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Markham Colliery - A Poetry Anthology by Jenny Martin - Emails 6

Names of those who died 1938 Names of those who died 1973

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From: Jenny Martin
Sent: 21 November 2010
Subject: A Poetry Anthology by Jenny Martin - PAGE 3

A Poetry Anthology
by Jenny Martin

An anthology of poetry about Whitehaven and beyond, published to mark the Centenary of Cumbria’s worst pit disaster on 11th May 1910.


I am the ghost of a fifteen-year-old pit-boy.
Six years after the National Coal Board
had vowed to run the mines
for the people
I fell down the pit-shaft.

We were six hours into the shift:
the lights were on
but I felt alone in the dark
so I tried to think of Saturday's match,
how well I would play.

The cage came to the top
we replaced full tubs with empties, stepped back.
The banksman signalled 'Lower away!' to the engineman
but I'd gone back on the platform.
I'll never know why.

When the cage moved it shook me:
I tried to climb back.
'Stay put!' yelled the banksman
signalled the engineman: 'Stop!'

I screamed: 'Mam!'
as the cage jerked to a halt
and flung me out to black gravity.

At the bottom
the onsetter heard a thud, saw a battered shoe.
He found my mangled body in the sump
with the other shoe still on my foot.

My brother identified the shoes.

The Coal Board said it was my fault
for larking about. My uncle said:
'It's an outrage! He was only a lad.'
He pestered them until they paid 'compensation'
to get him off their backs.

In a windswept churchyard
overlooking the pits and the sea
a headstone bears my epitaph:

Remembering William Martin, fifteen-year-old trainee pit-boy, beloved son of David and Margaret Jane Martin, killed at Harrington no. 10 Colliery, Cumbria, 2nd November 1953


Within The National Archives' catacombs,
Sub-section: Fatal Pit Shaft Accidents,
my file, six twenty-one, was put beside
that of a pit-boy killed six months before.
He said 'My undone years, my thousand pains,
my truth, sent from the Mines Inspectorate
in memos to all British collieries
were disregarded at your pit: your death,
your undone years, your thousand pains were judged
"shocking, deplorable" by the Chief Mines Inspector.
Our archived truth must rest here thirty years.
Let us sleep now…'

Inspired by World War I poet Wilfred Owen's Strange Meeting.

Remembering John Edward Scott, fifteen-year-old trainee pit-boy, beloved son of Reay and Sarah Scott, killed at Shotton Colliery, Co. Durham, 7th May 1953.


I am the ghost of an Aberfan child:
one hundred and sixteen of us
at school in nineteen-sixty-six
choked by black avalanche of Tip Seven
down our once green mountain.

First shift miners summoned from the pit
disinterred their children
with red raw hands. This time
white tear tracks down black faces
weren't for workmates:
they were for us children who had passed
into timeless light.

The National Coal Board blamed
an unknown well-known underground stream
for a tragedy unforeseeable and foreseen:
Tip Four had sent a warning
with a harmless slide.

They took our disaster fund
comprising gifts from rich and poor
throughout the world
for families bereft of children
to pay for clearing all their tips:
Aberfan was green again.


'Last night an old miner said in the pub
we're cutting too near
that old disused pit.'

The overman berates him:
'A few drops of water,
whiffs of stink-damp
don't matter when surveyors found
no records of previous mines.
Don't give us grief, lad.
We're cutting.'

A wall of water hits him
sweeps him up, rushes on
through tunnels unknown
with its burden of miners.

His head's under then over the water
he gulps air as best as he can
until boulders strike him
and he hears himself scream.

He's tossed into an air pocket
full of choke-damp not air:
limbs thrashing, eyes popping,
gasping and panting
faster, faster…

He reaches kind water
he swims and it strokes him
soft like his mother's touch.


I am the ghost of a child
killed in Silkstone coalmine in eighteen-thirty-eight
one of twenty-six who, our monument states,
were summoned to appear before our Maker
to account for all neglected calls of God.

Our masters broke our spirits
when they forced us, screaming seven-year-olds,
down the pit shaft for the first time
in a basket.

Weak, hungry and alone we'd stand in blackness
to open heavy doors for wagons
and slam them shut after they'd passed -
'Or you'll get us killed by firedamp.'

When the winding engine failed
we tried to flee the pit
through day-hole leading to Nab Wood
where bluebells flower
but black water choked us,
forced us up the tunnel
that leads to timeless light.

Thanks to us dead children
Queen and Parliament decreed
only boys aged ten and over
could go down coal mines
to be killed.

Within Nab Wood where bluebells flower
there's now a carved stone tribute
and for each of us a tree
planted by a Silkstone schoolchild
of matching age and gender.

The tree plantings on Saturday 27th November 2004 formed part of the Trees for All Campaign run by The Woodland Trust who manage Nabs Wood.


I am the ghost of a pit-boy aged sixteen
born eighteen-thirty-two. I was being lowered
into the mine
but not in the basket, the men stood there.
Me and my marra had to stand on the edge
facing each other, clinging tight
to the chains.

When the rope slipped off the pulley
our feet slid from the edge.
'Hang on!' the men yelled
but earth's black force
pulled us down the pit shaft
and the skin from our palms
was left on the chains.

They put our battered bodies in a cart
and took them home
for our mothers to identify and bury.

Some of our marras skipped work
to go to our funeral.
They missed an explosion
that killed ten valuable horses
and eleven men.

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