Friday, 27 November 2020

When Coal Was King


There was a colliery in Pelton Fell,

Next to the homes that the miners did dwell.


The trucks rolled down to Stella Gill,

Those wagons were filled by the miners' skill.


In 12 hour shifts they hewed at the seams,

They expected nothing, but still held their dreams.


Their children scampered between those rail lines,

Playing their games of sixes and nines.


The caged canaries blinked in the sunlight,

When they closed the pit at the Pelton site.


The Tallyman was the one who was counted last,

For The Mining Industry is now framed in the past.


They hold a Gala in Durham each year,

The flags and banners they proudly do bare.


They march behind their Colliery Band,

Their heads held high as they pass The Grand.


There now are museums that regale their story,

There have been plenty of disasters, but not much glory.


There was no glamour in mining for coal,

It broke their backs and it crushed their soul.


Those miners were exploited and deprived of trust,

Their gain from labour was lungs full of dust.


The cost of coal was more than it was worth,

For the Durham miners, it was Hell on Earth.


                                                                 Jimmy Scope

After The Storm


pale blue shimmers

through puffed-up bruises

wailing winds

and charcoaled souls, burnt a little too long

is a new day breaking

while the thunder’s rumble grumbles distant?


will we navigate still-muddy puddles

pattering around

searching for words

I love you, come to me, you’re my mother, my sister

but settling on a dirty joke instead

while we trip and rise


is it a new day

where crickets and birds sing, finding their place

or just a prelude to new formed tongues of thunder

and lightning striking us jagged



I think I see another patch of blue


                                                                   Yash Seyedbagheri


Sunday, 8 November 2020

Voices in the Coalshed - November




So to November,

This time to remember,

Amidst all the gloom and mist,

 Brilliant moments still persist.


2020 has been over shadowed, and yet, looking back, there are moments to be recalled with pleasure. Maybe important, maybe trivial, but bright spots nonetheless. For me, fish and chips on the sea front at Hornsea.

I'm going to make a word collage of such bright spots for Voices in the Coalshed and the virtual museum at the National Coal Mining Museum.

So please send me your

Moment to Remember


Dave Alton

Writer in Residence

National Coal Mining Museum

Thursday, 1 October 2020

The Shadowmancer



Deep in the dark, deep in the dark,

Cast-by machines lie interred,

Forsaken, alone and silent,

But once a year they are stirred.


The Shadowmancer works by night

With shadow staff who have been

Forming portals that let him move

Shadow to shadow unseen.


Machines are sleeping underground,

Up above machines are still,

Primed for mechanical motion

Come The Shadowmancer’s will.


Then the Halloween moon wakes them,

They start up heavy and slow,

Lumbering on to the surface

From the labyrinth below. 


The mining museum’s closed

And the visitors gone home,

It’s when the curators leave that

The machines begin to roam.


Flames flare up in the Davy lamps

And by their flickering light

There are shadows of the machines

Moving around the site.


The Shadowmancer summons them

As they come to life again,

At Caphouse and at Hope pits they

Gather together, and then…


Having risen out from the earth,

Their decaying bodies stark,

They haunt all those of the living

Who left them down in the dark.


They’re famished and they’re thirsty

They’re choked with coal dust and soil,

They’re seeking to gorge themselves on

Electricity and oil.


The Shadowmancer has freed them

To go where their shadows lead,

To move around the human world

They fed, so they can now feed.


And woe betide anyone who

Might try and stand in their way,

While the machines cut all they can

By the dawn of All Souls’ Day,


When they must journey together

Back down deep, deep underground,

‘Til then, they rejoice at midnight

And nobody hears a sound.


The Shadowmancer quietly

Slips away while the night’s clear,

None will know he was ever there,

Or if he’ll return next year.


This ballad for Hallowe’en has been made from ideas and words supplied by the following:            Daniel Orme

                        Mike Keeton

                        Pam Waites

                        Lauren Wood

                        Sally-ann Burley

Many thanks to all of you. While the number of contributions varies from month to month, the quality does not. The invention and imagination in the responses to the themes is always gratifying, and October is no exception.  I wish I could have used all the wonderful images and phrases you sent, but that would have been a very long poem.

Dave Alton

Writer in Residence

National Coal Mining Museum


Please send your ideas to:


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Voices in the Coalshed



“The best thing since sliced bread”, so the saying goes. 1928 that was invented. 113 years earlier a thin slice of gauze wrapped around a flame saved thousands of lives. Humphry Davy’s miners’ safety lamp was the best thing as far as colliers were concerned.

To mark “Light in the Darkness”, the Davy exhibition in the Technology Gallery at the National Coal Mining Museum, “Voices in the Coalshed” invites you to nominate what you think is the best invention… “…since sliced bread”.

Simply say,

I think the best invention ever is…………………, because………………..

Send your idea to:

Suggestions will be post on and then become exhibits the virtual museum.


Dave Alton

Writer in Residence

National Coal Mining Museum of England


Toilet paper

Without it the world would come to a sticky end.

 Alan France

INVENTION 1      Penicillin (and derivatives)  anti-biotic.

                             Cured bacteriological infections and saved
millions of lives. When an infection appeared which it cannot cure the
world is thrown into chaos.

INVENTION 2     The bulk manufacture of Nitrates.

                             Used as fertilizer it doubled the arable
productivity of land.

INVENTION 3     Hydraulic roof supports in deep coal mining.

                             Firstly hand used then powered, trebled the
productivity of longwall face mining.

M. J. Keeton

I think the best invention is the printing press, because it brought the written word to a large audience for the very first time and helped new ideas to spread around the world much more quickly and easily. It also increased literacy rates and improved education.

Kate Fraser

One of the best inventions is a knot called a bowline.
It is easy to tie, easy to untie, does the job it is intended for and can save your life


Roger Morton



Woven cotton fabric

Gave underwear and literacy to the world!

 Nicola Harrison


The Camera

Because photographs help us to keep precious memories alive and make loved ones feel nearer when we are apart. Photographs are also important to give us a 'window' into the past that helps to bring written history to life.

 Pam Utley

To me the best invention was the steam engine it changed the industrial revolution.

Bill Web


  Original design has altered little since its invention . Just refinements .
  Eco / green friendly . Non polluting .
  Saves space parking and around town .
  Aids keep fit and health .
  Cheap , simple maintainance .
  First step to independence and prosperity in third world / developing nations .
  Enables girls’ education in these places , as the long walks to school from their remote villages are dangerous , and many are waylayed by men and / or wild animals if on foot . Making the choice to stay at home instead .
 I donated a bike to a charity which repairs them and then ships them to Africa solely for this purpose.

 Janet Carter


What would we do without ZOOM?  I am in total awe of whoever produced it - in these very difficult times it's amazing and so beneficial for people to work from home but also for others to join club discussions and exercise classes.  Even my husband is now a yoga convert.

Just as early Mining engineers and inventors helped to make life safer and more productive, ZOOM has made lockdown and restrictions easier to bear, and particularly from a social aspect, e.g. Missing the museum.

Pam Waites


The ‘bic’ throw away pen

Because it meant that the power of  writing was made instantly available, was inexpensive and easy to use and no-one ever again got into trouble for losing or mis-using a pen.

 Sally-ann Burley


PVA glue: low ecological impact (no volatiles, non-poisonous, not damaging to the skin), sticks a wide range of materials together well, dries to colourless, sets reasonably quickly but with a period when it is easy to correct or reposition the materials being glued, and can often be 'unglued' without significant damage. Safe for children and allows clandestine corrections to be made in their work, and good for the less competent modeller who may value the opportunity for a second chance at a bond (don't ask me how I know this). I can expound on PVA's virtues at length if required. 

 David Cross


The telephone, controversial in terms of who first came up with idea versus who first registered their design for patent.

It’s a great invention because it increased the speed of communication between people who were unable to connect face-to-face and paved the way for the modern voice communications we enjoy today at work and at home. My mobile phone, powered by mined minerals, has been my lockdown saviour.

 Nicola Palmer


My lines are the steam engine 


Bob Jones


 The steam railway locomotive.

It meant that we could distribute goods in bulk and everyone could travel from A to B much more safely and quickly.

 Joan Tozer

I think the best invention is the paper clip designed by Johan Vaaler because it has never needed to be redesigned because it completes its intended function perfectly. Some people have created different variations of the paperclip; however, it is purely for aesthetics as the original is frugal in design.

Amy Boothroyd


I think one of the best inventions was the Newcomen engine, an atmospheric stationary engine which was the starting point of the Industrial revolution. It was the first invention to effectively harness steam to produce mechanical work.

Mark Carlyle


I think the best invention ever is the ballpoint pen, because it has contributed to so many other inventions, ideas and interests by just being a quick and easy way to make a note of what you're thinking. It's not a totally accessible form of mark maker but there is good general availability of ballpoint pens.

Jules C.


My choice of invention or rather discovery is Fleming and the anti-biotic penicillin. I like the idea that chance as well as scientific discovery came into it.  Penicillin has had a huge impact on medicine and allowing people to recover from infections and has particularly enabled operations to take place. This pandemic has shown how important research is and how a problem often leads to a solution.

Sharon Healy

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Voices in the Coalshed


Voices in the Coalshed



“The best thing since sliced bread”, so the saying goes. 1928 that was invented. 113 years earlier a thin slice of gauze wrapped around a flame saved thousands of lives. Humphry Davy’s miners’ safety lamp was the best thing as far as colliers were concerned.

To mark “Light in the Darkness”, the Davy exhibition in the Technology Gallery at the National Coal Mining Museum, “Voices in the Coalshed” invites you to nominate what you think is the best invention… “…since sliced bread”.

Simply say,

I think the best invention ever is…………………, because………………..

Send your idea to:

Suggestions will be post on and then become exhibits the virtual museum.


Dave Alton

Writer in Residence

National Coal Mining Museum of England


The Invention of Light


Candles! Count them on your birthday cake, then

Blow! Make a wish first, of course. Power cut,

Light a candle, the teardrop of flame makes

The shadows dance, a warm glow of past times

Until reconnection with the present.

Scented candles received as gifts, then wrapped

In coloured tissue they’re given again

As gifts.

Candles! Just the one and it stinks,

Just a stub of putrid animal fat

With a weak flickering flame that flutters

And gutters when the trapper hauls open

His trap for hurriers to hurry through.

Weak, but yet too strong when the mine’s bad breath,

The methane, the feared fire damp, concentrates.

Then blows!

Make a wish it isn’t so, of course.

Far, far better though to not wish but do,

Tame the flame, stop it becoming angry

With a wrap of gauze, simple, yet profound.

How many thousands of lives screened from death

By a plan with so many holes in it?

Light the lamp, labour in its yellow glow,

Know to go when it sputters and turns blue.

Davy or Stephenson? Stepping from darkness,

Colliers couldn’t care who invented the light.


                   Dave Alton


Tuesday, 25 August 2020



Voices from the Coal Shed


August! Holiday season! And so many of us going…nowhere! Why not send a postcard anyway? Instead of the usual “Wish you were here”, how about, “Wish I was there”?

“Wish I was there” this month’s theme for contributions to the Voices from the Coal Shed blog and the virtual museum at the National Coal Mining Museum of England. This is open to any age and from anywhere.

Send your postcard message to:

Whether you can travel or not, everyone can wish.


Dave Alton

(Writer in Residence

National Coal Mining Museum of England)

 Jersey is a home from home. I wish I could walk along the St Aubin promenade as the sun sets after a busy day exploring. Or I’d visit the magnificent castles steeped in layers upon layers of history, where you can traverse five centuries in just five paces if you know where to go. I wish I could sit on the quiet and hidden golden beaches, the only sounds the waves against the rock pools. Bliss.


Brittany Holmes





I asked my 6 year old Grandson where he wished he was. This is his Postcard.


"I wish I was at Thomas Land but I really wish that I was at my friend's house playing with him, or at school in the playground playing Tig or Field of Lava with all my friends."

Isaac Reddington Aged R


My Postcard would be 


I wish I was on the beach in the sun in San Stephanos, Corfu. We would swim in the warm sea then relax on sunbeds listening to the familiar holiday beach 'soundtrack' of the sound of the waves, sun umbrellas flapping in the breeze, children playing and jet skis. We would discuss which wonderful local restaurant we might eat at tonight.


Pam Utley



Strolling on a beach

Feet wet and tingling

Cold waves catching.


Sand washes away

Reveals shells gleaming

Pebble gems glistening.


Footprints come and go

Life's pace pausing

Just breathing and being.

Julia C.



I wish I was…


…in Norfolk at my favourite camp site. I would be swimming in the swimming pool and running on the grass. It is a massive camp site with play areas which have lots of fun things to do. When I am there I feel as happy as a laughing hyena.

Caitlin Alton


I wish I was…


…in Toronto where I was due to be, before Covid. I was going to watch Leeds Rhinos v Toronto Wolf Pack and go in the nice pool on the top of the hotel. I was also looking forward to a theme park.

Rebecca Alton


I wish I was…


sailing on Adriatic Sea surrounded by endless blue sky and sparkling sea. The wind whipping the sails as we skim along bouncing on the gentle waves. Anticipating clambering into the dinghy to be whisked ashore for a delicious meal in a restaurant.

Jacqueline Garrood