This is a record of a discussion with Mr. Moon and Mr. Purnell who were friends at school, even before they went down the mines. It is reproduced from Look! This was Timsbury by kind permission of the Cheshire Home.
|My first shift was a night shift. I went down Pensford Colliery. I worked with a man who lived down Lansdown View and descended the shaft, walked about half a mile and I had to work a manual fan. So I had to turn the handle round and round to pump the air up to some men who were cutting coal. They had to have air taken up to them, so I had to turn the handle continually – well it was supposed to be non-stop, but I’m not suggesting for one second that we didn’t stop. If you stopped that meant there was no breathable air getting up to the men who were working there. If you stopped for long, they’d either have to come out or die.
They could tell if you’d stopped. If you could burn a candle or a carbine lamp, there was enough oxygen in the air to maintain life. You were allowed about twenty minutes break during a shift, for some bread and cheese. Looking back at, it, it was a much bigger responsibility than a boy of fourteen should have put on his shoulders.To get the coal out, they would use a hand-drill. It was just a long chisel-ended drill. One man held the drill while the other struck it, and every time he struck it he would turn it a bit more.Fans were illegal because it would draw in bad air: air that had already been used.
|My first job when I started was the airways that carried the ventilation to the faces – some of them weren’t very big – and I went with an older man in case there was a fall anywhere, and I’d help him move it to unblock the airways. That was the usual first job.
|I only did the pumping job for a short time. The air courses job was just to get you trained up to the job.
|It wasn’t much of a job because the airways were very very small. You could only just drag yourself through. There wasn’t often anything to clear, but if you found something, you had to drag it until you could find somewhere to put it. You couldn’t take the Putt, the box with the guss and crook because it was too far, so you just had to throw it to each other with shovels until you got it to a place where you could put it out of the way. You were well away from the workings, you couldn’t put it anywhere.
|Later I did a simple job. I went to driving the conveyor engine. Now, don’t think that was any great engineering feat. The conveyor was about two yards long and about twenty eight inches wide and fifteen inches longer. This had pans or trays and a motor, which moved the coal down from the pans so it would slide down; because it was quite steep in there. I had to start the conveyor engine and stop it, and help turn the coal down. After a few weeks I was promoted to be one of the ones at the bottom of the conveyor who loaded the coal on to it as it came off the shute.
|We earned 2/5d a day when we started. I worked in Pensford but I lived in Timsbury, cycling to work each day. A few used to walk, but not many. Then a bus started – well, I call it a bus, but it was really a little coal lorry. They put a few seats in the coal lorry and then when the men got to work they took the seats out and filled the lorry up with coal. One ‘bus’ started from High Littleton, and one started from Farmborough. Quite a few Timsbury men used to walk to High Littleton to catch the bus. At Pensford there were a couple of hundred men per day shift. Altogether on the 3 shifts around 300. At one time at Pensford we had 8 or 9 ponies. There were stables for them on the intake of the air, and there was a boy who had charge of the horses.
We were at a dead end and then you came to the coal face and I was working one side and my brother was working the other. A fellow was bringing the tubs down and it was running downhill so he had to put ”Cotters” in the wheels to steady them up. He missed these so the tubs crashed into the back of the pony and the pony panicked and when he got to the dead end, he got down on his side and he kicked his way out. I managed to get by without getting hurt. They called some fellow at Pensford who was a bit of a hostler, and he got that pony out of there, though it was only about the height of the thickness of his body. He talked to him and soothed him.
They never used to take the ponies out of the pits. The only time they came up was if there happened to be a strike. In fact some pits, like Camerton Colliery, I think it was doubtful if they could get the horses out, because after they went down they grew. Bromley pit was the same. In that case they’d put the horse down, roll it up in a ball and bring it up. When they were taking horses down into the pits, if they couldn’t fit them in the cage, they’d swing them under the cage.
Six men went down in a cage at a time. Camerton new shaft was 8 feet an diameter, aid 2 cages were passing there. Bromley was only 4′ 6″ in diameter. Clandown Pit had like passing places because it was so narrow. It was quite a rough ride because the guides were solid wood so you felt every bump. Steel rope guides were more modern. A steam engine drove the winder. There was an accident at Pensford when the cage crashed to the bottom. There were men in there. The Pensford railway line had a special siding for the coal. There was an engine that used to draw the trucks up from Pensford Station up to Pensford Colliery and lower the full ones down. Most of the coal was sold to Bristol gas. I think the same firm owns the pit as owned the gas works. They used to sell it to themselves. Sir Robert Wilton was the chairman the directors of Pensford and Bromley Collieries.
After you’d been on winding you’d go on as a fully-fledged – carting-boy. (I’ve known carting-boys that were 40 years old.) You were split into groups – usually 3’s of 2 coal-getters and one carting-boy. The carting-boy would load the coal and the tub, pull it out and put the coal into the wagon. He would wear the guss and crook.