I started to work at the pit when I was 14. In them days when you were about 12 there was nothing else but the pit. Your father would take you to see the pit. I went when I was about 12. I remember I brought back a bit of coal. Trimdon Grange pit.
I was a bit scared the first time I went down but I got used to it. I had to walk out, about a mile. On the way out my Dad stopped at a place and said ‘Do you remember when Mr Gowan was killed? (That’s the chap I was telling you about). Look up there that’s where he was killed at the cross gate.’ There were a lot of deaths down the pit. Everybody walked to the funerals. Everybody had their caps off and sung hymns. They had to walk to Kelloe, there was no cemetery here. The one here was filled.
I worked at the pit all my life, 51 years. I started off as a putter, I was on the pump house cutters, I was stone work. I never became a Deputy. I finished off stone dusting when I was about 60.
I remember my first day at the pit. I was a trapper, take full tubs out with the pony. I was only a child. There were two wooden doors, I had to pull the two wooden doors open with a rope for the men to take the tubs out. I was sitting and the putter come to me and took my lamp away. He put his lamp out. I was scared, of course. I was only a child and I was sitting there in the dark, pulling the doors open. This went off for a few hours, then you got your bit bait, a drink of water and some jam. They had just finished the 10 hours. I had to work 8 hours, I went down at six in the morning and come back up after 2 o’clock.
And the next job I got I was a driver, I got a pony. The first pony I got was a grand little fella. They called him ‘Spring’. I always remember Spring. I can see him now, Spring, he was grey. There was about half a dozen of us altogether, nice company, and we all had ponies, pulling the tubs out. The set then used to run with 60, used to run with 60 to the shaft and all us fellows used to come to this awning with our tubs and then when it got to 60 he would make a set ready and send it out the shaft. All the ponies had names, before they came down the pit. Boxer, Whiskey, Mottram, Martin, all sorts of names but my pony was ‘Spring’.
‘SPRING’ : PIT PONY
You are an underground Spring;
no flowers grow here, no sunshine glows.
You are an underground Spring.
You’re a dark horse in a dark place;
your back is bruised with coal;
yet you too have dreams you too have dreams:
Spring into the fields, Spring across the grass.
S pring with the children, hear them sing!
‘Spring’ the pony, Spring the trap;
Trapper-lad Spring the trap.
When I was working with Spring I got called to the shaft bottom, where all the coal came to and they used to send it up in cages; the cage used to run with four full tubs up and four empty tubs used to come down. I was about 15 or 16 then. One day, we were drawing all the coal out to the shaft, you know, and it was about time for the back-shift men to come down, half past nine. I was what you call a tracer, I used to pull the tubs up with a horse. I was pulling my last set up when I heard such a crash – oh, the lights went out and there was smoke and dust. So one of the shaft lads come up. I says ‘What’s the marrer Bill?’ ‘Oh’ he says, ‘there’s a man come down the shaft. And I remember it well. He jumped down you know, he committed suicide. And you know I was only a bit youngster, so I went round to where the horses was and I said to Bob, Bob Fergusson they called him, I said ‘Where’s the man Bob?’ and he pointed and on the tub, a full tub, was the trunk of his body and I remember he had corduroy trousers on and a print shirt and all his other remains were lying around, his head, arms. The shaft men come down, two shaft men, and gathered the doings up, yes it was terrible. I am the only man living that was there when it happened.
I worked down the pit through the First World War. I was called up but I failed. I remember the old Colonel, I think they called him Colonel Triss.
Oh, he says ‘Youngster, you go home, you work at the pit?’ ‘Yes’ I says.
‘Oh’, he says, ‘they want you at the pit.’ It was my eyesight, I couldn’t see much out of one eye when he tested me.
I remember the war, terrible. My brother Tommy was only in the war about 14 weeks and he was in France. Biggest shock of my life. My mother was very upset, but still every household was the same, they all had men out. There was a great feeling of patriotism during the war. Everybody marched off to war. I shudder to think about the men that served in the war for four or five years. They come back to the pit, their hands all bandaged up, nobody did nothing for them, that’s the thanks they got. They had been out of the pit that long and weren’t used to the work so their hands got sore.
I felt very bitter about that.