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Canny lass I've tried, even offered to ghost write it I think! These are seriously must read posts, especially for us with no experience underground. Fascinating and captivating stuff.

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Hi folks,it's a real joy to have somebody appreciate my recollections,which are straight from brain to keyboard instantly, as i type, with not a second to think what to say,and not a word taken from any other source except my memories.

I'm so used to my family taking the mick good-naturedly,["here we go again....pitwork!...."],cos they have heard lots of my stories repeatedly when I have been talking to old Marra's in the street,and we get on reminiscing!

Only last week my Wife and me were in Blyth,shopping,and we bumped into "Six-o-clock-Geordie",one of my old Marra's from Bates Pit.

It's been quite a while since we have seen him,[my Wife knows a lot of my old Marra's],and in seconds,he was relating a story to us,reminding me of the time when we first drove the roadways down to the 3/4 seam,at a 1-in-4,and a 1-in-6 gradients,[two main proving roads],with water coming through the strata in sheets,not buckets,so bad you couldn't see through the torrents any more than about twenty yards.[miserably depressing working absolutely drenched and frozen,cos underground water is colder than seawater!!]

This time it was HE who had the chair,and every word he was telling my Wife,confirmed what she already knew from me.!

In some strange way,it is satisfying to me that other marra's tell tales of the pit like this,cos it bears out what I have told my family over the years.

It's also good for me,cos he was mentioning old marra's like "Scrapper",and "Fishy",and the "Womble",[now deceased,sadly.R.I.P. Stevie.]

Marra's who had lapsed from my memory,and were brought back again,after our natter about pit-work.

I started writing my life story,[for my Family only],about four years ago,and finished Book one,[from my earliest memories as a child].

Book two is in progress,and has been for the last two years or more,starting with my first days underground as a 15 year old laddie.

I can only write with my pen for a little while,and have to put it to one side,for months in between sometimes.

I have never had to sit and think what to write,it just flows out like water from the tap!!

At least if I never get it finished,for any reason,then there's a few recollections to be had on here[don't know for how long,mind!!]

Some nights I say I am gonna write a few chapters,then I switch on here,then it's domino!!....the hours fly by when you type as slow as me!!

Mind,I write like I talk,or I should have said,...I TALK like I write!!...your ears would be ringing if I ever bump into you in the street!

At least I like to be sociable...not a bad thing methinks!

Cheers Folks!,and thanks again!

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HPW, I love reading (& deciphering) what you contribute on this site. It is fascinating. You should get someone to sit with you with a digital recorder, while you ramble on. Then, that person (a trusted writer) could go away and structure your life story; even in pitmatic. I'd buy your book, nee bother.

Edited by Ovalteeny
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Heh heh!!

Many thenks folks!

It's amazing hoo many o' me aad Marra's from thi pits a worked in,have said thi syem thing!....and THEY worked with me in the same conditions,at thi syem time,in thi 1960's- till thi pits aal closed.

Sum of the unlikeliest of lads have said.."aal buy ya byeuk Wilma,a expect aam in it mind!..."!

Ye knaa,a canna mind wat a did yistidi,or wat thi weather was like,a hae ti ask wor lass,but reminiscing is like rewinding a videotape and replaying it!

Aav got one gud aad Marra,who once listened ti me recalling a story aboot a car a once had ,yeors ago,[mind this was in thi 1970's],amang aal thi lads,while we were gettin wor baits.

When a finished me story,he said,"Wilma..yi divven't tell lees"

A sed "hoos that like?...[indignantly...cos a DIVVENT tell lees!]

He sed "yi telt me that syem story two yeors ago,word for word,and if yi telt lees,it wudda been different in places,cos yi gotta hae a gud memory ti tell lees,and ye hev an atrocious memory!!!!"

We aal had a gud laff cos Bill is such a character,and HE figures a lot,in my recollections,but a havn't gettn that far in me byeuk,yit!

Hopefully a will.

Proplem is,naebody wud publish it,cos a wadn't have it edited,not one word,a wud want it published EXACTLY as it is written!!

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Ovalteeny,nivvor struggle,or gaan ti other sources,while deciphering,aalwis ask me aan aal oblige!!

A dinna gaan on deliberately,a just write like a taak!......."[...........aye.....wi knaa Dad......non-stop....!!....[[sarky young bugga's]]..!"]

Wat aa waant ti knaa is,wheor's aal thi otha aad pitmen?

The Lone Ranger used ti cum on,but he canna remember me as a laddie working wi him,in 1960,at Choppington High Pit!

Sadly,a load of me aad Marra's have passed away,some at an early age,and that's why Aa believe in keeping wor heritage alive

if a can,cos not many pitmen left,from the early days of hand-filling and coal-cutting etc,are still able ti remember those days.

Doon the Wansbeck riverside yistidi,me Wife and Me were taaking ti a lovely old fella,he will be 90years old next week,but looked aboot my age!!

He started Ashington pit,many many years ago,a think before WW2,then went into the forces during thi war,then started back doon the pit after thi war ended.

He told me he was "a Pan-puller" on the longwall faces,with a chain face conveyor belt.

When a  sed ti him he wud be using thi aad-fashioned finger-nipper....thi "Sylvester"[pulling device with a toothed sword,and a ratchet-block assembly],he looked blankly at me,didn't knaa wat a was on aboot,yet he remembered thi actual job itself!

Thi mind is a strange thing..!!

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came into this thread a bit late and this might be a bit off the main line of it - but ....  afore nationalisation, when all the private mining companies were about - I knew an old dear that worked in the offices of one of them from the age of 14. she told me that the surveyors had two sets of mine plans. the official set and the 'other set', as all the private companies were robbing the seams of their neighbours!!! - made me wonder how accurate the plans are????

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Pilgrim!

                Soonds aboot reet ti me,cos even in the latter years before they aal closed doon,Bedlington A Pit [thi "aad"pit],worked up towards the Bedlington Doctor Pit,[ the "D" pit],and took coal oot wat the Doctor pit left.Similarly,the Aad pit also tuk oot coal from the Bomarsund pit...[wat we caaled the "Boomar Road"....."BURMA ROAD"....get it?....from WW2] .

Noo that was in thi 1960's late on,when thi Aad pit was scratching aroond for coal ti survive.

Not long before Bates pit closed,in 1986,they drove a road across ti Newbiggin,caaled the "Newbiggin Drift",which was an inclined roadway rising from the Plessey Seam up  ti thi Brass Thill,if me memory serves me correct,but apologise if aav got the seam names wrang,[a think aam reet like!].

They got a fair whack of coal from Newbiggin,so this aal begs a question!!

Why were aal these pits shut doon,in the 1960's,when they still had coal ti get?[and this was a Labour Government,not Tory buggers!]

A knaa it wasn't "Stealing" coal,as in your comments,but it might as well have been,and we were probably owa the boundaries even when the other pits were still open,like Choppington High Pit did,except up there ,we were risking being hit on the head by turnips,and tripping owa rabbits!

Some funny things went on in the planner's offices methinks!

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Gotta keep things reet here!

A divvent mean the Planners at the pit's, Aam referring ti "High-up" Planning Dept,Teems Valley and higher...they were the culprits.

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Taakin aboot Planner's,we wudda been absoloutley lost withoot them underground!

A taak aboot driving a drift from one seam ti anotha like it was an everyday thing.......!

The strata is solid....no indications of where yi are.

The Planners and Linesmen used ti cum doon and paint a white guide line on the roof,in a level road,and a side line as well as a roof line,on an inclined,[or an anti-clined road...gaan doonwards that is!].

They used to hang two strings aboot 6ft apart,from the roof centre line,and sight through them to see another string maybe 50 yards away,where the

line would be extended up to.,as near to the Caunch[ripping-lip],as possible.

That's aal we had,ti guide us when we were blasting oot the strata to drive new roadways.

Sum clever geometry was used when we had drive a bend in the road.....like they wud give yi the first six feet of painted line,at the planned angle from the straight,90 degrees from the main roadway.[maybe 35 degrees to the left..E.G.]

Ye had ti visualise that line as a Chord..[ a line striking through part of a circle but not going through the centre of the circle..]

Ya first arched girder wud be on centre,the second one wud be ,say, 6inches to the right of centre,[on a left-hand curve],with the left side of the girder

spaced,and fixed with struts,about 2feet from the first one,while the right side of the second arch wud be three feet from the first one.

The next maybe, 10 or fifteen ,arches wud follow this pattern,but each successive arch wud be further to the right of the Chord line,by fixed amounts,

say,No 3 arch=9" to  the right of the line,No 4=12" to right ,No 5 = 15" to right,and so on,until you reached the half-way point in the curve,as shown in the Draughtsman's plan,which you had posted up at the entrance to the new roadway.

By now you could actually walk around this section of the curve..even though it was queer seeing your driving line move over to the side of the new road when you normally strive to keep it in the centre..!

Once you reached the half-way point,you reversed the procedure,by setting the arches over to the left by the same increments,until you start strutting the arches equally at each side,and driving straight ahead once more.

At this stage,you have a graceful curve in the roadway,totally unnoticed,and unappreciated by all and sundry,who walked around it,cos it was just another stinking wet road in a stinking wet hole caaled a Pit....!!!!

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HPW - I had no idea that there was that much 'planning' for access below ground;  I always assumed that the shaft was sunk, then the seams were dug out creating all the passageways/roads, etc. - sort of all radiating out from the bottom of the shaft.


I liked the description of the hanging bits of string used to navigate ... a variation of the Roman '3 stick' method of keeping their roads straight.

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Hi Sym!

           The two strings from the previous visit by the "Linesmen",[the lads who came down the pit from the planning office],would originally have been

at the entrance to a new drivage,whether roadway,or coalface.

"Look through two,to see three",was the saying about dropping strings to sight through.

Each string hung onto the girders,[or wood timbers],on the centre line,with a small stone tied to the string to keep it taut.

The third[new] string would be held on the tip of the Linesmen's thumb,and held against the estimated centre of the newest supports which had just been put in,with a lighted safety lamp,["GLENNIE"]tied to the string.

The Linesman who was sighting through,would ask us all to "Scone our lamps"[put our electric caplamps out],and HE would take his caplamp from his pit helmet,and hold it at waist level,whilst shining it sort of up the two strings,to highlight them.

His Marra would hold the new string and "Glennie",up to the roof,so the Sighter could see the small oil-lamp flame as a bright spot.,this would be as near to the dead-end of the workings as possible,usually on the last girder erected.

When the sighter could see the flame,maybe 50 yds away,he would signal to his marra to move the glennie string,either left,or right,till it was spot onto the centre,so he could "see three" strings.

His marra would put a mark on the new girder to indicate the centre,then he would put a centre-pop into the strata using a hand held rawl- drill and hammer.

As we advanced the roadway,we sometimes put our own new lines on,in the abscence of the linesmen.

It was more interesting setting girders to a gradient,such as drifting up to a new seam,at maybe 1-in-4, or even 1- in 2 !![nearly vertical!!]

Another story,another time......doggy needs walkies!!

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It's Amazing isn't it, Maggie. When I've thought about coal-mining I've never given a thought to anything other than taking the coal from underground to the Surface. The whys and wherefores of how they got to the coal in the first Place or the logistics of getting people and coal in and out have never entered my head until HPW started sharing his experience and knowledge with us. Coal mining chould be a science in it's own right! Keep posting HPW!

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Canny wrote: "Coal mining chould be a science in it's own right!"


It was (is). In the 60s Newcastle University had a Mining Engineering Faculty (I don't know if they still do) ... I had considered sticking it on my UCAS form back then but decided to go the London instead.

Edited by Symptoms
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Hi folks,one thing I must add,the strings were used AFTER the Surveyors initially struck off a new drivage with the Theodolite and measuring bar.

That's the small precision optical instrument mounted on a tripod,like a little telescope,that you see on new building sites,roads etc.

On the surface,the surveyor levelled up his instrument using the built-in spirit-level,and created a datum line above the ground to work from.Down a mine,the surveyor hung a plumb bob from a metal plug which he drilled into the roof,and fixed securely.

The point on the plumb bob was centred exactly over the centre mark on the Theodolite.

All of this would be happening at specified intervals as the roadway advanced,[between using the strings described above],and every time a roadway had to change direction.

What always intrigued me was the fact that,starting from the exact centre of the mineshaft,the surveyors created an imaginary datum line,which was 60 feet above the MEAN sea-level,and every measurement and calculation of projected developments,whether a rise or dip in the workings was planned,etc,was taken from the datum line.

These lads had to have a bit up-aheight......if ye knaa wat a mean!![in the brains dept.]

Noo when we started to drive a "Drift",[inclined or anti-clined roadway,]the surveyors would put our centre overhead line on the girders,AND the roof strata...in case girders were crushed and moved off-line through sheer pressure.

They also painted a side "grade" line,which was usually about four feet from the base of the first installed girders.

If you visualise each arched girder being set 4 feet from the last one,held by steel locking struts,and also wood struts ,the girder set to the centre line,

then also set up,[or down,as the case may be],by the amount required to maintain a distance of 4 feet from the grade line to the foot of the arch,you can see how the road would take shape and start to follow the intended grade of the road.

When a roadway was intended to "Hole" into another seam,far above where you started,like we did at Bates,when we drove from the 3/4 seam up to the Beaumont seam,the surveyors would strike a mark,on the actual face of the drivage,about three feet from the floor,and in the centre,then the Borers would come in with special drilling gear,set their drill unit up,and bore a hole,about 4" diameter,exactly matching the grade we were following.

This was done when we were maybe 20 or 30 yards away from the "Holing-in " point.

The idea was that we would drill our holes, [sometimes 50 or more],all at the same angle,ensuring that each time we blasted out the strata,the bore-hole would be our guide,as to whether we had drifted slightly off-line one way or another...we kept the bore-hole the set distance from the ground level,and in the centre.

It's simple doing things on the surface when you can see what you are doing clearly,in sunshine,but when you are lliterally driving through solid strata,you are virtually blind,and these lines and guide bore-holes were our only means of keeping on an even keel!

Most drifts were usually about 1-in-6,or 1-in-4,which is pretty steep,but the one I mentioned before,at Bates,was 1-in-2.....now That was almost vertical!!

No concrete steps down there!....just water teeming in and running down the roadway,over rough-shot out stony ground.

We had a hemp rope tied to the girders at the side,to pull yourself up on,while you were carrying a 50lb [25kgs] box of Polar Ajax,explosive,[33% nitro-glycerine!],compressed air drillers and air hoses,girders etc!!

Your cap-lamp and battery weighed 9lb,self-rescuer [bean-can],about 5lb,helmet,boots,and the amount of water it takes to soak you through to the skin,[at 9lb per gallon!]....all added up to a fair bit of weight!

No wonder we were all strong as oxes,and are now all buggered in our old age.....the human body wasn't designed to take the punishment ours took.

Working soaking wet all day means it doesn't matter how hard you worked,you were cold as hell,and muscles shouldn't be worked when cold....footballers don't just run from the bench onto the pitch..do they?

Well,I just looked at the kitchen clock.....2-0am....again!!

Gotta go folks....nite nite!!

Just thought,try and figure out why we also had a short length of string,a minaiture spirit-level,which hung on the taut string,and a piece of white chalk!!

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Many thanks for your kind comments,Canny Lass and Maggie!

I'm pleased you don't find my ramblings boring.

You will get a clearer picture of what I am trying to explain,if you visit my Bates Pit Photostream on "Flickr"[unless you already have!]

If you study the Photo of "10's Tailgate",that was my last place of work,at Bates Pit,before it closed.

The roadway is a dead-end,until we drilled about 50-60 9-foot-long holes into the strata,[on the level this one].

The holes we drilled,were placed in a definite pattern,over the whole face of the strata,the pattern being termed a "Wedge Cut".

Sometimes we used a different pattern called a "Burn-Cut",but that was used in a solid stone drivage,in the abscence of a coal seam,such as "Drifting".

If you google these mining terms,you will probably find diagrams explaining them clearer.

These patterns were used,to gain the most effective "Pull",or advance of the drivage,by blasting out the most efficient way possible.

It would be useless drilling all the holes,9  feet deep,and all parallel,cos the explosives would be fighting against each other,so we drilled the centre part of the "Face",in a wedge shaped pattern,with each pair of holes gradually going away from a wedge to being straight forward,and by the time we drilled the holes at the sides of the face,they would actually be pointing outwards slightly,to make clearance for the arched girder legs to fit in.

It's hard to believe that this method was used in the old days,and we were still using them till the day we were ordered to "Switch off and pull out",by thatcher..,yet,at the same pit,at the same time precisely,in the Plessey seam,two long-standing drivages were being done using the most up-to-date

"Dosco Roadheader" machines,which were about 30 feet long massively powered,with a huge boom on the end and a cone-shaped revolving cutting head,which could sink straight into the hardest of strata,and chew it,and spit it onto a chain conveyor belt,in pieces like the size of small pebbles!

Now when we pulled out,in the Three-quarter seam,we left our ancient windy drillers,and mechanical shovels,when the lads in the Plessey seam pulled out,they left TWO DOSCO ROAD-HEADERS WHICH COST OVER THIRTY MILLION POUNDS EACH!

They got paid much much much...more than we did,cos they had a higher advance rate....stands to reason!!

We'll leave that alone,and keep the entertainment light eh?!

Noo,hoo did a get on aboot aal that?.........!!

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HPW's note about crocked carcasses of old miners reminds me that you used to see loads of old fellas squatting on their haunches (usually with a snout cupped in the hand) maybe whilst waiting at a bus stop or hanging around waiting for the pubs to open.  It was suggested to me that these old blokes had worked a lifetime underground generally in a squatting position (low headroom perhaps) and their bodies were used to the position so, what might  have looked uncomfortable/unnatural to me was a preferred position for them.

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