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Keith Fletcher - Coal Mining Memories

I am the last of a long line of generations of South West Durham miners - Page 1

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Keith Fletcher
29 August 2013
I am the last of a long line of generations of South West Durham miners

I am not sure whether your interest in mining extends to the Durham coalfield. If they do you may like to see some notes I have.

I am the last of a long line of generations of South West Durham miners. According to the 1861 England Census two of my ancestors were coal miners. My grandfather Fletcher may have got an Under Managers Certificate in 1899. My father was a colliery manager. I passed the colliery managers certificate.

I have a note of some recollections from the 10 years in total that I spent as a Student Apprentice Mining Engineer and a Directed Practical Trainee Mining Engineer.


Keith Fletcher

Background Bits and Pieces

My father held a First-Class Certificate of Competency 1 - the Colliery Manager's Certificate. He may also have held a Second-Class Certificate of Competency 2 - the Under Manager's Certificate.

I was born in 1940 when my father was an under manager at Dorman and Long’s Leasingthorne Colliery a in South West Durham. He was subsequently under manager of two other Dorman and Long pits i.e Bowburn and the Mainsforth Collieries (around 1943). He took up his first managership when he became the manager of Leasingthorne sometime after 1943. Between about 1937 and 1964 my family lived in at least 7 different houses as a result of my father's career b in the pits of South West Durham.

My Father, E. Fletcher Click Below To See Durham Mining Museum For More Details
1945 – 1952 Manager: Leasingthorne National Coal Board (N.C.B.)
1953 – 1955 Manager: Thrislington National Coal Board (N.C.B.)
1956 – 1957 Manager: Metal Bridge Drift National Coal Board (N.C.B.)
and Thrislington National Coal Board (N.C.B.)
1964 – 1965 Manager: Metal Bridge Drift National Coal Board (N.C.B.)

One childhood memory still with me stems from my father’s period as Manager at Leasingthorne. In his time there he met his overmen at the colliery offices one morning of each weekend. As a treat he often took me with him. On one of my early visits I was shown the cage for the canaries the mine was required to keep 3. On subsequent visits I often popped into that room to spend time enjoying the song and flitting about of the birds. It was in that room that I was told that canaries were carried by members of the District Rescue Brigade 4 and the pit rescue team C when attending some mining incidents because the birds can detect carbon monoxide which humans cannot.

Another childhood memory is of the banner of Leasingthorne Colliery branch of the NUM going to the Durham Miners Gala and being paraded, I think on its return, through the street in Leeholme accompanied by a band. The banner was also accompanied by branch members and their families some dancing to the music.

I joined the coal industry in 1958 when it and the miners it employed were benefiting from changes brought about over a period of years of just more than a century. The biggest change was the Nationalisation of Pits 5 10 years before. Some changes had come about as the result of the continued passing of Acts of Parliament aimed at improving safety, working conditions and terms of employment. Others had flowed from the birth and activity of the mining unions. A fourth set were in progress as a result of the push to increase the mechanisation of mining and the more and better machinery that was becoming available. Mining seemed to have a bright future ahead of it.

The National Coal Board was a multi-level organisation. Its Durham Division consisted of a number of Areas, each of which was supervised by an Area General Manager. No 4 Area was in South West Durham and was roughly the part of the county that ran eastwards from just west of Evenwood to Kelloe Colliery, East Hetton and southwards from Bearpark (a few miles west of Durham City) to an imaginary line running through Leasingthorne and Eldon.

The Durham Divisional Chairman in
December 1956 was E. H. D. Skinner.
May 1960 was Dr W Reid.

My initial contact with No 4 Area's Head Office was when it was in Darlington. It was subsequently in Howlish Hall, Coundon, and had an outstation in the outbuildings that stood in the grounds of the house that was at one time the home of a Group Manager called Mr Foreman. Travelling in the direction of Westerton the drive to that house was off the right hand side of the Coundon end of Westerton Road. I believe the outstation was the Area's laboratory. Some time in the 1960s the Head Office moved into a purpose built block on Green Lane, Spennymoor. I understand that in recent times part of the block has been occupied by Sedgefield Borough Council.

No 4 Area was organised into Groups of mines near each other. Each Group was supervised by an individual known as the Group Manager. Group Managers held mining qualifications. Some pits in and nearby Ferryhill formed A Group, No 4 Area, Durham Division. For a number of years its offices were at Dean and Chapter Colliery, Ferryhill.

No 4 Area had a Central Workshop, an Apprentice Training School and a Miners Training Centre within the grounds of Tursdale Colliery, Near Bowburn. The Miners Training Centre provided several services. I first visited it with my father to support his colliery's First Aid 4 team in the Final of the Area’s Annual First Aid competition.  The winner of those Finals went on to complete in Durham Division Finals and the Divisional champions to compete in the National Finals.  The Centre trained some miners to test for methane gas and tested miners seeking to be shotfirers and deputies to see whether they satisfied the gas testing requirements for such advancement.  You will hear more about shotfirers, deputies, the Centre and the Apprentice Training School later.

a. Visit the Durham Mining Museum website for a lists of County Durham coal mines in existence in some of the years between 1869 and 1991
b. Visit the Durham Mining Museum website, outlines some under-manager and managers positions held by an E Fletcher. The information seems to fit with what I know of my father's career.
c. See Glossary Rescue Man
d. Bowburn Colliery photo, Bowburn Local History Society
e. Dean and Chapter Colliery Photo, Northern Echo

The (first) relevant legislation found
1. The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1872
2. The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887
3. Regulations were made under the Coal Mines Act 1911
4. The Mines Accidents (Rescue and Aid) Act 1910
5. Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946



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