Briggy told the shotfirer to “bollocks”, the shotfirer fired the shot, Briggy screamed, he had been struck on the arse by a piece of coal that left a lump as big as a hen’s egg.
One morning I was shotfiring on the last stint face at Teversal, 150s in the Dunsil seam. It was early morning and I was preparing for shot firing by getting clay stemming ready and checking my shot firing cable; I was sat on a portable detonator safe in which we stored our shot firing batteries between shifts. Jack Bestwick one of the other shotfirers who was bit of an alcoholic wanted to gain access to the detonator safe to obtain his shot firing battery; I just opened my legs a little wider for him to open the door of the safe and when he took his battery out he just slammed the self locking door shut. I let out such a scream; he had closed the door pinching my inner thigh in it. This was compounded by the fact that Jacks hands were shaking so badly from the effects of alcohol that he had difficulty in locating the keyhole with the key in order to release me.
It was often said that Jack Bestwick would fire shots with a shoe lace; his shot firing cable was so short, much shorter than the minimum length of twenty yards. I was firing in the next “length” (Each shotfirer had a number of stints to fire, these were referred to as lengths) to Jack and without warning Jack would fire a shot that was much too close for comfort. Before firing a shot, you should make sure that everyone was clear of the danger area and shout “fire” before firing a shot.
I can remember on one occasion Jack Bestwick’s son Kevin who was stinting on the same face was setting a prop under a roof bar; Kevin was wearing knee pads, the straps to the knee pads are worn with the buckles on the outside of the knee. Unwittingly Kevin had set the prop on one of his pad straps and had thrown his hammer out of reach when he had completed setting the prop; you can imagine the amusement that this caused. Kevin called for help as he couldn’t reach his hammer to get free; the men in the next stints to Kevin would not help Kevin until they had called a number of other men to come and see what he had done.
You were only permitted to fire a single shot with the single shot battery, (Little Demon) though I can tell you that provided that you shortened the wires to the detonators (an Illegal practice) and your shot firing cable that it was possible to fire two shots. There was another shot firing battery that was available and this was a six shot battery but you were not permitted to use this on the coal face, but it was. All of the detonators used on this face were instantaneous; on other coal faces and developments Carrick short delay (millisecond) detonators were in use, the maximum of which was twelve shots.
One day after I had completed shot firing my length which included the Tail Gate ripping, I had a number of detonators left and was requested to go to the Loader Gate to fire the ripping there. I was informed that I would have to take my six shot battery with me as there was not one available in the L/G nor was there any stemming; this meant that I would have to drag a load of tackle with me. I had travelled about half way through the face and could not see anyone so I decided to throw the six shot battery down the face in front of me as it weighed about 1.5 kilo. As soon as I had thrown the battery a man dropped out of a cavity in the roof that he had been timbering up; the battery struck him on the shin and I am sure that you could hear him scream a mile away. His name was Terry (Tiger) Riley, not to be confused with the Terry (Knocker) Riley that worked on the same face. Both of these men would become part of my face team when I later became a face deputy.
Some local collieries had closed with many of the men being transferred to Teversal; I remember one overman Claude Vardy who was sent with me to train in the use of delay detonators. At that time the undercutting of the coal in the stablehole was eliminated by firing the coal off the solid by the use of delay detonators with a range of nought to four milliseconds. We were working on 8s coal face in the Waterloo seam at the loader-gate end of the face; our task was to fire the ripping and the stable hole, the stable hole was first to be fired and we had reached the position where all of the twelve shots had been rammed. The face machine was ready to enter the stablehole before we had fired the shots and the face deputy requested that we turn the machine around before we fired, to which I agreed.
After the machine had left the face panzer had to be pushed over so that the area could be timbered up; this meant that the panzer was now close up to the coal and the shots that we were about to fire, this increased the danger of the supports being blown out. We were eventually able to fire the shots with disastrous consequences; some of the hydraulic props had been blown out and one of them had become staked on the stage-loader chain and the panzer drive, this caused the panzer to be pushed out towards the gate dislodging many of the other supports causing the ripping to collapse. It took two shifts to rectify this before production could recommence and I had learned a serious lesson; never again would I wait for the machine before firing shots.
A lot of development had taken place at the colliery; one of the main developments was to drive a new return roadway to No.2 shaft, this would enter the shaft about twenty metres higher than the old pit bottom much improving the ventilation and the travelling conditions for the men. Part of the improvement was to provide an underground deployment office (Just a hole in the side of the roadway would be a better description) One Monday morning a familiar face turned up for deployment; it was Malcolm Buckley (remember him from page 35) here he was about two years after leaving the pit to go on the coal leading. The deploying official just took one look at him and said “Go in your own Malc” Malcolm was gob smacked; he had left the pit to get away from stinting and here he was about two years later being told to go in “his own stint”!!!!. Normally when someone terminates their employment, their job would be immediately filled by another man who would become a member of that team.
On The Staff
After a couple of years of substitute shot firing I received a letter from Industrial Relations inviting me to go on the “staff” as a normal shotfirer or to be redeployed as an underground workman on reduced pay. The invitation was obviously a veiled threat; I was the only substitute shotfirer at the pit, my brother had gone on the staff a year earlier and this letter made it clear to me that the practice of substitute shot firing was to be terminated. I agreed to go on the staff and become a member of “NACODS”” the National Association of Colliery Overman Deputies and Shotfirers, on reduced pay and working the first weekend for nothing.
After a few weeks I was to attend the “Deputies Course” at the Derby Road Technical College Mansfield in order to obtain my Deputy’s certificate. The only problem with this was that the course had only a few weeks to run and I were not able to attend the full course though this did not cause me any problems. The upside of this was that the Coal Board paid for me to get my certificate. After passing the Deputies exam I was sent to Sutton Colliery; I was to spend four weeks training to be a deputy, my first week was spent with a colliery overman Arthur Parkes (remember him from page 3) and the remaining three weeks on a coal face with a deputy who’s name I don’t remember.
I have said that there wasn’t any safety culture at Teversal and that this extended to shot firing, I have to say the same about Sutton Colliery. On my last shift at Sutton Colliery I was travelling through a face in the Piper seam on my way out as the deputy had been delayed in the loader gate; I had reached the Supply Gate end of the face and had noticed one of my neighbours Fred Watson who was working in the stable hole. Fred was assisting the shotfirer to ram the shot holes ready for firing; I was carrying an official’s flame safety lamp and decided to test for gas, I was positioned in front of the gate side pack just in front of the gobbings. I detected three per cent of methane passing in front of the pack hole just a few yards from the shots that was about to be fired; I drew the shotfirers attention to this but he ignored my concerns saying that there was nothing to worry about, I requested that he didn’t fire the shots until I had left and immediately left the district. I was not aware of how much methane there was in the gobbings, but I was certain that it were much more than the percentage that I had detected in the general body of the air passing in front of the pack hole. Five men had previously lost their lives in an explosion at this colliery; I was going to make sure that I was not going to be another one. The regulations clearly state that should any methane be detected on the lowered flame of a flame safety lamp in the vicinity of a shothole that no shot firing shall take place. I have said that many bad practices were common at Teversal; I can honestly say that I have never been aware of anyone firing shots in the presence of methane and I have always taken this seriously.
Back To Teversal
On my return to Teversal I was placed with one of the older deputies Sid Swaine for four weeks familiarisation training as a deputy; again, I could not have had a better tutor than Sid, he was of the old school and taught me quite a few invaluable lessons.
On my first morning with Sid we travelled inbye via the Supply Gate of the district and stopped mid-point up the gate at the transformer; it was warm and I thought that Sid was taking a rest, this was not the case. Sid pointed out to me that if he asked the men to tell him when they had started the face machine up that they would say that they had started earlier than they actually did. He then told me that we would hear the transformer kick in when the face machine was started and that this would give him an accurate time for when the men had started work.
Sid was a wily old character, no one could pull the wool over his eyes, and I only wish that I had followed his example.