This account is taken from a conversation with Mr. Mitchard who had a great deal of knowledge of most of the local pits. It is reproduced from ‘Look! This was Timsbury’ by kind permission of the Cheshire Home.
My family have been in coalmining for many years and my father (had permission to copy a book by general manager of Radstock Collieries) including all the plans which were drawn of the Somerset Coalfield, and that’s really where I got most of my knowledge of the Somerset Coalfield, through that. But working underground did give me the experience. I am a qualified fireman, which entitled me to use explosives underground, to blast the roadways that we had to make to get into the working places. That was a more dangerous job. I’ve still got my copper candlestick which I used underground. The candlestick had a spike which could be pushed into the sloe of a leather hat or into a pit prop.
The 1914-1918 War was when I started working at age the top of Tunley Pit in the blacksmith’s shop. I have recollections of treating the blacksmiths to a few tricks. Two blacksmiths who were working in that shop at that time decided that they’d had enough, and picked me up by the seat of my trousers and the scruff of my neck and dropped me straight in the water bosh. The water bosh is where they cool off the iron, and that wasn’t very clean, I can assure you. I got very wet, and when I got home, mother wanted to know why I was so wet. I didn’t dare tell her because father was in the room and he always supported the blacksmiths in what they did.
Unfortunately, when I was working at Tunley Pit one of my jobs was to issue from the magazine, the carbide that was used in the miners’ lamps. That was issued to each miner in a little container which they took underground and they replenished the supply in the lamp itself, which was screwed on, and that’s how they got their light. One day when I was off work through a severe cold somebody else issued the carbide and they left the lid off the 2cwt. drum which meant that the moisture in the air causes a gas. I used to have to go at 6 in the morning to the candle house where they issued it to the miners. We had a post put in the ground about 10-15ft away from the door of this magazine. I put the lamp on the magazine but when I opened the door that sucked the gas out and it ignited. I caught the full force of it in my face. The flame from the explosion burnt the surface to the eye. It was treated by my father (he was a first aider) and in the hospital afterwards. The skin cracked across and peeled off like a blister. My father saved my sight by washing out with jugs and jugs of water. I was totally blinded for 6 solid weeks and for 6 months I had a bandage round my eyes. Eventually I got my sight back, which is very precious.
Along with the loss of the sight, my face was badly burnt. They didn’t know much about skin grafting in those days but the doctors in the R UH in Bath had a go, and my face as you see it at the moment came off (indicating a part of his anatomy) here. I’ll never forget the first thing I saw. My mother cooked a dinner and I used to fiddle about with a fork and find the hole in the pads and bandages on my face and push the potatoes and the things through, and the first thing I saw was young potatoes and green peas and quite honestly it was the most beautiful sight you could ever see, and I shouted to my mother, “Mother, I can see.” It’s terrible to be without ones sight.
The pit closed sometime after 1926. It was taken over by Sir Frank Beacham who bought from William Vaughan Jenkins. Staples was the manager there, and my father George Richard, was the undermanager. I went down under ground on my 14th birthday.
My father: was undermanager at Priston Collieries, where I worked quite some years, until Camerton took them over. Then I went to Dunkerton to work. That to me was an interesting period of my life.
Upper Conygre Pit in Timsbury was the only pit that had a flat winding rope. All the others had a round winding rope, an inch and an eighth in diameter. All the ropes were steel. In Tunley they had one cage going up, the other going down and half way down they had to slow up, otherwise the cages would collide.
Two brothers worked at Camerton Colliery, both shot-firers, and they were driving a branch into the solid rock and they had lit the fuses. Both brothers started to get out, but one tripped, and fell and injured himself, and obviously the fuses were still burning. His brother turned round and went back in and fetched him out. He spent a long time in hospital being treated – both had quite serious injuries but at a later stage it was recognised by the owner of the colliery, who was at that time Sir Frank Beacham, and they made a presentation to the man who had rescued his brother from the danger. They were Arthur and Jack Lodge.
After I finished with coalmining, I went into the building trade, and then I went into the Civil Service. I went to the Home Office to teach civil defence.