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Merlin

Mining Stories

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Hi everyone, I've recently been doing some voluntary work at Woodhorn Colliery Museum, as an ex miner I thought it would be good to get involved and help out. Well as thing's went invariably the talk came round to mining and my experiences underground, about the use of canaries, ponies and what the pit lamp (Glennie) was used for down the mine. Some of my experiences were funny some were sad and some downright bluddy dangerous! I don't care what anybody else says working down the pit was damn hard work and damn dangerous!

The point is they were impressed with my knowledge and experiences down t' pit, they have asked me to do some audio tapes for educational purposes. Tapes about, like what canaries were actually used for, they knew about their use for detecting gas but not actually how it worked!

Being a mining community they want to preserve stories and experiences so that they are not taken to the grave and lost forever. They want to remind younger generations of what it was actually like in the mines.

So people are you an ex miner were your parents or grandparents involved in the mines? More importantly do you remember any of the stories they used to tell you, or do you have your own to tell about anything and everything about the mines and their community. Funny or sad. Factual and slightly enhanced versions.

Thanks people.

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Hi Merlin,I left the mines in 1987,after nearly thirty years underground.

In 1991,I was getting small jobs over at the council depot at Stakeford,relief work etc.

One day,the Supervisor,called me in,and two other lads,and said to take the wagon ,with shovels body suits [paper ones],brushes etc,and go over to Woodhorn Colliery Winderhouse.

Our task was to clean out the winderhouse,top to bottom......what a task!

We filled seven huge skips in the first week,with pidgeon droppings,which were a foot thick on every surface,dead rats,dead cats,massive pidgeon's nests,bigger than me!,oh,and loads of dead pidgeons,and their eggs...rotten when they got broke...!!

When i asked the Supervisor,why we were doing this,he explained that it was going to be a Museum.

Later on,we cleaned the other winderhouse out,and actually Pledge-polished every painted surface till it smelt like wor sitting-room after a gud clean-oot!

When John,the [then] Warden,showed me the function room upstairs,with all the silverware on the long Wedding table...i couldn't believe it!

THIS was a stinking pig-cree of a place,last time i saw it,and now it would match any big hotel for splendour!!

Haven't been for years,but i understand that the pictures i took down Bates Pit,in 1986,before it closed,are on the computer over there,for all to see.[High Pit Wilma's photo's]

People i have spoken to,thought that the canary dropped dead,so you had to get out,cos there was gas....!

I had to tell them that you needed your canary,for your safety,if you were a rescue worker,and you couldn't carry an aviary on your back[!!],so you watched your bird like a hawk,[pun!],and when he started to twitter or squawk excitedly,in the presence of gas,or oxygen depletion,it's time you got out,and tried to improve the ventilation,to disperse the gas,and bring fresh air in.

After an explosion or fire,Carbon Monoxide is the greatest danger you face,as it has an affinity for the Haemoglobin of the blood,which is 300 times greater than that of Oxygen,making it a very dangerous

gas to encounter.

I could,and would love to be a helper over at Woodhorn,Merlin,cos I taak like I write!,but I care for my disabled Wife 24/7,so it's out of the question.

When I get wound up on here,I don't know when to stop!!!

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Hmm.....Merlin....21 aug 2010,.......Me,....14th Nov. 2013,.....methinks interest on History Hollow is waning faster than the moon......

Seems to be that no-one is interested in our mining heritage,Merlin!

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People are Interested Bill but they just don't comment as they don't know what to say, I for one Love your stories, also because your an ex work mate of my dads.

Did not know you were involved in Cleaning up woodhorn, shame they have moved more to a normal museum now then a mining museum.

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My parents had a friend Dot Stewart whose father was an overman or supervisor at Woodhorn probably in the 1920s.

They moved to Whitley Bay so this Lady came back to Bedlington to camp somewhere above Humford.

She had gone to Morpeth Grammer School with Ellen Mitchell and Lillian Graham.

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The heritage and history hollow could be for our children's children HPW,

Often I have put things in the secure part of this sight because I feel names could be sensitive.

However even there people will do research and pick up on our heritage.

The mining stories are a huge part of our life here in Bedlington.

Please please keep writing anything down that you think is relevant.

It will be more valuable for future generations.

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Adam wrote: " .... shame they have moved more to a normal museum now then a mining museum."

 

Most 'specialised' museums have, maybe in the last ten years, converted into theme parks;  it is a form of dumbing-down.  I lived in London for 40 years and visited most of the museums early on, and, in later years revisited them.  I was disappointed to find that they had become interactive, themed entertainment venues.  Gone were the masses of exhibits complete with their labels .. .these allowed close study to get at and understand the subject.  The biggest offender is the Science Museum, a glorious place full of real science, now it's just like walking around Disney World.  Horrible, horrible, horrible!

Edited by Symptoms

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Same thing ower here as weel, The Franklin Institute

 in Philadelphia was a wonderful science museum but now is just like Disney world

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The Hancock Museum is now the Great North Museum.

Interactive with less to see and lots to go wrong.

Basically things just stop working.

Then there is the Centre for Life!

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It's the Laing Art Gallery with me. Once they used to have good exhibits on show from Rembrandt to Heath Robinson. The last time I was there they had a Minimalist exhibit - it was half-a-dozen girders painted red. Poor show. The best artwork there was the two stained glass angels in the cafe!

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In the Laing it has to be the John Martin paintings.

They have been my favourite since first working in Newcastle in the 60s.

Biblical over the top and brilliant.

The exhibition the other year that travelled the country was great.

Hollywood came calling to our very own Mad Martin.

Check out his work.

If you have not seen any if his pictures remember that they have inspired a lot of the blockbusters.

Watch 2012 the film.

This is all of subject!

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I always associate the Laing with Holman Hunt's Isabella and her pot of Basil. I like some of the Pre-Raphaelite stuff, especially Waterhouse's works - Hylas and the Nymphs. I once saw Coley-Burn Jones' Pygmalion and Galatea...well I did once the crowds parted. The four paintings were magnificent. But I've never been to the Laing for over a year now. I wouldn't mind seeing an exhibit of Casper David Friedrich's works; so haunting.

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Still off subject but the Laing is always worth a visit.

Some of their interactive exhibits are great.

They are good with kids, allowing them access and play activities.

Isabella and the pot of Basil is a poem by Keats.

Worth a read and I think the picture we have in the Laing is brilliant.

There used to be a great vegetarian restaurant called Supernatural nearby, the small salad was a meal in itself!

Mining stories to museums to art galleries luckily we have a search option for any new visitors to the site.

Spoaching necessary.

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Many thanks for your kind comments and support,folks,a hevn't been ti hancocks for years,last time a was there was ti tek an exibit which a found in a strange place!.....naa,aav been since then,wi another exibit from a different strange place!!

The first exibit story...

Place? Bedlington A pit...High Main Seam...time: approx. 9-0pm one night in night shift,starting at 5-0pm....date: mid  1960's.

We were sitting having our baits,my marra's and me,and as i finished my bait,i  rested my arms over bent knees,and put my head down on my arms,closing my tired eyes for a few minutes.[not sleeping..against the law..sackable offence...just resting tired eyes.]

I felt an irritating urge to scratch at my leg over my pit pants....

This happened a few times,and cursing to myself,i looked to see what was making me itch.........

The biggest black cockroach you ever saw was crawling up my leg!

I said to the old-timer sitting next to me to look here....he nearly jumped out of his skin,and thumped my leg,trying to kill it.

I cursed at him,as miners did in them days,and picked the roach up,and put him in my pocket-watch tin,[smiths pocket watch was standard pit watch in those days]

My intention was to take it to the Hancock Museum,cos you didn't get cockroaches doon the pit,mice...yes...but not roaches. 

Well,i totally forgot about him and it was three days later that I actually went to the Hancock.

The curator took one look,and said  it was a middle-eastern species,as the "feathers" [stunted wings]on his rear-end were shorter than our native species.

He asked where I found it,and when I told him it was about three miles inbye in a high coal seam,dusty dry,he wasn't surprised,and explained as the roach was most likely transported,in lava form,in the pit props,that came from abroad,usually from Norway and Scandinavia,but from other places in times of problems with shipping,rough seas etc.

It probably hatched from lava stage in the warmth of the district where I was working,cos mind,it WAS warm![unlike the Three-Quarter seam at Bates Pit!]

So I asked how was it still alive,after being kept in a small airtight tin,in my pit clothes pocket,for three days?

He told me that if I had left it in the tin for a fortnight,it would still have survived ,such was the resilience of these creatures,which survived the ice-age!

He said he would mount it and put it on display,with the story of where it was found,and he did just that,cos I checked it out a week or two later.

A year or two later,same thing exactly,co-incidentally,bait-time,but now it was in the Beaumont seam at Bates pit,around 1971-ish.

In the Tail-gate,[return airway...and very humid and warm],the timber laddies had just brought a set of trams and tubs,with timber and other supplies for the coalface.

They no sooner cast the set [unloaded] when the lads off the coalface,and me,were being dive-bombed by huge flying insects.

When one lad killed one,we saw it was a giant wood-wasp,but I knew that this wasn't a native  tree wasp,by it's sheer size!

I told the lads to "scone" their lights,[switch off],and wait till the insects landed,as they navigate using light rays to guide their flight path.

They did this,waiting five minutes till the buzzing stopped,and switched back on their headlamps.

This time they were ready for the onslaught,with swatters in hand,and as the bees lifted they were all killed,which me,being a nature boy,was very sad about,but couldn't do much about it.

The rest of the story is a carbon copy of the first one.....Hancocks...related story to Curator....got mounted,nice letters on both exibits,from the tech team at the museum,explaining all about them,their origin,etc.

The bee was a far-eastern species,again in timber in lava stage,and twice the size of our native tree wasp...very intimidating to be attacked by a dozen of these little beasties,but fascinating to find out how they drill a hole an inch deep,into hard wood,lay their eggs,and fill the hole with beeswax!

Last part was at Ashington pit,in 1986,My Marra and Me were sent into a VERY  old roadway,to see if we could recover a small hauler winch.

Problem?.....NO rails laid,and NOmeans of transporting anything in or out of this mile-long road.

Nobody had set foot in this old roadway for years,we were told,and as soon as we entered into it....we knew this to true!

Again,it was a return airway,VERY,VERY,hot,and humid.

Every girder in the roadway had huge balls of fungus,of all colours,hanging...ghostily from them,gently moving in the very slight air movement.

We had only walked inbye a few yards,when every step we took,something dropped from the roof above our heads,hitting our helmets with a light thud.

Naturally thinking it was small bits of stone,which was usual,we looked up together,and were stunned by the sight that greeted us both!

HUGE,and mind,I mean HUUUGGGE......red centipedes,five times bigger than the garden ones,were crawling all over the whole of the roadway,up the girders ,across the roof area and all over the floor.....just like hoards of ants do....obviously disturbed by our caplamps.

These creatures had been living and breeding in this black hole for years without interference from man.

It was a hell of a task just getting inbye to where we wanted to be!They occupied the whole of that road,throughout its length!

We knew that the rest of the pit was infested by millions of woodlice,another unusual creature underground,and they were in droves,under every bit uf stone or timber you shifted!...in every district,but these centipedes took the biscuit!

Mind,they were gorgeous to see,great big wide bodies,huge legs,and massive antennae,but it never struck me to bring one out for the museum...

maybe cos thatcher the hatcheter was at the forefront of all the miner's minds,after the strike,and we knew this pit was next...and it was...a few months later.

Sorry to go on a bit....again!!

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Sad to hear that both Hancock,and Woodhorn, have been dumbed down,also the Science museum,THAT was the place to go with your kids on a rainy day before PS2 was invented!

It was a proper scientific place,and i can remember the long plumb bob hanging from the dome,which demonstrated the rotation of the earth over the time the bob was swinging back and forth in an elliptical trajectory...can anybody else mind of this experiment?

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EEEH!Thanks Maggie,these are stories you couldn't make up,if you tried!!

But you know,when my two lads were very young,they asked questions about what i did,when I went out to go down the pit.

Most other men I worked with,used to say that once they chucked their tally [safety token],into the tally office,they forgot about the pit,and didn't want to hear

about it till the next shift!

They said they wouldn't talk to their wives or kids about it.

But they would talk all night about what happened at the club the night before,what beer was best,and who had died.....funerals etc....

I explained in detail,with drawings,and mining books from the library,exactly how coal was mined,coalcutters,shearers,hand-filling,low seams,water,bad roof conditions,methods of timbering up the roof for your own,and your marra's safety......etc

This was from the ages when they could start to talk almost!!

My wife could tell you all about ridding a caunch,or ploughing back to the mothergate with a uni-directional shearer!

See?....I always thought the day would come,when there were no more coalmines to be seen...and it happened!

Mining could sometimes have an interesting side to it.....

Like when you were driving a new roadway,and you hit a Whinstone dyke,[igneous intrusion],after you blasted your way into the dyke,with explosives,you would sometimes smell rotten eggs,this was a gas called "stinkdamp",and was very dangerous,as it quickly killed your sense of smell,though the danger was still present,you had a false sense of security.With good ventilation,you quickly dispersed the gas,and made your way back into your place of work.Sometimes the gas was released from cavities in the whinstone,and these cavities were usually lined with beautiful crystals of differing types,mostly quartz,with a pentagon facet.

One such cavity we encountered was about four feet high and about three feet wide,by about three feet deep.

When we shone our caplamps into the cavity,it was like aladdin's cave!!

The inside of the cavity was glittering like diamonds,and my marra's thought I was stupid when I remarked that this cavity was more than 200 million years old,and we were the first persons in the history of mankind,to see it!

it would have been full of acidic water,and the action of the water on Iron Pyrites in the cavity would have produced the gas H2S ...Hydrogen Sulphide,

otherwise known as "Stinkdamp".["Damp has no connection with water...it is a derivative of the German word.."Dampfe"..."Gas".

So,Firedamp, [Methane],afterdamp..[Carbon Monoxide...after an explosion..],stinkdamp..[H2S],Blackdamp..[Carbon Dioxide..."Stythe"..caused by

total depletion of Oxygen in the atmosphere,due to oxidation with materials such as the timber,the actual strata,and everything oxygen comes into contact with....causes death by suffocation..not actually poison.]

Anyway,I had the foresight to collect some large specimens of crystals,still attached to the rock,and brought them home for my wife,to put on the hearth as unusual,and unique ornaments.I also brought loads of specimens for my kids to take to school for teacher,and also for other men,for their kids to take to school.

Now that the pitis under water,and lost,these rocks and crystals are a fine reminder how bad it was working down the mines!

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As an afterthought,we weren't dumb pitmen,like society  used to portray us,....striking greedy miners...!

Miners never had a strike from the 1926 general strike,until 1972....not a bad record for the most dangerous industry in the country,bar none!

Compared to Dagenham Ford,and other industries,where they had lightning strikes every other week,sometimes over things like the coffe pot wasn't working,or the place was cold and draughty......COLD AND DRAUGHTY!![ They should have spent ONE shift at the shaft bottom,at any pit,but especially the wet pits like Choppington High PIT....they would be pleased to settle down in front of their work and not complain!

Like my Personell Manager said to me once,at Ashington pit,"The Coal Board don't put a  £30million machine into any daft bugga's hands ye naa,Bill.."

Skilled men!

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My father once brought home a chunk of some kind of Crystals from Netherton pit. It weighed a ton, well, to me as a Child it did, and was in varying shades of Purple. Really Beautiful. It also decorated the Fireside. It stood on one end of the fender. Anybody remember those?

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Bed-time again,already,and I have just gotten sat down,been walking Jess,me little darlin'!!

Adam,thanks for your kind comment also,we have to be forever grateful to your Pa for me gettin the excellent pics of Bates,which everybody can see if they go to "Flickr.com.",or just type "Bates Pit Photos..Wilma's photostream",into Google.

It's nearly 28 years since we went up the pit headgear,to get them shots, man....frightening how fast time slips away,the older you get!!

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Pleased ti hear that ,Canny Lass,lasting mementoes nobody else will ever have,unless they buy them in a gift shop!...not quite the same fondness for them!

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Fenders, we still have some.

We have not got any rock crystals but did have some coral and the odd large sea shell.

This summer one granddaughter was collecting flints and shells at Birling Gap.

Collecting should be another topic.

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Hi Canny Lass!

You reminded me that I did three weeks training down Netherton pit,in 1971,as part of my Deputy training course.I was only 27 years old,then!!

I was under the charge of Norman Smeaton,and Dougie Moore,in alternating shifts.

Dougie told me the local story of the district we were working in.

One night,in night-shift,a few years before my time there,the deputy was sitting at his "Kist",writing out his official reports for that shift,

.He happened to look up from his report book,and a dim light caught his eye,a long way inbye.

Naturally,he thought it was just one of his men coming outbye,at the end of the shift.

As the light came nearer,he glanced up again,and was frozen with fear,when the figure of an old miner from a byegone year,dressed with his soft cloth

"stottie-cake" cap and "Midge" oil-lamp in his hand,[from generations before the Deputy..] slowly,and silently,walked past the Kist,without showing any

sign of being aware that the Deputy was even watching him....he had an old clay pipe in his mouth,which wasn't lit.

Then the figure just faded into the darkness.

After that,several men saw the same old figure,and each one described him exactly the same,passing the kist at the same time each night ,until the men no longer were afraid,and used to remark about seeing .."old Freddie"...[or whatever name they had given the figure.] Noo,can anybody from Netherton confirm the origin of this story please?

Once you heard a story like this,underground,it forever left you being wary,and wondering if you would encounter the same figure,and how you would react!

Ask around for me will you ..please?

Cheers!

Edited by HIGH PIT WILMA

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Hi Canny Lass!

You reminded me that I did three weeks training down Netherton pit,in 1971,as part of my Deputy training course.I was only 27 years old,then!!

I was under the charge of Norman Smeaton,and Dougie Moore,in alternating shifts.

Dougie told me the local story of the district we were working in.

One night,in night-shift,a few years before my time there,the deputy was sitting at his "Kist",writing out his official reports for that shift,

.He happened to look up from his report book,and a dim light caught his eye,a long way inbye.

Naturally,he thought it was just one of his men coming outbye,at the end of the shift.

As the light came nearer,he glanced up again,and was frozen with fear,when the figure of an old miner from a byegone year,dressed with his soft cloth

"stottie-cake" cap and "Midge" oil-lamp in his hand,[from generations before the Deputy..] slowly,and silently,walked past the Kist,without showing any

sign of being aware that the Deputy was even watching him....he had an old clay pipe in his mouth,which wasn't lit.

Then the figure just faded into the darkness.

After that,several men saw the same old figure,and each one described him exactly the same,passing the kist at the same time each night ,until the men no longer were afraid,and used to remark about seeing .."old Freddie"...[or whatever name they had given the figure.] Noo,can anybody from Netherton confirm the origin of this story please?

Once you heard a story like this,underground,it forever left you being wary,and wondering if you would encounter the same figure,and how you would react!

Ask around for me will you ..please?

Cheers!

Did you get your deputies cert i have one

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