Wednesday, 14 November 2018

History Mine

Most kids, my day, went to castles,
Museums or off to camp,
Even an odd art gallery,
Nowhere near fire or choke damp.

But not my class, oh no, not us,
They weren’t places we would fit,
When we went off on our school trip
We went to, and down, the pit.

Might’ve seen my dad and uncles,
They were all colliery men,
Just like the both of my granddads,
Although they’d retired by then.

We went right up to the coalface,
With ponies, props and much more,
Down there, in the dark, we clearly saw
What our futures had in store.

One year to go in the classroom
And then the day came around,
We stepped from desks into the cage
And dropped and dropped underground.

Not that we were fearful, not us!
We boys wanted to be men.
Perhaps a bit apprehensive,
But do the first day, and then

You’re in that cage with your workmates,
Take first day pranks as they came,
Reborn into a way of life,
Rechristened with a nickname.

It wasn’t as bad as most folk think,
Even better, we got paid,
Jobs for life with prospects, it seemed,
With the chance to learn a trade.

Hewer or sparky or chippy,
What might be a lad’s intent?
One day a deputy maybe
Or even pit management.

Four years as a craft apprentice;
Too soon, it seemed, to assume
Schooling was dome with, on the job
Training backed by the classroom.

Colliers would put a good shift in,
Pride in work felt by workers,
With purpose behind the banter
And disdain for the shirkers.

There was no doubt about danger,
A moment could kill a bloke,
And far too many near misses
Each one dismissed with a joke.

Stories retold in the club bar,
Tall tales sometimes, the odd boast,
And a pint helps sober reflection,
Raised in memorial toast.

Some new pit lads might be careless,
Thinking they’d already grown,
Until some nasty accident
Happened go one of their own.

The men, though, kept a wary eye
In case of some stupid gaff,
Danger averted, then the lads
Learned to share the nervous laugh.

So, school boys grew into colliers
And all other pitmen’s trades,
We earned our way and self-respect,
Dressing up as sharp as blades.

When we wed we married daughters
Of dads who worked down the pit.
We thought our sons would also find
A job in the mine that fit.

But then the future looked black as coal
When a threat to mines arose,
Even a valiant strike didn’t help
As the pits began to close

Though colliers moved from pit to pit
The future was plain to see,
Our reward for skill and effort
Was to be redundancy.

As communities fragmented,
A man’s measure had one gauge,
Not his value as a miner,
But the size of his package.

Without a job to be proud of,
Where is a paid-off man’s pride?
Shafts and gates can be filled in, but
It leaves men hollow inside.

Hundreds of years of uncut coal,
Machines worth millions of pounds
And centuries of history
Lie abandoned underground.

Shafts have been sealed, headstocks removed,
Pit wheels now used as town signs,
Collieries become country parks
Show nothing of once being mines.

All except the heritage pit
Where I now guide folk about,
The main gate draws the tourists in
And the tail gate lets them out.

We’re still taking school parties down
Into the dark of the hole;
As I lead them out from the cage
One kid asks, “Please, what is coal?”

Dave Alton

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Walking Home

A long day working in the pit
Knowing that we've done our bit
Cough and spit, cough and spit
As we are walking home 

We're tired but we've done our job
We've done it all for just five bob
Don't cry, my children, don't you sob
'Cos we are walking home

Blackened like the dark of night
A bath waits by the warm fire light
Once that's done we'll feel alright
When we've done walking home

Seems ages since I've eaten owt
It's like sandpaper on me throat
A beer or two'll get me vote
But we're still walking home

Just one spark; that's all it took
All the mine and village shook
We escaped by pure blind luck
Now we are walking home

Where are Herbert and his lads?
All those kids without their dads
It's well beyond just feeling sad
'Cos they're not walking home

Choked by firedamp, blown to bits;
Burnt and charred in a fiery blitz
It's enough to make you lose your wits
But we're still walking home

Thinking of our brothers, lost,
into their fate casually tossed 
By owners that don't know the cost
For they are driving home

Their mining life came to an end
Husband, father, brother, friend
And now their weary way they wend
Forever walking home

Tim Fellows May 10th 2018

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

30 Years On

(For the 30th Anniversary of the National Coal Mining Museum of England)

There is a hole in Yorkshire,
And extraction of earth,
Of rock,
Of grit,
Of coal,
Of King Coal,
Of Yorkshire coal.
But the king was dethroned,
His subterranean palace
Thrown over,
Thrown open to the people,
Hurriers of their heritage,
Guided by miners
Hewing history
For telling tales:
“How many men work down a pit?
About half!”
Making an exhibition of themselves,
Of their ways and wisdom and words
On tongues savoured with coal dust.

A score and ten
Since the men marched back
To carry their lamps down
Illuminating faces,
And facets
And fossils
So keen eyes,
The public eye,
 Can see
What might have been left buried,
Painting coal streaked portraits
Of how it was
For so long,
For three decades now
And winding on.

Hope came to Caphouse,
Democracy of memory
So this industry,
These lives lived
Above ground,
And below ground,
In absolute darkness,
In the absolution of light,
Are not lost
In grassed over spoil heaps of time past.

This hole in Yorkshire,
For the whole of Yorkshire,
For the whole of England…
This hole! This HOLE!
Is mine!

Dave Alton

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Churning: 18 April 1918

(For Charles Henry Brearley of Manor Farm, Cridling Stubbs)

The sun rises unrefreshed
Breaking fast the Brearleys
press on
Offensive wind monsters the cracked gaze
of the dairy window
The cream doesn't want to churn

With her back to the wall
at the front, Gladys struggles
to soldier
Miss Wiles wanders Wordsworth
whilst Gladys wonders
Why would the cream not churn?

Harold inspects the beasts
fodders foldyard tumbrel
and hunkers down
with drinkings in New Spring ditch
to dream on
The Peace when cream will churn

George, Mr Brearley scours flesh from fresh
Leeds Intelligencer
Lobs bone at supine Rex 
to order the absent lad's horses
Willing the cream to churn

Finally as application and alchemy
struck gold
Ada Brearley struck the deepest darks 
as wounded as their lad's crimsons 
as brocken as his brockback 
Ada knew a thing or two about churning

as the son went down

Claire Crossdale

Wednesday, 28 March 2018



Beneath the earth of Nottingham

Lies our future, to be claimed,
The hole is sunk, the men are drawn
towards a dark and deadly flame


Nine men fall down the hungry shaft

and come back up without their breath
just nine more on the tally chart
of all the men who met their death

In Gedling's pit, where thousands worked

the rich, deep sedimentary seam
from all the world the miners came -
Jamaican beach to Sherwood's dream


The Pit of Nations is no more.

Struck down; an easy callous swipe
of the blue-edged capital sword,
ignoring what remained behind.

Was it worth it? Those six years?

Working on while others starved?
The end was coming sure enough
when unity was rent in half

Ninety years and more of toil

torn to a pile of dust and scrap
leaving a silent open grave
mighty holes filled in and capped


The pounding of 700 feet

on the crushed and stony tracks
give birth to yet another year
as the distant, lonely sun 
washes gently on our backs

We climb the hills, embrace the dips

accept the cold upon our face
we pass the embryonic homes
as an uncertain future looms
behind our gathering pace

(c) Tim Fellows 2018

Gedling Colliery, which was the life-blood of Gedling and many of the surrounding villages, opened in 1899 and was closed in 1991. 128 men died at the colliery, which produced over a million tonnes of coal per year in the 1960sIt developed a reputation as the "pit of all nations" because of the diversity of foreign miners who worked there: in the 1960s, ten per cent of the colliery's workforce of 1,400 were originally from the Caribbean.
The site was opened as Gedling Country Park on 28 March 2015 and is the location of 
Gedling parkrun

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Terror

There is a terror lurking deep, deep down,
Cold and crawling, slithering close behind
Through potholes, caves or where coal has been mined.
When and where was it hatched? Why has it grown?
How did that fearful seed come to be sown?
No matter, it’s there, as its victims find,
Thriving in darkness, this terror is blind:
Whomever suffers must face it alone.
Going underground, where there is no light,
The terror is waiting down in its lair,
Waiting for the sort of victim it likes:
Those who can’t reason why they take fright
At thoughts of the pit, of being caught down there,
Of becoming trapped. Then the terror strikes!

                                                                                                                                                                Dave Alton