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Youtube clip by John Ashford - End of Coal Mining in Northumbria, featuring local lads  

You can never go on too long HPW! Every word is valuable to me. I all helps paint a picture of the life and times of my ancestors. It's not always a pretty picture but it's vivid and full of detail. A

A should mention that this pic was taken when we were driving the main roadway into a virgin seam that no pit in the country had ever worked,and was waiting to be opened up at the other side of a 36-f

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Heh heh!..not nitpicking,maybe just a regional variation in dialect,but in old Choppington,and Bedlington,we said,[and still do say...].."Hunkaas".

...."a was sittin' on me hunkaas,when a greet bliddy clemmy dropped oot atween thi gordaa's....mind,it sartinly med is cowp me creels ti get oot thi way...!!"

Yi knaa wat, folks?,aad age teks it toll,cos noo a canna sit on me hunkaas for a minute,or even on me knees like a wad in a low seam,if a dae, a canna get back up!.....PAINS.....AAAAHHHHGGGGG!!!

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Just afore ye went doon thi pit at the start of ya shift,ye wud see aal the lads hevin tha last "draa"  afore putting them oot,cos nae tabs and matches allowed doon underground,and yit the "Doctor pit" in Bedlington,was a naked light mine,where the men still had "Carbine" [Acetylene] caplamps!

....and they wud aal be sittin' on tha hunkaas!

If ye went ti thi bus stop nooadays,and yi saa blokes sittin on tha hunkaas,yi wud think they were on glue or summik!

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A Grandad of mine worked on the railways (he also at a different time was a miner) and had a black leather belt (17/8" wide ... about 47mm) onto which slipped a leather 'pad' about 6" x 7".  This 'pad' was a backing piece, or protector, that went behind a carbide lamp which hung from the belt and prevented the heat from the lamp from burning his belly.  I still have this belt but alas not the 'pad' ... actually I'm sitting writing this post with the said belt holding-up my 'skinny' jeans.  What a belt it is!!!  Thick, well worn leather, with loads and loads of buckle-pin holes (to fit different belly sizes over the decades - Grandad, Dad and then me).  The belt is/was know in the family as 'the night-shift belt' 'cos my Grandad usually worked nights on the railways.  The belt was also used by my Dad for whacking purposes on my arse when I'd been naughty ... I can still recall my Mum saying "Just wait 'till your Dad gets in gets the nightshift belt out".  Happy days!

Edited by Symptoms
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Howeh folks!!

                    Hae yi forgotten hoo we pitmen used ti slang ivrythin?

Of course thi aad pitmen of bygone days wi nae ,[or very little] education,knew the proppa nyem for tha lamps was Calcium Carbide.....but they just slanged it ti Carbine fo' daftness!!....................

A bet tha's nea bugga on thi planet who knaa's hoo it was forst slanged!

Hae yi aal seen me pics on Flickr,of Bates pit,where aav posted a pic of me Father taken in 1929-ish,when he was a fourteen yr old putter,wi his pony,and he has he's soft cloth Putter's cap on,and he's Carbine lamp....yi can just see the glow of the flame above thi photo-flash.[Tekkin doon Choppington High Pit]

Aav got an aad leather "Master-shifter's" cap,complete wi bracket on thi front,ti hang thi carbine headlamp onto..it shud be in Woodhorn Museum cum ti think!

Aye,Maggie,Binksy's little sweet shop next ti thi Whitley School used ti sell aal the pitmen's filler's and stonemen's shovels,[shuul's!],picks,axes,[ayxes's],an carbine,as well as black powder to use ti fire the coal and stone!!

Pitmen had ti buy aal this gear in thi aad days!!

A ten-year-aad kid cud buy thi carbine,by sayin it was fo' he's Faatha,or Granda,or anybody else![a knaa cos a used ti gaan in wi me friend,and he used tell porky's ti buy it for us ti play wi,and aa once bought some ti mek a makeshift lamp,purely for experimentin wi.....at 12 years aad!!....nearly blew wor coal-hoose door off one day!]

A put a teaspoonful in a metal sweet tin,poked a smaal hole in one end,carefully put sum water in,separately of course!,kept the tin tilted to keep the components apart,laid it gently on a wooden stick,lit sum paper next ti the tin,ran behind the coal-hoose door,poked thi tin wi a lang broom-shank,so the water and powder mixed,thinking a wud get thi equivalent  of a carbine lamp wi thi flame shooting from the smaal hole.....innocently!...

..............the bugga went BANG!..and blew the tin apart.....thi door flew against me..and a thowt the hoose was ganna faal doon!!

Everybody came oot  ti see wat med the loud bang...naebody saw me for smoke in the through-passage[typical cooncil hoose wi wash-hoose and coal hoose joined,and adjacent ti the hoose wi a passage between.]!

End of me experimenting wi carbine!!

Kids nooadays divvent knaa thi haaf of hoo ti be proppa kids!

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back again ... the cry at the cage -- tabs - baccy- carbide- matches- lamp -- the check that you didn't contravene the safety requirements.... interesting to see that the disaster in china looks to be caused by the fire crews doing their job but not realising they were spraying water onto carbide!!!!!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Sym!

I quote some lines from that article you posted..."Once a pit closes ALL THE EQUIPMENT IS REMOVED".......blaa blaa...!!

Whey,aal aa can say is that the bloke who wrote that is living in cookoo land.......no...that ain't right,the poor bloke is only reporting what he has been told by lying sods in the government!

EVERY PIT that I worked at,including the little tetty-pit caaled Choppington B pit [the High Pit],left EVERYTHING underground,machines,masses amount of 200-yards long heavy shearer cables,miles and miles,[hundreds of miles] of high-voltage armoured cables,massive transformers and electrical switchgear,pipes,railes,girders,locomotives and all the mine-cars,Dosco road-headers,Joy Continous Miners,gathering-arm loaders,In-seam miners,dint-headers,Transporter machines,Miles and miles oof conveyor belts and huge drive-heads with big motors and gearboxes,with loads of precious metals,I could go on and on,but I think I have made my point!

The pit cage ropes were ordered by thatcher-the-hatcheter to be cut immediately the men were brought out of the pit,leaving hundreds of millions of clean coal through-out of the British coal-fields,to bring ships from China,where Children still work,and get killed and maimed by continous accidents due to lack of safety rules...........cos it's CHEAPER!

....and I want to swear about it,I'm getting wound up,so I better tek little Jess for her walkies.......!

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I wonder what it's like underground now;  would everything be collapsed with no access?  The reason I'm asking is that I watched a programme on the BBC iPlayer a couple of week ago about 'Underground Britain' where these blokes scuba dived a deep mine (it might have been a silica mine) which had been abandoned in the 1960s.  It was full of water but there were no collapses and the whole place looked in tip-top condidtion with all the tackle in place ... it was if the last shift had just left! 


Another technical question ... when the pits shut and those cables were cut would the shafts have been filled in to its whole depth, or would they have just been capped?

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Right Sym! Firstly,I would have liked to have seen that programme,as my youngest Son often goes mine exploring in Weardale,but they are old mines from the 1700's which were all either Galenite,[Lead],or Fluorspar,or Fluorite,and other minerals.

He and his explorer mates took me down one mine,[as a birthday present!],and it freaked me out as soon as I went in.

The mine went in from a hillside "Addit",[entrance  point],through waist-deep water,freezing,like it always was in the coalmines,but what freaked me out was the total absence of any supports in the roadways!...just a bare roadway carved by hand out of limestone strata!

Occasionally,a weak point might have been encountered ,and a single prop put in to support a roof break,but it was very rare!

The fascinating thing was that some roadways were totally lined with dressed stone,which had been mined,and re-used to save on labour costs of transporting it out of the mine,and tipping it over the countryside below.[cos it was minerals what paid...not stones!]

Beautiful compound junctions which would have graced any church,were it to have been situated in them instead of being underground!!

They had to be seen to be believed!

Crystalline structures which have taken hundreds of millions of years to form,glistened under our caplamps,while some parts of the roads looked like brown soft jelly oozing out of the roof,they were hard as diamond crystals!

There were no drillers and explosives in those days,just bloody hard graft!

The mineral veins all run vertical,as opposed to coal seams,which are usually in a horizontally orientated state.

Therefore,the miners of old,had to drive up hundreds of feet in all directions,like the branches of a tree,follwing the vein wherever it coursed.

This meant laying down artificial floors,made by setting battens in to the sides of the road,laying more battens down ,then covering the battens with a thick layer of small crushed stones,upon which they ran small "Kibbles"..[the fore-runner of pit tubs]...to bring out the mined minerals.

This was a visit to be forever remembered![trouble was knowing when you were on an artificial floor....you had to tread very lightly,cos if it gave way,there was a hundred foot drop in places!]

I noted that you said all the tackle was still left underground,in that silica mine on the programme.....just like all our coalmines!

Secondly......re..abandoned shafts.........some were filled in and concreted over,where they posed a danger to surrounding property,in the case of possible subsidence caused by the shaft walls eventually caving in,but some were capped with steel ,and kept ventilated,due to the presence of

noxious or flammable gases,such as Methane.

Bates pit shaft is one example,pumps are going full time to keep the mine water level at a safe point,due to property surrounding the shaft.

Residents nearby are worried about this,in case the pumps fail and the water levels rise and threaten them with floods.

In the distant future,if needed,Bates pit could be pumped out,and with a lot of investment,coalmining could begin again,cos the shaft was only sunk in the mid-fifties,so will be in good condition,as opposed to most of the older pits,where shaft walls will have started to deteriorate with lack of maintenance.[which were sunk in the early 1800's].

It puzzles me as to how residents homes could be flooded,when they are higher than the ground where the pit shaft is,and the shaft was sunk not a couple of hundred yards,[if that],from the river Blyth!

Water finds it's own level,and when the pit was working,the pit car park,AND the pit canteen,were sometimes under four feet of stinking river,and raw sewage water.....yes,the canteen!!

It took a day or two to mop the canteen up,after the high tide water subsided,and it was back to baking meat pasties and boiling tetties for dinners again![nae H AND S in the aad days!!],but the shaft and railway sidings never flooded,all the water used to come up from the drain gulleys,as it did in Blyth town centre for donkeys years,before they installed a huge undergound pumping station to control spring tide water and strong easterly gales

from pushing water back up the storm drains.

Hope you understand me ramblings Sym!!

Cheers Marra!

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Sym,a forgot to mention that most underground roadways will have deteriorated badly,due to being flooded,and with a lack of maintenace,crushing will have occurred.

This is where investment would be needed most,re-modelling the access roads,which,at Bates,went inbye 12 miles under the North Sea.

When pits were working,they always had sets of "Back-bye", or "Back-Caunch"-men,whose job it was to ridd falls of roof-stone,repair the roadways,put new supports in,or,like Bates pit,and Choppington High Pit,turn bent [straight] girders upside down,and re-install them,with bent side up-over!

.....rather than put new girders in!

Basic house-keeping,but very necessary,to keep roadways in good shape.

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Basic housekeeping ... my Uncle Arthur was a 'pump man' underground all his working life (from leaving school at 14 maybe even younger until he was 65).  He started at the Algernon (West Allotment) as a boy and when that closed moved to Backworth, High Pit, and Wheatslade, although I can't remember in what order.  He was always a pump man due to only having one arm ... he lost it in a train accident when he was about 6 years old on the old line through West Allotment.  I'm impressed that he was able to get a job back then with that disability, although it probably helped that all the other blokes in the family worked the Algernon so maybe put in a good word to the Manager.


Interesting observations about Bates and the possibility of remedial action which could reinstate it to a working pit (ditto, those big super pits down in Yorks & Notts).  I suppose it would only happen if the 'balloon went up' and imports became impossible.  Of course one problem would be that all the blokes with the mining expertise will all have gone by then.  

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Sym,a forgot to mention that most underground roadways will have deteriorated badly,due to being flooded,and with a lack of maintenace,crushing will have occurred.

This is where investment would be needed most,re-modelling the access roads,which,at Bates,went inbye 12 miles under the North Sea.

When pits were working,they always had sets of "Back-bye", or "Back-Caunch"-men,whose job it was to ridd falls of roof-stone,repair the roadways,put new supports in,or,like Bates pit,and Choppington High Pit,turn bent [straight] girders upside down,and re-install them,with bent side up-over!

.....rather than put new girders in!

Basic house-keeping,but very necessary,to keep roadways in good shape.

It's a bit different here in the mountains HPW, the mine put a conveyor through the mountain to bring the coal to the Prep plant and train load-out. A few years ago the mine closed for quite a while when it changed hands, when it re-opened the tunnel was unusable, the floor had heaved up to the roof! it was abandoned and now they haul the coal.

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Aye Vic,Ashington pit was the same.

Nearly every road was on a slant due to floor heave.

Unless me memory is playing tricks with me,I am nearly sure that parts of Netherton pit was also the same.It's interesting to see how roof pressure or floor pressure exerts itself.

It's all down to what is known as "De-stressed zones",where,originally,both roof and floor pressure was equal,[before the coal was extracted].

Once you remove the coal,the area becomes a de-stressed zone,and the pressure is diverted to the sides of the roadway,[Pressure-arch theory]

It's mighty hard work,travelling any distance through a floor-heaved roadway underground!

Your's is an extreme case,Vic,I haven't seen any heave that was as bad as that,usually the floor breaks up at one side of the roadway,and pushes up a few feet.

There is a pic somewhere on Flickr,of an old working,with the rails still down,and tubs being pulled along at about 30 degrees!

Mind,the tubs used to run like that doon Ashington pit as well!!

Nice ti hear from you Vic,gie me luv ti thi boss..as usual!

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  • 4 weeks later...

coal mining uses a slightly different strata to other mining -- (very simplfied and sounds wrong) the roadways etc from some pits in the 60's will have mostly collapsed - (how many 'wet' pits were in the county)- if you want an example drive into ashington from the pegswood end - and have a look at the fields both sides - (not sure now but at one time you had to have a mine/subsidence survey done to get a mortgage in some parts)

but we actually have the 'coal owners' to thank hugely for their impetus to science.

now how do you think they decided to sink shafts in the first place?? - we had surface mining - opencast - and drift/adits like widdrington and much older Plessey. but the real impetus was to determine where coal could be found...

so -- the real credit is due to a bloke that realised that the deposits were stratified, and therefore if he could identify by what fossil record was at the surface so he could deduce where the coal was and how far underground. A nationwide survey was made and pits were sunk accordingly. I still have a Cpl of boxes of micro fossils slides made by a pit surveyor to determine the likely quality and age of coal seams in the Northumberland area (most likely Bedlington) (prize for the name of that pioneer that did the fossil search )

Edited by pilgrim
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"not sure now but at one time you had to have a mine/subsidence survey done to get a mortgage in some parts"


I bought a house on Hollymount Terrace approx 20 years ago and had to have one done then. This one was bought for cash so no mortgage needed! Now I've said that, it will probably disappear down a big hole....

Edited by mercuryg
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