Annesley - The Pit Yard In The 1930s
The Building Which Still Remains Is The Electricans Workshop
From This - To
View Of The Barren Pit Yard From The Top Of The Headstock
At 53 I ought to know better but I reckon there is still the child in all of us.
All my years I have lived in the mining area and my vocation was always going to be coal mining after paying little or no attention to my Comprehensive education. The lure of King Coal wages was too good for a 15 year old lad whose forefathers had preceded him down the mines.
My granddad was the equivalent of a Dust Bowl Okie moving his home to find work in the Nottinghamshire collieries; a route which eventually brought him to the village and pit of Annesley. My dad in his time found surface wages weren't enough to support a family and he in turn went underground on the coal face for a living until his accident which disabled him and then enabled him to take up a job as an instructor at the Area Training Centre for the NCB.
The Annesley Colliery headstocks were as much a part of the village as the Church which stood high on a hill overlooking the entirety. I was told that I would never work underground in the dangerous conditions and I was to get an education. That was until my 4th year school report came to my dad's attention.
" You can go out and get a bloody job"
That statement sort of alienated me from my parents and I must admit I let them down, it was a sort of indication I should grow up PDQ. I did and signed on at the pit; within a few years I was on the coal face myself as a top earner, then I found I had grown up (at last). Some respect came back from my mam and dad especially as I was self sufficient and paying regular board. I spent 22 years working down the pits, starting at neighboring Newstead and then the last 5 years a kind of homecoming at Annesley Colliery.
The wheels I had looked at as a kid were now turning to take me underground every day as a third generation in my family at the pit. Well cut a long story short the pits closed, yes I know you all said Arthur Scargill was wrong! The local pit yards were flattened and surprisingly enough used for residential growth or factory units for the minimum waged work forces. Annesley pit yard now due for housing had only one remaining headstock standing defiantly but with a death sentence ticking away. A couple of buildings , the canteen and baths and one workshop were untouched on the exterior but gutted inside.
At my current work I and many other ex miners told tales and experiences of our mining days. This intrigued a few and got sneers from a lot. Well one of my workmates asked a question or two more than general inquisition and started taking an interest in coal mining heritage. His Grandfather was a Colliery Manager before my time and I guessed he was interested in his families past. I was not sure of his interest but always gave my twopenneth when it came to old pit discussions (as I always do, it's in your blood).
Well one thing led to another and there was a too familiar centering around the remaining headstock at Annesley. They were due for demolition but a few weeks went by and no further development on the site. I did some explaining about shafts and pit ventilation systems, connected with actual cutting and loading of coal.
The 'Mirage' as he will be known from now on in this text wanted to get a closer look and a photo or two of the headstock and air lock so I suggested we have a wander over there and test the water so to speak. I hadn't seen any security over there for a while and we weren't going to do the place any harm. I figured if we have our digital cameras on show we would just be told off.
We ventured over there one cloudy afternoon and took, captured some memorable pictures for posterity. I gave a lesson on mining to make it a more interesting scene. The rusty old guide ropes hanging like an alien trying to grab you, the plug of concrete where the actually 12 feet diameter shaft was. The immovable gates that have seized up on their rail and just the remaining tub rails set in concrete as the day the pit was still coaling. I wished the 'Mirage' had asked me a couple of years ago when a lot of the buildings were standing or half demolished, there would have been more to see. 'Mirage' was a lot more clued up than I thought as he had visited some pit sites and photographed their pit tops. Tea breaks and diner times were used for comparing notes and explaining pictures from these sites and then as if a gauntlet was thrown down he suggested a climb to the top of the headstock before it goes.
All the conservationists had failed to save the headstock, why they tried in the first place is beyond me as no one wanted to keep them there when the jobs were lost. That is history and now that is what the 'Mirage' was intrigued in. I am not very good with heights in the safest of places and was willing to be the ground floor photographer for anyone who ascended the great pile. I spoke to my mate Neil Seadog Sharpe who told me it was still as safe as houses up there and he recalled the count of 48 steps to the top. I related this to the 'Mirage' and he almost set a date for both of us to climb up there. Whoa! When did I utter any words concerning me going up there? I had enough times going down the hole underneath to satisfy my understanding of the system. Back and forth we baited and teased each other about going up there and some of the lads at work pushed along a kind of dare to the both of us.
One fine Sunday afternoon I had done all my gardening chores , washed the dinner pots and had a minute or two to spare; then I got a call from the Mirage, "Are you up to anything?"
"Err no, not at the moment" which was admitting I would give the climb a go. Well what are they, 48 steps onto the platform and a few clicks of my new digital camera and then down. I think it was Annesley Bulldog instinct to accept the challenge; from years ago as a kid we would climb the trees and take other Health and Safety risks around the village. Still as they say the older you get the dafter you get.
Mirage invited his friend 'Illusion' along and we all paced forward to the site. I started to get a nervous feeling now and deep down inside hoped there would be a CONDEMNED PROPERTY sign hanging around the A frame, there wasn't, we had the all clear.
'Illusion' on his first visit was looking over the site and 'Mirage' was eyeing up the pile wondering what angle he should photograph no doubt. Before our ascent a helicopter came from the north east and 'Mirage' warned it could be the Police Chopper. By now I was on the first roof at the foot of the 48 steps. We quickly assumed our Ninja camouflage and blended in with brickwork and blue painted girders. The chopper rounded a large arc and headed off westward to the M1 Motorway we guessed. That's it I thought I'm off up the steps, It didn't look too bad from the first roof and even though the nerves were clicking in I headed off up holding carefully with every step to the hand rails either side. I was starting to lose the nervous feeling and get a bit of euphoria thinking of the achievement ahead. The main reason I needed a shot from the top of the headstock was that I had on my computer an old monochrome picture of the pit yard from 1930. This must have been taken on a week end as there was only one person walking across the pit yard and of course the photographer was up the headstock at the time, probably during maintenance.
At 21 steps I decided to take a look down my left hand side, gulp, bad move. The left hand side was more or less a straight drop to the floor, that's when I started to get scared. No turning back now, onward and upward I went as my legs felt frail, it was one step at a time, deep and deeper breaths filled my lungs as I tried to conquer the fear. I have come this far now and must go to the top, I know I'll just get there take my picture and then back down ASAP. 'Illusion' and 'Mirage' were clambering over the wheels like they owned them this was a bit of a pinnacle in their Urbexer experiences. Urbexer you say? That's exactly what I said. Apparently an Urbexer is an Urban Explorer and they go under false names i.e. 'Mirage' and 'Illusion'; ah! I have been dragged to the height of my fears and nightmares for a couple of Urbexers to get their thrill. I take my precious photo and record a sight 70 years on and can't believe I am actually here clinging on to a rail high above what was the old pit yard; as a kid maybe we would have done this easily like the Conker trees in the Big Wood. For now you would need an acetylene torch to cut the rail before I let go of my reassurance I will not stumble or trip over the now frail looking hand rail between me and the pull of gravity.
I ask 'Illusion' to take my photo for proof, bugger this if I am going risk filling my britches I'm gonna wear the tee shirt as they say. The fear must show in my eyes and only the adrenalin rush is preventing me from shouting my mammy. Life and limb come to mind as I now plead with them to bring this high altitude photo shoot to an end.
The 'Air Lock'
They duly comply and we descend step-by-step and my pulse gets back to normal. I take one look back up and think I could actually do that again and maybe a time or too doing it will defeat my fear of heights, maybe I'll just go home and have my tea and put some memorable pictures onto my computer. I notice we are all on a high as we explore the inside, the air lock as I know it from all the years going underground. Now I overhear 'Mirage' explaining how the ventilation worked like an old collier, "eee I'll make a pit man out of him yet".
Down on the ground my pulse has returned to a decent level, strange how the brain knows it is safe but still puts me on edge.
I see a beam on the faces of 'Mirage' and 'Illusion' and I suppose this is a place I always took for granted but it was one to chalk up for the Urbexers. I turn and tell them I am now officially retired as an Urban Explorer and will only leave the ground to fly off to sunny holiday destinations, strapped in like Hannibal Lector before I look out of the window.
The idea of Urbexers using coded names is because we shouldn't have been there at all; oh now I understand fully. I was there and if they ever want me to have a name I will choose it – 'IDIOT'