There were many characters down Middleton Pit, all unique in there own way, but of them all, I must make mention of Freddie H. I do not have to mention his surname initial, all past workers and anyone who knows him will recognise him.
Fred contacted Polio whilst he was an underground worker. When he returned to work after two years or so, it had left him with a pronounced limp, he was unable to walk without the aid of a stick. His job was at a face button. (Face conveyor operative) Fred’s disabilities got steadily worse, but to more than adequately make up for it, he had a heart like a lion. His company, above or below the ground, was much sought after. He, along with others youths, would ‘knock about’ together of an evening and weekends. Because of his personality he was never short of company.
Fred did his face training and he proved that he was more than able to do a face work. He, along with many of his mates secured a piece of coal on the South East 1s. Every morning, Fred and his mates and our team had to walk inbye approximately two and a half miles. We would all set off from the pit bottom, walking in single file, together. Fred would always be the last.
After having walked about half way all used to have a brief halt to get our breath back. The walking was hazardous and we all had to watch our step; there were many potholes and stones underfoot.
Fred would be lurching this way and that; he was unable to walk without the aid of his stick. How he managed to remain upright was a feat in it’s self. Many times he would stumble and fall, but woe betide anyone who attempted to go to his assistance. They would only try it once and the tongue lashing they received would put them off helping him, in that way again, in the future.
By the time Fred would catch us up, after our rest, we would be setting off again. Fred did not rest, he just carried on.
The same thing would happen on reaching the face. Men would have a brief sit-down whilst putting on their kneepads, generally getting ready for the work to come. Many would have a bite to eat or drink and catch up on the gossip of the day. By the time Fred arrived the men would be almost ready to go on the face to work. Fred would quickly prepare himself and begin work at the same time as everybody else. Whereas all others had at least two short rests, Fred had none. The walking inroads must have taken double its toll out of Fred.
Once under the ‘low’ (face) Fred was the equal, in most cases, more than equal, of all his mates. When he was off his legs, on his knees or laid out, he seemed to be in his element.
Nearly every Monday, Fred’s gang would collect in the shower rooms. By that time showers had been installed. He and his mates would discuss the events of the past weekend. Most had that Monday morning feeling no one was looking forward to work. Invariably one of them would say to another. “How much money have you got on yer?”
“Couple of quid” may have been the answer. A discussion would then ensue to determine how much each had got. If there was enough money in the kitty it would be lent or borrowed so that all would have roughly the same. They would then, as a man, decide to ‘go back’. To go back meant that they were not working today.
Fred would invariably state “Well I’m going ‘down’.”
An argument would usually ensue. Many have been the time when I have seen his mates literally kidnap him and force him to go with them. I have seen them bodily carry him struggling from the pit premises. They would be heading for a mornings fishing then the rest of the day on the booze.
I must emphasise that the thing that kept Fred going was the size of his heart. In comparison, ours was the size of a pea. I still see him; he is still like that to this day. Nothing seems to faze him.
A follow up to Fred’s story is that as the Middleton pit was about to be closed down, the Manager, Under Manager and Overman all said at different times to Fred that; whichever future mine they worked at; there was always a job for FRED. They weren’t saying it out of charity but in the sure knowledge that they would get a fair days work out of him.