The following narrative prepared by Keith Armstrong from conversations with John Egan, a 92-year-old from Trimdon Grange now living in the old people’s home in the Village, is the basis of a touring show put together by Keith and members of the Red Lion Folk Club.
The poems ‘Mother’ and ‘I Live Alone’ are as recited by John Egan. The ‘Ballad of John Egan’, ‘The Gala’ and ‘Spring’ are by Keith Armstrong.
BALLAD OF JOHN EGAN
John Egan is a meek man, a miner, a meek man;
and ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth’, they say, ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth’.
John Egan mined for 50 years, he slaved for 50 years.
He mined in the morning, he mined all those days, he served for 50 years.
John Egan has a tale to tell, he has a life to tell, and ‘It’s time that tale was told’, time his life was told.
The bells toll, the bells toll, John Egan sleeps and dreams:
He dreams of Heaven, he dreams of His Maker and he dreams of Paradise Row.
He dreams that the meek shall inherit the Earth, that the meek shall inherit the Earth.
John Egan is a meek man, a miner;
a meek man;
and this is the tale, the bell tolls, this is the tale he tells:
The atmosphere was very good among the neighbours in them days, they were all friendly. The conditions were bad. We lived in a little wooden house, one up, one down, only one bedroom. Toilet across the road. There was my brother Jimmy and I and my sister in that house. Then we moved to the other house. It had a back kitchen, pantry, two bedrooms.
I remember when I was very young a chap was killed in the pit. I remember them bringing him home, of course, in them days there was no pit-bath. They put him on a stretcher and carried him home as he was, black, dead, they put a blanket over him. There were no street lights then and I remember one man had a torch at the front another man had a torch at the back, about six men carried him. I remember his wife screeching crying, she took the poor fellow in. She had to wash him. Them was the days. I was about 8 or l0 then, I remember it well.
ME DADDY WAS A COAL MINING MAN
My father was a pitman. He was the aged miners’ delegate for 30 years.
He worked at Trimdon Grange all his life. He once went 10 year at the pit and never lost a shift (this could be a record). My father was born at a place called Tutnam, then they moved to the Grange, and my mother was born at Thornley.
My mother had a hard life, she worked on a farm when she was 13-yearold at a place called Marley Hill. She worked there when she was a bit of a child. And she worked at Kelloe, she worked at two farms at Kelloe. They both had hard lives.
There were six family, four brothers and two sisters. Of course, two brothers and two sisters died.
My father was a lovely chap, never lost a shift and we always had an income. In them days he had a garden and used to grow all sorts to feed us.
Spring cabbage, shallots, lettuce. The wages were just coppers. Father worked at the pit until he was 70-year-old. I said to my mother ‘I am going to finish my dad, he’s working at the pit no more, he’s not going to the pit tomorrow.’ When he came in she says to him, ‘Do you hear what our John says, you’re going to the pit no more.’ ‘No’, I says ‘You’re not, I’ve put your pit clothes on the fire, you’re going to the pit no more, you’ve done your bit’. Seventy-year-old, worked like a slave all his life. He didn’t go and that was the finish.
He suffered a lot with pains, he had a stick.
THE TRIMDON GRANGE EXPLOSION
The Trimdon Grange Explosion was in the high main, my father was in the low main. My father and his mate were putting in the low main. They were getting their baits, a bit dry bread and cheese and a drink of water, that was his bait. Water was precious down the pit. They could feel something in the air, it was the Explosion. They were told something had happened at the pit-head. My father and his mate got out because they were in a different seam. When they came out there were hundreds of people at the pit, some crying. My father tells me that one woman came to him and said ‘Did you see Bill?’ (That was Billy Jennels, his mate). My father says ‘No, I didn’t see him Mrs. Jennels, but he’ll be alright.’ He wasn’t alright, he was in the high main, he was lost. He was my father’s mate, lovely mates.
There was lads 14 and l5-years-old lost in the Explosion. In them days the returns for the air weren’t what they should have been, it was gassy, they are different nowadays. There is a memorial in the churchyard, Billy Jennels’ name is on it, but somebody is scratching the names off.