Recollection of Treeton Colliery, 1960
Running around the surface an 1898 steam locomotive, which looked ancient then - still it was imagined this was cheap to run with free colliery coal.
How wrong this was, lots of time spent on maintenance and repairs, time spent replacing coal and water. Even to before using the loco, time was lost. First lighting a fire, then raising steam before work could begin.
From energy contained in the fuel only 10% could be converted into useful energy, compared with a diesel engine which can return 30%. Much of the loss simply goes up the chimney or out of the exhaust.
Storage of clothes in the pithead baths was simply a wire basket which was raised by means of a rope and pulley. A notice warned :
Look out for falling miner's boots - they have steel toe caps
Riding the shaft, the cage had a slatted floor, it was therefore possible to see the shaft bottom, 400 yards below. To prevent people falling out of the cage, a waist high gate, secured by a single bolt seemed almost inadequate enough for a cage packed like sardines with miners.
Underground, transport was primitive. A man riding haulage consisted of a drum, like a cotton bobbin laid on end around which a steel rope was wound, a set of maybe 15 small cars - each holding 2 pairs of men facing each other. Using the gradient, gravity took the train down into the mine perhaps 900 yards, while an electric motor rewound the rope so raising the cars.
Safety was not so high. The cars were examined daily. At the time there was no speed indicator, overspeed device or even brakes, should the rope break or the cars be derailed.
Signalling from the train guard to the engine driver was either by waving a lamp, or stroking a knife blade over two wires to complete a circuit , so ringing a bell.
At the end of the train's journey was a telephone which contained a magneto. You turned a stiff short handle which caused the phones connected to ring, often four were on a single group.
The long and often uncomfortable journey to the coalface meant low unlit roadways, rails to stumble over, bent and twisted girders waiting for the unwary to stumble upon. Working without a helmet would have been most unpleasant. In addition, rails, haulage ropes, sleepers and uneven road surfaces meant you had to be alert, trying to keep an eye on both the roof and floor simultaneously. Small sections were also wet and slippery.
Each day, the men working on the coalface at this time, were shovelling around ten tons of coal on to a coalface conveyor, and setting props to secure the roof. A shift was 7½ hours.
Working conditions varied from cold and wet, to dry and hot, in fact a person arriving at work tired, finding a quiet warm, dry atmosphere, lacking a small amount of oxygen, may sit to enjoy his mid shift " bite " and awake rested, perhaps not knowing the time of day, as many did not carry the Smiths pocket watch, popular at the time.
In spite of the discomfort and daily hazards, humour helped overcome everything, unless one was thin skinned or too slow in thinking, to divert the daily onslaught. Even certain supervisors were baited and drawn to become figures of fun.
Events underground, involving Treeton, became part of the folk history; facts which, if put into print, would have resulted in libel cases. Twisting stories and embroidering facts, helped pass time, when, for some reason, the coal was not flowing.
As with many occupations a freemasonry exists among those who have worked in them.
Told by JMH, 2004