A brief description of a miners’ life, given in a 1970s NCB pamphlet:
Driving through the pit gates and leaving his car on the car park, today’s miner leaves his own clothing in a special locker on the clean side of the pithead baths and, changing into his working clothes, moves on to the lamp room, where he collects the cap lamp, (which provides his underground light source) and his self-rescuer.
Passing past the vast powerhouse, which provides the power for underground ventilation, shaft winding, compressed air for the mighty mining machines and many other requirements in this highly-mechanised industry, he arrives at the pithead. The miners enter the cage, to be sped down to the pit bottom.
Today’s miner is a technician far removed from the popular vision of ‘pick and shovels’. Working with powerful and sophisticated machinery, costing many thousands of pounds, needs a man with more than muscle. From the time a man starts in mining, he undergoes comprehensive training in every aspect of his job and, by the time that he qualifies as a coal face worker, he is an ‘all-rounder’ who can turn his hand to most jobs in the mine.
Because of the high-risk possibilities of working underground, you will find that miners are amongst the most safety-conscious workers in Britain. Each man works to an underground code that is designed not only to secure his own safety but that of his fellow miners. This collaboration and team spirit amongst miners everywhere is legendary and has resulted in a safety record that quickly disproves the image many people have of an extra-dangerous industry.
The pit-bottom is a rather windy spot, the wind we feel is the air, being driven through the mine by giant ventilation fans. Conditions are not so small and cramped as most people may have thought. The large passageways leading away from the pit-bottom area are the main roadways of the mine, from which subsidiary roadways lead in pairs, connected at the ends by the actual coal faces. Heavily reinforced with many thousands of pounds worth of steel arches, each roadway is an essential artery, speeding men and materials into – and thousands of tons of coal out of – the mine. As we approach the coal face – from one of the ‘stable holes’ – we see a long row of massive steel hydraulic supports. Each one of these is capable of supporting many tons and costs as much as a modern mini. Altogether, on a modern coal face, as many as 200 of these may be in use at one time – almost £300,000 in value. A complete coal face can cost in the region of half a million pounds. In front of its rank of powered roof supports, the giant coal-cutting machine bites easily through the coal seam. With its huge tungsten steel teeth, taking as much as 375 tons in a single cut from the coal face. The face team, constantly alert to the slightest irregularity are intent on continuous cutting and are immediately on hand in the event of any sort of breakdown. As the coal is cut, it is automatically fed to the first of a series of conveyors, which speed it on the way to the shafts. These conveyors are sprayed at intervals to reduce dust to the minimum. The mammoth winding engines whisk the coal to the surface for washing and grading in readiness for its various markets.
Modern mining is backed by first-class medical facilities and each NCB administrative area carries a comprehensive medical service, controlled by an Area Medical Officer and his Deputy – both qualified doctors. Each individual colliery has a fully-equipped Medical Centre, operated by either a qualified Nursing Sister or by trained Medical Attendants.
After the hard work of the coal-cutting shift, today’s miner drops of his dirty clothes in a locker and passes through the pithead baths to emerge clean and well-dressed. The nearby canteen offers him a choice of snacks on his way to or from work.Return to previous page