Thursday, 31 October 2019

Spirits of Caphouse

(For Halloween)

Silent showers speak,
Disembodied voices call…
Old soap! Ghostly poo!

Autumn draft or cold breath,
Door on history left ajar.

Scent of carbolic,
Singing round the bath house,
Rose just passing through.

There’s dirty side and clean side,
Old miner’s other side now.

Tin bath of coal dust,
Hot water and open fires:
No money, no soap.

Words, like lives, pass in spirit:
Scares! Blood! Coughing! Screaming!

Zombie pit pony
Hurries a tub of shadows,
Dark into darkness.

Souls left to wander alone;
How lost when the lamp goes out.

Look! Look! A huge rat!
How scary then is the thought,
What size is the cat?

What is there to be scared of?
“The Deputy!” A collier quips.

Scatter of ashes,
Last words, lost mates, list of those
Beyond the echo.

Spirits abide in the coal-black,
Voices creaking like timbers.

(This poetry chain was composed by Dave Alton of Coalhouse Poets using words and phrases contributed by visitors to the Bath House and the underground tour at Caphouse Colliery, National Mining Museum of England.)

Wednesday, 30 October 2019


Should you stray down a mine, deep underground,
Listen! Listen! What’s that noise? What’s that sound?
A distant knock, knock, knocking, tap! Tap! Tap!
That’s no miner mining, it’s Bluecap!
Bluecap is a goblin, size of a child,
With an old wrinkled face, white whiskers and wild,
Wild eyes burning with blue fire that can see
Into the future, what’s going to be.
A flood? A cave-in? Gas ready to blow?
Listen for the warning, Bluecap will know.
A rap, rap, rapping and he’s trying to say,
Danger! DANGER! Time to be away!
Back to the surface and best not be slow
For there’s trouble coming down, down below.
He might sound like someone most folk would thank,
Except for his mischief, he enjoys a prank.
Tools go missing, so does the miners’ snap
And colliers will say, “That’s Bluecap!”
If there’s a full coal tub that’s been left alone
A blue flame might appear, then all on its own
That tub moves and to the shaft finds its way,
And Bluecap will expect a putters pay
Left in some quiet spot to settle the debt;
No pitman would want Bluecap being upset.
So, if you happen to be underground
And see a few coins left lying around,
Let them be, even though no one’s about,
Or Bluecap may stop you finding your way out.
Has it become hotter, the air turned stale?
Your lamp begins to flicker and fail.
Listen! Listen! There’s a crack! There’s a groan!
And you’re in the dark, down there, on your own.
You could try shouting, but no one hears you,
There’s a shuffling sound as something nears you,
Then, in the dark, a feint blue light shines through;
That will be Bluecap, he’s coming…FOR YOU!

Dave Alton

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Tommy the Trapper

My name is Tommy, I’m just six years old,
I work in the dark and the damp and the cold
Underground in a coal mine, down, down deep,
Twelve hours a day and not a minute’s sleep.
Twelve hours a day with a rope in my hand,
Sat in a tunnel that’s too low to stand,
I listen for a knock, then know what to do,
Pull on the rope, let the coal tub through.
There’s a trapdoor close by here where I sit,
A trapdoor I have to make sure is kept shut.
Beyond it, leading away from my place,
Another tunnel runs up to the coal face
Where my dad kneels with his pick cutting coal,
My mum just behind him shovelling it all
Into tubs for my sisters, ten and nine
To push and pull the length of the mine,
To the shaft bottom from where, at a shout,
Some folks up top will haul it all out.
It’s important that once I’ve let a tub pass
The trapdoor swings shut because of the gas.
There’s fire damp and choke damp, so grown-ups say,
We need the fresh air to blow them away.
For six days a week it’s here that I sit,
Tommy the Trapper, the lad down the pit.

                                                                                                                 Dave Alton

Monday, 8 July 2019

A Life Amongst Diamonds

Not brittle or smooth
and resistant to a hit
the rock was a block

Water flows through the valley
crashing into the edges

Strong, tough, working hard
firm, fierce or so it seems
rock solid brave, thick

The keeper of history
a look into the pastime

A wonderland of
light, shimmering wealth that
comes from underground

Washing away sadness shown
making dark struggles unknown

Treasure hidden here
and me, yes you can looker
hide me again for someone

Caphouse pit baths are old 
quiet still, like never before

Diamonds are forever
not for Christmas or birthdays
a miner I am not, luckily

This poetry chain was created on the Caphouse site
Of National Mining Museum for England. It is the product
Of a writing workshop held there on Sunday, 7th July 2019.

Friday, 4 January 2019

When We Were Kings

In those days when steam and smoke
belched from chimneys in our towns
We were the kings of industry
from coal we forged our crown.

In the heartlands of the north
below field and towering mill
we ripped the coal and churned it out -
we had strength and we had skill

In unison we rode the cage -
worked in thunder, breathed the dust
to feed the ever hungry beast
and earn a grateful nation's trust

But now those days have been and gone
we're never going back
where the coal flowed like a river
rumbling dark and black

to every corner of our land
by canal or rail or road
the people needed coal and
we colliers bore the load.

The banter on the coal face
the scream of the machines
the conveyer flying past us
lives only in our dreams.

So now we stand where the pit was
at the top of the slag heap hill
the noise has gone, just birdsong,
but we can hear it still.

Tim Fellows 2018