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Markham Colliery - A Poetry Anthology by Jenny Martin - Emails 7

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 4

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.


Summer nineteen seventy-three:
'Crush injury', an understatement, is the reason
for the Path Lab tests that show
a man aged sixty-two
must die.

He was in the miners' cage that plunged
down the pit-shaft with no speed control.
Brakes and back-up stops had failed:
eighteen dead, eleven survivors.

The inquiry found a brake part fractured
caused by detectable metal fatigue.
Engineers worldwide even now take note.

One of the Path Lab staff
would many times recall
the robbery with violence
of a retirement in fresh air;
would contemplate the final seconds
in that cage together -
and the feelings of the winding man
in that engine-house alone.

The answers came in the new millennium
with postings on the web from family and friends.

The sixty-two year old was a caravanner,
his grandson's posting states. There were wreaths
all over his front garden
from caravanners who,
on holiday in Derbyshire that week,
came to his funeral.

The final seconds in the cage
were recalled by a survivor not long before he died.
A voice had shouted from the lower platform:
'This is it, lads. We're f****d. We're going to f*****g die.'
Then silence, cacophony, silence.

The inquiry fully exonerated the winding man
but it's said he never spoke again.


We are the ghosts of miners and pit-boys
from China, Kurgyzstan,
South Africa, Ukraine.

For centuries your miners fought
for safer work and a living wage.
Your masters said that made your coal
too expensive
and closed all your mines.

They bought cheap coal from our masters
saying glasnost was great
apartheid was no more and
our economies were thriving.

You didn't know
when you bought cheap goods
or switched the light on
that everything was paid for
with our lives.

If firedamp explodes
are we not blown apart?
If slag or water blocks our airways
do we not choke?
If afterdamp invades our blood
don't we turn shocking pink and die?
If mine dust petrifies our lungs
are we not starved of air?
If roof-falls trap us
are we not left to die?

Will pit masters ever be judged?

Aeons Ago
a tropical sea south
  a dense forest north
evaporated and left
  compacted and formed
a salt mine
  a coal mine
with lofty galleries
  with low tunnels
airy caverns
  cramped nooks
shiny white dust
  lethal black dust
pretty by candlelight
  ugly by miner’s lamp
subsidence sank houses
  roof-falls crushed miners
beneath meadows
  beneath moorland
and black-and-white buildings.

First published March 2009 in Homage to Cheshire, edited by W. Terry Fox, Cheshire Poet Laureate.


Eleven thousand soldiers' names incised;
lone statue, Canada Bereft, looks down
on coalfield with stark slag-heaps elegised:
pre-war eleven hundred miners gone
in Europe's coalmines' worst catastrophe.
A team of German pitmen would arrive,
armed with their famous new technology,
too late to find French comrades still alive.
The Great War saw the Germans wreck French pits,
Peace Treaty of Versailles saw France address
its outrage with a claim to German pits
that left a legacy of bitterness.
There is no equal to the love that binds
true brothers in the trenches and the mines.

Europe's worst mine disaster occurred at the Courrières complex of pits in the Nord Pas de Calais coalfield, France on 10 March 1906 in which 1099 miners, including children, were killed.

MESSAGES 11th MAY 1910

He felt the air reverse
ran to the pit eye, phoned the engineman:
'Get someone down here quick!'

Explosion at The Bottleneck:
friction gear and dust afire;
rescue parties driven back.

Stopping built across the airway
killed the fire – and the hopes
for one hundred and thirty six
men and boys.

The vivid cherry-pink flush
of those killed by afterdamp
had gone when they found them.
They lay shoulder-to-shoulder
in peaceful attitudes
their water bottles and bait tins full.

Far inbye men not yet dead
had filled tubs with coal
consumed the contents of bait tins, water bottles 
chalked messages on doors and sleepers.

'All's well in this airway at 4 o'clock.
35 men and boys. J.M.'
'All's well. 6.30. H.McA.'
'All right. 7.30. W.R.'
'Can get no further on. W.O'P. & J.L.'

Father and two sons had chalked their trust
on a beam above their makeshift brattice bed
where they lay in close embrace.

'God is our refuge and help. A very present help…H.McC.' Had they lived past hope of rescue
they might have scrawled last messages
akin to their American brothers
in the New Millennium.

'We don't hear any attempt at rescue…
we can't escape. I'm in no pain…G.J.H.'
'It's getting dark… J.M.'
'Tell all I'll see them on the other side… M.T.'


Dignity transcends
degradation, death. You rest
marras, brothers, all.

Paul, the son of a banksman at Markham Colliery who was called in to help with the rescue after the cage plunge there in July 1973, tells in his posting on the Healey Hero website how every evening after work there he pats the pipes bringing the mine gas up the pit shaft and says 'Goodnight, lads.'

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