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Coal Mining Heritage in and arou

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					Heritage Sites 14 and 15 Coal Mining Heritage in and around Chopwell Wood
Background – the Great Northern Coalfield
Chopwell Wood and the nearby villages lie on the western edge of a coalfield that stretched from Bishop Auckland and Shildon in the south of County Durham, to beyond Morpeth and Ashington in Northumberland. Coal from this area has been mined since Elizabethan times in the 16th century. The first mines were drift mines in which coal was dug out of tunnels made into a hillside from where a coal seam came to the surface. The forerunners of deep mines were called bell pits, in which a hole was dug down to shallow seams of coal. Coal mines and the buildings associated with them came to be called collieries. By 1724 it is recorded that there were seven collieries working in and around Chopwell Wood. As the uses of coal developed both industrially and domestically, it grew in value and there was a huge increase in mining activity from about 1850. Villages grew in size as workers and their families moved to the collieries to find employment. Houses, a church or chapel and a school were built in the growing villages and shops and small businesses developed. As technology developed during the 19th century, it became possible to dig vertical tunnels, or shafts, which went down to the coal seems deep underground. These deep mines were also called pits. One of the first pits in the area was in High Spen, where the Garesfield Bute pit shaft was sunk in 1800. Some of the last pits sunk were in Chopwell. No1 pit was sunk here in 1896, followed by two more pits in 1906 and 1909. There was also a deep pit at Lintzford, sunk in 1765 and known as South Garesfield Colliery. There was a drift mine at Victoria Garesfield from 1870, which had tunnels under Chopwell Wood and into the surrounding hillside. There was also a drift mine in Rowlands Gill, first started in 1877, known as Lilley Drift. More details about these collieries and the others in the area can be found at the Durham Mining Museum, website www.dmm.org.uk The villages of Chopwell, High Spen and Rowlands Gill were all within the former boundary of North Durham when mining was taking place. The Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead and the other metropolitan boroughs on Tyneside were not formed until the 1970s, about 10 years after the mines had all closed.

Life in a Mining Family around 1900 – 1920
The houses associated with a colliery were usually two-up two-down terraced cottages. They were usually owned by the mine owner, and to get a cottage you had to be employed in the colliery. In County Durham that usually meant you had to be a man. Although women were allowed to do surface work such as sorting coal from rocks, from about 1850 it was made illegal for women to work underground. Families were big; there was often 10 or more children in a family. The parents would have a bed in the living room, with all but the youngest children sleeping upstairs. Couples married young so as to get a cottage. Boys and girls had to grow up quickly. They would attend an

elementary school until their fourteenth birthday learning basic arithmetic, reading and writing; there were no primary schools until after 1930. On his fourteenth birthday, a boy would expect to start work in the colliery and follow his father down the pit. Girls would either stay at home and help their mother with the household chores and to look after the family, or were sent “to a place” to do in service work as a maid or servant in the household of a rich land owner. In service she would typically work from 6:00 am until midnight and be paid about 5 shillings a week plus her board, with one afternoon off. Some girls did surface work at the collieries.

Jobs in the Colliery
Collieries generally worked for 24 hours a day, with the colliery workers on a shift system. Shifts were usually of 8 hours, but were often longer and up to 12 hours. A miner working as a hewer, doing a 5 day week around 1900-1920, would earn between £2 and £3 pound a week, the actual rate depending on how much coal was produced, unless the miner was on a fixed rate of pay called a datal. Younger men and boys, although working the same hours earned rather less. Men and boys, who worked in the colliery, usually did no work in the house. For recreation many tended allotments to grow food and some took part in sport or just games in the local public house; quoits was a popular game. Some men got involved in union work. Trapper : a boy would start work as a trapper. His job was simply to open and shut a small door in the mine tunnels to let coal tubs go backwards and forwards through the tunnels. Opening and shutting the door also helped air to circulate in the mine. Driver : a boy of 14 or 15 who drove the pit ponies pulling the coal tubs on the rail tracks in the main tunnels, to the bottom of the shaft. Putter : also known as a barrowman : older boys aged between 17 and 20, had the job of putting the tubs where they could be pulled by pit ponies to the shaft. This meant they pushed the tubs along the rails to the tracks in the main tunnels. Headsman and foals : some boys were not strong enough to be a putter on their own; they would be assisted by a younger boy, and together they were known as a headsman and a foal. Hewer : from age about 21, a boy would aim to become a hewer; these were the men who worked at the coal face and mined the coal. They would work as a hewer until aged about 70 unless they were promoted. Sorter : this was a job done on the surface so women could do it. It involved taking stones and rocks which weren’t coal off a conveyor belt as it went past. They also screened out pieces of coal that were too small to go into the coal wagons. Horse-keeper : in deep mines the ponies were kept in stables underground. Drift mine ponies had stables above ground in the village and were taken on shift into the mine each day. The horse-keeper fed and washed the ponies and checked them for any injuries. He also mucked out the stables. Deputies : a pit deputy was a responsible position and the men had to be qualified. They were responsible for safety underground so particularly oversaw the setting of pit props to support the roof, and ensured the mine was well ventilated, getting fresh air in and bad air out.

Overman : men who showed managerial and leadership qualities could become an overman in their 30s. Overmen were responsible for managing the shifts and directing who worked where in the colliery. They too had responsibility for ensuring safety underground and were required to keep a daily record of work done, wages paid and any incidents that occurred. Viewer : this was the colliery general manager with overall responsibility for all underground and surface work and working conditions.

Jobs in the home
Jobs in the home were nearly always the responsibility of the wife, mother and daughters, especially after the daughters had left school. Home life was very organised and revolved around looking after husbands, sons and brothers. In particular the men expected a meal to be provided when they came back home after their shift at the colliery. Women too worked all hours of the day and night, often getting little sleep. All heating for warmth and cooking, came from a coal fire, usually set within a range, which was in the living room. A range was similar to a modern day “Aga” and included an oven for baking. Lighting was by candles or gas or oil lamps. There was no electricity until after 1920. An old rhyme, whose origins are not known but which probably came from coal mining communities, suggests how the week was organised. They worked a six day week, with Sunday as a day of rest. Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Bake on Wednesday, Brew on Thursday, Churn on Friday, Mend on Saturday, Go to meeting on Sunday. Washing of clothes, often wet and thick with pit dust, was done by possing, continually thumping the clothes up and down in water with a poss-stick. A washboard with lyle soap was also used. The drying started with mangling, which was squeezing the clothes between two rollers, before they were hung on the clothesline. This was often done in the yard by the house. Some women took in washing from others to earn extra money. Shops only had basic foodstuffs. Women would buy flour and yeast to make bread and pies. Meat was a luxury and usually only eaten on a Sunday; suet pudding was the usual diet. Women also made tea cakes, rice cakes and stotty cakes. Families often grew their own vegetables and kept pigs and chickens. There were no supermarkets until about 1980. Water had to be fetched from a communal tap in the street. There was no running water in the home. All hot water, especially for baths for the pitmen, had to heated on the range. The baths were often called tin baths, though they were usually made of zinc and hung on the wall outside in the yard until needed. A bath would take place in the living room, by the range. The house had to be cleaned as well, including the range. Dirty water was deposed off down a drain in the street.

Women also spent time making and mending clothes. They would knit woollen clothes including socks and stockings for their men to wear with their pit boots.

Summary
Life in the pit villages like Chopwell, High Spen and Victoria Garesfield at the start of the 20th century was tough. In the mines and in the home it was hard physical work for long hours. Yet very close-knit communities formed in which people would help each other. Life was highly regulated but it was generally secure, with a home and employment and the familiarity of traditions and the way things were done. Girls who went away to a place in service, lived with strangers, and it is not surprising that many found that a harsh and lonely life. Most girls hoped to get back to marry a pit boy and set up her own cottage and become part of colliery village life again.

Questions
1 In which village was Garesfield Bute pit? Answer – High Spen 2. When was the Lilley Drift Mine first started? Answer – 1877 3. In 1920, what county was Chopwell in? Answer – County Durham 4. In what decade did the last of the collieries close? Answer – 1960s 5. What sort of school did children go to in 1910? Answer – elementary school 6. How much would a girl in service expect to earn in a week? Answer – 5 shillings, (25 pence) 7. What job in a colliery did a fourteen-year-old boy do? Answer – a trapper 8. What was the other name for a barrowman? Answer – a putter 9. Who did a foal work with? Answer – a headsman 10. Which colliery job were women allowed to do? Answer – sorter 11. Who was responsible for the day to day working of a colliery? Answer – the overman

12. What was the range in a miner’s living room used for? Answer – heating and cooking 13. According to the old rhyme, on what day was butter made? Answer – Friday 14. What was a poss-stick used for? Answer – washing clothes 15. What sort of pudding did miners usually eat? Answer – suet pudding

Links
Durham Mining Museum Durham Miner Project www.dmm.org.uk www.durham-miner.org.uk www.ncm.org.uk

National coal mining museum www.pitwork.net


				
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