Doug Evans told Glo Magazine about his experience at Penallta:
I started work at Penallta Colliery in June 1933 at the age of fourteen. The pit was working three days a week at this time and my wages were 2s 5d a day. My brother Eric had got work for me with the fella working in the next stall to him – a man called Hopkin Farr.
The week before I started I had to go over to the pit to meet Hopkin and the overman of the district. Basically as long as you were fit they were willing to take you on. I had to go to the timekeepers and sign on, giving details of my parents, where I lived, my doctor, and the hospital that I came under. Then I had to go down to the lamp room and they gave me a lamp check. If you lost your lamp check it’d cost you, they’d charge half a crown – a day’s wages! The lamp room then noted down the district that I was working in, and Hopkin had to sign that he would be responsible for me.
We were usually over the pit by 6 am. On the day shift, the first bond, or cage, was at 6 am. The colliery hooter used to blow at 6am, at 6.15 am and again at 6.25 am. If you hadn’t got your lamp by 6.25 you would have to go home, and you wouldn’t get paid. Penallta’s hooter was called the ‘old cow’ because it sounded just like one. When we got into the cage us boys were put into the centre with the men standing either side of us. When you went down in the cage it would take your breath away. When you reached pit bottom most of the night shift were waiting to come up. They never wasted any time winding as they only had half an hour to get all the men down.
The man that you were working with had an electric lamp, but all the boys had oil lamps. So there was a flame lamp was in every stall. All the men were capable of telling how much gas there was by using the oil lamp. You had to take care of your lamp as that was your lifeline.
You weren’t allowed to walk the main roadway where the haulage ropes were working and where the coal was taken out, if you got caught on the mains you got the sack. So you had to go down through the air doors and into the return. You were walking then with the warm air that had ventilated all the districts coming towards you before it went up to No.2 Pit. So you’d walk along the return airway until you come to your district. Horses used to fetch the trams of coal out of the district to double partings where there were empty trams on one side and full trams on the other. That’s where the haulage started. From there the rope haulage took them back to pit bottom.
The individual stalls were each about six feet wide and were driven off tunnels that were called headings. The seam of coal itself was made up of what we called bottom coal, which was the bigger coal, and top coal which was the smaller coal. Hopkin had a big mandrel for the bottom coal. It gave him more leverage, there were slips in the bottom coal. He knew where these slips were and he could get his mandrel in them to ease them out. Sometimes you had to break this bottom coal to lift it into the dram, it was so big. And then for the top coal, he had a small pick.
Then you had to shovel it all into the dram, but only when there was nobody about as you weren’t supposed to use a shovel! The Powell Duffryn Company insisted that you filled the dram with a curling box to ensure that there was no stone in it – stone that had come off the rippings ‘the rock above the coal seam’. When the overman and the fireman were about the word would pass up the face so you had to use the curling box (a large metal scoop with handles). You had to scrape it in with your hands, lift the curling box and put it in the dram. When they were gone we would use the shovel again. But Hopkin was a clean collier. He would always clear the rippings away to the gob before he started pulling down the coal so that there was no stone about.
The drams had to be bedded and then raced up to about two feet over the rim. You put the small coal inside, you had to keep the big lumps for the top. Powell Duffryn only paid for the colliers for lump coal. The rest would go to the washery and be sold after all. I didn’t know these things at the time. As you got older the colliers would tell you these things, we’d fill five or six drams of coal a shift each holding a little more than a ton.
Sometimes they’d fetch you a load of stone to put into the gob. The man you were working for would get paid sixpence for unloading one of those. Sometimes it was the only way that you would get an empty dram to fill. Sometimes you had to unload three or four of these drams a day. The stone came from the headings on the main level, where they had to take so much of the roof away over the seam of coal to get enough height for the horses.
We used to have to bore the shotfiring holes with a ‘butterfly’ hand boring drill. Hopkin would be doing that in his spare time when he was waiting for drams. Then the fireman would ask if the holes were bored and he would put his stick in them to see if the depth was right. The shotsman would then come to fire and blow this roof down with explosives on the afternoon shift.
When you came into work the next day there was all this muck to clear away into the gob before you could start on the coal. The big stones were kept for the walls on both sides of the roadway – the pack as they called it. The walls had to be good on the roadsides as a support to the roof. And of course, you were advancing all the time so the tram rails into the stall had to be constantly lengthened. The collier and his assistant had to do all this.Return to previous page