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GalleryMemories of Teversal Colliery 1959 - 1980  (Page 8)

Malcolm Roebuck - Photo Gallery

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All Tooled Up And Ready To Go (Continued)

Sound The Roof

Falls of roof was one of the main hazards on coal faces and one of the first things that Sid did was to show me how to sound the newly exposed roof; this was done by tapping the roof with the top of your shaft.  If it sounded hollow, the roof was suspect; if it sounded solid you could consider the roof to be good.  This was not always the case; there were other hidden dangers that you had to be aware of and you had to learn how to recognise the signs for these.  The Dunsil seam had a mudstone roof which gave a particular warning if it was about to fail; it would start “bitting”. That is to say small bits almost the size of dust would start to fall from cracks that were beginning to appear in the roof often accompanied with the sound of the weight coming on, a cracking noise almost imperceptible at first.  One other problem was “potholes” yes potholes in the roof; these would be in the shape of a police mans helmet sat on top of the seam of coal, often undetected till suddenly they fall out of the roof.  These potholes were as shiny as glass on the outside and varied in size and weight, all were heavy enough to cause fatal injury.  With a rock top; no warning would be given other than a loud sound when the roof failed often this would be too late for you to take any evasive action.

The steel roof bars and props are re-used; they were recovered by the “packers” as they withdrew them in preparation for putting their packs on, the packers would place these on the face side of the conveyor ready for the next coaling shift.  The only item that was not recovered was the cap wood, this was damaged beyond use by the crushing weight of the overlying strata and would have to be replaced by new wood.   When any new cap wood was required; you would shout to the man next to you “cap wood wanted” and he would repeat the message to the next man and so on until the message was received at the “Supply Gate” as there was not any communication or signalling system on the face, though a pull wire signalling system was available it was never installed.  When a supply of cap wood was placed on the conveyor you would hear the message “cap wood on” being passed down the face and you would ready yourself to take it off the conveyor.  The cap wood did not always get to you as a sort of gauntlet was ran and if any of the men wanted the cap wood before it had got to you, they would take it off and you would have to start the whole process over again.  Now you would be suspicious before removing any cap wood from the conveyor especially on a Monday morning, as the men in the supply gate would often defecate on the capwood before placing it on the conveyor and if you were not careful you would become contaminated by faeces. One of the common problems on the face was that someone the top side of you would place an oversize lump of coal onto the conveyor, often this would become lodged and put a “plough on” (Cause the following coal to be ploughed off of the conveyor) and if this occurred in your stint it could give you a great deal of extra work to do.  You would shout to the next man below you “Hold the belt” hoping that the message would soon get to the man next to the conveyor drive so as to prevent too much spillage in your stint.  This would be hastily followed by an angry message in the opposite direction of “Break your f******g lumps up”. This message was also passed up by the offender so as to disguise his guilt.  (I have often done this myself)

I could not have been better placed with an instructor than with Sid Cooper; he was a patient good natured man who guided me through the first part of my coal face training, I learned a lot from him and his workmates, I will never forget him.
The main problem that I had when I first started my face training was sore knees; I did wear knee pads, but small particles of coal got between the pads and my knees and it wasn’t too long before the abrasive nature of the coal skinned my knees.  Apparently this was a problem for most new face workers; I was advised to apply generous amounts of white spirits to both knees as this would harden the skin off, I don’t think that it did I suffered for months before the irritation subsided, this is when calluses appeared on my knees and hardened off the skin.

Stinting is physically hard work, often working in hot, cold, cramped, wet, noisy, dusty and bad roof conditions; injuries are frequent from a black finger nail to a major accident, virtually every week you would learn of a fatal accident at one of the pits in the country.

The camaraderie that the miners had can be easily understood when you recognise the hazardous conditions in which they worked.  

When stinting was a common form of winning coal you would see some of the miners that had suffered a broken nose, you could tell that they were miners due to the blue scar left on the bridge of the nose.   Many miners had blue scars on their hands where they had cut them on the sharp coal; the blue scars were caused by the coal dust getting into their injuries.

The broken noses were caused by props flying out and striking them in the face; when Mother Nature decided to move, tremendous pressure was placed on the props and it was often this that caused them to fly out. 


Putting Packs On

My next four weeks was to be spent on the same face learning how to put packs on and how to withdraw the supports, unfortunately I don’t remember my instructors name, but if he was still alive I’m sure that after hitting him on the hand with an eight pound hammer he would remember mine. I have previously stated that the face was less than three feet high; this is on the face side as you go towards the gobbings the height of the face reduces due to the roof lowering into the waste, (Waste is another word for gobbings) and material piled up that has been thrown over the conveyor.  Due to this reduction in height you had to lay on your side to knock out the back props with the hammer; it was during my first attempt to do this when I struck my instructor on the hand.  It was unintentional; I can assure you that this is not the best position to be in when you are swinging a hammer as hard as you can, I had completely missed the prop and the screams of agony followed by comments of abuse and blasphemy from my instructor immediately brought it to my attention that the hammer had come to rest in the wrong place.

I have to say that this method of removing props was considered to be unsafe (It was for my instructor) and frowned upon; the correct method was to use a “Sylvester” (A tool used for pulling) to pull the props out, the only drawback with this was that it was not good enough for the job.  It would require the strength of an elephant to operate it in the conditions that we worked; even then I doubt that it would do the job, the weight of the roof resting on the prop would be too great for the Sylvester to overcome and pull the prop out.  After the removal of a number of the back props; we would clean the floor up in the area where we would build the wall of the pack, gradually filling debris in behind the pack wall as we built it up.  The front wall of the pack would be built up to the roof just behind the next row of props; we would use the larger pieces of “dirt” (fallen roof fragments retrieved from the gobbings) to build the walls.  Once the front walls were complete with just a small amount of the side walls to build; the front props would be withdrawn and the roof bars retrieved from the pack, then the pack can be filled tight to the roof and the side walls completed.

Withdrawing Supports

The adjacent diagram shows how the packs should have been built, but this was not the case; the inner two walls shown in the diagram were omitted and to be honest many of the packs were “hollow” (Not completely filled) due to the lack of filling material. Some of the more experienced deputies would come and push their sticks in the pack to check if they were completely filled to the roof. After the packs had been built, the remaining supports between the packs would be withdrawn.  A team of two men would build three of these packs each shift and should a man be injured and have to leave his place of work, it would be left for the remaining men to complete the task.

One day on the afternoon shift whilst travelling inbye on the manrider we were passing the cars on the opposite side that were travelling outbye at the “meetings” (A kind of shunt were the cars travelling in opposite directions passed each other) I saw a stretcher with someone completely covered with a blanket on it.  This only meant one thing.  We had heard that there had been a serious accident on Waterloo 3s coal face, it turned out that this accident had been a fatal one. 

A man named Cis Bacon had been killed by a fall of roof.  I can’t tell you how bad this made me feel, some of the men stopped working and went home as a mark of respect for the deceased.

The belt flitters would start their shift an hour before the packers at the supply gate end; this would give them time to start the advancement of the face conveyor leaving room for the packers to start their work on arrival.  Like most of the men working on the face you would eat your snap on the way in or on the way out, taking your “dudley” (tin water bottle) inbye with you so that you could get a drink of water before you went onto the coal face and when leaving the coal face.  The only problem with leaving your dudley in the supply gate was that often the belt flitters would leave the district that way and would often help themselves to your water on their way out.  I had not been made aware of this and hadn’t realised why the packers hid their dudley’s before they went onto the face, a remedy to this was soon explained to me by my instructor.

The Remedy With A Rusty Dudley

This is a tale of a “Rusty Dudley” a dudley being made of metal soon went rusty on the inside after a few months of rough use, it then caused the contents to turn into a brown coloured vile tasting liquid; in an attempt to make your dudley last longer small particles of coal would be placed inside with a small amount of water, this would be shook vigorously and then washed out.  The abrasive nature of the coal particles would hopefully polish the inside of the dudley removing the rusty inner surface and increase the length of service of your dudley, but this was not always the case and the only thing left to do was to purchase a new dudley. 

Now for the remedy; you would take your old empty dudley inbye with you and before leaving it hanging up for all to see; you would empty the contents of your bladder into it and then top it up with water from the fire hydrant.  If you have ever been “dying of thirst” you will be aware that the first few swallows pass down the throat un-tasted and the satisfaction of seeing your old dudley thrown to the floor at the end of your shift is truly gratifying.  It may seem a harsh thing to do, but believe me, there is nothing worse than you having to go without a drink at the end of your shift because some toe-rag had stolen your water.

It was about this time when the tin dudley started to be phased out with the introduction of the plastic water bottle; the problem with these were that you got an awful taste of plastic in the water that would take months to disappear. You could get a dudley that was enamelled on the inside and out, the problem with these was that it was all too easy to damage the enamelled surface. Ex U.S. Army stainless steel water bottles that didn’t taint the water were available from the “Army Stores”, but these were too expensive and would not hold as much as the tin dudley.


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