Pits and footrills

Roy Chadwick

Like the previous article, this came from an interview in 1995. This time it was part of the Miners’ Project of the society. The aim is to record the experiences of those who worked in local pits and I would be pleased to hear from anyone who worked in the area - from Talke through Audley to Leycett, Chesterton or Silverdale - who is willing to be interviewed. Ian Bailey.

Again, as far as possible, the exact words have been used, though I have used brackets to link the extracts together.

Jamage and Rookery, 1940-50

(I started in the pit at) about 16 and half. It’d be 1940. There was no work about. I had several jobs, shop jobs, etc, brickworks (but the) brickworks closed down. It was called 'Almer Tileries, between Halmerend and Leycett, roughly. You know where the Minnie Pit is? Well you go past there and carry straight on. There's like a carthorse road, that led to fields and right at the end of there it was. And that closed down. I think I went from there to work on the surface at Jamage.

Jamage (had) already finished working when I was there. Well, I worked there about a couple of month, and they used to receive coal from Rookery Colliery and it went by long haulage. They'd got no screens at Rookery pit, so it went there to be screened, the coal did,

So when I was at Jamage pit couple o month, the war was on then, you see, and they said I'd got to go down the pit, work down the pit the next day. I wasn't very pleased with that but in them days you'd had no option, you had to do as you were told. You were mining the coal for the war production, I suppose.

(My job at Jamage was to work) on the dirt ruck. Cause you have dirt as well as coal coming out of a colliery. And the dirt used to go up the dirt ruck, about 20 (tubs) at a time on the haulage rope, straight up to the top of the dirt ruck and we used to go up with em, 2 of us, used to tip em over on their side up there, empty em and then just bring em back down again.

It was a job as far as we were concerned. It was a job and that was the be all and end all of it. You couldn't go in for apprenticeships because the war was on and there was no apprenticeships, there wasn't anything. Everything was geared up to the war effort and when we left school it was either the pit or the shops or making bricks or tiles. There was nothing else, so you didn't have a lot of choice.

You go and draw your lamp from the lamp shop or lamp office. They give you a brass check, said Bignall Hill Colliery on. You hand your check in to the lamp man, you have your lamp, and then when you come back up the pit again, you hand your lamp in and they give you your check back again. Anyway, they said, "Go with 'Arry, ee'll look after yer," so you'd got find out who Arry is, first of all, and down the pit you go. Then when you get down there, the officials were at the bottom of the pit, the fireman and shotfirers, and they searched you (to see that) you'd got no fags or matches on you, and they examined your lamp to see if it was safe to proceed into the workings. So you walked about, probably half a mile, to where the workings were. I was on the haulage. We had two steam engines, haulage engines, one was for bringing the empty tubs in off the main haulage to the top of the dip and then th'other steam engine was for letting the empties down the dip to the workings what were further down, to bring the empties down and draw the full ones up. And the full ones came to the point where we were and we coupled em all up to go out to the main haulage with the other steam engine. Tubs were coming in all the time and loads were going out all the time because this was the main haulage for the longwall face. (After five or six years I went on loading.)

A typical day

I think we started work at 7. In those days I think it was seven and half hour shift. We had a break of 20 minutes fer have your food. Used to take a bottle of water and some sandwiches down with you.

You walked along the main haulage, which was the only way, really. The main haulage had stopped, you see, because there was nothing going out or coming in before you started work. The night shift had gone home then. The main haulage used to take the roads out to the pit, to the bottom of the pit shaft.. There was two sections of rail, one ingoing and one outgoing, if you're with me.

There was 3 of us, 3 lads. Vic Johnson was one. Jack Condliffe was another one.

(We used to eat) there, where we were. There were certain signals on the bells, we had bells on the steam engines, see, ... one fer stop, two fer let down, three fer draw up, that type of thing. Three bells, you know, knocks on the bell. Well 6 was snapping time. I'll never forget that. (Laughs) (Knocking off), I think that was 8. Oh ah, I mean you couldn't go till them bells had sineded, you know. Talk about eating, what you had was what they called a snapping tin, a metal tin in the shape of a loaf and you put your sandwiches in there and the top half fitted over the bottom half, like so, with a handle on it, a metal handle. Going to work, you fastened that on your belt, if you wanted, or if you hadn't got pockets big enough to carry your tin in, snapping tin as they called. And of course you sat down when... you had 20 minutes have your snapping in. And then they started up again. Very monotonous, really. Repetition work, you know, but you kept busy so you didn't really notice.

And then you'd got a lamp on your head, you know, what you were working with. Your battery was fastened to your strap and you had a cable coming up your back. You wore a 'ard 'at with your lamp fastened on the front of the 'ard 'at.

You did have your problems, you did have loads coming off the railway lines, and you had to put them on again, best way you knew how - get your behind in em, lift with your arms.

Worst times (were) when summat ad gone wrong on the main haulage and you couldn't get y'empties and everything had to stop then because you'd got to hold. Then there's a row with the colliers on the coal face because they had what you'd call ... they called em stints or stents in those days. The fireman - or the official - used to mark out on the roof a chalk mark, I think it was about 14 yards at a time, which the man had to move. Each man to each stint, and you had to move that with a shovel.

(After work), well, you were tired. (laughs) You were too tired to do anything else, really. In any case there was not very much recreation to do. There was wireless at home. You went home and had a meal, then I think I used fall asleep. And then, of course, you either listened to the wireless, or if you'd got any money went pictures, or walking, round the roads.

Merryhill, Miles Green, 1950-6

I moved for more money. And I always tried to remain on day shift cause I didn't like noon shift and I didn't like night shift.

(I went) to Merryhill, which is ... Miles Green. You know where Peggy's Bank is? Worked under there. Rookery you went down in the shaft. At Merryhill you walked down, which is a footrill or they called em small mines to be posh, but we used call em footrills. About a dozen (people worked there).

You walked down to your workings, roughly 200 yards down. And that's the way your coal come up as well. In a footrill there's only one track or rails. And that's the way you walked down. Your haulage didn't start till the men were at work, of course, till they were sending the coal out. There was no machinery there. It was all hand work. It was old-fashioned way, really. It wasn't a very wide seam there, but the difference between the coal face there and the coal face in the pit, at Merryhill Colliery, the coal was straight up, like that, stood on its end or, not exactly straight up, more-or-less like that. They called it rearer coal.

I was a collier (at Merryhill).

(In the rearer coal) you have to drill a hole to put the powder in to put the detonator in the powder, to fire a shot which fetches your coal down. As you went up you had to climb on top of the dirt which had come from the fall in from earlier on. The coal's on its end, you see... This is working the dead old-fashioned road. God knows when that was invented, or how long it carried on cause you can't have it any more primitive that what this was. You didn't have any machine to make a hole in them days, a cutter, in that working. You just blasted your coal off as you wanted it, with powder . It was only about 4 foot wide, (there) wasn't room for two people.

(The quality of the coal was) very poor. The deeper down you go the better quality you get. I mean, our coal used to go to the power stations. That's where that sort of stuff used to go to, cause I believe they had, blowers or furnaces there to burn the coal.

(At the Rookery) it was a bit better than that, better quality than that, but Rookery wasn't like Brymbo or Hanley Deep Pit, wasn't as deep. But it was all right at Rookery. I'm going back to what, 1940-odd, it's very hard to judge, kind of thing, now, you know. Now at Rookery, besides the 4 foot seam we were working in, they'd got 10 foot seams of coal. It all went onto this main haulage.

(The Rookery pit) was dry where we were. Yes, dry. (But Merryhill,) that was wet. I was working with another bloke there, Harold Burgess, very tall chap he was, lived up Victoria Place, Craft as we called it. We had to have draped sheetings over the top of us where we worked, to run the water off. We were working in donkey jackets (and) at one time we were sending three donkey jackets a day up onto the surface fer dry. The water was just running off ... we used to have corrugated sheets fastened over us head and the water was running onto these corrugated sheets to run off the end a-front of where we were working. We tried to make it a-front of where we were so's it wouldn't run on us. (We) worked in waders. But then again, if it's on the damp side, or the coal's on the damp side, you don't get the dust. Therefore, when you've got a dusty or dry pit to work in, I suppose, you get danger of peumonicosis or, emphysemia or whatever. That's why I hope, thank God, that I'm all right, my lungs are all right.

(But) it was just a way of life. A stupid way of life, thinking about it now. You've got other facilities, now, other occupations, other this, other that. You only worked with a shovel and a pick and all that business. And when you were shovelling, working at Merryhill, when you're supposed to have a shovelful of coal, it was just running off because you (were) picking water up at th' same time. So, I dunno. When you think of it now, it's stupid, it's daft, it's ridiculous, but there you are.

Watermills Colliery (Price’s), 1956-68

A chap come after me and told me I was a fool for working where I was for less money when I could go there for more money. (That was) Harry Wild. He worked there. So I went up to Watermills for more money still, you know, and dry, better conditions, much better conditions. When I went to Watermills I worked on me own. You worked on your own for your own price.

There'd be, there was 3 or 4 on the surface, but down below you'd only got... oh bout 10 or 12, that was all. One man looked after his own heading. He was responsible for everything in that one heading. He did his own loading, his own haulage - no, no ropes, just taking the tubs in, putting your own rails down to take the tubs on. Except for when you bored holes for the fireman or official or to blast the coal off from the seam.

Roughly, well I used shift ten ton a day. I think they held either 8 cwt or 10 cwt a tub and I used to move 20, between 20 and 24 tubs a day. So that was roughly 10 ton a day or 12 ton a day, something like that. That was hard work. I wore many a shovel out. No tools provided. You had to buy your picks, your pick blades, your shovels - round nose shovel it was. They called it size 3s. The bigger shovel the more coal you get on, but there was only so much you could pick up at a time, on your shovel, 'cause of the weight. I know it used to look a damn big thing. (laughs) Them were heavy enough when they were new, but of course, as you worked em and used em they got thinner and lighter, and you were pleased for that, you know. You were sorry part with it in the end. Some of the shovels I used cut the nose off with a chisel when they got thin and bending up, and use about three quarters of the shovel, because it got that much lighter, to use.

I think it was about 1968 (when I left). I think it was because I had appendix operation and I was getting older and I'd never worked in any fresh air for many, many, years. So I said, "I'm coming out..."