Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Winners of the Pony Poetry Competition at the National Coalmining Museum

Category: 5 – 7 years

Pit Ponies

Pit ponies work underground,
Carrying heavy, heavy coal all around,
Waiting for the day in the mines to stop
Filling their carts all the way to the top.
The mines are horrible,
Dark, cold and dangerous,
I think the pit ponies were very brave for us.

                                                                             Chloe Grimshaw (7)

Category: 8 – 12 years


My name is chip, I live in the pit,
I don’t know if I work night or day.
No spring, no summer, no autumn or winter,
No wind or rain,
It’s all the same.
Because I’m in the pit, dusty and dirty,
Young face I see by the white of the eyes.
I don’t have much of a life,
I work really hard transporting coal
Backwards and forwards.
Don’t know whether it’s day or night,
That’s my life in the pit.

                                                                             Olivia Loraine (10)

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Wakefield Rising Renga

A bright summer day,
Hover flies over water,
Nothing much happens.

On the Northern Line again,
Remember to feel the heat.

Two years – five boxes,
Is that all we ever were?
Words were left unsaid!

We are now fragments of selves
Ripening into our new self.

Leaves out in the yard
Need sweeping up every day:
A bloomin’ nuisance!

Time, ticking like an endless
Sad cricket, above the fire.

Drifting into sleep
With curtains closed, TV on
Nights long, daylight gone.

Pannage in the library,
Every page a sparkling gem.
Slick icy puddle,
Plodging in muddy rapture,
The best things are free.

Season for woolly sweaters,
Welly bobs for rain and snow.

Standard lamp glowing
Makes the room warm and cosy,
Dark shadows on walls.

Lonely, the winter tree can
Never shed it bitter spikes.

Animals awake,
Humans out passed 4pm,
The days get longer.

Let’s have a flingy thingy;
All the way! All the way! All…

The blossom appears
Growing daily on the boughs,
Promises to come.

I am unknown, I am feared,
I am inevitable!

Poets: Claire Crossdale, Fiona Fellows, Timothy Fellows, Stefan G., Jean hales, Halima Mayat, Simon Widdop

Composer: Dave Alton

Sunday, 10 September 2017

3 Sonnets

Miner's Sonnet #1

The cage door slams and down the shaft we fall
The rope that holds our lives the first set trap 
Of many heartless ways that death may call
To transport us in its eternal wrap  

The roof that hangs low o'er my lamp-lit head
May just decide to slip and down-ward drop
The work's too hard for me to dwell on dread
That comes from cracking sounds of failing prop

We hew and hack the black and shining seam
As with no warning firedamp slyly creeps
One fatal spark will light the gassy stream
A man is gone, his lonely widow weeps 

Though peril tracks the collier's daily grind
We are within its thrall of pay entwined

Miner's Sonnet #2

With comrades brave to work each day I'd go 
Joking as back and forth the wit and craic
We'd scarce be fear'd or cowed or weakness show
We knew our brothers always had our back

Communities were built on mines and coal
One whole and nourished, fed by that dark pit
The bond we had held tight within our soul
Strong as atoms no government could split 

With pride we marched together as one kin
In war the ranks of blue against us stood
Knowing that should we either lose or win
We'd pay for our revolt in flesh and blood

Yet danger lurked and lives were harsh and tough 
The death of coal did come not soon enough

Miner's Sonnet #3

The strike is lost; so back to work we go
The fire has gone; the will to fight is slain
The comradeship continues down below
But things will never be the same again  

There's coal down there and they all know the price
But no-one counts the cost of human pain
No jobs, no hope, a village slowly dies  
Our leaders arrogant in their disdain

A collier's spirit I will surely find
At school I failed; or was it failing me
I'll not allow despair to rule my mind
Can I a new trade learn at fifty-three? 

Leave behind the only life I've ever known
My future I must plan and I must own

(c) Tim Fellows 2017

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ten Minutes

In the long history of mining there are many large scale disasters that made the news - scores of lives taken in a single, horrible incident. But there are also thousands of individual accidents where men were taken. On 21st February 1935 my great-uncle Jim Hooper went to work at Parkhouse No 7 colliery in Clay Cross (known as the Catty Pit) and never came back. I did some family history research and uncovered the full story in a newspaper article of the time. This poem is a simple retelling of that article - the thing that was so striking for me was that he was so close to the end of his shift.

"Just one more tub
Give it a shove
Ten minutes we'll be done
Get out of here
at ten o'clock
And we'll be going home"

But fate had plans
For a mining man
No journey home for Jim
His pals were scarcely
yards away
when the roof caved in on him

Thirty tons of
rock and coal
A groan was all they heard
His comrades dug
and cleared in vain
their desperation shared

The doctor came
down in the mine
Four hours it took in all
But life had gone
when he was found
The doctor made the call

Around the quiet
grave they stood
His grieving widowed mother
Teddy, George and
My grandad Bill
His three surviving brothers

His sister, girlfriend,
working pals
they came to say goodbye
Just a lad
a score in years
They must have wondered why..

In a Clay Cross pit 
he was lost
One more brave mining lad
Swallowed whole
in the quest for coal
What life may he have had?

Ten minutes more
that was all
Jim would have walked away
From the face
back to his mum
To live another day

When he'd return
to that dark place
To hew the black coal seam
Day on day
his life to pass
Ten minutes killed the dream

(c) Tim Fellows 2017

In memory of James Ernest Hooper 1915-1935

Monday, 29 May 2017

Manchester Triptych


Floret of flame, echo of the big bang,
Flinging innocent creation apart,
Flaying thin skin from an orderly world,
Punching and pummelling breaking bodies,
Undoing flesh with nuts and bolts and screws,
Undoing families in a moment,
Undoing this cause through its own effect,
Discounting the life which this is the sum,
Discounting lives summarily totalled,
Immaculate lives blown out in a flash.


Who the bomber? One dressed in his best vest,
High on the opiates of his people?
Or higher, two miles high, super sonic
And scratching the sky so close to the void?
Or miles out to sea, maybe, on a cruise?
Or cruising through cyber space and zapping
Pixilated people deaf to the drone?
And who the victims? Outlines coloured in
With bold strokes broad enough to blur edges,
Such simplified figures, which children count?

$ + £…

Words are not cheap, they do cost lives, spoken
With redacted care to prick sentiments
With forked tongues, justifying calls to arms
For the hundred years and more war, all one
Global war over branding, re-branding,
Bottom lines, arrayed on banners, dressed up
In various uniforms, or civvies,
Obscured by common words, such as Great War,
Second World, Cold and Hot, Insurgency.
And then, on the home front, comes a flash point.

Dave Alton 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Underground Unaware

like the insignificant drop in an ocean
like the merest dot
like the vaguest notion
like the hint of a fleck
like the point of a pin
i am the speck
which has crept within
your long-term resident guest
silently lining your lungs
like soot darkening a chimney breast
laboured breathing will be the norm
as your respiratory system i deform

inflammation fibrosis 
cavities nodules and necrosis
will give you 
a chronic cough shortness of
breath and cyanosis
coal workers fear me as a diagnosis
i am yours truly pneumoconiosis 
 when extracting your last breath

i am legion
i am everywhere
i am no germ seeking germ warfare
i am just
recorded in common prayer
which you inhaled 
underground unaware
so ironic so unfair

 stan duncan

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Oaks Madonna

7th May, 2017, saw the unveiling of the monument commemorating those men and boys who died in the 1866 Oaks Pit Disaster. This poem was composed for, and read at, that event.

December, the hurrier month
Towards the coming of the light,
Excited anticipation
In a match struck and the advent
Candle flame. Children counting on
Coal dusted dads able to hew
Pounds and pence enough, even as
That near Christmas candle burned blue.

Etching, hand coloured and showing
Wives gathering at the pithead
Just as the maw of the main shaft
Belches fire. They’d have known the dead
Numbered their colliers. Amidst them,
Anthracite hair hurriedly styled,
Spilling down her spine over shawled
Shoulders, a Madonna and child.

Calamity wrought and rendered,
Firstly in fibre glass, and then
Bronze, to bear so tragic a weight
Of all those lives, of all those men
And boys, whose silent names will lie
Along her monumental tongue,
An eternal lament always
On the tip, about to be sung.

 The Oaks’ Madonna realised
By artist, etcher and sculptor,
This trinity fabricating
A real vision of truth in her,
A young pitman’s wife made widow
In a moment, having to cope
Because of the child in her arms,
The child being the advent of hope.

                                                                Dave Alton 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

What's That Wheel For?

"What's that half wheel?"
My daughter asked
"I see them everywhere"
How could she not
know what it is
or the reason they are there?

"What they were for",
I said to her
"When made into a wheel;
Was to wind the miners
down to work
Did they not tell you in school?"

If they just teach
of kings and queens;
of wars and ancient times
What will we know
of pits and coal;
Of working in the mines?

It's up to us
who lived the days
where memories are so clear
To keep alive the history;
don't let it disappear

The half-wheel's there
to remind us all
of the people of our town
They became our heritage
and we must not let them down.

(c) Tim Fellows 2017

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

To The People...

Hewer and Drags-man,
Driller, loader, barrow-man and breaker,
Farrier and sparks,
(The only sparks made welcome underground)
Chippy and blacksmith,
Bands-man, timberer,
Banksman, hurrier,
Putter and pick-man…
Fuelers of progress,
Of light,
Of heat,
The nation and its possibilities.

Danger down there, it’s said, and comradeship,
Told by the very tongues that tasted coal,
That were irrigated by spit-polished
Lozenges of it, that heaved kibbles full
From face to surface.
There’s testimony
Of wives who would turn their faces towards
The headstock and wonder about rock falls
And the striking of rogue sparks and blue flames.

And railwaymen who had to haul away
Truck-loads of the black tonnage from pitheads
On muscular shoulders of their locos.

And the mums and dads who shovelled the slack
And cobs across their modest hearths, or lit
The gas to feed their families, or flicked
The switch to illuminate their lives through
The mystery of electricity.

All knew then of darkness, dust and danger,
Knew there was a cost to convenience,
Knew tall, bleak-black headlines, like tombstones carved
From anthracite, when that cost was blasted
Or buried in debit columns of names.

And the owners knew the price of safety
Would have to be off-set against profit.
A wage rise subtracted from dividends,
Shorter days worked diminished their leisure,
That socialist devils make mischief
For idle hands. Far better, then, to press
Colliers to the coalface, their families
 Into narrow double-rows, their wages
To a minimum. Production to a
Maximum, or lock the colliery gates.

Those socialist devils make mischief
For working hands, hands that cut the coal
Factories and mills and workshops
And foundries for
Making the munitions,
Weaving battledress, manufacturing
The instruments and rolling out the steel,
For the guns and the bombers, for soldier,
Sailor and airman, for the fitting out
Of naval vessels, tanks and landing craft
The tore the swastika from the flagpoles
Of Europe.
                                Miners did this, made it all
Happen and then could not return their pits
To the ancient Reich of the coal owners.

“For the people, by the people!” This was
Inscribed in red on to the swelling heart
Of the nation, demanded by the voice
Of the nation and grasped in the clenched fist
Of the nation.
                                Sweet, oh so very sweet
On tongues of colliers…NATIONALISATION!

Hewer and Drags-man,
Driller, loader, barrow-man and breaker,
Farrier and sparks,
Chippy and blacksmith,
Bands-man, timberer,
Banksman, hurrier,
Putter and pick-man…
Fuelers of progress,
Of light,
Of heat,
The nation and its possibilities.

                                                               Dave Alton

Monday, 6 March 2017

Haiku - For International Women's Day

On Sunday, 5th March, International Women’s Day was celebrated at the National Coalmining Museum. Amongst a plethora of events the resident poetry group, Coalshed Poets, invited attendees to pen a haiku.

It’s scary the unknown,
How do we look forward in hope?
Present in turmoil!

Only source of light,
It’s precious, lives depend on it
Down this deep, black hole.

Out in drizzling rain,
Almost like coal mining is a game
Against society’s gain.

Cold, wet March morning
Gathering to celebrate
Women and the mines
Tim Fellows

Driving here today
Windscreen wipers stopped working
Feeling very stressed!
Sheila Bradford.

Damp and wet
Many memories
Let’s celebrate
Richard Opasiak

On a wet March day
We women came to Caphouse
For songs and poems
Jane Loe

Cycling alone
To the end of the Pennines.
Drink? Toilet? Or both?

Clare Furness

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Old Miners

Down the long throat of shaft their bodies caged
in bony stoops, rammed joints, scrubbed skin,
they’re heard now for that guttural crack
back of the throat brimmed cough,
its spittle of spent black dust
from an earth-life below,
deep-down as the pockets of city toffs.

They lived by tonnage and beamed light,
the shot-blown or bad dreamed blast. The wedge
of each pit prop a third arm or handy leg
that helped raise the sunken roof of seam.
Hackers, drillers at the unbroken face,
they broke through, they broke through,
digging out what spoke for them.

                                                                  G.F. Phillips (1949 – 2017)

Monday, 16 January 2017

An Ode From A Miner's Grand-daughter

There is a coal house way up north beyond the backyard gate
Where starlings flock and pigeons cough to welcome in the day

The sky is dark, the wind is raw as the village slowly wakes
When men and boys conjoin, in gas-light haze, to find the colliery gates
Down paths well trod they make their way to mine the said black gold
And with lamps in hand they wait their turn to descend the
dank, dark shaft.

This toil is hard and noise is all around as seams are worked so deep
 beneath the ground
The air is thin and chests are tight with choking dust and grime
But men and boys must carry on until the siren sounds

With blackened faces out they come to daylight sharp and bright
And as heavy lungs and tired limbs take their toll they make their
way back home
And there in the distance shines a light oh what a heavenly sight

In the modest home the wife awaits to greet her grimy man
She too has toiled to make his home a warm and happy place
With polished range and food to serve she sits before the embers
And holds their son against her breast with dreams to be remembered
But for tonight these dreams must wait as she stokes once more the fire

The latch is lifted and he is home - oh what a sorry sight
The grubby clothes are peeled away and in the zinc tub he soaks
Until once more he feels revived and again can live in hope

Time passes by but this still young man now carries old man’s bones
and sees through old man’s eyes
At his son he smiles, his pride and joy, and his schooling paid its worth
For he is leaving soon to follow paths well trod
 But not towards the mine thank God
His mother weeps with tears of joy as all her dreams come true
 Her boy is free - no colliery dust for him but only fields of gold

For Mum
 Christmas 2015
Carol Grainger Spalding

Monday, 9 January 2017

Oaks Ballad

A pre-Christmas, sparkly, 12/12 day.
Then… Explosion felt, far and near!
Cracked black diamonds blew away.
Déjà vu, The Oaks of yesteryear.

Devilish fiend of firedamp struck mine.
Some workers bid each other goodbye. Amen
into vortex of Dantean-layered decline
I’ll never see those darlings again

From nineteen counties: Northumbria to London,
Norfolk to Cork, toiling on the dark side.
Men and boys, local and incumden
deaths. Howmany, howmany, howmany? The Oaks’ detritus cried.

A valiant voluntary rescue but 383 were dead.
Many bodies unburied, deep in Stairfoot terra.
Family futures, stark glimpses ahead;
burdened down with perseverance and terror.

Gloria Victis.
The Oaks and The Tears
of a hundred and fifty years
are remembered by us today.
When The Oaks Took 383: Give Or Take

Claire Crossdale