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Markham Colliery - A Poetry Anthology by Jenny Martin - Emails 8

Names of those who died 1938 Names of those who died 1973

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From: Jenny Martin
Sent: 21 November 2010
Subject: A Poetry Anthology by Jenny Martin - PAGE 2

A Poetry Anthology
by Jenny Martin

An anthology of poetry about Whitehaven and beyond, published to mark the Centenary of Cumbria’s worst pit disaster on 11th May 1910.

Hello again Fionn

I thought my news was going to be laced with joy at the rescue of the Chilean (copper) miners but, no, sorrow re the NZ coal miners doomed I guess by methane.

In what might be a futile attempt at brevity I will try to keep to bullet points:

  • This coming week I'm sending a cheque  for £450 to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) being the proceeds from the sales of Mining Memories that I sent you the AI sheet for about 6 months ago and you kindly flagged up on  your website. I can't believe that I've managed to achieve something useful.
  • I'd like to send 3 complimentary copies by way of thanks: to  you; to Steve Yates, grandson of
    William Yates who died as a result of the 1973 Markham Colliery cage disaster whose blood samples I analysed; to Paul, son of a banksman called in to help with the rescue/recovery, who, his posting states, says  'Goodnight lads' at the top of the pit shaft every night when he finishes work.
    You are all mentioned in poems/text/acknowledgements. See attachments (NB: prior to galley proofs) - 1. Overwind & Goodnight Lads
    2.  Acknowledgements. I don't have anyone's postal address to do this; would you be able to provide me with yours and the others if you have them & they are willing please?
  • if you would like to post any of the poems on the website feel free.
    Mining Memories - At The Party - Warnings -
  • you wouldn't believe the stories I have heard since: almost worth another book, one especially, but that will keep.

Thank you for your wonderful website that's helped me to honour in the dignity, courage and integrity of miners everywhere. 


16 Sept 2011

  • Mining Memories came runner-up (to the eventual overall winner) in the Arts and Literature Section of the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards 2011 - as a runner up I got a scrolled certificate as a memento. Winners (there are 5 category winners and one overall winner) get a framed certificate but I was over the moon with my scrolled one.


My grateful thanks go to Nik Perring, author and leader of Bollington Library Writing Group for persuading me to try my hand at poetry, and to Nik and the group members for their helpful criticisms; to Amanda Garraway, author of 104 MEN , whose outrage, expressed in her phone call to me from Canada, at the National Coal Board’s claim that my cousin’s larking about led to his fall down the pitshaft, spurred me on to seek the truth; to Dr Douglas Scarisbrick, occupational health physician, for directing me to The National Archives which at last yielded the ‘shocking’, ‘deplorable’ truth behind the deaths in 1953 of not one but two pitboys in mine shaft accidents on either side of the Pennines.
I thank Barrie Williams, Durham mining historian, and Ron Curran for their empathy and information in postings on the National Union of Mineworkers’ website and their emails to me, especially in identifying the Durham pitboy, John Edward Scott, killed on his first day at work with no acknowledgement in his local paper;  Fionn Taylor, webmaster of the Healey Hero website for his empathy and understanding, and for posting some of my mining memories, especially those of the Markham Colliery cage disaster; for postings on his website from members of the disaster victims’ families: Ross Sharp, Kevin Cowley, Tony Sissons, and above all Steve Yates, grandson of victim William Yates, for showing me the man whom I knew in 1973 only by his blood test results.
Of the many books and websites bearing witness to the compassion, courage and humanity of miners and their families everywhere, these stand out: MEMORIES OF THE DERBYSHIRE COALFIELDSby David Bell, Countryside Books, 2006; POEMS OF THE PITS, VOLUME TWOby the late John W. Skelly, Haig Colliery Mining Museum; MÉMOIRES DE MINEURS  by Arnaud Muller and Dominiques Fargues, Flammarion, 2007; THE MOST DANGEROUS PIT IN THE KINGDOM by Ray Devlin and Harry Fancy, The Friends of Whitehaven Museum, 1997; THE COLLIERIES AND COALMINERS OF STAFFORDSHIRE by Richard Stone, Phillimore & Co Ltd. 2007; 104 MENby Amanda M. Garraway, Hayloft Publishing Ltd, 2007; the Durham Mining Museum website; the CBS News website article: Could the miners have been saved? about the American Sago mine disaster of 2nd January 2006 that includes the miners’ last messages home.

ILLUSTRATION CREDITS – to be written by Helen when the illustration layout is complete with my revised thanks to Sophie as the last item:
Special thanks to my daughter, Sophie Licata, fond admirer of today’s Whitehaven and its people, for her description of the old Wellington pit buildings as ‘imposing with a something-to-be-wary-of’ look and her vision of the beautiful spirits of one hundred and thirty six miners rising from black hell beneath the sea to celestial skies.

My grateful thanks to Helen Hart of SilverWood Books for her unfailingly friendly and professional leadership in my first journey through the daunting publishing process.


When I think about mining I remember
drawing a map of the coalfield miles out to sea;
gaunt Cumbrian trees disfigured by wind,
the Golden Sands misnomered by coal dust;
pit headstocks stark against western sky
ready like gallows.

When I think about mining I remember
coal covered men clomping home from black work;
my uncles with lungs cemented by pit dust
and finger ends missing, crushed by rocks, in machines,
haunted by visions of marras' lives taken
knowing that coal would bring their own death.

When I think about mining I remember
my uncles' allotments, us gaan till t'match,
St Bees beach in the sun, The Messiah at Christmas,
looking out for the neighbours, selling flags for the lifeboats:
but the headstocks looked down on us
biding their time.

William fell down the pit shaft.
They said he'd been larking about.
We were both fifteen.
My nightmares began.
His Mam and Dad's nightmare never ended;
you could tell from their faces.

Mining laws - with scant compliance
forever bought with miners' blood,
began with Queen Victoria's grief
for nearly thirty Yorkshire children
drowned by flooding of their pit.

I remember where I was
when I heard the news in nineteen sixty-six
of over a hundred Welsh children buried alive by a slag heap;
when I heard the news in nineteen seventy-three
of six Yorkshire miners engulfed in a flood, trapped forever,
and eighteen Derbyshire miners crushed in a cage plunge.

But it's dust and methane waiting eager
for a spark to blow the mine
that kill in record breaking numbers
in the fiercest coalfields of the world:
tens, hundreds, thousands
in an instant

In the New Millenium,
though there are no records broken,
miners still die
under the Land of the Free.


She heard his story
then they both cried
at the party.

She'd not touched a drop
in her seventy-odd years;
he liked a pint or twenty.
How would they get on
at the party?

She was the first
to hear his story.
He'd lost his best marra
in the pit: saw his body
and a hundred yards on
his head.

She heard his story
at the party.


We beg him to come to the beach, get some sun:
thunder's forecast tonight. But he says he's got to work
if we want to eat.

The dog tries to stop him but his mind is made up.
She goes to his shoes, sniffs them all over, sits by them and whines.
When we coax her to come she lies down and snarls
her head on his shoes.

We leave her behind, catch the bus to St Bees, meet our neighbour.
Her man's on nights and he's at their allotment
so she's brought the kids. They can't understand
why our dog wouldn't come.

When the kids dig a tunnel that the sea undermines
their cries of dismay shroud a steam-horn's refrain:
one long then six short notes
in a sad minor key.

'You can't hear t'pit-horn this far away,' she says.
'Pit's gone up, I know!' I say, 'We'll ev te gaa back.'
'But we've only just come!' the kids wail.
'Gaa yam, lass,' she tells me, 'They can stay here wid us.'

As I get on the bus I see policemen arrive.
They'll head for the beach where no one can hear
the pit-horn's lament, and call everyone back
to the pit that's gone up.

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