The prenationalisation collier boy

The poem below was written by local man Joseph Emlyn Jones, probably sometime in the 1980s.

A typical colliers’ “stall" at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Source: anonymous

Surface workers at Banwen colliery, probably about 1940s.  Roman Road is just about discernible in the background.   Timber is awaiting entry to the mine.  Source: Davies, “Now and Then” series.

The prenationalisation collier boy

To David Martin Evans Bevan for employ.

The night before first shift to start at seven clothes to air

My mother putting working clothes draped over a wooden chair.

The alarm clock would be set for six

For breakfast bread and cheese in those days no Weetabix.

Donning my working clothes and working boots

The walk to work before the seven o’clock hooter hoots.

To arrive at the lamp room at seven o’clock

Before descending down the drift mine which had been driven through hard rock.

To pass the daylight turn and down the hard heading

Approaching the deputies check point for debriefing.

After the fireman checked my lamp proceed to place of work

Believe me this was no place for you to shirk.

I worked with father in the four feet seam of coal

In those days no boys were signing on the dole.

Passing the haulier with horse and empty dram

Arriving at face to bore coal holes for the shotsman to ram.

After the blast with heading full of smoke

Waiting a while for it to clear for fear we would choke.

Out with the shovels to fill the dram which was in short supply

To await the haulier to come by.

The haulier would stop by the tumbling place

To tumble the empty dram in to the empty space.

The hauler would hitch the horse to the full dram

Which had been raced not the race associated with Steve Cram.

It was done to maximise the weight in tonnage

At the end of the week would help with pay packet coinage.

Each dram would be hitched up in lots of fourteen 

To be taken up the drift mine and down to the screen.

On arrival each dram would be weighed separately

Every collier had a special number exclusively.

I remember my father’s special number being 041

Each dram every day would start with number one.

In between drams we would notch and stand a pair of timber

It’s unusual in saying a pair of timber which was 3 in number.

Consisting of two arms and a collar

Notched with skill by myself and my father.

One nine foot collar across the heading with two six foot arms practically upright

Wedged with wooden lids, hammered in tight.

Another task was to bore topples in the rock above

For us my father and I to walk upright and give horses room to move.

In the incoming drams with timber, sleepers and a pair of rails to lay

Also in the drams was a big lump of clay.

The clay was used for the ramming of the bore holes

Everything unloaded everybody knew their roles.

Man, boy, haulier, horse each working as a team

Digging, shovelling, lifting, helping in the four foot seam.

In the stall we would work the coal from both sides of the road

Turning the coal back out for us to reload.

Packing the muck from the topholes to the gob

All this work just to earn a few bob.

In the four foot seam there was on top four inches of clod

Which wasn’t paid for by the overman’s measuring rod.

After about five and a half hours at the coal face

It’s time to make preparation to walk to the surface

But before we do it’s time to put our tools on the bar

Sometimes reasonably close and sometimes quite far.

On handing in the lamp at the lamp room at half past two

When the working part of the shift is through.

On exchanging lamp for lamp check

Hurrying home across the fields about a mile’s trek.

In the mines there was good comradeship and trust in all

Rallying round if one or two was buried in a fall.

Kneeling in front of the fire stripped to the waist

Hence the reason for being in haste.

First one home would get clean warm water

Which was provided by my mother who reared five sons and one daughter.

As we arrived home taking turns to bathe top halves

Feet, buttocks, legs, shins and calves.

The collier’s boy working hard and exciting

The role of  my  mother with others worth mentioning.

The highlight of the week on Friday was the pay packet joy

That is a brief insight into the prenational collier’s boy.

Joseph Emlyn Jones

For a fuller explanation of some of the terms used in the poem see this Glossary.

© (the written content and authorial photographs) Gareth Jones 2015-20