Friday, 27 June 2014
I have hazy memories of seeing the miners coming out of the mines blackened with coal dust. At one of our local collieries, the pit baths were across the main road from the pithead. All pit baths had a 'dirty side' and a 'clean side'. When you arrived for your shift, you left your home clothes in your locker on the clean side and walked through to put on your pit clothes, kept in a locker on the dirty side. At the end of a shift, the journey was reversed - dirty, wet clothes left in your locker on the dirty side (where warm air circulating would dry them overnight), into the communal showers to scrub yourself clean and then through to the clean side to collect your clothes to go home in. Even so, the environment was dirty and dusty so there was plenty of washing for the women at home to do. Each pit baths also had medical facilities. There were frequent accidents and even minor incidents like cuts and crushed hands could turn nasty and septic if not treated properly.
I can remember going to the local miners' gala, an annual event with a big parade. All the pits had their own colliery brass band and lots of banners. I can still vividly recall the sensation in my stomach caused by those huge drums being marched past, boom, boom. There were decorated floats (flatbed coal trucks) with all sorts of tableaux: people dressed up and waving at the crowds, some comic, some pretty, including of course that year's 'Coal Queen' in her finery and tiara, with her ladies around her. The parade seemed endless and hugely exciting to a little girl. It all finished up at a local park where there were lots of tents, exhibitions, food and various demonstrations in a large central arena. I recall there were always lots of things about health and safety, which by the 1960s was taken very seriously, with Mines Rescue Stations situated at strategic points in the area, within easy reach of all the local pits. Much of the working and machinery in the mines was controlled from the surface by then - but look how rudimentary the control room of the mid-1960s looks now!
Happy days to me then, but I didn't really appreciate the sacrifices all those men made and the guts it took to power our industries.