Eskdale Miner 1915

Conversation between John Owen and Mr. Noble, Low Garth, Birch Avenue, Sleights, on 1st September 1978.

Mr. Noble worked in ESKDALESIDE MINE for about 3 years, until it closed (in 1915).

He felt sure that Mr. LLOYD was the Manager when he started, but seemed to think that a Mr. Tyreman from Grosmont took over shortly after, and the last Manager came from Lumpsey Mine.

He said that a short distance inside the main drift (below Birtley Farm) there was a ‘landing’ with a brake drum, and from here full tubs were lowered in sets on a self-acting incline, pulling empties up from the tipping place at the railway side. At the tipping place there was no ‘picking belt’, but pieces of shale which could be seen were picked out of the tubs, and if there was much there, the miner responsible was fined.

When he first started, he was ‘Putter’ to George Smith and Mattie Brewster (who lived at Hardstruggle). He said that the empty tubs were pulled as far as the brake drum, then Dick Harland of Grosmont had charge of two ponies, and would pull the empties to the ‘flat.’ From here, he and the other Putters would each get a single tub and push it to the pair of miners they were responsible to, and when filled, would push the full tub back to the flat.

He said a full tub would hold about 10½ cwts but could hold slightly more when the roof was high enough to permit loading the tub above the rim.

The ‘main road’ was termed the “gangway”, and roof support on this was by heavy planks about 9 ins. Wide and 2 ins. Thick pitched about 2 ft. apart across the width of the roof. These planks were named “crowntrees” and were each supported by a prop under each end.

The men he worked for encouraged him to drill, etc., and to learn to be a miner, so long before he had completed 2 years he asked to be allowed to work the stone. The Manager reluctantly allowed him to work a place on his own, at the Hardstruggle end of the mine. He said this drift was then open for access.

While putting, his miners were employed on the LONGWALL, but he couldn’t remember much about this. He said it looked a long way from where he worked “down to the low end.” Questioned, he implied the seam noticeably dipped along its length. He said that when a miner had prepared to fire a shot, he would yell “Fire” at the top of his voice, then wait for all the men to clear the longwall before lighting the squib.

When working his own place, he said that he would turn away a place from the main road, starting the place just broad enough to get a tub through. From this point, the entry was steadily widened. He believed the bord at full width was 30 ft. across, but was very unsure about this. Props with a wooden cap placed across the top of each were used for support.

He said the seam was about 3 ft. 6 ins thick, with about 4 ins. Of shale in the middle, and the top block was about 12 ins thick and composed of good heavy ironstone. Shot holes were drilled in the bottom block and the shale and top block were wedged down. About 12 ins thickness of shale was lifted from the floor in solid blocks called “coggers” to make dry walls along the working place, and small shale was thrown behind. He said the deputies would come in periodically to ‘draw’ the props near these dry walls, and the roof would ‘bend’ onto the walls. Props used were 4 ft. 6 ins long. (I could not be certain of how these walls were placed, nor could he explain).

He said that rotary hand-drills were used, as in the Main Seam. Owing to numerous small ‘backs’ in the stone he seldom used the longer (3’-6”) drill and before loading with black powder, the scraper was used to try to feel any backs. When ore was found, the hole was stemmed with shale as far as the ‘back’ before putting in the powder. He said the ventilation was very poor and a shot fired into a ‘back’ produced a great deal of smoke which took a long time to clear. He agreed that a hole was drilled at an angle to the face. In a low, wet place in the mine, one miner used to get as much stone as possible using wedges rather than powder.

In pillar working (he stressed this) he was paid 2/4 per ton and earned about £2 per week average (i.e. 15 tons per week). He believes he only worked 5 days a week.

Candles were used for lighting, with (he thinks) oil lamps by the officials. He cannot remember his candles going out in stythe, but blamed powder smoke entirely for poor ventilation.

He believes about 50 men total were employed with a Manager and perhaps 6 deputies, but no Overman. There were few accidents and on reflection he enjoyed working there!