In March 1958 after almost four years of on off courtship Brenda and I were married. We had both saved up for a splash out wedding. More than a hundred guests sat down to a slap up meal and no expense was spared. I invited all my friends to our wedding but especially I invited my face mates and their wives. The wedding ceremony and reception went without a hitch and my father paid for a barrel of Tetley beer. It was put on after the bunfight.
Later that evening we retired to the Middleton Social and Welfare Club where the beer was in full flow. A great time was enjoyed by all, especially when George had an argument with my new father-in-law and ‘floored’ him. George then promptly fell asleep under the snooker table.
Initially after our wedding we stayed at my parents home whilst saving desperately for a deposit for a mortgage. It was usual then to put down ten percent of the total value of any prospective mortgage borrowing. Within a few weeks we had saved over one hundred pounds, an enormous sum for those days. We began house hunting in earnest. Although our deposit would restrict the property that we really wanted, quite decent houses could be had for around a thousand pounds. We settled on a large through Victorian terraced house of four floors for seven hundred and fifty pounds. When we first viewed the property I had seen an immediate potential. I realised that the two roomed basement floor could easily be made into a self contained flat. The house would almost pay for itself, Brenda agreed with me and soon the sale was finalised.
On acquisition of the property I made an appointment to see the manager’s secretary to apply for home coal. Home coal is a subsidised grant of coal to an underground worker who is also a householder; it is a grant of eight, one ton loads per year, a load just over every six weeks. It is only for the sole use of the householder and any infringement of the subsidy can invalidate the concession. I had all the necessary documentation for the coal concession to be granted
Within a few months my uncle David and I had finalised ‘do it ourselves’ work in the basement and it was ready for occupation. A tenant was soon found who agreed to pay Two pounds a week for the flat which came with the unlimited use of coal. Our private mortgage repayment was exactly two pounds a week and the house now began to pay for itself.
As I was applying for ‘home coal’ earlier I remembered an incident a few months before, when the manager had come into our tailgate. He had asked each in turn how we were getting on. When it came to George C. he said to the manager. “Eh! Mr Poskitt. I want to put in for home coal.” Really this was a trivial detail with which the manager did not really interest himself with, his secretary dealt with home coal issues.
“Congratulations George, have you got married then?”
“Well not exactly.” Being married was a pre-requisite for home coal.
“What does, ‘not exactly mean’, George. You either are married or not.” In those days it was swept under the carpet when anyone lived together, without a marriage licence. It was just not done
“Well I’m kind of, err! Erm!” George mumbled.
“What George, come on, out with it.”
“Living funny” replied George, sheepishly. With that we all burst out laughing. The manager included.
The manager said “Well I’ve heard it described in many ways, George, but I’ve never had it described as living funny before. Go see the secretary, tell him you’ve seen me, and we’ll try to work something out,” and with that he was gone. Mr Poskitt did arrange home coal for George.
At that time house coal was quite expensive. In normal circumstances a miner could not burn all his allowance and sometimes one would ‘bend’ the deliverer to deliver it to another address. The cost of a ton of ‘bent’ coal then was five pounds.
A pit friend of mine was Peter Whitehead. Peter was the one who had his finger off whilst working as a diesel driver’s mate. My wife and I often made a foursome with him and his wife when going out socialising. Peter and his wife lived two streets away from Brenda and me.
One Saturday, Peter was a little short of money. We had arranged to go to our social club that evening. Peter had an idea. On our terrace was a lady who owned four of the houses like mine. She let all of them off as bedsits; she was ‘coining’ it in. She occupied one basement flat in the house next door but one to mine. She often offered to buy my house. The previous owner of my house had refused to sell it to her.
Peter went to see if she wanted to buy any coal. She did. Peter said to me “Mrs Ruane, will give me five pounds for a ton of coal. Will you give me a hand to get it from my house to hers? It’ll give me some beer money for tonight.” I agreed and we went to Peter’s house with an old pair of pram wheels he had borrowed.
Down in his cellar we loaded a sack full of coal and manhandled it up his cellar steps, through his kitchen to the street outside. We loaded it on to the wheels and pulled and pushed the coal to Mrs Rouane’s house, two streets away. Once there we lifted it from the wheels, down four outside steps, though her cellar kitchen and emptied it into her coal cellar. We returned for another sack full. We made this journey twenty times, each time the sack contained a least a hundredweight of coal. Mrs R. watched all, she made sure that each sack was full and that there was indeed twenty.
On completion Peter said “There you are Mrs R. a ton of coal, a good fivers worth of any body’s money.”
Mrs Rouane replied, “Peter, I’ve been thinking, I don’t think the coal was worth five pounds”
“Come on Mrs R. we agreed, a Fiver for a ton of coal. You checked the bags were full and there were twenty of them.”
“Peter I really can’t afford a Fiver, will you take three pounds?”
“No,” said Peter “Five or nothing, exactly as we agreed”
“Then nothing it will have to be, I haven’t got the money.” Peter and I looked at one another in the certain knowledge that Mrs Rouane certainly could afford the full price for the coal.
Peter said “I’d rather take it all back than be conned, you agreed on a price and now you’ve reneged.”
“I’m sorry Peter that all I can afford,” Peter and I thought she was bluffing; Mrs R. had plenty of money.
“I’ll take it back” Peter threatened.
“Take it back then. I really can’t afford it Peter”
“Come on Jack” And with that whole journey was made in reverse, all for nothing but we certainly kept face. I completely agreed with Peter. We still got out, as a foursome, that night.
Peter loved to sing; the piano and drums in the Thorpe Hotel, or in the pit showers. (By this time showers had been built for all.) One of the many other places Peter sang was in the cage when ascending after a shift. Funny thinking about that, he never sang going down the pit, I wonder why? Peter’s voice was quite good really and the hollow sound of the pit shaft’s reverberations made him sound quite presentable.
One afternoon, during ascent Peter began to sing.
“Water, cool clear water.
Keep a moving Dan don’t you listen to him Dan
he’s a devil not a man
for he spreads the burning sand with water…”
It was Peter’s favourite Frankie Laine song of 1955 ‘Cool Water’
“Water, cool clear Water.
Dan can’t you see that big green tree
where the water’s running free
and it’s waiting there for you and me”
George Lee, another mate nudged me. He nodded down to his hands that were holding his plastic water container; he unscrewed the cap.
Cool Clear water.
Water… Water… Water…”
Just as the cage came in sight of the pit top and Peter was coming to the end of his song, George turned back and splashed the remaining contents of his water bottle directly into Peters face. His surprise, timing and aim were perfect. Although the cage contained 10 men very little splashed on anyone else but its intended victim.
“What you playing at yer silly bugger.” spluttered Peter
“Shut you up didn’t it?” returned George, “and you got what you’ve been asking for, water.”
The entire cage saw the funny side of the event, even Peter; he knew the act had not been done maliciously, only as a joke. Peter never sung ‘Cool Water’ in the cage again his favourite tune changed in 1956 to ’16 Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Almost a year to the day after our wedding my wife gave birth to our first son Stephen; he was much wanted and planned for.