MINING (Book 1)
ONE JUST THE JOB
My father had said to me, " If tha wants, I'll get thee a job down't pit".
My initial reaction was to cast it off out of hand. The mere thought of going down a hole in the ground and working underground was totally awesome and more than a little frightening.
My name is Jack Gale and being just Fifteen and a half years was not long out of school. The year was 1951 and I was lucky in the fact that my generation enjoyed full employment. It wasn't just a case of which job to take after leaving school but more the fact of how much wages one received at the end of the week.
Not having the advantages of a grammar education, I had left school with only a basic level of knowledge. In all ordinary senses my life was mapped out, I would leave school, get a job, meet a future wife, save up to get married, get a house, have kids, grow old and then retire. Probably a not too long a retirement at that, very old ex-pit men were few and far between. But of course I thought of nothing much further ahead than the end of the working week when I got paid and what I would spend my money on.
I was born into a coal mining family. Father did, and his father had, worked down the same pit, Middleton Broom Colliery, in South Leeds, Yorkshire.
All my young life, it seemed, my father had said "No son of mines going down't pit" And now here he was offering to get me a job down that self same mine.
Although it was sometime after, that I realised my father had an ulterior motive behind his suggestion.
Having had some success in schoolboy boxing, he was thinking bigger things for me in the amateur and then the professional ring. I, on my part, had no thought of boxing as a future. Although I was always afraid when actually entering the ring, as soon as the bell went I would enjoy boxing. The problem was that I hated the time spent training, which was necessary if anyone was to succeed in that or any sport. Basically I was very lazy when doing something that was less than exiting or interesting.
My dad had reasoned that if his son spent less time at work he would have more time to rest, and be refreshed, before going training in the evening. He realised, having been a Semi professional boxer in his day, perhaps his son could aspire to the greatness he had never achieved. He reckoned that sport was the only way his son would be able to get out of the normal working class routine and actually make something of himself.
In the days that followed I slowly came to the realisation that a move from my present job as a labourer, for a tiled fireplace fixing company, was long overdue. I had been working for my Uncle, who owned the company, for all of three months. The work was boring and the pay was relatively small, two pounds Ten Shillings. The hours seemed long, Forty Four hours a week. In comparison to the colliery's Six pound odd, for Thirty Seven and a half hours work.
The more I thought of a mining job the more I realised that there were more pros than cons.
When I asked finally of my father, "Exactly how much are the wages at the pit would I get" he must have done some research, for I received the reply.
"Six pounds Seven and Six, when tha's done thee training" This sounded an enormous sum to me but the clincher was " An tha'll not have to go in 't' Army."
National Service was in operation at the time, all able bodied youths, unless they were a deferred apprentice, had to enter one of the three military services on attaining the age of eighteen, for a period of two years.
Coal mining was an exempt occupation, well, underground working was. The ones that entered mining to evade the services were nicknamed 'Bevin boys' after Earnest Bevin who saw an act through parliament.
That last remark of not going in the army, was the clincher for me, I had never been away from home for any length of time in the past. When I had thought about it, the Army seemed an unattractive prospect.
"Will you ask about a job for me then Da?" I asked.
"I'll see Benny Wilkie in the morning" replied dad. Benjamin Wilkinson. was the Colliery Safety and Training Officer.
True to his word father returned home the next day with the news that he'd arranged for me to see the training officer on the following Saturday morning.
"What makes you want to work within the coal mining industry, Jack?" was the interview opening question from Ben Wilkie.
Being unused to interviews or answering technical questions, I had to study for a moment, before replying "Cos there's more money in it" It was the only answer I could think of.
"That's true Jack, but there is also danger, dirt and hard work as well. And the good money only comes when you actually work underground. Surface work is no better or worse paid than most jobs."
"Oh! of course I want to work underground that's why I'm here" says I. Although I hadn't really thought that once coal was brought to the surface it had to be processed. I think that I had expected to go straight down the pit.
Ben W. went on, " You will start work on the surface in the screens for a few months. Then if you are acceptable to us and you are happy to remain with us then we will send you for Sixteen weeks training, prior to your start underground.
You will be trained underground at a training pit and at the surface training college at Wakefield. Eight alternate weeks at each. Do you understand all that and do you have you any questions for me?"
"Yes when can I start"
"Okay then Jack, you look big enough to work here and coming from a mining family you should have an insight to what pit work entails, can you start on Monday"?
"Yes", I responded.
"OK Monday morning at six report to the Screens. See Joe Garvey. there, He's in charge. He'll show you what to do"
"Where are the screens?" I enquired.
Pointing out of his office window Bennie W. replied, "That tall building next to the Headgear, see you on Monday". And with that the interview was obviously over.
It was some time later that I realised that to do what was right, I should give at least a weeks notice to my present employer. But on thinking, I owed them nowt nor did they owe me. My mam would phone my uncle and put it right, which she did.
TWO SURFACE WORK
Monday morning came all too soon. My mother woke me at a Quarter past Five to a mug of tea and a fried egg sandwich. My 'snap' was waiting in a tin. Father just happened to be on days also this week. He worked the 3 shifts about, days, afternoons and nights. I escorted him on the walk to the pit. We arrived there about quarter to Six, him going to the 'lamp room' after directing me to the screens.
My first impressions of the pit yard was what a dirty, dusty, muddy, dull place it was. Everything was a mucky black and grey. I was certain I had made a mistake and would not like it here.
Climbing the steps to a first floor large 'gantry' type building l saw that all around was covered in stone and coal dust. I felt filthy just by being in the place. Even though there was no machinery in operation, the air still seemed thick with dust. It was the dirtiest place I had ever been in.
Down the centre of the large room lay a steel conveyer with giant hoppers at each side and a walk way in between. The room was empty of others save for a youth about the same age as myself.
"Is this the screens?" I asked of the youth.
The youth nodded in reply and said, "Are you just starting today as well? I've been told to wait here for Joe Garvey. I'm Tommy Clapton., what's yours"?
"Jack, Jack Gale" I replied. Just then a steam generated hooter sounded, to signal the beginning of the Six O clock shift. Almost before it had finished a group of about Twelve to Fourteen persons entered, some young some old and some that seemed very old. I saw that the only mid-aged man had only one arm.
"You two, over here" The one armed man shouted.
As we both joined him he said" I'm Joe, You'll be Tommy and you Jack . Is that right?" We both nodded in reply. "Jack I know your father, he's okay, don't let him down. I'm in charge of the screens. Both of you do as you are told and we'll all get on okay".
With that he pulled a long handled lever and the steel conveyer trundled into action, moving quite slowly.
He then turned a switch that started the 'Shaker'. This machine was a series of giant riddles, which were situated slightly higher than the conveyer. The riddles moved to and fro. The noise was as loud as I had ever heard in my life, it was deafening.
Coal with added Rock, after having been washed and riddled to separate all the dust and smaller pieces, fell on to the conveyer. The other workers spaced themselves out on either side of the conveyer and were beginning to sift for pieces of rock or other debris that was mixed among the coal.
As they picked it out they discarded it overhead and behind them into the giant hoppers. I realised that at the end of the conveyer was a metal slide that deposited the sifted coal into the railway wagons below. I had noticed the wagons earlier when climbing the screen steps.
The rock hoppers operated to a similar operation, only the discarded debris would eventually find it's way to the many spoil tips that surrounded the colliery.
"You go on that side," he ordered Tommy, " and you stay this side," indicating me. "Do what they are doing."
The trouble with the screen job, I soon learned, was that it was boring. The high lights of the day was when little or no coal came down the conveyer.
Because the pit machinery was old and great demands were put on it, periodically some part of it would breakdown. Then the coal output of the colliery stopped. This happened at least once or twice a day, usually for only a few minutes but sometimes the stoppages could last for an hour or more. When a stoppage occurred the workers tended to gather in small groups and all manner of discussions began, mostly about pit gossip.
The younger lads congregated together and the older men formed their own groups.
I noted that they were very few mid- aged persons among the screen workers. I learned that the younger ones were only employed there prior to going on underground training and the older ones were men who were too old or physically handicapped to work underground.
Most of the older screen hands were old colliers, many suffering from 'lung'. Pneumoconiosis or Silicosis were diseases that affected breathing due to the very dusty atmosphere underground, especially at the coal face. At least three of the older men had fingers missing due to underground pit accidents. One walked with a pronounced limp, I later learned that he wore an artificial limb the result of an underground accident.
On later enquiring about Joe Gs missing arm I was told that he had been the victim of a underground accident. The story was:-
Joe was part of a coal cutting machine team. At a time when the team was engaged in 'turning the machine round', ready for a return cut. He accidentally had his arm sheared off with the fast revolving cutting blades. The tale went on that Joe was brought to the surface on a stretcher minus his arm.
When the pit ambulance room attendant enquired where the missing arm was, no one really knew. His mates had been in such a rush to stretcher him to the surface and to the waiting ambulance, no one had thought that it was important. It had not been brought out of the pit with Joe.
An immediate order was made to locate the arm and to bring it to the surface.
It later transpired that the arm had been thrown into the 'gob' by an unthinking worker. The gob is the void which is created after the coal has been withdrawn. All rubbish and rock waste is discarded into it. All supports in the gob are withdrawn and the roof is allowed to fall in.
All manner of panic surrounded the face for although the person who threw the arm into the gob was found, he could not remember the exact spot where he had thrown it. Coal faces can be over a Hundred Yards long. Coal production on that face had to be stopped. For the rest of the following shift, work ceased until the arm was located.
The arm was found and wrapped up in an old piece of sacking. Supposingly, because the sacking was not long enough, it had the fingers and part of the hand protruding.
A collier carried the limb out of the pit, under his own arm in full view of all. It is said that when the hospital took charge of the arm it was immediately disposed of via the incinerator. So much for Joe's arm.
The working day, because everything was new to me, passed rather quickly. At exactly Two Thirty Joe Garvey told us that those who were under eighteen could go, their shift was up. The over eighteen's had another Half hour to go and in a lot of cases, overtime if they wanted it.
I was walking home in my 'muck,' for there were no pit head baths at this time, they were not to be installed for at least another three years into the future. It seemed quite normal for me to walk the streets of Middleton covered in coal dust and dried sweat. No one gave me a second glance for Leeds had once boasted a number of collieries.
On my journey I began to reckon how many hours I would be working. Six till half past Two, less half hour for 'snap' was, Eight Hours. Multiplied by Five shifts, reckoned up at Forty hours a week. That was more than my father had said. Sometime later at home I put the times to my father and got the reply. "Thirty Seven and a half hours only applies to underground workers. Anyway you will be working Four hours a week less than your old job and there is very little travelling to work time. and no tram fares."
I supposed he was right and had to agree. Anyway at the end of the week my wages would double, I consoled.
Mid-shift sandwiches 'Bait' or 'Snap' as it was usually called was taken from about 10 'O' Clock onwards. Joe G. would tell Three or Four of us at a time, to go for their snap. Usually it would be taken in a small ante room to the rear of the screens. There was a canteen in the pit grounds but it sold no hot food other than sandwiches and tea. Coffee was a rich mans luxury and wasn't even on the bill of fare. A few cold sandwiches or pork pies were on offer but the canteen was mainly used by colliers who had just finished a shift or needed a bite to eat because they were, or had been, working overtime
On the second day of working Tommy, a lad called Eddie and one called John and myself were ordered to go for our snap.
Eddie was a likeable lad who, it turned out, was just Eighteen years old. He informed our small group that the following week he was to go on his underground training and because he was eighteen or over he would only have to 'do' three weeks training. I didn't know whether to envy him being able to begin working underground so soon. On first appearances I took to Eddie, I soon realised that if I ever was at a loss as to what to do and needed advice, Eddie was the one to see. I felt he would not put me far wrong.
I had still not really likened to the idea of working underground. The thought still frightened me somewhat. Did I suffer from claustrophobia? Would I be able to work in very dark surroundings? I know we would be issued with a lamp but would it be enough? I had already heard of tales of old colliers who had been killed down the pit and whose spirits still haunted the underground galleries. I still was unsure if I believed in ghosts and I did not relish the idea of knowing for certain that they did exist.
The other youth John C. was Sixteen and a Half. Although slightly shorter than me he was squat and built like the proverbial brick WC. He had thick curly ginger hair. His neck was as wide as his head and he looked as if he easily outweighed any of the other lads and older men of the screens. Although his IQ was obviously limited he made up with it with his mouth. I took an instant dislike of him.
As the Four of us were eating, Johnny said to both Tommy and me, "You realise that you will have to be initiated before you can be accepted by the screen team?
Being unsure as to what initiation meant and not wishing to appear ignorant I said nothing.
What's initiation? and when will it take place?" asked Tommy.
"You'll know when we come for you" laughed Johnny.
Tommy relayed to me that he had been told by the training officer that it would be Six to eight weeks before he and myself would go on underground training. I was a little relieved for the confirmation that Benny Wilkie had told me at interview. At least it would give me time to reconcile to underground work.
Johnny interrupted by stating "I go in Four weeks time, I cant wait, I'll show em how to shovel coal". The way he said it I believed he could do it as well. John seemed to ooze confidence. I secretly wished he would go tomorrow. Although I disliked him, I grudgingly admired his self confidence, something I lacked a little of.
At about Ten O Clock, on the Wednesday of my first week at work, coal suddenly stopped coming down from the shaker.
Joe G. stopped the steel convey and said to one of the older men, "Colin, go up to the pit bank and see what's up. Take Jack and Tommy with you, show them around up there if you have time.
Colin beckoned the two of us to follow him. We went out of a side door which led to some steel stairs. As we were climbing the steps I noticed that a steel roof supporting 'H' girder was erected directly across our stairway path. On the girder someone had chalked, in capital letters, 'DUCK' on it. A further wag had added in lower case, 'Donald' before it. I was busy looking around my new surroundings and on reading 'Donald DUCK' wondered why anyone would want to write that on a girder. As I climbed the steps I hit my head on the girder. Feeling my scalp, a little blood formed on my fingers. Now I realised why it said 'DUCK', it was a low beam warning. I quickly recovered myself pretending not to have hurt myself.
Colin asked, "Are you all right?"
I shrugged, "Yeah I hardly touched it." But secretly my ego hurt more than my head.
The steps led up to the pit bank. The bank was situated three floors from the ground. When Colin asked the 'bank' foreman what the problem was, he was given the reply that a main underground conveyer belt machine had broken down. It was estimated that it would take about two hours for repairs to be completed.
At this news Colin began to explain to Tommy and I, the workings of the pit bank:
Rails on which Tubs run on were laid from the front of the pit shaft in a large circuit, with a few diversions, around the pit bank space. The rails eventually led to the rear of the shaft, they continued through and were fixed in the 'cage'.
The shaft was surrounded by a Five Foot (1.5m) high steel safety fence, with risible gates at the front and back.
Two tubs of coal are raised to the surface in the cage as it is called. Each tub contained about a quarter of a ton of coal. The safety gates are raised automatically by the cage.
At the rear gate of the cage, empty tubs on rails are pushed on to the cage by two workers. The full tubs are ejected at the front, being replaced by empties.
When the full tubs have been replaced, the 'banksman' signals that the cage can begin the descent of the shaft for the process to be repeated. There are two cages whilst one is rising the other is descending. The banksman is the only person allowed to operate the cage signals and is in charge of the pit bank.
The full tubs are then pushed round to the 'Tippler'. The tippler is a round cage type device that is closed in at the sides but open at the top. The tippler is electrically rotated a full 360 degree circle. The coal falls out and the empty tub is then fed to a parking space, ready to be forwarded back down the pit.
The coal from the tippler is directed down a series of slides into what is called the 'washer'. The washer is a large rotating drum where a series of high pressure water jets clean the coal of dust and other small impurities. The water is drained off and the slurry saved for drying out. The resulting coal dust is still valued and used in industrial blow furnaces. The coal is then fed onto the shaker and thence to the screens.
Colin took Tommy and myself over to the pit shaft. Both of us looked over the gates down the shaft. It was a large round hole about Eighteen feet wide. The sides were brick lined. I wondered ,did they have to dig the shaft out and then brick lay the sides? Obviously they couldn't do it the other way round, then how did they do it? We could not see the bottom of the shaft, it was in total darkness.
Besides the Two steel ropes that hauled the Two cages up and down there were Eight guide ropes. Four for each cage ensured that each corner of the cage remained exactly in it's position in relation to the shaft.
We were told that it was well over Six Hundred Yards (600m +) deep to the Ebor Seam of coal. There were other seams of coal but the Ebor seam was the one that the pit was currently working.
"Does tha still fancy working down there then?" Colin asked.
Both of us nodded affirmatively, "Yeah of course, can't wait", replied I but secretively I felt very anxious at the thought of it.
"Come on then we'll get back" added Colin.
Back down at the screens on hearing of the probable two Hour delay, Joe G. instructed all workers to have their snap. Joe then left, telling one of the older men that he was going to the canteen for a mug of tea.
As was usual during a break all the younger lads gathered together, as did the older ones in their own group. The discussions arguments and wishful dreams put forward were many and varied. A lot of talk among the young was about what they would do when they eventually got down the pit.
John C. as usual tried, and in a lot of cases succeeded in commanding attention. John had two young followers who looked up to him and would usually be at his side
John said "I think now is the time to initiate the new uns". It was said in a light hearted manner. He looked to his two mates. They immediately nodded agreement and glanced first at me and then at Tommy waiting for John's choice.
To pre-empt the decision I, who had been expecting this would come around sometime, laughingly said, " The first one that comes near me gets this wrapped round his neck" and with that I picked up a piece of pit timber that was handy. I tried to appear to be joking but at the same time I wanted them to think twice before tackling me. I made it obvious that I would take nothing lightly.
John realising that I would not be one to come quietly, commanded, "Take Tommy first" and with that the Three surrounded and grabbed Tommy.
The scuffle that followed was playful and humorous even to the older workers who were watching but probably not to the receiver, Tommy, although even he was laughing and seemingly taking it in good part.
The rest of the youth of the screens joined in. I hung back a little but not too far back, because I wanted to be one of them, but not too constructively.
Before Tommy knew it he was trussed up with his arms behind his back. His trousers were pulled down and removed, displaying the fact that he did not wear underpants. He was then manhandled on to the unmoving conveyer belt.
A rope was produced and a noose was placed around his neck. The other end was thrown over a steel roof carrying girder and held. Someone then set off the conveyer Tommy had to start walking in the opposite direction of travel in order to maintain his balance.
Another youth had a small bucket of axle grease and was stirring it with a stick. He then menaced that he was to smear Tommy's private parts with the grease. Everybody, including myself was laughing.
The episode at first glance looked dangerous. If Tommy lost his footing it appeared that he would be in danger of being hanged. He would be unable to regain his feet because of the moving conveyer and his bound hands. I looked over to the person who was holding the other end of the rope to see that it was Eddie. It was being held loosely. I was relieved that if a problem occurred Eddie would certainly let the end go and avert any serious result.
Just as the lad holding the grease laden stick began daubing Tommy's privates the conveyer stopped moving.
A loud shout ordered "Eh! stop that yer silly buggers, ave yer no more sense?" All eyes turned to the command. It was Joe the foreman. He had stopped the conveyor. "Enough's enough", he pronounced, "untie him".
And with that the episode ended. No recrimination were made or given by Joe, he seemed to accept it as normal screen behaviour.
THREE SETTLING IN
"They tell me that you've done a bit of boxing," John C. asked of me on my Fourth day of working.
"A little at school" I replied. I would have liked to put John in the picture and boast of my boxing successes being Four times Leeds schoolboy champion and a single time Yorkshire one. I decided against saying owt, it wasn't done in those days to brag.
"I've done a bit myself" continued John. "What weight do you fight at?"
"Just over Ten stone." I answered.
"That's just about my weight," John said, "give or take a couple of pounds."
I was amazed that John was within my weight I would have put him at least two stone heavier.
"We will have to have a spar sometime" Johnny said
"Yeah' I'd like that," I replied, I probably sounded not too convincing. I felt that if Johnny could punch as hard as he looked he would probably take my head off with his first blow.
The conversation ended there. I was satisfied that it had gone no further. I was a little afraid of John but knowing myself I would not have backed down under any circumstances. I have always been able to hold myself against most, in the ring or out, I always had that feeling of being afraid before any action but also knew that once any action started I could rise to the occasion. I have never sought a confrontation nor ever backed down from one.
Another youth of the screen team was of Irish descent. George O' Neil. George was a fine upstanding youth and a very good worker. He never seemed to complain or raised his voice, preferring to speak quietly. Consequently when ever he spoke people tended to listen to what he had to say. And what he had to say always made sense.
I now felt that I had three new friends, Tommy Clapton. the youth who started at the same time as me. Eddie Barker. who was soon to leave the screens to do his three week underground training and George O' Neil.
It came as a little surprise to learn that the colliery operated a Week in hand when paying out wages. When I told my mother she obviously knew of this fact. She said she would help me out, which I knew she would. She had done so many times in the past. My wages would be Five pound odd rather than the Six pounds odd that my father had said that I would be earning. The difference in pay being underground working. Still it was twice what I had been getting at my previous job.
I was slowly coming round to the fact that I hadn't made a mistake in taking a job at the pit. In general there was a feeling of togetherness that I hadn't realised had been missing in my old job. Although I still did not like getting up of a morning and going to work, I did not mind actually working. Perhaps I hadn't made a mistake in taking a job at the pit after all.
Swearing at the pit was the norm. Although I have tried to keep out the swearing in this written account, please take it as read.
Everyone swore, from the Pit manager to the lowest worker. Every sentence was strewn with expletives and it seemed every second word was usually punctuated by a Four letter expletive. Nobody listened or took notice of you if you did not or could not swear.
I and my younger brother Jim were brought up in a family that did not swear. The most we had heard from our father was an occasional 'bloody'. My mother not at all.
At the pit I soon learned to swear like everyone else. It is hard to explain but when I was away from the pit and swearing was not the norm I did not swear. But as soon as I entered the pit yard I lapsed into a swearing mode. And I could give as good as I got. Which brings to mind:
One weekend the family were eating our Sunday lunch, or dinner as it was called then. I was explaining, to all at the table, of an event of the last week at work. I was so immersed in my pit tale that momentary I was at work. I forgot myself. "So when Johnny said that, I told him to Fuc..." I realised my mistake as soon as I had uttered the first few letters of the offending word. I lapsed into silence. In fact the whole table was silent, until my mother said, " We realise that everyone swears at the pit but leave it there when you finish work." It wasn't meant as a put down or a reprimand merely a statement of fact.
"Now what was you saying about Johnny C." continued my mother. The incident was as if it had never happened.
"Er! I told him to go away." said I feeling my cheeks redden.
An additive to this story on swearing. The first time I heard my father swear was when I was with him at the pit top. He was cursing and blinding about something that had earlier happened down the pit and was berating one of his mates. I was astounded, my father did not swear, I honestly thought he did not know how to swear. What impressionable minds we have when we are young.
FOUR FIRST BLOOD
It had to come. I had been working at the screens about two weeks.
Joe G. had stopped the screen conveyor, a large piece of rock had descended on to it and it was too heavy to lift off and throw it into the hopper in one piece. Joe said to John, "Get the hammer John and break it up"
John C. then said to me, "Jack go get the hammer for me, I've got to break this lump up," and with that he jumped up on to the conveyor.
On reflection if John had asked me to get him the hammer, I would have done so. The hammer was no more than a few yards away. But it got my back up to think that he was ordering me about.
"You want it, you get it for yourself. Joe said for you to get the hammer not me." I retorted.
"Are you getting me the hammer or do I give you a leathering?", threatened John with an expletive of words.
"If you think you can give me one," The whole screen team heard the heated words.
Neither person could now back down. John sounded the more confident of us. "Are you going to get the hammer or do I give you a good hiding after work?"
"No, get your own hammer and if that’s how you want it, so be it" I had no intention of backing down now.
"Jack, get me the hammer will you?" asked Joe G.
It was said more as a way of cooling the situation down.
"Yes," I answered, "but I'm getting it for you not him." and with that I went and got the hammer and gave it to Joe, who in turn gave it to John.
It was all a bit petty but my place in the pecking order of the screens was at stake. I always felt that to show weakness was not manly, although at the time I was trembling.
Soon after Joe called time for the under eighteen's.
"I av'nt forgotten," said John as he passed me on his way out of the screens.
"Nor me" I responded. Although secretly I wished John had.
"Behind the 'lamp hole' then". The lamp hole was the building were the miners electric lamps were stored and charged.
"Right I'll be there within Ten minutes." I was hoping to sound the confidence that I did not feel
The area behind the lamp hole was considered out of the colliery premises. It was common knowledge that fighting anywhere on the pit surface or underground was not tolerated by management. Instant dismissal was the threatened punishment. In later years I saw and heard some really heated arguments that looked like coming to blows. They never did, not on pit premises anyway.
All the under eighteen screen team and a few others who had heard that there was a fight on, gathered at the scene of the proposed fight.
A ring of spectators formed. My adrenaline began to flow and I was no longer afraid. A feeling of self preservation was taking over. I always felt like this before every fight in the ring or out.
"Last chance to apologise," offered Johnny.
Did I detect a note of uncertainty in Johns voice? I hoped so, it was to my advantage. "No way," was my reply and with that Johnny lunged forward like a charging bull.
I was not taken by surprise, other than being surprised how easily it was to step to one side and hit Johnny fair and square to the side of his head as he continued past. True to a bulls action he turned and made another rush forward, exactly the same thing happened. I could not believe my luck.
My father had always coached me to try and get the first punch in, and if you can keep that one ahead you should win in the end. Here was I with the first two full on target.
I was a boxer and John was a natural fighter.
A fighter is usually the one to come forward both hands punching. He does little covering up and is prepared to accept punches to get some of his own in. He is quite happy to stand toe to toe with his opponent, swapping punches.
A boxer uses his feet to avoid any rushes and punches. He is always prepared to counter punch and learns to hit whilst retreating. He is not usually prepared to stand toe to toe.
It is a well known fact that you should fight a boxer and box a fighter. If you were losing a match change your style of fighting. I had no reason to change my style John was doing all the work for me. The fight carried on in much the same vein with John now trying to come to grips with me and me keeping my distance. Throughout the whole of the fight I wary of the fact that if I relaxed and let John get just One punch in it could be curtains for me. Luckily this did not happen.
Suddenly John stopped and said, "Enough's enough," with that he held his hand out to shake hands. In those days it was the done thing to shake hands to call the fight off.
I took Johns outstretched hand and said something to the effect of. "Fair one." I could not believe my luck I had just finished a fight with quite a worthy opponent and come out without a solitary punch landing on me. I felt elated.
Although I went home with a little spring in my step, I still realised that if John had connected with just one good punch the outcome would have been vastly different.
As I reached our house I could see father clipping the privet hedges with hand shears.
"What you doing Da?" I enquired.
"What does it bloody look like? Salmon fishing?"
"No, it's just that I don't understand it," I joked "it's not like you at all, I didn't know you liked gardening, are we entering our garden in the Tenants best kept garden competition this year?" I carried on indoors before he had the chance to fling the shears at me. My father hated gardening and only just managed to keep it tidy.
On asking my mother what the story was about Da's gardening she replied. "We got a letter from the housing place this morning, giving us 14 days notice that if the hedges are not pruned to below the regulation maximum of 6 feet then they will apply for an eviction order. Anyway It's frightened your dad into doing something about them."
"I'll give him a minute when I’ve had my tea." I offered
"Yes he'll appreciate that
After my meal I gave Dad a break. funny that, if he'd have told me or asked for help I'd probably make some excuses as to why not. By not asking me he'd put me to shame. Besides I was a little short this week Dad will probably now lend me something.
It was November the Fifth. Tommy C. had invited me to his Bonfire. He had said that he had some brilliant fireworks. The fireworks of those days could be described in many ways but brilliant was not one of them.
When I arrived at the bonfire the party was in full swing. There were plenty of peas and pies and bonfire toffee. Lots of fireworks and bangers were let off, but as of yet I had not seen any that were unusual.
I asked Tommy where these brilliant fireworks were.
He went into his house and came out with a 'pill' of mining explosive.
"Where did you get that. I gasped, "You'll get Ten years if you are found with that in your possession
"It's nowt" he said "I found it in the screens. It came over the shaker."
I had seen a few cartridges, or pills as they are called, of powder come over on the screen conveyer. At such times they were handed to Joe Garvey. I think he took them back to the Explosives store.
"What are you going to do with it? I was becoming interested.
"Set if off of course"
"It won't go off. I've heard you can hit them with an hammer or put it on the fire and it still won't go off"
"It will with one of these" he said. With that he produced a 'Little Demon' firework. The little demon fireworks were the strongest of the day and gave out a very loud bang.
"You can't let it off here," I cautioned "there are too many people about"
"We'll go over into the back field then." Tommy said.
I agreed. It would be something most unusual. A little exiting.
With that we both went to the field at the rear of his house.
Tommy, with a penknife, slit open the grease proof paper of the pill and then sliced it in half lengthways. It was a little like plastericine, quite pliable. We placed the little demon in the centre of the cut open mine explosive. Then it was moulded around the firework, leaving the blue touch paper protruding.
He placed it on the ground upright and lit it. We raced away as fast as we could.
The firework exploded but it did not set the explosive off.
We further tried a few more times, all to no avail.
By the time we had finished the pill was in numerous pieces. We collected them all up and returned to the bonfire. Throwing on the pieces. They burned with a slight blue flame.
Afterwards I realised what fools we had been. We could both have been maimed for life, or even worse.
But it did prove how stable the mines explosives are.
Five FIREY FRED
The day after our fight if I had expected Johnny to say something about the scrap to me, I was very mistaken. He was loud, vociferous and as self assured as usual. It was if the day before had never happened. I thought, at one time during the day, I heard him say to one of his mates, that my punches had not hurt him. I was not sure but if he indeed said that, I could well believe it. My punches seemed not to have affected him at all.
My kudos in the screens team rose a little. One good point in my favour was that no one tried to involve me in any further initiation rites. Other newcomers were not so lucky.
Over the next few weeks I gradually became accepted as a full screen member and often the screen charge-hand would send me on short errands. This would enable me to look round other parts of the pit yard. If nothing else I was always interested in my surroundings.
One morning, during a lull, Joe sent me to have the First Aid box brought up to date. Screen workers were very susceptible to cuts bruises and trapped fingers. Bandages and plasters were used quite often.
At the 'ambulance room', as it was called then, there was a man in attendance. It was questionable if he had any medical qualifications, other than a first aid certificate. This was a time when safety first at work was not a priority, producing coal was.
The ambulance room was more of a storage room. It had a long couch for the placement of injured miners waiting for an ambulance to ferry them to hospital. Other than the meagre medical stores it also served as a soap and towel sale room.
As I have said there were no baths at the pit for normal workers. Deputies and upper management had a small makeshift place were they could have a lukewarm shower but for the normal workers there was nothing.
Once a month all colliery workers were given the opportunity to buy subsidised soap and towels. The soap was of the hard wearing variety but it was cheap and did the job. The large bath towels were luxurious by the standards of those days. Usually all workers took advantage of buying the pure white heavy towels when they could, even if their own towels had not worn out. A ready resale value was placed on them to friends and neighbours. A small money making sideline.
As I was leaving the ambulance room I looked across the pit-yard and saw Fred W. Firey Fred as he was usually called. Fred was another old collier. He was about Forty but looked at least Fifteen years older.
He had worked underground most of his adult life until a fall of roof underground had trapped him. He was supposed to have been buried for over a hour before he could be released. His resulting head injuries were not just physical but mental as well. He never seemed to be quite with it. Normally he had a pleasant disposition. He would always wave or shout greeting and pass the time of day. It was also common knowledge that if anyone upset him he could lash out, with anything he could lay his hands on. Firey Fred was employed to do the menial surface jobs. He was presently engaged in cleaning the pit-yard toilets.
The only surface toilets (there were none underground) other than 'management only' toilets, were a Six cubicle block. Every cubicle had a wooden seat with a galvanised metal can underneath. Each can had been doused with a toilet chemical. The back under-wall, where the cans stood, was left open to the elements to create an air circulation.
As I was walking past, Firey Fred was pulling a bucket out from under the rear wall. As he usually did, he hoisted it to his shoulder. John normally then transferred the can to the top of his head, his hands holding the side handles. He did this usually as a little show of his competence, proudly walking the length of the pit-yard.
The contents of the can would be then poured down a washer drain.
"Hiya Fred", I shouted, although it was doubtful that he knew me. Firey Fred was hoisting the can from his shoulder to his head, as I called out to him. At that moment, as he turned round to look at me, his head went through the bucket bottom.
The galvanised bottom must have been weather eroded allowing the inner metal to rust, causing weakness. Fred's head went almost through the bottom. A cascade of liquid and solid human waste cascaded over his head and shoulders. Fred let out a howl of protest. Taking the bucket from his head, he threw it in my direction.
It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I just could not help but laugh out loud. Firey Fred obviously did not think it was something to laugh at. He began to run over to me, seemingly to blame me for his misfortune. I wasn't waiting around to explain. I was off like a shot.
It still remains the most hilarious incident of my life.
SIX CHANGE OF JOB
Eddie B. left the screens to go for his three weeks underground training and Johnny C. to do his Sixteen weeks.
I was promoted, if you can call it promotion, to the pit-bank. It was a less boring job than the screens but somehow there was less opportunity to 'muck around'
My job, with another worker, was to push the empty tubs on to the waiting cage, displacing the full tubs. Then a short interval before the next cage and a repeat of the process. Looking down the pit shaft no longer filled me with dread but..
One Monday morning the bank foreman instructed me to report to the 'Wood yard' There I was to stand in for the regular worker who was off sick. I was to work with Alan, an older collier. Our job was to load tubs and 'Chariots' with materials for transportation underground. Chariots were Four wheeled bogies with open sides.
The wood-yard was the easiest job I'd had since starting at the pit. Provided Alan and I did the work no one questioned us on what we were doing. Snap time was always well over an hour sometimes Two. Alan could tell a tale or two and I was fascinated by his underground reminiscences.
Each day we were given a order form, detailing what was needed down the pit. The wood-yard contained all sizes of pit props. All roof props down Middleton Broom Colliery were timber. There were no steel 'Dowty' props at that time. The longest wood props were some ten feet in length and the shortest was only Twenty one Inches. When I looked at the smallest pit props and placed them end on it seemed impossible that anyone could work under such low conditions. Alan confirmed coal face workers did. One time I even placed upright Two One Foot Nine (54cms) pit props, Six Foot apart and then placed a 'bar', or a flat piece of timber, on top of them. I tried to imagine what it would be like to work in such cramped conditions. I seriously doubted if I would be man enough to endure such places. In later years I would work in such, and lower, conditions.
'Bars' were wooden planks to support the roof. Usually with props at either end and one in the middle. They were Six Foot (2m) long by Six inches (15cms) wide and about 2 Inches (5cms) thick.
'Rings' were steel H girder type supports. Semi circular with one end of the bend straightened out. Two rings were erected together with a steel 'fishplate' bolted to connect the them. They ranged from the shortest at Six Feet (2m) to Fourteen Footers (5m). Rings were transported down the mine on Chariots.
I spent two enjoyable weeks in the wood-yard until the previous youth returned. My next job was back to the pit bank. No mind, I had only two more weeks to do before I went for my Underground training.
Prior to the Coal Mines (Training) General Regulations Act of 1945 the only training given to a new worker would be what a boy learned from his father, big brother, uncle or such who took him below ground as a 'helper'
On the First of January 1947 the coal mining industry was nationalised under the National Coal Board. They soon began to regulate and enforce the Coal Mines Training Act.
SEVEN TECH. TRAINING
Before I knew it Monday morning came. It was to be the first day of my Mining Training. Along with Tommy Clapton. George Lee. and George O 'Neil. We had to report to the Wakefield Technical College in Bell Street. We were to spend a week there full time. Then to the Lofthouse colliery for a week then weeks 'about' for Sixteen Weeks.
Besides being a full time educational establishment, the college had a department geared for mining theory. It catered for entrants like myself, through to higher education for those studying for the Ordinary or Higher National Certificate in Mining.
The day started at Nine O Clock and worked to normal School hours. There were Twenty Three lads in the class, all under Eighteen. They came from various collieries of the number Seven Area. It was quite pleasant to be working in clean clothes, just like being back at school only getting paid for it.
In the weeks to come we would be instructed in mining theory, the history of coal and the mining of it, mine safety, mine Fires, Ventilation, Gases, the rules and regulations of mining, management, methods of working coal, underground machinery, first aid, fire fighting, mine rescue and a host of other subjects.
The first week was devoted to the theory of mine safety and the need to be constantly vigilant to potential hazards.
The general history of how coal was formed was explained:-
It was the constant laying down of pre-historic forests over long periods. This timber and vegetation residue was overlaid with sediments which later became rock. The great heat and pressures, formed the great forests residue into coal. This happened Hundreds of millions of years ago in the carboniferous period of time.
A very interesting point was made by one of the instructors of that time. He stated "That the original surface of the Earth has never been found within man's present knowledge."
As that time was the early Fifties I have often wondered if man's knowledge now has progressed far enough to realise Earth's original surface.
I was surprised to learn that there are several types of coal. Anthracite, more usually found in the areas around Wales, Cannel, Brown Coal, Lignite, and even peat, all being forms of coal.
We were informed that in the Yorkshire coal fields alone, it has sufficient reserves of coal for an output of Fifty Million tons of coal a year for the next Few Hundreds of years.
I could relate to the forest theory. I often found specimens of plant fossils embedded in the rock whilst working in the screens. At one stage I used to collect them. Fossils of plant leaves were common. The only fossil of a true life form that I found was an ammonite this was from the Jurassic period of time but it was a poor specimen.
Different methods of mining were discussed, from the general collection of coal that is sometimes washed up on some beaches, to early Bell pits through to the modern mining practices of the day.
Again I could relate to the Bell pits, there were many examples of them in the Middleton Park woods. Bell pits were dug where the coal seam is relatively near the surface, sometimes only a few yards deep. When the top surface was removed and the coal was reached, it was hewn out all around the sides. Hence the name Bell pits, because of the shape of the excavation. Few roof supports were used. When the roof became unstable it would fall in. Another Bell pit would then have to be excavated. The examples at Middleton Park, and there are many, are round shallow holes.
I made a host of new friends at the college. Every weekend we would all meet in Wakefield centre for a night on the town.
Wakefield had a wide and varied slice of weekend night life, much better than Leeds. The starlight ballroom catered for teenagers like myself. Every Friday and Saturday night a group of us would sneak into the Station Arms where the oldest looking of us, or the one most daring, would go and order and collect pints of beer. Underage drinking was quite exiting at the time and it made us feel quite macho. Then after a couple of beers time for a dance. The Rock and Roll era was upon us and although at the time I could not jive I secretly envied those who could. Dancing is only a matter of confidence something I lacked. Occasionally a fight, or should I say a minor scuffle, might break out. Rival factions would usually be involved and although I never started one I usually ended up in the middle. The skirmishes of the time involved unwritten rules, no weapons would be used only fists. Putting the boot in was frowned upon and was considered to be taking advantage. A fight would end when one side acknowledged the superiority of the other. Then it would be handshakes all round.
Although looking back they seemed very serious confrontations I now realise they were just part and parcel of growing up. I was finding my pecking ordered place within my society.
In the coming future, many would be the time when I had to run to catch the last train from Westgate Station, to Leeds, which left at one minute to Midnight. And many is the night I have missed it, sometimes on purpose.
It was around this time I began courting seriously. For a number of years I had been a member of a youth club held of an evening in the local school. It was a mixed club with members ranging from 12 to 18 years of age. There were many various activities held there and one of them was weight lifting. Nothing sophisticated or anything, we didn't even get changed into training shorts and vests. The group was not even properly supervised except for a slightly older person in charge. Members of both sex's would wander in and out of the classroom willy nilly. I had previous noticed a young lass whom I found out to be about my age and named Brenda M. I took an instant shine to her. Whenever she was around I tended to show off. Laughing that littler bit more at mates jokes or talking more louder whenever she was in earshot, trying to show her what a fun person I was, which was not strictly true. I never seemed to be able to get Brenda to notice me or get her in a position to 'chat her up'
One evening a few of the lads were having a friendly weight lifting competition. I initially wasn't taking part but then Brenda and her friend Mary S. entered the room. Trying to impress them I announced that I could lift the weight most of the others had failed at. Room was made for me and I took my stance at the weight. I squatted down and grasped the bar in preparation for the lift. I had mentally decided on the squat method of lifting the weight. All eyes were on me at this time including Brenda's, she was the one I was out to impress. Suddenly I heaved at the load and as in the correct manner I managed to swing and raise the weight with my arms straight above my head whilst still in the squat position. So far so good now all I had to do was straighten my legs and move from a squat position to a standing one. It was going to be harder that I had thought. Straining to regain an upright standing position I felt my trouser crutch split and with it I lost all concentration with the lift. The bar began falling backwards taking me with it. The whole class, including Brenda, erupted in fits of laughter, with me laying on my back, legs akimbo with an obvious split in the seam of my strides. I vowed and declared to my self at the time that I would never try and show off again, what a foolish promise.
EIGHT LOFTHOUSE TRAINING
The following week George O' N. George L. and Tommy C. and myself reported to Lofthouse Colliery. It was to be our first taste of going underground. All students were issued with a pair of steel toe capped boots, a pair of dark blue cover-alls, a hard miners helmet and a leather belt. We were then each allocated a locker for our outdoor clothes in the 'clean area' of the showers.
After stripping, we walked naked, clutching only our towels, through the shower area to the dirty locker area. Our working clothes would be stored in the Dirty locker.
Dressed in our Pit wear attire we were led to the lamp room and issued with a lamp and instructed how to use it.
The lead acid lamp is in the form of an electric battery, which is slung on your belt, with a flex that connects to the cap lamp. This lamp is designed to give about Ten hours use between charging.
The instructor then led us to the man riding shaft. The winding gear in the man riding shaft is usually Electric driven. We had been instructed that this shaft has greater controls incorporated in it and the speed at with the cage ascends or descend is governed, giving a safer smoother ride.
The other Shaft is usually steam driven. Greater speeds can be used at this shaft as coal is outputted and materials inputted. The faster the winding speed the greater the potential coal output.
All persons about to descend underground must first be searched thoroughly for 'contraband'. Contraband being matches or any smoking materials. (In all the years I worked in the mining industry I never ever saw or heard of any miner flouting the contraband rules. In this area all miners are very responsible persons)
Before one enters to the input pit shaft one must go through two 'air doors' These doors are needed to maintain a regular air flow underground and will be explained later.
The cage held Twelve persons. I was in the Second batch. I did not feel afraid but was a little apprehensive. I knew I would not panic or do anything silly, but who knows.
My turn to enter the cage came. We were packed in and the gates were closed. The banksman rang the winding station for the cage to descend and we were off.
The cage, although closed in at the sides has large open grill type gates back and front. Going down is not unlike being in a lift. It travels a little faster but on the whole it is quite smooth. The brick lined shaft flashed by. Water drained down the brick lined walls. It would collect at the bottom of the shaft into the 'sump' to be pumped out to the surface.
As we descended, my thoughts returned when I had first seen the shaft at Middleton. I had thought then, how can you brick lay a shaft as you dig it? It can not be bricked before it is dug nor can it be safely dug then bricked. It is impossible to stick bricks under, instead of over other bricks as you dig. At college I had found out that the shaft is dug to a short depth, say 20 yards (7 m). Circular H rings are then secured at the bottom. The virgin shaft is then bricked up from the lower ring to the higher one. The shaft is then excavated again.
Lights from the Black Bed seam flashed by. This was the seam being currently worked at Lofthouse. We were headed deeper to the Silkstone seam. This seam had been worked out of coal years ago and now was used only as an underground training seam.
At last the cage came to a controlled stop, we had arrived. I had expected to feel some emotion, elation, afraid, pleased, at least something but everything seemed normal a bit of an anticlimax.
The pit bottom opened out into what can only be described as a large irregular shaped brick lined room. The walls were white lime washed. It was well lit by electric overhead lights and was about Twelve Feet high. To one side was a brick office type room for management use. Inset in one of the office walls was a sliding window. I had an idle thought, occasionally the office window will get dirty and someone will have to clean it. So being a window cleaner down the pit is not as silly at it sounds.
On the floor of the pit bottom large metal sheets had been laid. The sheets had became polished with the tramp of feet and the many turnings of wheeled tubs. Rails were laid across the area. three dark tunnels led off somewhere.
We had all been issued with a 'check.' This is a coin like piece of metal with a number that is registered to the individual.
The check is handed to the underground onsetter. It would be retrieved on leaving the pit and handed to the surface banksman. The system worked that if your check was down the pit you were, or in theory were, down the pit.
It has happened when a miner has forgotten to retrieve his check and underground search parties have had to be made for him, whilst the miner is home in bed.
There were two instructors to the Twenty odd of us and were told to follow, in single file, one of them. The other brought up the rear.
Our first day underground was to be just a general tour of the workings. After going through a series of Air doors we were shown the Stables where the pit ponies were kept. The stable contained about Thirty stalls for horses but only Two were now in use. When this seam was working some Thirty odd years ago, Pit ponies were much in use.
As ponies were still being used in most pits for the transportation of materials, we would be instructed in the handling of them.
As we walked down the main inward roadway of the Black Bed seam we were aware of a flowing, quite strong, passage of air. It was like a strong wind at a constant speed. The main heading was about Twelve feet (4m) high. The floor was very uneven and at all times you had to watch your footing. Everywhere there was coal dust but this had been diluted with white limestone dust. We had been instructed that coal dust by itself is potentially very explosive. In correct proportions the limestone neutralises it.
To one side of the roadway, rails had been laid. In between the rails lay a thick steel plaited rope. Near the side wall was another length of rope. Rollers were placed at intervals to carry the rope and to prevent friction from the floor. We were told that it was called an endless rope haulage. In the past tubs of coal would have been lashed with chains to the rope and would have been hauled to the pit bottom for their extraction out of the pit.
The main roadway, we were told, was about Four miles long. Every few Hundred Yards other roadways branched off at right angles to the main roadway. These were old headings to bygone faces. When these faces were in operation the coal was, in general, hand hewed and loaded into tubs. The tubs would be brought by pony power to the main roadway. Then lashed, with chains, to the endless rope to be hauled to the pit bottom.
On the walk down the main roadway the instructor stopped our group and ordered everyone to turn off our lamps. Other than miners, very few people have ever experienced total darkness. Down a mine there is a complete absence of light. It is impossible to see anything. Usually if we are in darkness on the surface a chink of light can be seen, however small. Down the pit nothing can be detected.
Whilst our lights were off the instructor told us that in the event of a light failure it is possible to 'feel' your way, by use of the tub rails that line the floor of the roadway. Providing you know the general layout of the mine, the wind direction will help you to decide in which direction to feel your way out. Other than that, and if you are quite safe, stay where you are. A search party will come to find you when you are missed. Your 'check' is still down the pit, proving that you also are.
We were told to re-light our lamps and we continued on our tour.
One of the old coal faces had been preserved for instructional purposes. We were allowed to crawl under the face and see the coal seam. I had expected to feel claustrophobic but I was very surprised not to be. A more detailed description of the working of a coal face will be detailed later.
The first week we were instructed mainly in mine safety and what to do in any emergency.
NINE TRAINING CONTINUES
It was then back for a further week at college.
This second week of training, at college, was dealt with ventilation, fires and the gases that are released when coal is worked.
Ventilation is achieved within pit working by a huge fan situated at the top of one ( up cast) of the two shafts. Usually the man riding shaft. The fan sucks air up the shaft from the underground workings. Because of this air displacement, air from the top other shaft (downcast) is drawn down this shaft into the workings. A system of air doors allows the air to circulate around the mine. A good ventilation system is an obvious necessity.
Roadways that connect intake and return roadways need to have a barrier to stop circulation from taking a shortcut. This barrier must be movable. Air doors are a movable barrier. There is always at least two airdrops in tandem. If one door is opened the other remains closed. To have Both doors open would interrupt the correct circulation of air and would cause serious circulation problems.
When coal is released from a coal face, poisonous and potentially explosive gases are also released. Providing there is good ventilation these gases are easily dispersed out of the pit.
The 'deputy' or 'Fireman' is the charge-hand of the district. He is responsible for all aspects of 'his' area, usually a coal face. The deputy and the 'Shotfirer's', both of whom are explosive trained, are constantly aware of the need to test for the presence of 'firedamp' which is a methane mixture of gases. Deputy's and Shotfirer's are middle-management.
Methane is easily detected with the aid of a safety lamp which they both carry at all times. The modern safety lamp is an updated version of the original lamp Sir Humphry Davy designed in 1816 Since its introduction the Davy lamp has stood the test of time and has been the means of saving innumerable miners lives.
The safety lamp incorporates an oil lighted wick. The flame cannot make direct contact with the outside of the lamp because of small mesh metal gauze. The flame cannot traverse across this gauze. Air can circulate within the lamp.
In normal air the safety lamp flame burns yellowish. If methane is present in the air, the flame burns with a slight bluish tinge at the edges of the yellow flame. The amount of gas present determines the shape of the bluish flame. An equilateral triangle of the blue flame indicates approximately two to two and a Half percent presence of methane.
A mixture of between Five and Fifteen percent gas in air is explosive. Any percentage of gas showing its presence on a safety lamp is regarded as potentially dangerous.
Underground fires we were informed are caused in a number of ways. Naked lights, Flames from explosives, friction caused by machinery, defective electrical apparatus and spontaneous pressure combustion.
All were discussed and the urgent need to be aware how they can start and what actions to take, to contain them at source.
It was around this time that I had managed to make myself known to Brenda. I had already learnt that on Thursday evenings she and her friend would go to the local fish and chip shop. I made a point of just happening to leave the Youth club at the same time as her. I shouted to my mates, within Brenda's earshot, that I was not going their way home this Thursday night but that I intended to go get some chips. (At that time a bag of chips cost Four pence (2 p) Following close on Brenda and her mates heels I closed up on them and casually announced that I might as well walk with them part of the way, announcing quite off handedly that I was going to get some chips. When they said that was where they were going I pretended surprise and said that I may as well accompany them. I had tried to appear to make myself look 'cool' but I suppose I was fooling no one. The upshot of it all was from that point I began to regularly to escort Brenda home of an evening. Slowly I progressed to be allowed to walk with her, hand in hand. It was the high point in my life at that time. Gradually it progressed to a quick peck on the cheek as a good night kiss and after I would walk home with a spring in my step. Throughout my courtship of Brenda, very little happened sexually, though not for want of my trying. Good girls didn't in those days.
TEN TEDDY BOYS PICNIC
Each Friday we were allowed out from training early. trainees had to return to our respective pits for wages.
After receiving my pay one Friday I was approached by Bennie Wilkie. the Training Officer. He asked me how I was getting on and I replied. "Fine, I'm enjoying my training. I can't wait to work underground"
Bennie said, " A week tomorrow is the Wakefield Miners Gala. Middleton is to put on show a lorry float. It has been suggested that we have the theme as 'The Teddy Boys Picnic'. You and your mates have Teddy boy clothes haven't you?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Are you interested in being on the float. You will get paid for it and you may even win a prize"
I was all for it, and said so. It sounded like a good day out. I'd heard of the famous Wakefield miners gala.
"Can you arrange for yourself and two others to get dressed up in their finery and be here at Nine O Clock Saturday week?" Continued Bennie.
"Yes, I'm sure I can arrange something." I responded.
"Good I'll see you next Friday pay day, to finalise things. I'll leave you to organise your mates."
I was quite looking forward to the gala. Most of my pit mates would be only too willing to have a day out and get paid for it.
At that time the Teddy Boy fashion was in and anyone who was anyone had a Zoot suit.
As promised Bennie met me on the following Friday and asked if all was okay my end. It was. He said the float had all been prepared and was ready for the morning. "See you tomorrow morning at Nine" he said as he left.
The following morning Six lads had turned up, my two new friends Peter W. and George L. and Three other acquaintances, one was to act as barman.
Bennie Said, "I can only pay for Four of you, but you are all welcome to ride the float. The more the merrier." and with that he handed me Four Brown Envelopes each containing Two Pound notes.
Bennie then led us to the Float. It was a lorry decked out with flowers and coloured crepe paper With 'Middleton Broom Colliery', emblazoned on the side. A smaller sign said 'Teddy Boys Picnic'
On the open backed lorry there was a table and chairs and what purported to be a small bar with beer pumps. all the furniture had been screwed to the lorry floor.
One of our crew was to be dressed as the barman.
We all, except the barman, were dressed Teddy boy style. We had amongst us red, blue, black and two purple full drape, finger length, jackets. Black drainpipe trousers. White shirts with Black boot lace ties and Tony Curtis, DA style haircuts.
We felt that we looked like true Edwardian gentlemen, Royalty, real Counts. Is that the way to spell Counts?
We were issued with make believe coshes and open razors and told to make believe that we were drunk and having a good time in a bar.
Bennie then handed us two crates of Beer. Each crate contained Six pint Bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale.
It was suggested that we should share the bottled beer and use the eight pounds Bennie had given us, as a kitty. We could buy more beer at the gala. We all agreed. Then Bennie said, "If that's the case, here is an extra Four quid, I'll claim it back in expenses."
It was a pleasant summer morning. The Lorry was driven to Wakefield Town Centre which was the meeting venue for all the floats of the other collieries.
By the time we had reached the start point we had drunk the beer Bennie had supplied. One of our crew dropped in to 'The Bridge End' pub for a further supply of bottled beer.
At Eleven O Clock the gala procession began. All floats then began a very slow convoy drive to the main park in Wakefield.
The journey took about an hour. Walking along side the floats were school children carrying buckets in which spectators along the route deposited coins.
My mate George Lee. oozed confidence in the presence of females. In many ways his was the confidence I wished I had. George would do anything for a laugh. He tended to jump in both feet without looking where he was going to land. Halfway through the procession George said "Watch this" and with that jumped off the moving float. He ran forward to a group of teenage girls, grabbed one of them and put his arms round her. He bent her over and kissed her full on the lips, just like we had seen film stars in Hollywood do it. A roar of approval came from the crowd. George then demanded that the girl put a sixpence in the nearest collectors charity bucket for the benefit of being kissed by a Teddy boy. She complied. He then went to a second girl and repeated the action, getting the same response. The crowd loved it and applauded for more. All Five girls succumbed to his advances and half a crown extra went to charity because of George’s spontaneity.
Reading my last paragraph the recounted event dose not sound very daring by today's standards but in the early 1950s it almost reached the point of rudeness
When George clambered back onto the float he urged each of us in turn to repeat his performance but none took him up. I personally would have loved to enact his daring do but lacked his confidence.
Each time the beer ran out then one of our team would dismount the slow moving float. Sprint forward into a pub. Order the beer and by the time the float drew level he would be waiting to deposit the bottles on it. This happened to each in turn.
By the time we reached the gala proper we were not pretending to be drunk, we were.
Inside the gala grounds was a beer tent, my mates and I headed for it and spent most of the early afternoon there.
Just before 2-45 the tannoy announced that the floats were now to be judged and that all interested persons should report to the respective displays.
Peter W. was missing, no could remember him leaving.. No matter there were plenty of us to enact the scenario. Our float was supposed to depict a group of drunken Teddy Boys having a good time. We did not need to act our part, we were Teddy Boys, we were drunk and we were definitely having a glorious time.
We managed to win third prize of a standard lamp that would be later raffled off at the pit. The proceeds, like all the collections at the gala, went to a miners charity.
After the judges had made their decisions were all set off for a further round in the beer tent. As we were approaching it we espied Peter in confrontation with another group of young Wakefield miners. They were Five to One-ing him but we would soon make up for that.
To cut a long story short it seems as if Peter had tried to move in on one of the other groups girls, she had been quite willing but her boy friends had caught up and collared her. With our group turning up, the numbers were now more even. A fight ensued but before very long it was broke up by the Gala Marshals. Eventually we and our opposers were ejected from different ends of the grounds. It meant that we would have to make our own way home but no matter Four of us had already previously decided to remain in Wakefield for the evening.
Peter's new found bird, we now knew to be called Jayne, remained with him. It was proposed and accepted that we adjourn to the Railway pub and later The Starlight Ballroom.
As we entered the dance hall a quartet on stage were playing old time music. The Paul Jones, Military Two Step and such like. There was a friendly atmosphere in the room. It was usual that there would be half an hour of differing types of music. Old time first then modern dance, quick step , waltz etc. and afterwards a rock n roll session. The jive music being played by one of the quartet from records. The name Disc Jockey had not yet been coined.
Peter got his bird up to jive. Jayne was quite good at it although Peter dancing was very limited. When they returned to our table Peter suggested that she learn me how to jive. I had secretly always wanted to learn bop but was too shy to try. Probably the beer gave me Dutch courage but when Jayne suggested a dance I agreed and enjoyed every minute of it. All I seemed to have to do was to stand there and keep holding out a hand, Jayne would take it and dance around. I had no idea what I was doing but because Jayne was so good it made me look presentable. I relished in the idea that at the next Youth club dance session I would get Brenda up and show I could dance after all.
The Rock and Roll half hour ended and the quartet came on again. Because it was a Valletta and none of us wanted to dace to old time music it was suggested we retire to the bar for a drink. As we entered who should be there but the Wakefield gang who we'd earlier had a set to at the Miners Gala. We walked up to the bar. Jayne suggested that we leave it but to a man we, nor they, were having none of it. Something was said, by whom I know not, it wasn't important both groups knew what was going to happen, again a fight started. The whole place was in an uproar. Tables were overturned , buffets and anything handy, were flung across the room. It was just like a scene from an old time Western film. It seemed that the fight was only seconds old, actually it was much longer, when into the room rushed a single policeman and a couple of bouncers. Both factions respected the Police uniform and the fight stopped. All males involved were placed under arrest and thrown into a 'Black maria' Police van and taken to the main Wakefield Police station. Each person was taken to an interview room and statements were taken.
We had seemed to be in the cells hours when an Inspector came in and cautioned us, each in turn, that on this occasion the ballroom had decided not to press any charges and so the Police were taking the matter any further. Providing we returned home peacefully the matter would be dropped. NFA (No further action) as he said.
A great time had been had by all.
ELEVEN THE BLACK BED SEAM
The Third week of training at Lofthouse Colliery we were taken on a tour of the working Black Bed seam. This working seam was very modern by the standards of the day.
At Lofthouse the coal that was initially loaded on the face conveyers was carried by a further series of conveyers, gate, main, heading, main heading. Eventually cascading their loads into Mine cars which were hauled to the pit bottom by large Diesel engines. Each mine car could hold over three tons of coal.
The Shaft at Lofthouse was wide enough for mine cars to be hauled to the surface. The raised coal then began a somewhat similar process to that of our pit at Middleton.
A more detailed explanation is later given of the layout and working of a typical mine of the period.
Basic first aid is taught to all miners in training and they are encouraged to take a more detailed course of study to obtain the St Johns First Aid Certificate.
Part of our underground training dealt with ponies and their handling of. Pit ponies we were informed had almost as much regulations pertaining to them as humans. Part three of the General regulations of the Coal mines act of 1945 dealt with the care and treatment of horses and similar animals. It specified the hours and places in which they could be worked. The ill treatment of them was subject to a fine or even discharge.
We were shown how to harness the ponies, the usual orders of command, their feeding and welfare.
Signalling underground can be made in a number of ways, from switching your cap lamp on or off, to making a telephone call.
All mines of that time had a telephone system. Some more sophisticated than others. The most basic involved revolving a small handle a number of times with short intervals between. The number of complete rings indicated who you wanted to contact. Middleton had this basic system.
At the Lofthouse colliery they had a modern dialling system and even the pit manager could be contacted directly from almost anywhere in the pit.
Another method of underground signalling consisted of a pair of wires, Six inches apart. These separated wires were strung overhead, the whole length of a conveyer belt or an endless rope haulage. A small electrical charge (by mining regulations not more than 25 Volts) ran through the wires. By connecting the two wires at any place along the whole length, a circuit was created. This caused a warning bell to ring at the machine operators station. One ring instructs the operator to stop the machine, two rings tells him to restart.
TWELVE FIGHT TO A STANDSTILL
During the forth week of training underground we trainees were queuing to be 'rung out of the pit. There was always an amount of jostling to be among the Twelve to get into the first cage.
As most were trying to get to the front of the queue I managed to edge my way near the front. A voice directly behind me said, "You get on that cage before me I'll have you on top".
I recognised the voice but pretended not to hear him. I was tempted to 'hang' back, but there was no way I would lose face in front of all the others who had heard the threat.
The person who uttered the threat was Brian Greatorix I had heard that he had signed professional forms for Castleford Rugby League Club as a prop forward. I was slightly in awe of him. Although he was as tall as I and about my weight he looked, to me, 'rather hard'
I got on the cage, secretly wishing that he would also managed to get on the same cage. He did not, he was resigned to the second one.
I was already getting washed when Brian entered the showers. I was hoping he had forgotten the incident but no. He uttered in front of everybody within earshot, "I told you what would happen if you got on the cage before me, you've got it to have".
I mumbled something but I didn't feel too confident to say much. The upshot of it all was that most of the course congregated just outside of the pit premises, a ring of people was formed and the fight began.
I tried boxing him and because he obviously had some boxing experience I didn't feel very successful. He must have tried the same thing with the same result that in the end we both stood toe to toe slugging at each other. My blows on him were full blooded and on target, but his also were the same on me. My punches did not seem to be having any effect on him but his were on me.
We seemed to be 'at it' for ages when we both seemed to step back before a further onslaught. As we stood back he said something to the effect "You've obviously done some of this before", meaning fighting, I immediately recognised this as, he was willing to talk.
My answer was "So have you, do you still want to carry on"
"Call it a draw then," he offered. I was more than thankful to call it off. My answer was an immediate, "Yes".
I had just had the hardest fight of my life, inside the ring or out. I was relieved to get out of it evens.
The surrounding spectators broke out into spontaneous clapping which in itself was unusual. At least they had enjoyed it.
With that we both shook hands and went our separate ways. There was no animosity felt or given. Throughout the rest of our training we had a new found respect for each other. We both bore our black eyes and facial bruises with a little pride for most of the following week.
I grew to like Brian when I got to know him. We became quite good friends. He sometimes joined our group of mates during our evening weekend jaunts round Wakefield.
THIRTEEN END OF TRAINING ?
I was surprised to learn during training that when a roof support is erected, it does not 'hold up' all the rock seams and strata above it, through to the surface. It only supports the weight of the rock seam directly above that support. The strata of rock above the immediate rock seam, usually remains intact.
That was the theory anyway in practice it was something else.
Towards the end of the course at the Technical college we all were informed about the opportunity for further study to management level. We were told that anyone interested could submit an application for interview. I decided to apply.
I and two others were required to take a short written test to show an education level. I was a little apprehensive of this because I realised my education wasn't that good.
I must have passed the initial test because I was invited for interview.
At the interview I was informed that the course entailed a day a week release from work and 2 nights a week of my own time. The course of study was to H.N.C. level and would last Four years. The qualification was to pit management.
Numerous questions were asked of me but I must have given satisfactory answers because I was offered a place on the next course. This would start in about two months hence.
Before I knew it the Sixteen week training course was over and I became qualified to work underground.
I felt a little sorry that the training course had come to an end and having to say good-bye to my new found friends. I promised to continue meeting them in Wakefield at weekends.
I was still attending the youth club a couple of nights a week and because I took part in the many sporting activities, Boxing Swimming and Athletics etc., the youth leader asked if I would be interested in applying for an Outward Bound Course being sponsored by the Leeds City Corporation. I replied in the affirmative and he promised to make further enquiries on my behalf.
My courtship of Brenda continued.
FOURTEEN UNDERGROUND PROPER
It was to be my first day underground at Middleton Broom Colliery, Leeds. Tommy C., George L and George O' N .and I were to be taken on a tour of the underground workings with Bennie W. We had been instructed to go to his office at 9.O clock on our first Monday.
When we duly reported we were informed that Benny was already underground attending to another matter. We were to make our own way and meet him at the pit bottom.
Booking out lamps, we went to the man riding shaft. There we were informed that the shaft was undergoing maintenance. All men riding would temporary have to use the other shaft.
We walked round and climbed up the steps to the coal shaft pit bank.
Whilst waiting, with others, the banksman, who knew that it was our first time down Middleton said. "First time down eh lads, I'll have a word with the winder to let you down steady". He had a slight smile on his face.
As I have prior explained the Man Riding Shaft was electrically driven and governed to restrict the speed of descent. The cage we were about to enter was steam driven and greater speed could be used.
The time came for us to alight the cage. The banksman 'rang' the cage off and we began our descent. Suddenly the speed of descent greatly increased until it felt as if it was out of control. The weight of my body seemed to decrease. Never had we travelled any way near as fast when descending the Lofthouse Colliery. I was truly frightened. The others riders in the cage did not seem unduly perturbed. We reached the bottom with a juddering halt. The others alighted as if nothing had happened. I was glad to get out in one piece. George L. looked as white faced as I felt.
I was to find in later rides that it was quite normal to ride fast down the coal shaft whereas the electric driven, man rider, was quite smooth and comparatively slow.
Benny W. met us, as promised at the pit bottom. After telling us to hand our checks to the onsetter he led us out of one of the exit tunnels.
Ben explained that he was to take us to one of the numerous 'faces' of the seam. He told us that there were Six faces in operation at that time. He would show us the workings of the face and we would then follow the progression of the coal as it was extracted out of the pit.
We walked down roadways varying from Twelve to Six Feet in height for about three Miles. Evidence of the weight of the forces acting on the steel ring supports was evident, especially in the tail gate we visited.
On our travels inward Bennie explained the working of a pit, in particular Middleton. He explained:-
A seam of coal can be imagined as the filling in a sandwich. The bread above and below is the rock, with the filling, coal, in the middle. The area of coal can be tens of miles square. Due to rock Strata faults, the workable 'Ebor' seam at Middleton had about Four Miles of square area. The coal seams can vary in height from pit to pit. At Middleton the average height is two feet and a few inches thick. Other pits boasted seams of Four to Five Feet.
He went on that to describe a coal face. It was easier to think of a plan view of the capital letter E.
With a piece of chalk, (all Deputies and management carry a piece of chalk) he drew an end on letter E with the legs pointing downwards. The centre leg of the E he called the main gate and the outside legs were the two tail gates. The coal face was the long upright of the E.
Coal face lengths vary. An average distance between a Tail gate and a Loader gate is some eighty Yards (80m). The Left and Right Faces combining at around one Hundred and Sixty Yards (160m) or more.
The main gate usually is about 9 foot (3m) in height and the two tail gates Six foot (2m).
Longwall or forward mining being the extraction method of coal used at Middleton Colliery. (A different method is now more commonly used, called retreat mining)
He further explained that at the start of a new coal face the main gate and the two tail gates are driven forward about Fifty Yards (50m). The coal, in between the gates is called a pillar. This pillar is left intact to protect the main heading gate from excess weight.
The coal is hand hewn and blasted out with explosives, at right angles to both left and right sides of the main gate. A coal face heading can also be started from the tail gates driven towards the main gate. Only about Nine feet (3m) width of coal is taken. The rock above the coal is the roof. The face headings meet somewhere in the middle, with little more than a few inches (50 cm) out of alignment. Great accuracy is achieved due to the mine survey department.
The coal or the strata under the coal is then undercut by a machine. The jib that is at right angles to the machine. The jib has a fast continuous rotating chain with protruding tungsten carbide tipped picks. The jib of the machine is about Six feet (2m) long.
Holes are drilled in the face of the coal to a depth of about Six feet deep, at Six feet intervals.
A conveyer, or what is commonly called the 'belt', is then installed the whole length of the face. 'Chocks' which are extra roof supports are set at the roof break off point.
When all tasks are completed and running, a shotfirer will stem the drilled holes with an explosive charge and 'fire' the 'shots'.
Miners will then space themselves out along the face and begin to hand shovel the loosened coal on to the conveyer belt. A short pick would also be used to hew coal from the face that has not been loosened by the explosives.
Wood props and bars would be set to contain the new exposed roof as the coal was shovelled on to the conveyer.
The coal cutting machine would be turned around in one of the Tail gate 'corners' and a new cut started to begin the whole process again.
As the face moves forward, Six Feet per day, the void left becomes what is called the 'Gob'. All supports were, or should be, withdrawn from the gob area. The gob roof then falls in, relieving the weight on the face roof.
All waste material is deposited or thrown into the gob. Compacted stone packing were built in the gob at either side of the gates. This packing helps to take some of the weight from the gate supports.
The whole process from the cutting of the coal to the hand extraction of it was designed to take Twenty Four Hours. When all worked perfectly it did. Which was not all too often.
Bennie throughout our journey continued to explain:-
The coal from the face conveyers fed on to the gate conveyer. Each Gate conveyer in turn led on to series of larger width Main gate conveyers. At each conveyer machine station a worker was placed to ensure that the conveyer belt can be controlled. His job is to turn the conveyer on or off as required and to keep the area free from accumulating spillage falling from the belt.
When we reached the end of the conveyer system the coal tumbled into minecars. The minecars, were slightly smaller that the ones at Lofthouse, held about two and a half tons of coal each. This point was called the loader end. The Safety Officer told me this was to be my place of work on the following day.
He introduced me to a youth called Douglas G. He did not look much older that I. It turned out that he was about Six months older. I was told that I was to be under the charge of Doggie for a period of three weeks. I was to be within hailing distance of him at all times during that period. After this probationary period I would on my own and could be placed anywhere in the pit that I was trained for.
We followed the trail of the loaded minecars up the main heading. They were hauled to the pit bottom by a diesel engine locomotive. George L. was to be a diesel drivers mate. At the end of the Main heading there was a huge tippler that rotated the mine cars.
The coal was then fed again on to a short conveyer. There it was loaded in to the smaller tubs that I had handled on the surface at the pit bank. The tubs were then pushed on rails round to the shaft cage. In turn to be loaded in to it for transport to the surface.
Ben W. then took us to visit the stables. Tommy C. and George O'N. were introduced to the stable manager, Alfred Day, for their three weeks supervision. They were to become a pony drivers.
FIFTEEN LOADER END
The following day I met Douggie, my minder, as arranged at the pit top. He escorted me about a mile inward to the main loader end. My first days work underground was to begin.
As I have described the main loader end is where the whole of the pit conveyer system empties the coal into minecars. At this point the roadway is quite wide and well lit by overhead electric lights. Wide enough for the two sets of engine tracks that are laid. Diesel engines, with their loaded mine cars, can pass other mine cars that are being filled. Higher up or lower down the main roadway from the loader end only a single track is laid.
The procedure at the loader end was:-
Five minecars were loaded with coal. A further Five empty cars are brought by a diesel. The empties would be left and the full cars hitched up and taken to the pit bottom.
A steel rope would be attached to the front mine car. It was fed over a series of pulleys. At the other end of the rope was an electric 'Tugger' engine. The rope was attached to a drum on the engine. A switch decided which way the drum would rotate. A handle controlled the drums speed. With the switch upward and the handle drawn back the drum would rotate winding in the steel rope. The minecars would inch forward. By slow skilled use of the rotating handle the minecars could be adequately filled.
At the change over between cars, instead of stopping the conveyer, a metal sheet was placed between the cars. The coal filled steel sheet would be emptied and placed over the space between the next empty car.
When the five cars were full the steel rope would be detached and by reversing the 'tugger' engine the rope could be hand pulled back to be re-attached to the Five new empty cars.
The engine driver would couple up to the full cars. Push them forward to the single track 'inbye'. The engine drivers mate would change over the track points. They would then be hauled past the loader end to the pit bottom, 'outbye'.
The process would be repeated many times during the shift.
The loader end was a two man job. At times it was nice and easy with not a lot of work to do. At other times when the coal was coming thick and fast, there was lots of spillage which had to be shovelled back into the cars. During the first and the last hour of the shift things could be quiet.
It was at these times that the devil made use of idle hands
Out of the rock wall opposite the conveyer end, a large room had been excavated to house the electrical boxes and tugger engine. We called this room the dug-out. Makeshift seats had been built out of spare timbers covered with old conveyer belting. Different items of tools were also stored within the dug-out. When the coal was coming over the end thick and fast both Douggie and I were on our feet all of the time.
When there was little to do we sat in the dug-out probably reading a newspaper or comics.
Workers, management and other passers by would briefly stop to pass the time of day or relay the current gossip of the day. Most of the time there was a light hearted mood at the loader end. Tricks, jokes and/or 'winding' people up was the norm.
As I have stated, there were no toilets down Middleton Pit. Anyone who was 'taken short' or had to relieve himself, had to go into any convenient place. The resulting waste would then be thrown on to the nearest conveyer belt or mine car.
For safety reasons it was strictly illegal to ride on the conveyer. But many men did. They jumped on to it then, because of the low height of the roadway, lay down full face forward. Many has been the time when men coming from their place of work had jumped on the belt only to have lain in someone's human waste.
SIXTEEN LIKE A CUSTARD PIE
I had been at the loader end for two weeks. One morning at the beginning of the shift, coal was only lightly coming over the conveyer end. The diesel driver, Colin T. having brought Five empties was waiting for the current cars to be filled. As he usually did, he came and stood with us in the dug-out for a chat.
After he had left, although we did not realise at the time, the dug-out began to smell strongly of excrement. We looked round all around the dug-out and on the dusty floor for the offending smell but to no avail. Often excrement came over the conveyer and into the cars but that smell was only fleeting.
Soon the coal began to come over thick and fast and the smell was forgotten. Although every time Douggie or I neared the dug-out we got a whiff of it. I accused him of the smell whilst he placed the onus on me.
Even the pit manager Mr Poskitt. who visit us for a few minutes on his rounds of the pit remarked on the smell. Telling us, as he left to, "clean the place up."
Towards the end of the shift when the coal became thinner I went to sit on the makeshift seat. As I sat down the offending smell reared up again. I realised my sitting down had stirred something up. Taking up the piece of conveyer belt seating I discovered that the underside had been smeared with someone's human excrement.
Colin, the diesel driver arrived on the scene and remarked "Oh you've found your present then? I just thought I'd leave it for your coming Sixteenth birthday."
Douggie and I both called him all the names under the sun and many more besides.
Although it seems now a filthy trick, taking it in context it was a minor thing. A good laugh and I was to get my own back, literally.
I had been racking my brains how I could get one back on the diesel driver, Colin. Douggie suggested something and I thought about it and decided to refine his idea.
One morning when I had time on my hands I took my leave of Douggie and walked a little way down the track for some privacy. I then defecated in a small white sweet paper bag. Twisting the corners like a bag of sweets I carried the 'parcel' back and put it to one side.
Colin came in his diesel to collect the Five full cars. As he drove passed our dug out on the way to the pit bottom I shouted "Colin, have a birthday sweet" and threw the 'parcel' into his lap.
When he returned some Fifteen minutes later I was very wary and expecting some retort, in action or words. But nothing, Colin never mentioned it. It was as if the incident had never happened.
I was puzzled and a little disappointed that my trick had fell on stony ground. The coal began to come over the loader end thick and fast and work began in earnest. The whole shift carried on as normal and I completely forgot the incident.
Towards the back end of the shift, Colin drove down with the Five empties, the previous Five were not full.
Colin parked his diesel and came and stood to my left hand side. I in turn was watching the conveyer end spilling coal.
Colin asked, "All right Jack?" Without looking at him I nodded a reply. With that he flattened the Sweet bag full into my face. Imagine a clown thrusting a custard pie into the face of another. That describes his action.
I had to scrape the mess from out of my eyes so that I could see. It was all so sudden and unexpected. I was at a loss what to do. I had to do something in retaliation. I swung round and grabbed his coat lapels and pulled him close to me at the same time trying to wipe my excrement covered face over his shirt and coat.
We began to wrestle and ended up on the floor in the dust.
Unbeknown to either of us the sweet bag remnants had fallen to the floor, Douggie gingerly picked up one corner and deposited it between our wrestling bodies. We were totally unaware of this. The upshot was the both Colin and myself became plastered.
I was reasonably lucky because the shift was almost over and having cleaned down as best I could left for the pit bottom for extraction out of the pit. I did not have a change of clothes, there still being no pit head baths so I had to walk home smelling.
Colin, whose shift started at Seven O clock, had another hour to go before he could be relieved.
That day I really got my own back in more ways than one.
Four days before I was to be released from being under Douggie's supervision the deputy of the district called on us. It was towards the end of the shift, Douggie and I were waiting for our relief and preparing to finish our shift.
The deputy, John Hindle. explained that our relief had not turned in for work and that there was no one to step into his place. He asked Douggie to do a 'double un'. This meant work over time until Seven O clock in the evening. Pay at time and a half worked out that you got another full days pay. A 'double one'. Douggie had done this a few times before. The loader end needed only one attendant during the evening, very little material came over the belt end.
Douggie said that it was impossible that day as he had somewhere to go.
John asked me if I would do it. I reminded him that I was still under Douggie's supervision for another Four days. John Hindle said it would be all right, I knew the job.
I agreed, pleased in the knowledge that the deputy trusted me to be on my own.
The diesel driver brought sufficient mine cars to last the evening and night shifts. There were about Twenty parked up. The main roadway had a slight decline.
The system was that when Five full cars were full, he steel rope was uncoupled and a few of the brakes of the cars were released. The cars were allowed to roll slowly down the roadway under gravity using the brakes to check their progress. I was instructed to park the full cars well down, past the cutting, on the single track.
The brakes on the individual cars were not usually well maintained. The brake shoes often too worn to do the job. Even with a brake full on a car could roll under its own gravity.
The cars were usually checked by placing wooden bars (planks of wood) across the rails tapping the wheels. The bars were strewn down the side of the track.
I was reminded that Harry Silverwood. and his men were working at the far end of the main roadway. Harry S. was the Union president of the colliery. He was arching out the main roadway making it longer, about two miles down the track. His team only worked the afternoon shift
All was going well, I had no problem. There was very little work to do other than occasionally pull the tugger handle to move the cars down little by little.
It is pointed out that when the cars were pulled forward down the slight incline the brakes were mostly on.
At about Six O clock, the Five mine cars had been filled. I stopped the conveyer belt and 'tugged' them to the far end of the rope. I released some of the brakes of the empty cars and gravity allowed them to roll down the track. As they reached the loader end I quickly locked on the brakes and the cars stopped.
The steel rope was reset and the conveyer belt restarted.
Then I had to lower the full mine cars further down the roadway as instructed. I released first one brake then another and because they did not move, another brake was released. Still they did not move. As I was releasing the Fourth brake they slowly began to move down the roadway. I quickly then began to pull on the brakes but having reset them, all the cars still continued moving forward. I realised that I had to place bars over the rails to halt the moving full cars. As I place one bar across the rails the mine car wheels just 'jumped' over it and continued unchecked. Although the full cars were only travelling at a few miles per hour, to me it was very fast. I was panicking now I kept throwing bars under the wheels but they refused to halt the gathering speed of the cards. I was well aware of the team of workers working at the far end of the heading there would be no way to warn them of the runaway cars. They would have no chance of survival. I carried on throwing the bars across the rails until I was nearly out of bars; except for one, a thick one.
In desperation, even in the certain knowledge that it would not stop the runaways -the bar it was too thick anyway- I threw it under..
The wheels did not jump the bar, the wheels bit into the wood. The cars were slowing down. I then realised I had a chance. Bar after bar I threw under the wheels and slowly the cars came to a thankful halt. Somebody up there did like me after all.
Gathering a handful of bars I placed them under each and every wheel. I over spragged the wheels being so relieved to have been given a second chance. There was no way those cars were going to move again.
Returning to the loader end I was full of sweat, not from exertion but of fear. Fear of what would have happened if the mine cars had carried on out of control.
Over the two miles of downward track, really high speeds would have been reached. Harry S. and his team would never know how near to death they came that evening. I will never forget the incident it still brings me out in a cold sweat as I write this.
Later that year steel 'drop' Warwicks were installed in the roadway. One above and one below the loader end.
A drop Warwick is a long H girder. It is fastened to the roof of the roadway with a hinge. Roofing Rawlplugs are used for fixing. The girder can be lifted up until it is level with the roof. A hinged bracket and release bar is fixed to the roof. The bracket can then be slotted over the other end of the girder. A wire is attached to the end bracket release bar and strung along the roadway sides, upwards of the incline. A sharp pull on the wire will cause the release bar to swing forward allowing the Girder end to drop. With one end of the Warwick to the roof and the other end to the floor any runaway minecars would sprag against it causing them to stop.
If there had been a drop Warwick in situ when the mine cars ran away from me I certainly would have used it and been glad of it.
Not long after the instalment of the drop Warwicks, one of my new mates Peter Whitehead. who was now a loco drivers mate was injured with one.
A drivers mate job is to couple/uncouple minecars, change rail points, etc. When the loco is in motion he would stand on the rear minecar coupling holding the edge of the car for balance.
A loaded loco was travelling underneath a raised drop Warwick. The coal was piled higher than the Warwick. It dislodged a large piece on the rear car. Peter fingers became squashed between the coal and the minecar edge.
Serious injury was caused to his right hand. His ring finger had to be amputated at the Second knuckle.
EIGHTEEN SAFETY OFFICERS ASSISTANT
That September I had notification from the Training Officer that I was to begin my day release and two evening classes at the Wakefield Tech. college.
Monday was the specified day. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7 till 9 were the evenings.
At college we were to be instructed in all the subjects of our previous training but at a much deeper level. I enjoyed my day release from work but the two evening were a bit of a bind. I was now courting Brenda seriously.
Just after starting college Bennie Wilkie approached me with the proposal that I become his assistant. His previous assistant had taken up duties at a nearby pit as a full Safety/Training Officer. Ben outlined the duties that I would be undertaking and assured me it was a responsible job.
I immediately agreed to the prospect. The job appealed to me, there would be little manual work attached to the new job.
I was Sixteen and a half and I had the exulted title of Assistant Safety Officer. The title cut no ice with my mates, they jeered and called me 'Bennie Wilkie's Bum Boy'
The first day in my new job, Ben had left instructions to meet him at the pit bottom at Ten O Clock. He was to take a party of civic VIPs on a tour of the mine.
When Ben and his party arrived underground there were eight persons in all. Three of them were women.
Ben suggested that the party follow him in single file and that I brought up the rear. We were going to take a general tour of the workings.
We were walking inbye and came upon a pony driver, Archie Brook., whose full tubs had been derailed. He was bending over with his back to us, straining to lift the tubs back on to the rails. His trousers were torn from the fly hole, round underneath the crotch, almost to his waist at the rear. He obviously was not wearing any undergarments. It looked as if he was wearing two half pairs of trousers.
As we came upon Archie his wedding tackle was showing to all and sundry. Normally such a sight down a pit is not worth a second glance. But with the ladies present Ben was a little embarrassed. Not only was the pony driver showing all his manhood he was swearing about almost everything and everybody. He had not noticed who we were because without turning round the driver said, "Give us a hand mate with these (Expletive) tubs."
Ben waved to me to give him a hand. As we lifted the tubs back to the rails it was then that Archie noticed Ben and the ladies in our party.
He turned to Ben and said, "Sorry Bennie I didn't realise it was you." and then laughingly turned to the ladies and said. "This is the second pair of trousers I've ruined today. Sorry about my language."
Ben accepted this apology without comment and we continued on our way.
A successful tour of the pit was carried out with the VIPs giving us their compliments.
Two days later Ben handed me a parcel that contained an old pair of Ben's trousers. I was instructed to give them to the pony driver who we had met whilst taking the VIPs on a tour of the mine. Ben was a large man, especially round the middle.
When I handed them to Archie, he fell about laughing. I've got to admit so did I. He put them on, over his own trousers. He looked like a circus clown. There was no way he could wear them and he told me so in no uncertain terms. I explained they were given in good faith and he calmed down. But there was no way he would wear them he would be the laughing stock of the pit.
I reported back to Ben that the trousers had been gratefully received.
Once a month, part of my new duties was the taking of dust samples. As described earlier, coal dust in its raw state is potentially very explosive. When any explosion occurs the concussion wave that precedes the fire causes the dust to rise into the air. So providing fuel for a chain reaction. The coal dust can be 'diluted' and rendered comparatively harmless by the spreading of Stone dust.
Stone dust a is white limestone dust that is delivered down the pit in hundred weight paper sacks. The person spreading the dust stands upstream of the air current and using his hands scatters it all around the sides and floor of the roadway. This scattering of dust only adds to the general dusty atmosphere of a mine.
Dust barriers were situated at certain key points. These were a platform like apparatus that was erected near the roof. The platform was filled with loose stone dust. In the event of an explosion the barriers were designed to fall. The stone dust would be spread out with the concussion wave and hopefully halt the explosive chain reaction.
The mining regulation at that time required that samples of dust be submitted to the Area mining laboratories for analysis. All Roadways where men or air travelled have to be sampled.
The safety officer instructed me on the dust sampling duties and gave me the written mining regulations that covered this subject, to study.
The method of sampling was that mine plans had been prepared and zones of sampling designated. My duties were to work to the plan. I had to walk down the roadway in a zigzag pattern collecting dust from the roof, walls and floor. I had a small brush to sweep the dust into a round brass 60 mesh sieve. The sieved fine dust collected into a holding bottom. A portion of the sample was then placed in small envelopes and marked with a code that corresponded to the mine plans.
I enjoyed the task of dust sampling, within reason I could take as long as I wanted over the task. I was allowed to travel to the surface as the need arose. I travelled the whole area of the mine workings as my duties required. I had the run of the pit. No one ever questioned where I was or what I was doing. Answerable only to the Manager, the Under manager and the Safety Officer.
NINETEEN HAUNTED SPIRITS
One day I was on dust sampling duties. I was near the coaling pit bottom. A diesel driver and his mate and a few from the pit bottom workers were going for their snap, as I had done many times before, I decided to join them for mine. We all collected in a small bricked office.
As always, the talk amongst the lads was many and varied. A diesel driver Harry related that at the weekend his next door neighbour had died in bed. He had been asked by the Funeral director in attendance to help carry the body downstairs. He described being at the head of the body whist his mate was at the feet going down backwards. As they passed a bend in the stairs the body had to be twisted. This caused residue air in the body to be expelled out of the mouth. Harry described as "It moaned into my face." He described having almost dropped the body in fright.
With the telling of the body story, ghost tales in general were discussed.
One chilling tale that I remembered most was :-
It was circa 1926 The general strike was at it's height. Most industries had closed down, as were the pits. The strike at the Belle Hill pit, near Leeds, had been going on for over two months. No workers went underground, except for a deputy who, once a day, descended to check water levels in the sumps. And to pump water out as necessary. One particular day having done his tasks the deputy needed to relieve himself of bodily waste. Going out of the pit bottom he backed into a stall, a small opening cut into the rock side, and dropped his trousers.
Just as he began to defecate a hand clapped on his bare behind.
With a scream he pulled up his strides and raced back to the pit bottom. He rang the bell to get himself out of the pit.
On reaching the surface he, obviously in distress, was asked what the problem was. He managed to gasp that there was someone, or something down the pit. He was assured that no one, other than himself, had been down. The banksman should know he rang them all down and out.
The deputy was insistent and pointed to a bloody hand print on his behind. A search party was organised. The deputy refused to join it.
On searching, where the deputy had described, they found a man. All the front of his face, his arms and body was covered in blood and gore. His clothing was in shreds. By the time he was stretchered out of the pit he was dead.
The upshot of the story goes that just across the road from the Belle Hill pit is The Wood Lane Insane Asylum. (It is still there) The man had escaped from the asylum and entered the pit shaft area. He is supposed to have slid down the cage guide ropes, hence the blood and gore. On reaching the bottom he crawled out of the pit bottom to the place where he had touched the deputy.
The deputy's hair is supposed to have turned white overnight and he refused ever to go down a pit again.
The Belle Hill pit in the story was only a few miles from Middleton. Their extreme workings would probably extend to our far workings.
I was sixteen and a half and very impressionable.
In the cold light of day the story probably never happened it's too full of holes. But alone, down a dark pit, tales take on a life of their own.
On hearing the story I have to admit a chill went up my spine. Whilst I was with others it was not so bad. After snap time was finished I had to carry on with my dust sampling duties.
I had to sample a part of the pit known as the old workings. It was a two mile long roadway that led to the 'New pit'. Why it was called that I know not because the new pit was last worked at about the turn of the century. The roadway, to the new pit, was kept open because every Second day the new pit shaft sump had to be visited to inspect the water pumps. These continually drain out collected water. The New Pit was at a slightly higher level than our seam .If the pumps were stopped and the roadway was closed eventually the water would eventually flood down into our present workings.
I went to seek out John H. the deputy of the district I was about to travel. I had to inform him that I was to walk the road to the new pit and that it would take me about an hour. I was required to report, in and out, whenever I travelled into 'out of way' places.
I began my dust sampling a little slower than normal. My mind was not on my job. I was conjuring up all sorts of terrors. I could not get rid of the tales I had just heard. It was cold and quite windy in the roadway to the new pit. I was feeling very lonely. I did not want to go any further.
The wind blew up a piece of scrap paper behind me, it made me start. My spirit jumped out of me and probably hit the roof. I was going no further.
It was easy to fake the dust samples for the whole journey it would be impossible to prove I had not completed the task.
Without moving from the spot I just sat down and forged the samples from the dust around me.
Half an hour later I informed John H. that I had completed my tasks and was out of his area.
I went out of the pit to Ben's office to prepare my samples for sending to the area laboratories. The samples would take two weeks for us to get the results. Any samples that were below a certain standard would be highlighted and the offending area of the pit would be designated for stone dusting.
That night my mind could not rest I had failed in my duty.
What if there was an explosion made worse by my actions What if men were killed because of me? I could not think of a way out. I could not tell Ben W. that I had been afraid to walk down a perfectly safe roadway.
This was the first time in my life that I'd had such a terrible worry on my shoulders.
For two days I wrestled with my conscience trying to find a way out. Then I concocted a plan.
I went to see the Safety Officer as I usually did for instructions as to any duties that he wished me to carry out. Sometimes I could suggest where I might be gainfully employed. I said that whilst dust sampling the new pit road, the area looked a little dark. Indicating a build up of coal dust. It didn't really. I suggested that I take any spare worker from the pit bottom, there were always a couple, and stone dust the offending area. Because he had nothing more important for me to do that day, Ben agreed.
I went to see John H. and asked him if he had any spare workers. I spoke of the Safety Officer's instructions. John said that he had two I could use.
One of them went to the stables and booked a pony out, whilst the other lad and I began loading chariots with bags of stone dust.
On the arrival of the pony, we hitched up the chariot and proceeded to the new pit roadway. We gave the whole gate a really thorough dusting. A heavy weight lifted from my shoulders, I had wriggled out of my dilemma and learnt a great lesson of life
Coincidentally enough on the return of one of the samples, a few weeks later, it showed that a small area was a little over the permitted level of coal dust. It would have had to have been stone dusted anyway.
TWENTY JOHN THE STRONG
My college day release was going quite well I thought. I was struggling a little with maths. I had only a very basic education at school. Most of the class were ex. grammar school boys. In maths for instance I had never heard the word algebra, never mind calculate in it. Some of the others were used to doing quadratic equations whatever they were.
When first year exams results were given I had passed, not with high marks, but with sufficient to enable me to be granted a second year of study.
It was during this first year that I took a course of St. Johns First aid lectures which gave me a qualifying certificate. From that point on I carried, at all times, a satchel of First aid equipment.
A series of Morphine Safes were installed at strategic points within the underground workings. These were small sturdy safes set in concrete into the rock wall. Only responsible persons who were qualified in the use of morphine were entrusted with a key. I felt very grand when I passed a course of instruction and was given a key to the safes.
Morphine is given to seriously injured miners who are in great pain and it is thought there may be a delay in being treated by a doctor. Morphine cannot be given lightly to a patient and strict records must be kept of any administration.
If Morphine is ever administered a large 'M' must be drawn on the forehead of the patient to ensure that a double dose, which may be lethal or habit forming, is not given.
Part of my duties was to periodically check the safe contents and record same
I also had to periodical check fire hydrants and extinguishers. Both these are usually situated at key points and where machinery is constantly being used. A fire could break out where machinery bearings have broken down and friction has caused the machine to overheat. Prompt action by the person on the spot can save lives.
One shift I was checking the Fire extinguishers in the coaling pit bottom. There had been a hold up at the pit top. No coal was being hauled up the shaft.
All the pit bottom lads had congregated in a group. Amongst the group was Johnny C. I was surprised to see him there because his usual job was as a conveyer belt attendant.
Johnny had been boasting about how he had taken up weight lifting at his local club. The discussion was about how much each could lift. It was suggested that John should show us how he could lift a full tub of coal off, then back on to the rails by himself without using leverage.
He completed the task with ease and made it look a non event. John was a very strong person all had to agree
There was an old tub to one side of the roadway. It was in bad state of repair and was not used. Someone further suggested that if it was completely overturned and Johnny was under it could he lift it with his back and be able to stand up?
It was obvious he could and John said so.
Ah! but if a lad sat on the upturned tub could he still do it?
John said he would have a go. He got under the tub. Instead of one lad getting on top, all of them, me included, got on. There was no way he could lift it There were about six people on it. Even then John was almost moving it.
"Come on Johnny," they urged "you can do it." John heaved and pushed. There was no way he could lift the tub. I doubt if Charles Atlas, who was the strong man of the time, could have done it.
One of the lads nodded to another and one got off the tub, quietly telling all the others to remain on it.
As one lad got off then his weight would be compensated with a couple of one Hundred weight sacks of stone dust. They then put steel rings and fish plates on top. No way could Johnny free himself he was trapped. They remained ignorant to his pleas of release.
He was left him under the tub until the Deputy came and made the lads release him. The whole episode did not seem to faze or bother Johnny. There again nothing ever seemed to.
TWENTY ONE EBOR 27s
One day the Safety Officer instructed me to escort him to the Ebor Twenty Sevens. Ebor 27s was not a face but a place on the underground plans at the extreme edge of our workings.
Whilst we were walking to the 27s, it was almost three miles away, Ben explained that new Coal Board policy was such, that all pits were eventually to be coupled up. This meant that roadways would be driven toward other pit workings to connect them. It was to provide an emergency escape route. The policy was being carried out with the atom bomb in mind. They did not call it nuclear warfare then.
It was thought that if disaster occurred underground and the pit bottom could not be reached then the miners would have an alternative escape route. The same could be said if an atomic bomb was dropped in the vicinity of the pithead disabling the winding gear.
When we reached Ebor 27s all that was there was a short tail gate about Six feet high and about 10 yards long. The gate ended with a loose rock fall and a small opening over the rock. It would have been impossible to clamber over the rock into the opening. We were there because air was leaking through, over the small opening, from an adjacent pit into our workings. Robin Hood, Rothwell, Near Leeds was our neighbouring pit.
Ben checked for gas with his safety lamp. It was indeterminable. There may have been a hint but not enough to be certain. Ben was not satisfied. He decided to surface and the next day return with a more sophisticated gas detector.
The next morning we returned to 27s. Ben had brought a McGlucky gas detector. It showed that there was just under one percent of methane gas escaping from the Robin hood workings.
Ben decided that further action was necessary. Although one percent is not dangerous in open air any build up can be potentially explosive. It was necessary to monitor the air outflow.
I was instructed in the use of the gas detector and was told to remain there. An air sample was to be taken every Twenty minutes and the results entered into a book Ben had brought with him. I would be relieved at the appropriate time.
Robin Hood miners were driving their heading towards our 27s gateway.
I was to spend three weeks at 27s doing nothing but take samples every twenty minutes and read. After that first day I brought plenty of reading materials. The easiest and most boring job I ever had.
TWENTY TWO PONY DRIVING
The pit used to work on Saturday mornings. Only certain faces produced coal. Most districts used Saturday as the time to catch up on work that had fell behind. It was purely a voluntary shift. Ben had given me permission to work Saturdays, not for him, but for any deputy that needed a willing hand.
One Saturday morning I had got a job working in the coaling pit bottom. To describe the coaling bottom is:-
Because the shaft at Middleton, was not wide enough to haul minecars to the surface, coal had to be pre-loaded into smaller tubs. These were the type of tubs that are described earlier on the pit bank.
After the coal has been emptied from the minecars via the tippler it runs down a short conveyor belt. At the end of the conveyer there is a loader end. The coal is fed into tubs. the tubs are pushed around on a circuit of the pit bottom eventually reaching the shaft cage. The full tubs are pushed into the cage displacing empty tubs. The empty tubs are fed around to a short downhill gradient. they are held on the gradient by means of metal lockers. Steel spikes with a protecting handle. The lockers are placed into the wheels of the tub and acts as a holding device.
When a tub is filled with coal the loader operator pulls down a long handle that stops the coal flow. The coal is held temporarily in a chute. He nods to the locker man who takes out a locker and the empty tub rolls forward into the full tub. The slight gravity at the loader end, the speed and weight of the empty tub causes the full tub to be displaced. The circuit continues.
This particular Saturday my job was to locker the empties and hold them on the incline until the loader end man indicated that he wanted an empty to replace the full one.
To forecast the empties arrival at just the correct moment required perfect timing. At the beginning I was way off getting it exactly right. After much practice I felt I was getting better. Towards the middle of the shift I thought I was getting perfect. The empty tub reached the full tub exactly as Dick B. pulled the loader handle to stop the flow of coal entering the tub. He did not now need to indicate I knew when an empty was required.
Dick B. the loader end operative, was a natural comedian. He could turn anything around and make a joke of it. It seemed that everything he did or said was funny. A pleasant guy to be in the company of.
Dick, as tubs were to be changed over, stopped the flow of coal with the handle at his Left hand. His right hand controlled the tub. He was wearing huge boxing type metal studied gloves. They protected his hands from misplaced coal coming over the conveyer end.
He always allowed his Right gloved hand to remain on the full tub until just before the empty one rammed into it to displace tubs. Exactly at that point he would remove his hand and take control of the new empty.
Each time the change over I would look to make sure he removed his hand which he always did. After a while I forgot about his gloved hand, I was skilled at my job.
Just as I was beginning to think nobody could do this job better than me I released a locker. The tub began to roll. Dick was not looking at me. He had his gloved hand at the point of impact. The empty was going to ram into the full tub and Dick's hand was in between. I shouted at Dick. He took no notice. I screamed at him. I tried running forward to hold back the tubs forward momentum. But to no avail the tub was well on its way.
He seemed to be unaware of my screams and the impending crushing of his Right hand. The tubs impacted, his hand was in between them. I was almost sobbing. Dick just turned around and looked at me, grinning.
He had clenched his fist within the glove and allowed only the glove to be between the tubs.
Although I could not have been held at fault, even if an accident had occurred, it did not relieve my feelings. The relief knowing Dick was okay. I almost turned angry at what he had put me through, all for a joke. He was lucky I did not attack him out of sheer relief. But there again that was Dick B.
On my travels to Ebor 7s I used to chat to the Deputy, Willie R. He was a likeable old rouge and seemed to take a shine for me and I certainly to him. I was enthralled to listen to his old pit tales. I could always be guaranteed a job on 7s if I asked Willie.
One Friday I had asked if he could find me a job for Saturday morning. He had replied that although his face was not working that Saturday he could fit me in with something to do. It involved getting a pony from the stables and 'acquiring' some tub rails for his Right hand tail gate. His regular pony driver was off that day.
To explain a pony drivers job:-
Every morning a tail gate pony driver would hitch his pony to a number of Tubs of pit props and bars. He would drive them from the pit bottom, via back roads, to the face of his tailgate. On reaching the face he would empty the supports, from the tubs, and throw them forward until they reached the face. When the face workers called out for the timber, he would throw them on to the conveyer. The face workers would take off as many as they required.
It was in every bodies interests that tail gate rails were laid as near to the face as possible:
Both from the pony driver, he had less distance to throw forward the props.
The face worker who got the roof supports as required and on time.
The Management, greater safety for its workers.
The face advanced about Six feet (2m) a day. Therefore the pony driver always had this distance every day added to the distance he had to throw the supports forward. If the driver did not 'acquire' sufficient rails, his work became harder every day.
Often the pony driver had so many problems reaching the district and he would be late supplying 'his' face.
In extreme circumstances the face would be 'filled off' (all the coal shovelled to the belt) and the whole eighty or so Yards of roof exposed without any supports. Until all supports were properly set, face workers were in mortal danger.
In later years I would be in this position and this terrifying uncertain time has to be endured.
Management never seemed to see the bottleneck or potential danger, alleviated easily by the extra orders of tub rails.
There were few, if any, new tub rails sent down the pit. Pony drivers had to forage in old workings for the much sought after old rails. Often they would put themselves in potential danger in order to fulfil their needs.
Willie R. had told me to bring a chariot of Six Foot rings to his district and that he would meet me in the tailgate later that morning.
I went to the stables and the stableman said I had to take out a pony called Royal. On entering Royal's stall I wondered if I could harness him correctly. I had been shown at the training pit but could I remember? We had been told of the importance of the harness exactly fitting the horse.
In some sort of fashion I managed to put the harness on the pony. If I had done the job correctly I knew not.
I was leading Royal through the air doors, down the rather steep drift road from the stables. Royal suddenly lay down to the floor and began to roll around in the dust. All his four legs were thrashing about in the air. He was rolling over and over. I didn't know what to do. I was a little panicky. Had I done something wrong? Given him too much, too little water? Harnessed him incorrectly? I reminded myself of the strict rules governing horses underground. Had I unwittingly contravened one?
Suddenly almost as fast as Royal had gone to the ground he got up. He carried on following me as if nothing had happened. I later found out that all the horses on reaching that point in the drift enjoy a roll in the dust prior to a shift.
I hooked the chain from the pony's halter to a chariot of rings and set out from the pit bottom. I had seen other pony drivers stop and 'locker' up at the top of the roadway called the Traveller Drift. The traveller drift is a long steep roadway.
'Lockering up' is to place, specially made, lengths of hard wood between the struts in the tub wheels. This action stops the wheels from turning. A locker acts as a brake. Because the metal wheels are on metal rails there is little friction. The tubs can still move forward under pressure or gravity.
Having secured my locker at the top of the drift I urged Royal forward, which he did. Although riding on the chariots or tubs was forbidden I, like all the other drivers I had seen, jumped onboard. We started going forward slowly at first but the chariot slowly advanced faster. Royal instead of pulling the load now was just going fast enough to keep just ahead of the chariot that was now moving under gravity. The lockers were only just stopping the chariot from being completely out of control. Faster and faster the chariot sped until Royal was in a Four legged gallop.
The roof and sides of the roadway flashed by only inches away. I dreaded to think of anyone walking up the traveller at this point because the roadway was only wide enough for a single tub or chariot. Anyone would surely be mown down.
Although small refuge holes are cut into the rock side they were few and far between, at least they were on the Traveller.
It was a nightmare ride, I wanted to be off but there was no chance of getting off at that speed. Had I made a mistake and not put enough lockers in the wheels?
Suddenly the roadway widened out and the end of the traveller came into view. The roadway was also levelling out. Royal, having done this Hundreds of times before slowed his gallop until the chariot was once more under his control. He began walking and pulling the load. I ordered "Whoa". Royal obediently stopped and I withdrew the locker brakes. It would be all level or slightly uphill from now on.
I was to find out later that all of the pony drivers experienced the headlong flight down the Traveller every single working day. How there were few accidents must be luck or the good judgement of the pony drivers. Other times I did the ride, it was very exhilarating.
I unloaded the rings in the tailgate as instructed by Willie R. and waited for the deputy as arranged.
When he arrived he told me to re hitch the pony to the now empty chariot and we both rode back out down the tail gate.
He directed me to a crossing gate and down to the Left tailgate of Threes. Ebor 3s had been worked out of coal many years previously. Although I knew where this tailgate was I had never been down it as there was a single wooden bar across the entrance denoting a no go area. As it was now no longer a ventilated section no air circulated in it.
We both dismounted the empty chariot and left it and Royal at the entrance. There were no rails leading into the gate. Some other pony driver had been before. When I remarked on this fact to Willie, his reply was that there was further in.
I did not like to enter a forbidden area but could not appear chicken in front of Willie. We began our trek up the gate. The roadway when it had been in use would have been Six Foot wide and high. Because it had been abandoned many years ago, the roof and side weight had seriously misshapen the metal rings that supported the roadway.
In places we had to crawl forward on our hands an knees. We advanced about Fifty yards inroads before we saw the rails. They had been originally laid when the road was in use. We walked a further Fifty yards before we set about dismantling the rails. Throwing them back towards the start of the gate where Royal was waiting.
Royal would wait there in the pitch darkness, as commanded, until he became hungry or his inner time clock told him it was shift end. He would the about turn and slowly walk back the way he had come still in complete darkness. Eventually he would reach back to the pit bottom and the stables. Horses had done that before and would do so again. How they found there way in complete darkness is any one's guess.
It was slow laborious work getting the rails up. The rails were laid on to wooden bars that are set on the floor. 'Dog nails' are hammered home to secure them. We had brought a large claw hammer with us for the nail extraction. That part was easy but because of there being no air circulation the heat in the gate was overpowering.
We had to have a breather every Ten minutes because of the heat. At one such point Willie lit his safety lamp and held it up to the roof. The bluish tinged Yellow flame showed the presence of Methane. Willie reckoned that there was at least Seven percent gas in the atmosphere. Seven Percent is an explosive mixture. He warned me not to say anything to anyone about our escapade. I was more than a little glad to vacate the area.
We got the chariot loaded and made our return to the Sevens tailgate. I was instructed to lay them up to as near the face as possible and to hide any surplus rails at a spot he designated.
Rails were valuable. It was a common practice among pony drivers to go into other gates and steal rails, even to the extent of ripping up already laid rails.
The worse sin was to steal another's rails at the beginning of the gate rather the other face end. Although this did not happen on a regular basis, it did occasionally.
There was no honour among drivers where rails are concerned.
Some ponies can be very clever and experienced. If a tub was travelling too fast for a horses gallop, a clever horse will use its hind quarters to help slow down the tubs. It has been known for horses to kick their hind legs and uncouple the chain leading to the tubs. They then swerve to one side and allow the runaway tubs to carry on without them.
In one tail gate the roofing weight had lowered the roof so that for a few paces it was lower than the pony's hindquarters. A certain clever horse would walk or stumble forward on its front knees, the few steps to get under the low part. There seemed to be no end to the talents of an intelligent horse. I've actually seen them ride on conveyer belts with the driver. They can also can be incredibly dumb.
Although I did not witness it, I have got the story first hand:-
Archie B. used to drive Mousey. Archie was, the fore mentioned, Dick's younger brother and featured in the earlier trouser incident.
His pony, Mousey, was a young inexperienced headstrong horse. Whenever it could it would get the bit between its teeth and begin a headlong gallop. Whenever a pony gets the bit between its Teeth no amount of pulling on the reins will make it come to a stop. By pulling on the reins you are in fact pulling the pony's head. Its head is stronger than your arms.
Archie's horse Mousey was not a very clever horse, all it knew was how to run fast. Archie had lockered the tubs before progressing down the traveller. Mousey broke into a Four legged gallop. Half way down a wooden locker broke. Archie who was riding on a chariot at the back tried to place another locker in the wheels. He was unsuccessful they were going too fast and besides the side walls gave no room.
Mousey who must have realised that the tubs were running away. Instead of checking the tubs with its hind quarters, like most intelligent horses did, Mousey ran even faster to try and outpace the runaways.
Archie could see lights near the end of the traveller flashing side to side, a warning. He realised that there was a problem there. He could not stop his horse. To save himself, his only action was to jump off, which he did.
The obstruction was derailed tubs. Mousey ran headlong into the back of them. Other horses would have moved to one side of the tubs, there was plenty of room.
When Archie and other pony drivers reached the scene, the horse seemed unable to stand.
Management was informed of the horses accident.
The Area Vet was called. Archie describes running the past events over in his head and how he could have avoided it. He blamed himself for the horses injuries but no blame could rightly be brought to his door. He could not have foreseen the locker breakage nor that it would happened at a very narrow part of the roadway, making it impossible to insert another locker in the wheel.
He told me that Mousey was attempting to stand up and with his, and others help, the horse managed it. Archie was then left alone with his pony. The horse kept hobbling as though it was about to fall but miraculously it still remained upright. The pony was obviously in extreme pain. Archie examined the horses exterior for signs of injury and of the obvious small cuts none seemed to be life threatening. But most of the horses weight was on three legs, the right rear leg hanging a little. It obviously hurt Mousey to place weight on that leg.
All the time Archie was talking to his horse, trying to comfort it. He took out his snap tin and offered it a sandwich. Mousey showed no inclination to eat, normally it would have wolfed it down. He was aware that one does not give an injured person anything to eat in case that person has to be operated on. This of course would not apply to a pony. He tried to give it a drink of water, more to make himself appear to be doing something constructive. It drank a little.
After about half an hour one of the stablemen, Joe, came down the road with a pony pulling a flat-bed chariot with no sides. Archie was glad of the company. The stableman gave the pony a cursory examination and pronounced there was no hope for it. "It should be put down now," he said, "but I do not have the authority to dispose of the animal." Just then Mousey began to urinated, Archie remembers the urine was discoloured brown. The stableman said loudly, "that denotes internal bleeding. That horse does not have a cat in hells chance."
Archie remembers thinking how he wished that Joe would not talk like that in the presence of his horse. It just didn't seem right somehow.
The vet arrived Two hours later. He examined the horse and pronounced that it had broken a fetlock and had seriously damaged another. It was in great pain and could not be saved
From his equipment he extracted an air pressurised humane killer. The gun was placed to Mousey's Forehead and the trigger pulled. A bolt killed the horse instantly.
The flat-bed chariot had earlier been placed adjacent to the standing horse and most of the weighty carcass dropped on to it.
The Vet then produced a small shafted hammer and a set. Placing the set on the dead horses spine he hit it, with the hammer, with force. The horses back was broken.
The head and legs were then folded and roped up.
The horse, the stableman. had come down to the scene with, was hitched up and Archie was instructed to drive the chariot, containing the dead horse, to the pit bottom and out of the pit.
Archie distinctly remembers sitting on the dead, still warm, horse whilst talking to the animal. He recalls saying to the carcass, what a fool you, (the horse) had been. I tried my best to hold you back. I could not help the accident. How sorry he was. All of this and much more. He remembers tears streaming down his face and when no one was around, openly crying.
A very upsetting incident to all concerned. A pony becomes part of a young driver, it is an extension to himself.
The same pony driver, Archie, remembers travelling towards the pit bottom a little too early to finish. The Manager met him on the road that led to the stables. He flashed his light for him to stop. Archie did so.
When asked where he was going Archie replied, "To the stables. I've finished.".
The manager replied "Get thee self back down't road lad, there's Fifty years work of coal still down there. Go get some of it out."
Archie had to comply, turned his horse round and returned to his gate.
Another Pony story which I can confirm:
A horse was needed in the pit bottom, a place of work where height was at a maximum. The work required a horse of great strength. Any of the other ponies, although very strong, would have found the work too demanding. A large horse was especially ordered for the job.
Sam was a large Dapple Grey horse. By no stretch of the imagination could he be called a pony. He was much larger and seemed to have a more proud bearing. Sam was put to work in the pit bottom.
It became not unusually to see Sam pulling Twenty Tubs all in a line. Although this was not done all the time occasionally a strong horse, like Sam, was needed. Sam always rose to any task.
Sam worked for years in the present job. He was such a fine looking and friendly horse he was everyone's favourite. Lots of workers brought it carrots and other titbits.
One shift whilst Sam was working, a number of tubs 'ran away'. The runaways trapped Sam and it fell to the ground obviously badly injured.
The area vet was called. He arrived on the scene and diagnosed a seriously injured back. The horse could not be saved. It would have to humanely killed.
The stableman at that time was Alfred D. He loved his job, no, he loved his horses. He asked to be allowed to take Sam back to the stables and try to save him. The Vet told Alphie that he was on a loser but, reluctantly, gave his permission for Alphie to try. The vet prescribed a course of painkillers for the horse.
Alf, with others, manhandled Sam on to an open sided buggy and it was taken to the stables.
In the stables Alphie D. concocted a series of slings and harnesses to haul the horse to its feet. A further set of cradles were made. These, using old conveyer belting and ropes, were strung from the roof. The horse legs could just touch the floor but most its weight was supported by the cradle.
Many months elapsed before any sign of the horses recovery could be seen. Slowly but surely Sam was bought back to fitness. By the time the horse was ready for harness again he had to be re- 'broken in' (Trained) again. Sam had forgotten how to act on orders or pull tubs. With love and perseverance, within the year saw Sam pulling the same weight as before. Without question Alphie D. saved Sam's life.
An end tale to this last story was that when Middleton Pit became more modernised in 1968 Sam was made redundant. He was brought to the surface and sent to a Mine Pony's Welfare Home to live out its days.
Someone at the home decided that Sam was such a fine looking horse he could be 'shown' at galas and fairs. The horse went on to win many prizes and rosettes.
Sam's story was featured in the mining official newspaper, The Mining Gazette.
One week I asked Willie R. if owt was doing this coming Saturday Morning? The deputy said he could find something for me to do.
Descending the pit and handing my cheque to Willie he said that his Right Hand Gate pony driver rarely worked Saturdays and I was to take his place.
I went to the stables and as before my horse was Royal. Royal was one of the pits few 'Paint' ponies, in that he had more than one hair or coat colour. Most of the other horses were just a plain dark brown, one was a Mousy Grey. Royal was a rich Chestnut Brown with a large White blaze to his forehead. He was, like most of the other ponies, of Russian extraction. His forebears were originally bred on the Steppes of Russia. They were distinctive in being small but having great strength and a very hard mouth. Because of this hardness, other ponies, not Royal, could sometimes be uncontrollable. However hard one pulled on the reign, even if the bit was correctly positioned in the mouth, it would be almost impossible to stop them if they did not want to be stopped. Other ponies, when they were in the vicinity of each other would attempt to kick or bite the other horse.
Royal was different, I had learned from others that he was in a league of his own and almost docile in temperament. He didn't need a rein and would stop or go on command. He was considered by many to 'have a brain' and probably knew the job better than any driver. He was a much valued horse down Middleton Broom Colliery.
Progressing through all the rigmarole as on the previous occasion, harnessing him up and not being suprised at his roll in the dust, I hooked his halter to two tubs of wood props and a chariot of rings and urged the horse forward. We set out on our journey to Ebor 7s. Royal stopped without command at the top of the Traveller Drift to allow me to locker up the front tub wheels. Going fast down the drift was not as frightening as before but whilst doing it I was still a little apprehensive.
We reached the face uneventfully. The faceworkers were screaming for the pit props to be thrown on to the face conveyor, it transpired that I was a little late, in comparison with the regular driver. When my task was completed the corner man said that the deputy had left instructions that I return to the pit bottom and collect some 9 foot rings to be delivered to the Main Loader Gate. Leading my horse round to the front of the now empty train and hitching it to the front chariot, putting a single locker into a back tub wheel to check the train a little, we set out to travel down the slight decline, which is about 600 yards long. Suddenly and without warning my electric light went out. Royal was ordered to "whoa"
As previously described the cap lamp is the Lead Acid Battery type. I had never experienced a lamp failure before, the lamps are considered very efficient and hard wearing. First beginning to fiddle with the lamp and then the battery I found there was very little to be done.
There was I sat on a chariot, hitched to a pony, in the middle of a roadway, in complete darkness. As before said, few people have experienced the total absence of light that occurs down a pit. What do I do? My thoughts went back to the mine training instructor who advised that providing a person in darkness is not in a dangerous position then he should stay where he is and wait for a search party to come to his aid. Or, providing one knows the layout of the mine, follow the rails by touch until coming to a lighted area.
I was in no danger and in a few hours miners would be coming down the gate after filling off the coal.
Or there was another way I could consider, maybe my Pony, will walk on without light. I decided to give it a try. "Get up Royal." I commanded and the horse began pulling the load exactly at the same pace, it was as though the horse could see.
It felt very strange moving in total darkness. I began thinking my journey ahead. At the bottom of this gate the road yards there is a series of two Air doors.
Air doors, as described earlier, allow air to circulate efficiently round the mine. There are always at least two in tandem. When one door is opened the other has to remain closed.
What would Royal do when he reached these doors? Normally, if we were going in the right direction of an opening door, he would 'Trap' the door meaning he would nuzzle with head to push the doors open. We were going in the right direction but it could /not be expected that the horse would know where the air doors were when in complete darkness. He would, as likely, walk into the first door and stop. It would not hurt him, I reasoned, we were walking slowly and he was wearing a leather blinkered head cover. When Royal walked into the door and stopped I could then feel my way forward to open the door and lead my horse through.
I became aware of the chariots move round the rails at right angles and into a lesser current of air indicating that I had reached the bottom of the tail gate. We were now heading in the direction of the Air doors and my expecting that my horse would suddenly halt as he bumped into the first door.
I felt the movement of the horse check and slow somewhat and then heard the noise of Royal 'trapping' the door. He had not walked into it as had assumed, he was opening it. He could not possibly have seen the door but was acting as if he had all the light needed. The horse must have sensed our approach of the ventilation door.
Once we had passed through the first door I heard it self close and felt royal approach and trap the second one before passing through. We carried on at the same steady pace and after turning into the Main 7s Loader Gate in the far distance I could see the light from the Conveyer Loader End Station. We reached it successfully and I relayed my drama to the attendant.
The old collier, whose nickname was 'Yungun' looked to be well over Sixty but was probably more in the region of mid forties did not seem suprised by my experience but merely said. "Horses have a sixth sense with which we cannot even begin to understand. I’ve known horses refuse to go into some districts where miners have been killed in accidents. I remember one gallower I drove as a lad, and I'm going back Thirty years or more, refuse to pass slowly at a certain point. Always broke into a gallop well before it reached it. It would run past this here point and once past would resume to act as normal. I could never fathom it out. When I told the stable man about its antics he told me that a horse and driver had been killed at that point. The deaths had happened many years before my horse had ever been born but somehow my Gallower knew. Stranger things have happened and are still happening down a pit. Don't treat your horse like a fool, it isn't. It knows things you don't."
I thought it all a bit far fetched and exaggerated but my horse had just acted as though it could see in perfect darkness there was no getting away from that.
"Changing the subject, Yungun" I said, "I’ve often wondered why do they call you Yungun? that's not your Christian name is it?"
Yungun laughed out loud, "No my names Bill. When I were a lad I used to drink in the Madhouse, yer no the Market Tavern in Leeds. One time I was in there I'd had a few to drink and began taking the piss out of this old codger. He'll ave been about Sixty if he was a day. He was saying nowt to me back and I took that to mean he was scared shitless of me. The beer was talking and I was ribbing him unmercifully. The more I took the piss the more it must have been winding him up. I ended up calling him a silly old XXXX who wasn't fit to lace my boots. That was the last straw, he jumped up and gave me the hiding of my life. Me a young Twenty year old and him Sixty Plus, it should have been a no contest, well he laced my hide and really showed me in front of the regulars. 'That'll teach you to call me old,' the pensioner said, 'ave some respect to your elders.' It taught me a great lesson of life and from that day I’ve called every body 'Young un' so as not to cause offence. Young one see?"
I had a bit of a laugh at his tale.
Again I changed the subject. "I'm thinking of continuing my journey to the pit bottom without light. What do you think? can Royal handle it?"
"Oh your Gallower can handle it all right, that's not the problem but you should stay here until someone is going your way. In about an hour or so, the Shot firers will be going outbye, they will see to you."
I had One of Two choices, remain at the station for an hour, or continue my journey. For safety reasons I should choose the former but if I did that it would make me late getting my materials back and then late again getting out of the pit at the end of the shift. I was in a quandary but because I felt a little triumphant, a little exhilarated and also a little afraid during my last ride, I decided to carry on.
"No," I said to Young Un, I had found a new respect for the ponies sixth sense after my experience and Young Un's tales, "I’ve decided to carry on." The idea somewhat exited me a little. Young un tried to dissuade me but I was having none of it, I knew what I was doing.
Nothing untoward happened on my subsequent journey, reaching the pit bottom quite safely. I reported to John H. the area Deputy that I needed a fresh lamp sending down from the surface lamp room. I boasted to him of my experience in the darkness. After listening to me he gave me the bollocking of my life. I had risked the well being of my pony. What would have happened if another horse and load had been coming in the opposite direction? I would not have been able to signal my presence, my horse and the oncoming one could have been killed. I had to admit to myself that I had not thought of that eventuality.
According to John there were more Mining Regulations governing the welfare of a pit pony than there were for humans." Think of all the forms that I would have had to fill in." He moaned.
I realised now, at the first Loader End Station I had not thought my problem through. I should have considered all the eventualities and stayed safe where I was. My actions had been headstrongly foolish and completely wrong.
Wait a minute I studied, as John was berating me, at no time has he mentioned that I might have been injured as well. Does he think that the horse is more important than me? He had left me with the distinct impression that it was.
A fresh lamp was dispatched from the surface lamp room and my shift carried on as normal.
Another lesson of life learned, think twice before you act once.
TWENTY THREE THORPE HOTEL
No written account of my life could be complete without a chapter about the Thorpe Hotel.
From being Sixteen and a half I have looked old enough to pass as Eighteen and gain entrance into The Thorpe Hotel for a drink. Although very rarely did I go in midweek, most Friday and Saturday nights would be spent there either accompanied by pit mates or with Brenda.
The Thorpe was often nicknamed the 'Rattrap’ or just the 'Trap' because it was said that a rat had been caught in the ladies toilets. The true story really was that the local 'Wag', Eric M. had been ratting down at the local tip with his Jack Russell dog. For a laugh he had fetched a half dead rat back with him and placed it on the paper holder in the ladies toilet cubicle. Alice C. an older customer, went into the cubicle for a pee. She sat down and as she raised her eyes they became level with the rat. She fled the toilet with her knickers round her knees screaming that a rat had just tried to attack her. The rat may have moved, because it was still alive, but it was in no state to attack her. A good laugh was had by all.
The Rattrap was a large modern Two story building with the upper floor being the licencees living premice's. The landlords name was Charlie P. in his youth he had been a professional Rugby League player for Bradford Northern and been capped for England. He was considered by one and all to be a very 'hard 'man.
The ground floor consisted of a large 'Tap' room, a singing or best room and a small tap and bottle outsales room.
The inside of the Tap room was quite tastefully furnished by the standards of the day. There was real lino on the floor that now covered the original painted concrete. Just recently the back rest seats had been reupholstered in foam padding and a nylon covering material, replacing the horse hair stuffed furniture. There was proper curtaining up at the windows, instead of the late blackout curtains. All was quite up to date although the nicotine stained walls and ceiling could do with a lick of paint or failing that some soapy water and plenty of elbow grease.
In the centre were 3 Domino tables, each table had a strict unspoken pecking order of players who used them. The top table was reserved for the elite players. Us young uns we were never invited to play on that table we had to make do with the bottom one, or sometimes to make numbers up, the middle one.
One evening, early on in my Thorpe career, someone suggested getting a 'brag' school going. Up to that point I had never played Three Card Brag for money I had played, at home, for matchsticks but never seriously. I was invited to play. Soon
there was six seated players and a few onlookers.
For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the game of Three Card Brag, each player puts the stake or ante money, in this case sixpence, into the centre of the table and is then dealt with three cards face down. In turn, each player is allowed to look at them or remain blind. A player who has seen his cards must double the stake of a preceding player who has not seen his cards and is deemed to be bragging blind.
I was not very good at three card brag because I always tended to 'see' my cards early on and so at that stage would have to double the stake. If my cards were not too high then I would 'fold' rather than pay double. Sometimes I would have 'stacked' the winning hand because of my uncertainty. If on 'seeing' my cards and it was a reasonable hand I would happily pay double but then all the other players would 'know' I had a good hand. Unless I was to seriously gamble and brag blind I could not really
expect to win either way.
The game had been going about half an hour when someone suggested a 'back break' meaning suspend the game whilst some players went to the 'back'. (toilets) Not wanting to go, I remained in my seat.
At this point the earlier Eric M., who was also a cousin of mine and well respected in the Middleton area, said to me and around the table in general. "Jack you know that's a mugs game to play?"
"Yeah so they tell me Eric, but it passes the time." I replied. "Anyway I don't play for big stakes, I'm not that much of a gambler."
As I was answering him he had picked up the pack of cards and carried talking on about the evils of gambling. He placed the deck in the middle of the table and said to me. "Cut them."
I did so and he began to deal out four hands of three cards face down.
"Would you brag on that hand?" he enquired of me.
Without showing them to anyone else I looked at my cards. I had an Ace, King, Queen all of the same suit. A running flush. A very high hand indeed. I nodded in affirmation.
"Would you back that hand?" he said pushing one of the hands towards another man.
"I most certainly would" was the response.
The third hand received much the same reply from another man.
"How much would you each bet on your respective hands." He announced to us all.
I said. "Every penny I have and then I would start borrowing." and turned my hand over.
The second and third players said something similar as they turned over their hands. One producing a One Two Three and the other a prial of Fives. Very good hands in anybody’s eyes.
"Then you would all go home broke because I have the winning hand." and with that, for the first time even for him, he turned his cards over to reveal Three Three's the highest hand possible.
What he had just done seemed impossible at the time. All onlookers were amazed I now began to realise how Eric had won his esteem within the pub.
One time Ernie G. had been rabbiting with his ferrets. He usually brought his catch into the bar and sell the rabbits for upwards of half a crown and if he had been very successful give one or two to old age pensioners for free. Freshly caught rabbit was to most peoples taste and he had no trouble selling his catch, boozing most of the evening on the proceeds. His two ferrets were tied up in a cotton bag on the floor.
Eric M. had an idea. Winking to Ernie he picked up the bag and undid the string at the neck and stood up. He called out to everyone in the bar. "Can I have your attention please? I am now going to draw out the names for the coming Christmas domino handicap. I need a lady to pull out the first name. Mary, will you do me the honours?" and with that he offered the opened neck of the bag. She put her hand into the bag expecting to feel pieces of paper but as soon as she felt the warm furry wriggling animals she let out a howl of shock. She pulled her hand out very quickly but not fast enough to escape the teeth of one of the ferrets. As her hand came out so did a ferret still with it's teeth embedded in the fleshy part of her fingers. It was so funny everybody in the pub fell about laughing, everybody that is except Mary B. Eric hadn't planned, or wanted the ferret to bite Mary, all he wanted was to give her a shock and everyone else a laugh.
Eric being an old ferret man soon dislodged the ferret by gripping with his thumb and forefinger at either side of the animals mouth and squeezing. The ferret released it's grip. Eric apologised to Mary B. by buying her a double rum which he knew she was partial to, so from her point of view it was almost worth it.
On Saturday nights after the first hour or so in the tap room I would go into the Singing room which was quite large and nearly always packed. At the far end of the room there was a small raised stage with a piano and drums duo playing mostly the old time songs.
Lily Mac, Eric's older sister usually got up to sing. She was as beautiful as her voice and when made up was the spitting image of Elizabeth Taylor. Lily's favourite first song usually was:
"Heart of my heart I love that melody
Heart of my heart brings back a memory
When we were kids on the corner of the street
We were rough and ready guys
But oh how we could harmonise."
All the pub patrons would join in with her rendition of the song. Most could relate to a happy youth. When Lily finished all would applaud for an encore. She would not be let down until she had sung at least two more.
Other singers got up and sang current or one of the older songs. How Walter. the piano player, kept in exact time with the singers rather than the strict tempo of the music I don't know but he always did. Having said that, Walter never did have any music shown, could he read music? I doubted it we all assumed he played by ear.
Walters drummer accompanist was Plonker Bill. He seemed to drum out the same beat whatever the song, only going faster or slower as the case may be. I had always thought that he was nicknamed 'Plonker' because of his playing style, plonking along regardless. I soon revised this idea when I saw him stood up against the urinals one night I gave him a double take, he was hung like a babies arm that had an apple in it’s hand, a very large plonker had plonker Bill.
My mind goes back to one episode. I knew I had a good voice because I sounded good in the bath. I wanted the applause and adoration Lily Mac received from the customers of the Thorpe. My problem had been that I could hardly remember any songs words throughout. I decided to learn exactly by heart the top song of the 1956 'Rip it up' by Little Richard.
All that week I practised in the bath and when I was alone down the pit. I got the song off word perfect.
Saturday night came, I was to show them all how well I could sing. I rather fancied myself as a pop star with all them dolly bird swooning all over me. Getting up on the stage I told Walter that I wanted to sing 'Rip it up'. He replied he was not too sure of that one but to carry on he would follow me. I began to sing:-
"Well it's Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about money don't try to save
My heart says go go, go all the time
cos it's Saturday night and I feel fine
I'm going to rock it up..
gonna rip it up..
gonna break it up..
gonna shake it up..
gonna rock it up..
at the ball tonight."
I even managed a wiggle or two just like I'd seen Little Richard do on film at the Tivoli Picture House.
Normally in the Rattrap everybody gets at least an encouragement clap, most get an encore shout. Some times the applause may only be a polite one but applause they always got.
I finished my song and... Nothing. No clapping, no one was even looking at me. Everybody seemed to be talking amongst themselves. Had the microphone been on? Had I suddenly become invisible? I had even rehearsed another one being certain they would clamour for more. The hadn't nor didn't.
I got off the stage puzzled and rejoined my mates. None of them commented one way or the other and I could hardly ask for their praise.
I decided on another tack and went over to the table my mother and father were sitting at. My Ma always gave me encouragement whatever I did. I sat down beside her, expecting her to bring up the subject of my singing. She did not, she was busy talking to her sister. "How did you like my singing mam?" I interrupted.
"Okay." was the only one word reply. She carried on talking to my aunt. One word 'Okay' that's all my singing was worth. Was my ego squashed or was my ego flattened.
I promised myself there and then that was the end of my singing career and would never sing in public again. It was their loss not mine.
That same evening by half past Eleven most of the customers had left and as I got up to go I remarked to one of my mates that the night had been incident free, with no fights or disruptions. I had hardly got the words out of my mouth when in the far corner of the room two fellars began fighting egged on by their women folk.
From behind the bar came Charlie P., the landlord. He rushed up to the two fighters and without no more ado grabbed each by their coat collars at the scruff of their necks and crashed their heads together. He released the two men as they bounced apart and they fell to the floor poleaxed. It had all been done so quickly and efficiently that the incident was nipped in the bud. I had often seen scenes in cowboy films where the lawman does a somewhat similar act but this was real life.
Most evenings I went home the worse for wear because of drink often I would go to bed but as soon as my head hit the pillow I would realise my mistake. I should have stayed up a little longer and had some supper. The bed would start spinning and a deep seated ache would grip my groin. Why does the bed always start rotating when I’ve had some beer, I would moan to myself. I would only be able to stop the spinning by opening my eyes. But I don't want to open my eyes, I want to go to sleep. Eventually I would go to the toilet to be sick, it usually helped.
Adjacent to the Thorpe Hotel was piece of spare scrubland. In the centre, hidden from the road among bushes a space had been cleared. Because of regular use there was a large circle where no grass had been allowed to grow, a minor dust bowl. It was the venue for the pitch and toss school. Every Sunday afternoon around 2-15 when drinking hours were up many punters would congregate for an illegal game of chance. Before the start of the game a lookout would be posted near the main road. His job was to warn players of any oncoming Police Patrol. Every few months the Police would arrive on scene but because of the lookout the players would already have legged it across the open fields of East Ardsley. Although on few occasions punters had been caught and fined imposed at the Wakefield Magistrates Court.
On leaving the game most players would tip the lookout at least the price of a pint and winners, dependant on how much the had won, appreciably more. A dollar (5 shillings) or half a dollar was not unusual.
A game of pitch and toss consisted of any number of players, the more the merrier. They would congregate in a circle. A punter would step into the middle to declare himself the pitcher. He would balance two coins, usually pennies, on his index finger or a flat piece of wood. He may announce. "I'll head em for a dollar." or some such amount. The amount offered would be the maximum he would stake on any single bet. The other punters round the circle would decide if he could produce his forecast or not and bet accordingly. The pitcher would accept as many single bets against him as he could afford. Any person round the circle was free to engage in any bet, for any amount, from anyone, as they deemed fit.
When all bets were taken, the pitcher would toss the two coins high into the air and allow them to fall to the ground. If the coins turned up two heads or two tails all bets would be settled. If the coins came up a head and a tail then it was a 'no bet' The pitcher would toss again until a result was obtained. Small fortunes, well a lot of money for a working man, could be made or lost in a Sunday Dinner time session of 'Tossing'
Certain pitchers would practice for hours a home trying to perfect a method where they could throw coins to order. They were trying for an impossibility. To correctly toss the coins they had to be thrown above head height and spun. One time I was watching I saw a short man stooping low to the ground when about to toss the coins. Although strictly speaking the coins would travel above his head, they would have only a short fall to the ground. The first time he was about to toss the coins another punter came up behind him and kicked him up the backside. As he floundered in the dust the ribald comment was. "Get thee stood up and toss em properly or get out of middle." He did toss correctly for ever after that.
One time I arrived home for Sunday lunch at about 2-30 and my mother was preparing dinner, the smell emanating from the beef roast was, as always, mouth watering. The meal was set for 3-0 clock when my dad always arrived home on time.
Three O clock came and went, no father. "When did you last see your father?" My mother asked. The question reminded me of something, I couldn't remember what.
"He was still in the Rattrap when I left." I answered. " He was going to the tossing school with my Uncle Fred."
"But he always comes home on time even when he goes there." was my mothers response. "Anyhow we are waiting no longer come and get your dinner." We all sat down and ate in silence, dads dinner was put on a plate and confined to a low lit oven.
After dinner I went to watch TV in the sitting room. There was a repeat of a new astronomy series called the sky at night with Patrick Moore. As was usual I fell asleep in the chair.
I was awoken my mother saying to my father "What time do you call this? Your dinners been in the oven for nearly Two Hours. It will be burned to a cinder." I got up and went into the kitchen for a nosy. My father was covered in mud and grass stains. His suit jacket and a knee of his trousers were torn. His hands and face was grubby.
He began to explain his absence and appearance. "At the Pitch and Toss school the lookout shouted that the Police were on their way. We all scooped up our stake moneys and scarpered down the track that leads to the Little Wood. The coppers, who normally give up once we head down there kept chasing us all the way. As I was scrambling over the barbed wire fence at the bottom I tripped over it and ripped my suit. We all ran along the railway embankment that leads to the road down by the Ardsley station. Who was waiting there for us? the Police. Unknown to us they had been shepherding us into the only exit where they were waiting. Twelve of us were bungled into a Black Maria and taken to Wakefield Police Station where we were charged with illegal betting. I'm up in the Magistrates court tomorrow morning.
And I had been winning as well, I was in front almost Eight quid at the time."
It might not have seemed funny to my Ma and Da but I had to go up to my bedroom before I dare laugh out loud. His Eight Quid winnings would go towards his fine and a new suit.
Gadge, the window cleaner, and his brother Tommy were two other characters of the Rattrap. Their's was a most unusual brotherly relationship. One minute they would be as thick as thieves and inseparable, the next sworn bitter enemies. They played tricks on each other, often unmercifully. Sometimes the events went beyond the pale but whatever happened one day bore no resemblance to the day after, then all would be forgotten and forgiven.
For an example, one Friday Gadge had completed his weeks round of window cleaning and in the evening was doing his monetary collections. When he reached one long road where he 'did' most of the houses, the first housewife said "I’ve just paid your Tommy only Ten minutes ago." The next house he received much the same response. "I’ve paid your Tommy."
Tommy being skint at the time and knowing Gadges window cleaning round had decided to help himself to some beer money.
When Gadge caught up to his brother later that night in the Trap all hell broke loose and it looked as if murder was to be committed but resignedly Gadge had to calm down as there was no way he would get his money back, by now it had been splashed down the pubs urinal walls. The next night all was as before and the incident was never mentioned again maliciously, other than to have a good laugh.
Gadge was single, he boasted of the fact. "I'm going to be a bachelor like my dad." he would often announce. Although being single was not to say he didn't have an eye for the ladies. He often took out single, and sometimes not so single, ladies. When he was hard up and he did not have anyone better, he would fall back on Ginny. (Ginny is not the ladies true name) Ginny was a married women, somewhat older than Gadge, who's husband had left her some years previously.
One Sunday evening Gadge related to me an incident that had happened over that week-end, he explained:-
"On Saturday night after a session in the Trap, I took Ginny home. When we got to her house the sitting room light was off and only the kitchen one on. She said that it was more romantic in that light but I knew it was to hide the mucky house. She and I, without getting undressed, began to make love on the flock rug in front of the coal fire. Afterward in the early hours of this morning I made my way back home to my mams house.
When having today's Sunday dinner my mam remarked that I must have been drunk the night before.
Well I'd had a few but certainly was not drunk and told her so. Well my Ma wouldn't have it and said I must have been drunk because I had been falling over on my way home. I told her I remembered everything about the night before and I definitely had not fallen over. Anyway how did she know? even if I had.
With that she got up from the table and fetched my new Powder Blue trousers from my upstairs bedroom. She showed me two great big mucky stains on the knees. Explain them then? she says.
I couldn't tell her that the stains on the knees were not from falling down but from Ginny's mucky flock rug. I had to take the grief and say nowt."
Real characters of the Thorpe were Gadge and his brother Tommy and I still frequent their company to this day.
Jackie B. was another character of the Trap. He regularly brought his dog Hox, which was a beautiful White English Bull Terrier, into the tap room. The dog was a reputed fighter and would set about any other dog on Jackies command. Jackie on the other hand was also a fighter of repute. He would back himself, or his dog, with money, against all comers. He had fought many times over the years and no one could remember him ever getting beaten. His boast was that he would fight any man, if the price was right, or any dog bare handed. He frther boasted that he would back his dog against any other dog, or any man who dared. Up to that time no one had ever taken on the man against dog fight, but all knew Jackie was serious in his offer.
Hox was also quite famous around Middleton for it's fighting prowess. Although not exceptionally large Jackie said it had a fighting brain.
One time I was walking with my girlfriend, future wife Brenda, in Middleton Park when I heard a commotion near the lake. As we walked over I saw Jack’s dog Hox in a fight with another, much larger dog. Hox had managed to get the other dog by the throat and it was thrashing about wildly, efficiently Hox dragged the other dog into the lake shallows and when deep enough held the dog's mouth under the water. Hox from time to time released it's throat hold to snatch a breath of air but at the same time it was holding the other dog under the water with its paws. It then quickly grabbed it's original hold. The hapless dog drowned rather than being killed in a fight. The incident, Jackie often boasted, proved his dogs fighting brain.
Incidentally Jackie was barred from the singing room sine die, which I took to mean forever, because he had caused so much trouble in there. And at one time Charlie, the landlord had barred Hox from the Tap room for Six months for the same reason. Quite an anomaly that, for at one stage Jackie was barred from the singing room but not the tap room whilst his dog was barred from the tap room but not the singing room.