The following are good examples of pit life in the 1940s in a Welsh colliery and they show the system in those days:
I started work as a colliers boy with my father in a seam which was about two foot three in height, We were working on the pillar and stall system, driving headings (about five feet wide to leave passing room at the side of the drams) and turning stalls every sixteen yards along the heading. The stalls were then worked about eight yards into the seam. The headings were about seven feet in height, the extra room being cut from the stone above the seam. The stone was then used to pack the gob. When we were packing the stone in the gob my father would be throwing the ‘muck’ to me with his shovel, if he threw a large lump he would shout fingers as a warning but if it caught your hand you’d often end up with a black nail which you had to puncture with a needle to relieve the pain.
We were only allowed to use shovels when shifting stone and muck, we weren’t allowed to use them for moving coal as only lump coal was needed and shovelling them broke the large lumps up. We had two shovels, two coal picks for holing under the coal seam (to ‘work to coal’) so that the seam would loosen and drop, a hatchet with a nine-inch wide blade, a ripping bar for levering out a stone, a sledge and a couple of spanners. The collier did everything, he didn’t just pick at the coal, he was a mechanic, he drilled the shot holes – in those days you didn’t have an air leg to support the drill, you had to hold the machine on your shoulder. You had so much equipment that you couldn’t lock it all on your tool bar so you had to hide some of the stuff!
We used to have to use ‘curling boxes’ to fill the coal into the drams. You couldn’t carry the loaded box because it was so heavy (a hundredweight) so you had to drag or slide it up to eight yards to reach the dram. We were paid by the tonnage of coal we produced so we used to ‘race’ the coal about two feet six above the rim of the dram (which was between four and five feet in height itself). To race a dram you had to build a box of large lumps and reach over these to fill the middle with smaller ones. When they were being taken out, the raced drams looked just like little ships going down the roadway. I got my own working place at 19 after my ‘5 years apprenticeship’ . I was lucky as I had worked with my father and uncles who had taught me to ‘notch’ timber. Training as a boy to cut the timber properly was time-consuming so most colliers did it themselves rather than teach their boys to do it.
Another lad related:
When I was fourteen I left (school) and went to work with my father who was doing stall work. My first journey underground was a revelation, I expected to see the coal face a few yards from the pit-bottom, but after walking for a mile and a half there was still no coal to be seen! The stall we worked in was very wet and we had to wear uncomfortable oilskins. There was a humorous fellow called Old Lewis working near to me on that first day, and he sang all shift a song called ‘The Greatest Mistake of My Life.’
I worked with father for four or five years and then went driving a haulage engine on the night shift for nine months, by then father had a heading –better than a stall you know –and I returned to him. After one and a quarter years I was twenty-one and getting top rate, which was heavy for my father to pay so I seized the opportunity to work a place myself.
Up to then I had been working on the Black Vein, 8 foot 6 inch seam, the district finished and I transferred to a 3 foot 6 inch seam on the longwall conveyor belt system. This was indeed a big change but I was beginning to take mining seriously as a career and welcomed this opportunity to broaden my experience. (He went on to become a colliery manager).
Return to previous page