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GalleryMemories of Teversal Colliery 1959 - 1980  (Page 16)

Malcolm Roebuck - Photo Gallery

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Victoria Drift

Many years earlier during the reign of Queen Victoria; a drift from the Top Hard seam down to the Waterloo seam had been driven; this was called “The Victoria Drift”, the plans to this drift were not thought to be reliable and it was decided to try and locate this drift from the old workings in the Top Hard. It was thought there may be a possibility that the bottom of this drift could be in the path of the 22s retreating face. The main concern was that should 22s face make contact with the bottom of the drift that it may be filled with water and cause a catastrophic inrush of an unknown volume of water and if not water, then one of blackdamp.

My brother David and I were chosen to carry out this task at different times; I was to make the first attempt, I had two workmen who removed an old wall constructed of waste material and about a yard thick to gain access to the old workings. The old roadway varied in height from four to five feet; the ventilation was very sluggish, almost none existent so I tested for both methane and blackdamp using my flame safety lamp. As you are already aware, methane is lighter than air and rises towards the roof, however blackdamp is heavier than air and gathers towards the floor, it consists mainly of carbon dioxide (CO2) and causes death by suffocation. The problem with blackdamp is that you can travel through a few inches of it without being able to detect it; this is due to the air inlet on the flame safety lamp being about 110mm from the base of the flame safety lamp just below and underneath the bonnet.

This can be higher than the layer of blackdamp that you are trying to detect. The blackdamp is stirred up by your feet behind you and you can unwittingly walk some distance causing the air behind you to become foul and unbreathable, you only discover this when you make your return journey. This happened to me; I had travelled about eighty yards into the old workings before I was able to detect the blackdamp; once I had detected it I made my way out gasping for breath and only managed to get out due to being only a short distance from safety. I made a report on my findings and it was decided that an attempt to locate the drift would be made under better atmospheric conditions.

Barometric pressure in the atmosphere makes a big difference to the amount of gasses present in a mine; when the pressure is high it pushes the gas back into the voids and diminishes the volume of gas present, during the times of low barometric pressure the volume of gas can increase tremendously. My Brother David made a successful search for the entrance to the Victoria Drift during a period of high barometric pressure; however it was not possible to examine the drift as it was full of broken timber and debris and no doubt any voids would be full of blackdamp.

The next plan was an attempt to locate the bottom of the drift from the S/Gate end of Waterloo 20s face; some preparatory work had been done before the Christmas holidays and the decision was made that the attempt would be made on New Year’s Day, I believe the date was 01 Jan 1976. I, being the district deputy, was chosen to make this attempt with two workmen Sam Westwood and Terry Richards. There wasn’t any transport available that day so I arranged to pick both workmen up and warned them both not to have too much to drink on New Year’s Eve.

New Years Day arrived and as arranged I went to pick the workmen up; the first man I was to pick up was Terry Richards, as I was knocking on Terry’s door I could see a figure staggering down the street towards me, it was Terry. Next I was to pick Sam up; as arranged Sam was waiting for me, but it was obvious that he like Terry was a bit worse for wear due to consuming too much alcohol. I had no choice but to take them with me as there would only be the three of us available for that job. It was not permitted to let intoxicated men underground; though I can say on many occasions intoxicated men did go underground, I did so myself a year earlier. The job did get done; we bored (or rather I did) a few long holes; we failed to locate the bottom of the drift but proved the area to be dry. I was sure of this; we had dry drilled the holes in-seam at different angles about nine feet in length and only dry coal came out of the bore holes. The retreating face would not come into contact with the old workings; after Waterloo 22s Face had been exhausted we were transferred to Waterloo 32s district; a new face that had just been installed.

David Leaves Teversal

It was about this time when my brother David decided to seek employment elsewhere; he had a good reason to do so, he had been, in my opinion, victimised by Ron Wood the colliery undermanager. I have stated before that the safety culture at Teversal was none existent and it was David’s commitment to safety that was to lead to his victimisation.

David had been deployed as deputy on Waterloo 31s production district; whilst the coal production was running normal he did not have any problems, however David had cause to have all of the power in the Supply Gate turned off due to an increase of methane in the atmosphere. The law requires the power to be turned off in the affected area should 1.25 per cent of CH4 (methane) be found in the general body of the mine atmosphere; to which David had complied. Not only that; as the percentage of CH4 increased to two per cent, David instructed that the men be withdrawn from the affected area, again to comply with the regulations.

Ron Wood was not very happy and urged David to get the face back into production as soon as possible. David did not need any encouragement; he was committed to his job and would not delay the restoration of power, but would not restore it until the conditions were right to do so. After some time the levels of CH4 in the general body of the atmosphere reduced to below 1.25 per cent and Ron Wood was screaming for the power to be restored; but David stood his ground and refused, he told the undermanager that power would not be restored until the regulations had been fully complied with.

I should point out that although underground electrical apparatus is classed as flameproof and has to comply with stringent regulations; power should not be restored after it has been immersed in 1.25 per cent of CH4, until all of the electrical apparatus in the affected area has been opened up by a qualified electrician and the insides blown clean with a set of bellows, a lengthy process to carry out. David would not budge from his responsibility no matter how much the undermanager shouted.

After the above episode the undermanager removed David from the production district and sent him all over the place on different jobs. David applied for the job as Safety Officer at the neighbouring colliery Silverhill and I am pleased to say that he was successful in his application.

Waterloo 32s

32s District had been set up similar to other advancing faces in the Waterloo Seam; except this time there was a change in the system of the advanced heading in the loader gate. The heading would be advanced by a Mark 2 Dosco Road Heading machine that would cut and load the debris as opposed to the system of shot firing. This system would eliminate the requirement of a Gate End Supervisor (shotfirer) at the loader gate end of the face; however one would still be required at the supply gate end of the face due to the ongoing shot firing operations at that site. My only concern with this was the man that the management gave me to carry out this roll, it was Dennis Bacon a man that I considered to be unsuitable to be an official and this would lead to conflict within a few weeks.

32s proved to be a successful district, though it suffered none too serious roof falls that caused many delays in production; however the men at the supply gate end of the face started to complain about the shotfirer. I also found him to be extremely abusive every time I contacted him for whatever reason; this was a matter of concern that I just could not allow to continue and made a successful request to the management to have him removed from my district. Stan Bailey was the replacement and I must say that a good working relationship was restored between the men and the shotfirer and I had no further problems at that end of the face.

I can only remember a couple of accidents that occurred on this district; one was to Ronnie Pitt one of my chock operatives and the other to myself. The one that occurred to Ronnie happened as he were advancing (roof supports girders) at the supply gate end of the face; he was in the process of picking a girder up off the floor when a piece of “coal top” dropped out and struck the fingers to his right hand.

Stan Bailey

The reason that I remember this accident was due to what happened afterwards; I was on site and was aware that Ronnie would faint at the site of blood and took Ronnie into the supply gate to attend to him. Ronnie was wearing safety gloves so I put his hand behind his back so I could cut the glove off the injured hand without him being able to see the injury; after I had removed the glove I could see that three of his finger nails had become detached. It was at this moment when Eric Ball one of the production overmen arrived on the scene. Eric being inquisitive decided to have a look at the injury; I asked Eric to keep Ronnie’s hand behind his back but he took no notice and held the injured hand up right in front of Ronnie’s face. Ronnie took one look and immediately fainted and I gave Eric a bollocking.

The accident that occurred to me was when I was in the loader gate; I was walking towards the face alongside the stage loader and unbeknown to me, Jack Vardy the face chargeman had placed a “chain breaker” (an hydraulic ram about 1.25 metres in length) on the stage loader chain to transport it out of the advanced heading. The chain breaker got staked on the stage loader chain and was thrown off just as I was passing; it caught me a glancing blow to the left side of my chin knocking me out. The next thing I remember was what sounded like some-one shouting down a drainpipe; it was Paul Thompson, he was a first aider and was asking if I was alright, he told me that I had only been out for a couple of seconds. I was alright except for a bruise to the chin and remained at work; I did not report this accident as I didn’t want to get any of my men into trouble.

I did mention that this district suffered none too serious roof falls; I should add that this led me into trouble with the Colliery Manager. On one occasion an assistant undermanager visited the district on the afternoon shift; I had been on the day shift previous to his visit and had reported a delay in production for twenty minutes caused by a roof fall on the face. At that time if you had been delayed for twenty minutes or more, the face team would receive a payment to compensate for their loss in production bonus. The assistant undermanager had reported to the Colliery Manager that he could not find evidence of a roof fall that would have taken more than ten minutes to timber up. I pointed out that although I had reported that the delay was caused by the roof fall; I had failed to add that part of the delay was caused by not having a sufficient supply of timber in the supply gate. I also pointed out that if they checked my statutory report for that shift that they would see that I had reported this and had asked for further supplies of materials. I too could be crafty; I had got away with this, the fall of roof only took fifteen minutes to timber up.

After 32s district came to the end of its life my team and I was to be transferred to a new coal face Waterloo 33s.

Job Application

Malcolm, the author
Not seeing much of a future for myself I decided to apply for a colliery overman’s job at Sutton Colliery; I did not expect to get the job but thought that the interview would be of benefit to me and give me some experience.  I attended the interview with some confidence and answered every question truthfully and without hesitation; I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I had a good interview but was told that I could not be given the job as I lacked the experience; however I would be offered the job as an overman when a position for one became available and asked to consider this and to let the Colliery Manager know what my decision would be.  I reported back to my undermanager and told him that I would accept the offer unless he had one for me; Ron Wood asked me to stay at Teversal as Eric Ball would be taking early retirement in six months time and that his job would be mine.  Of course I stayed at Teversal and declined the offer from Sutton; this turned out to be the wrong decision as Eric Ball later decided to stay on as increased benefits were announced for overmen willing to take voluntary redundancies in 1979/80.

Waterloo 33s

This were to be my last district at Teversal though I did not know that when the district first started.  The setup on this district were almost identical to that of 32s with the exception of the stage loader and pantechnicon in the loader gate; these had a different arrangement for advancing them with a much greater pulling power in the hydraulic ram system.

Peter Cobley
There were also some changes in the manpower due to some of my workmen taking lighter jobs and one retiring; I also had a different shotfirer deployed to the supply gate end of the face; he was Peter Cobley and a better Gate End Supervisor I couldn’t ask for, Peter would run that end of the district without any intervention from me. 

Peter was well known for his poaching abilities; I did go out with him one night and was rewarded with a Hare that his lurcher (Dog) caught, that was the one and only time that I have been poaching and have to say that it is not for me.

My area of responsibility started 200 yards outbye of the face in the Supply Gate; the whole length of the face, the whole of the Loader Gate and would require examining at least twice per shift. 

I would spend the most of my time on the face or in the Loader Gate Advanced heading; as this is where the majority of my attention was required, though occasionally I would visit other teams of men working further outbye on my district dependant on what time I had available.

When we started on this face there was to be a change in the regular practice of leaving the face chargeman as a competent person to be in charge of a district in the deputy’s absence. This meant that I or another official would have to make one hour’s overtime to cover the men that would be left on the district until the oncoming deputy arrived to take over the duties on the district.  This was a bit of a body blow as an official would have to make a minimum of two hours overtime before he would qualify for payment; I pointed out to the undermanager that after being delayed in the mine by one hour after getting out of the pit there would be the M&Q books and my report to fill in on the surface.  The undermanager agreed to pay a quarter of a shift if I or Peter would stay behind and cover the workmen; Peter and I agreed to this and took it in turns to make overtime. 

Fatal Accident

One morning when I was on the “Mid Shift” I drove into the car park at around 11:00am and noticed a police car parked outside the Medical Centre; this made my blood run cold, the police usually only came to the mine for theft or fatal accidents and with the car being parked outside of the medical centre I could only think of the latter. 

I entered the canteen and saw a deputy sat on his own with his head in his hands; it was Oswald (Oz) Whitfield the dayshift pit bottom deputy, I could see that he was in a distraught state.  I went over to Oz to try and offer him some support; he told me that François Holmes one of the pit bottom men had started the creepers up after “snap” and that the No.1 creeper had stalled. Oz had gone to investigate the reason for this and discovered the body of a fitter entangled in the gears of the creeper. 

Tony Bough the pit bottom fitter had entered the drive of the creeper and was thought to have been adding grease to the greasing points when the creeper had been started up.  This was a tragic accident that could have been avoided if Tony had “locked-out” the creeper; two lock-outs were provided, but on investigation none had been operated.  Lock-outs when operated place an electrical interlock on the switchgear that prevents it operating or starting up the machinery; lock-outs were provided throughout the mine for all conveyors and most haulages gears.


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