Before I knew it Monday morning came. It was to be the first day of my Mining Training along with Tommy Clapton, George Lee and George O ‘Neil. We had to report to the Wakefield Technical College in Bell Street. We were to spend a week there full time, then to the Lofthouse Colliery for a week, then weeks ‘about’ for sixteen weeks. Besides being a full time educational establishment, the college had a department geared for mining theory. It catered for entrants like me, through to higher education for those studying for the Ordinary or Higher National Certificate in Mining.
The day started at nine o’clock and worked to normal school hours. There were twenty three lads in the class, all under eighteen years of age. They came from various collieries of the number seven area. It was quite pleasant to be working in clean clothes, just like being back at school only getting paid for it. In the weeks to come we would be instructed in mining theory, the history of coal and the mining of it, mine safety, mine fires, ventilation, gases, the rules and regulations of mining, management, methods of working coal, underground machinery, first aid, fire fighting, mine rescue and a host of other subjects. The first week was devoted to the theory of mine safety and the need to be constantly vigilant to potential hazards.
The general history of how coal was formed was explained. It was the constant laying down of pre-historic forests over long periods. This timber and vegetation residue was overlaid with sediments which later became rock. The great heat and pressures formed the great forests residue into coal. This happened hundreds of millions of years ago in the Carboniferous period of time.
A very interesting point was made by one of the instructors of that time. He stated “That the original surface of the Earth has never been found within man’s present knowledge.” As that time was the early Fifties I have often wondered if man’s knowledge now has progressed far enough to realise Earth’s original surface.
I was surprised to learn that there are several types of coal. Anthracite, more usually found in the areas around Wales, Cannel, Brown Coal, Lignite, and even peat, all being forms of coal.
We were informed that in the Yorkshire coalfields alone, it has sufficient reserves of coal for an output of 50 million tons of coal a year for the next few hundreds of years.
I could relate to the forest theory, as I often found specimens of plant fossils embedded in the rock whilst working in the screens. At one stage I used to collect them; fossils of plant leaves were common. The only fossil of a true life form that I found was an ammonite this was from the Jurassic period of time but it was a poor specimen.
Different methods of mining were discussed, from the general collection of coal that is sometimes washed up on some beaches, to early Bell pits through to the modern mining practices of the day.
Again I could relate to the Bell pits, there were many examples of them in the Middleton Park woods. Bell pits were dug where the coal seam is relatively near the surface, sometimes only a few yards deep. When the top surface was removed and the coal was reached, it was hewn out all around the sides. Hence the name Bell pits, because of the shape of the excavation. Few roof supports were used and when the roof became unstable it would fall in; another Bell pit would then have to be excavated. The examples at Middleton Park, and there are many, are round shallow holes.
I made a host of new friends at the college. Every weekend we would all meet in Wakefield centre for a night on the town.
The rest of this chapter relates to night life in Leeds & Wakefield and can be found on Jack Gale’s website