Mining Memories

Subject: Mining Memories by Geoff Brownsword

  'You are the men going down into the bowels of the Earth for coal'

Starting to work for the NCB IN 1966 at age 16 was quite exciting at the time because it was one of the better paid jobs £11 a week there abouts as an apprentice electrician.  So loaded up with new boots and helmet given to us at Kembal training centre at Heron Cross we were sent to our chosen colliery , mine was Chatterley Whitfield Colliery , where I started my underground training.  This consisted of working on the haulage under supervision , taking materials in mine tubs at the time to the coalface along the roadways .

 First time down the shaft can be scary as you heard different stories about ropes breaking and cages getting stuck , the usual stuff too make us even more nervous , we went down a old shaft called the Platt Pit this was an upcast shaft meaning that all the air circulated around all the miles of tunnels under ground came up through this shaft and was vented to the atmosphere by a huge fan that is sucking the air from the mine.  As you make your way through the airlock on the surface to get to the cage each air door needed to be opened by releasing the vacuum in between them by a small air flap so as to equal the pressure and as you went through each one your ears popped as not been used to it.  As we stood at the top of the shaft the rope began to move up slowly to show the chains holding the cage at 4 corners and the huge wooden lid like a cover off a huge vat lifted by the chains holding the cage , and so we entered the cage giving the banks man who is in charge of the signals our aluminium checks about 15 of us as it wasn't a big cage and then the gate dropped down behind us and this was it point of no return , down we went lowered down in the shaft looking at the bricked sides as we went deeper and deeper .

On arrival at pit bottom it looked like it was white washed and electric light bulbs giving a low level of lighting and a variety of different size pipes disappearing up the shaft with whirling and whooshing noises made by the stuff being pumped to the surface in them , we walked about 100 yards and then darkness apart from our lights as we walked down a steep gradient ( a down hill or uphill is called a dip in colliers terms ) this tunnel had been cut through solid rock and no supports were needed to hold the roof up , it was named as the Banbury back dip at the very bottom of this dip was another smaller roadway made from steel arched girders which were twisted and squashed under the pressure of the ground trying to close in and also the floor lifting , when the roadway gets too small it needs to be re dug this is called beating up if it's the floor or back ripping if it needs new arches , both these tasks are very hard work to do . Further in towards the coalfaces you can hear the ground settling over the arches as they take the weight of the ground and all the time you have this breeze blowing past you as the air is circulated around the mine and if you worked near the downcast shaft (where the air went down ) in winter it was bitterly cold with freezing air blowing past you . Conveyor belts ran along the main levels from the coal face to a loading point where tubs were waiting to be filled and sent to the surface ( a main level is the one which fresh air goes towards the coal face and is usually a bigger roadway than the return roadway which is at the top end of the coal face as most coal faces are sloped at various degrees . ) there are pipes with water in them , thick electric cables all fastened to the rings ( arches ) signal cables , haulage ropes (endless rope , continuous loop ) and if needed a main and tail rope for lowering down or pulling tubs up dips ( a rope with a end ) on all dips there would be a derrick ( acker local term ) a long girder fastened in the roof of the roadway and positioned in the middle of the rail track in case of a runner ( a tub breaking away ) this would derail it and side it over to stop it hitting anyone at the bottom of a dip ( I have witnessed a couple of these runners and can tell you it's nerve racking some miners have even been killed or maimed by runners ) To get on to the coal face from the main level you needed to go through a hole in the side of the roadway ( scrawl ) or if safe enough under the rip , the rip eventually becomes the roadway and the men who do this work are called rippers and the men who made new roadways leading to new coal faces to get ready for production would be called crutters . At the coal face the various noises and heat from the electric motors powering the machinery are continuous and the dust can be seen through the beam of your cap lamp , when you go further up the coal face and the chocks that support the roof after the coal has been mined are moved forward the goaf ( waste or gob ) crashes down to fill the space left with a feeling of hot air and dust ( this is frightening the first time you witness it ) .

Underground is like a small city with miles of roadways and it is divided into districts according to the qualities of the coal some of them were named  Brights , Ten Foot , Bullhurst , Moss , Cockshead , Holley Lane , Bowling Alley , Banbury , Great Row , Winghay , Kennal Row , and each one had it's own characteristics in the way it was mined .
 Will never forget the Mr J Carr's message to us as young lads and Quote ,   " You are the men going down into the bowels of the Earth for coal . "