This is a true story of a Miner's birth and a Miner's life.
This miner was born on 24th March 1901 instead of 28th May 1901, the cause of this was, his mother was 5 months pregnant, when her husband happened an accident at Creswell Colliery in the early weeks of January 1901. When he was born he only weighed 2 ½ lbs in weight, and they say they could put him in a quart jug, and had to feed him every 2 hours with a fountain pen, because his mouth was too small, that's the birth of a miner.
This is the life of a Miner
I was brought up by a Labour family, my father was a labourer at Creswell Colliery, and my mother was in Labour when I was born, and I was born in Labour on 24th March 1901, so that makes us all Labour members. My father helped to sink Creswell Colliery in 1896. I started Whitwell School at the age of five, and I should have left at the age of 13 - on 24th March 1914 but owing to abscesses on my right ankle, which occurred every year at the fall of leaves, I did not make my attendances, so I had to go until August 1914.
When I left school, it meant going out into the world for work, and in our district there was only mining and farming, so I had to do the mining. This meant walking from Bakestone Moor to Creswell Colliery every Tuesday afternoon to see the boss on the pit top. Now we begin like a ladder starts, start at the bottom and work to the top and then they find you work. When a boy leaves the pit top and goes down the mine you move one step higher until you get to the top, and then they find you work.
I started work on 27th October 1914 and drew my first weeks wage on Bonfire day, on the 5th November 1914; 10/9d. for 5 3/4 shifts after my stoppages.
My father said to me now you are drawing your first week's wage, go down to that little box, against the railway steps, and join the union, and I did so, it cost me 3d. a week after, and I was given a card and a badge. It said on the badge D.M.A. which stands for Derbyshire Miners Association and Don't Mess About, and I still have the badge. On 23rd March, the boss said to me, you can go 30 minutes early, and see the Under Manager, as I was 14 years old on the 24th March, that meant I had to go down the mine.
I went to the office to see the Under Manager who was Mr Frederick Limb, and he said you are 14 tomorrow, and when you reach that age you go down the mine, and I know you have two brothers down, George and Alf, so come with Alf, and go with him for a few days and I will make all the arrangements.
After I had been with Alf a few days, I had to go with another boy, to learn door trapping, which was opening a door with a chain on it, to let the driver come through with his horse with full tubs of coal on it, and when they came back with empty tubs on. After a week you are left on your own then, and let me tell you, there are rats, mice and blackclocks, and if one of the drivers gets in the dark they would have your oil lamp, so you know how you feel when you are in the dark, and are always pleased when you see a light.
A few weeks later you would run about with a boy to be taught how to drive, and then you would be given a pony of your own, which was kept for new drivers. But you would only be allowed to put two tubs on him, where other ponies would have four, five or six, if the Corporal saw you were a good lad and he wanted a lad to take over he would take you, and give you a better pony and set of men to drive to. That means you mostly get 2/- from the men for a tip, for bringing them things. Now as you get on there are other jobs you can do, so I went to see the Under Manager, to see if I could go on the coal face for a bit more money.
In the 1926 strike, we were beaten by the miners who were brought in by a man from North Wales - Chirk, one of the men was a P.T. instructor, and as Creswell had a good Boys Brigade at that time he was made their instructor and got a good job.
We used to have to fill our tubs with a four grained fork and not the shovel. This man was going all over the pit, examining tubs and if he thought you had been filling it with a shovel, you had to go out of the pit, and your tub was marked for examination, marked by the man who caught you. This man sent me out in June 1929 and I said to him "I have not filled with a shovel," but might as well have kept my mouth shut, he was him. I said "it won't do you any good". That man died a terrible death with cancer.
The Saturday after I had been sent out of the pit on the Wednesday I had to go and see the Under Manager about my tub. When I went to see him, he said 'What's your trouble Bob?, I said "I was sent out of the pit by your Bend downer for filling a bad tub." When you were caught it was taken to the pit top for examination by the Under Manager, Union Secretary, the man who caught you and yourself. Mr. Limb said "I know nothing about it" and he said I could start work again on my old job.
I said "no thanks Mr. Limb" when I had been sent out of the pit I'd called on my way home at Whitwell Colliery and saw Mr. Machin, and he'd said fetch your cards and start here on Monday. I had been reckoning up for a few weeks, if I could get set on at Whitwell, I would save 1 ½, hours per day, and it would soon add up. I would not be cycling in all kinds of weather, but Mr Limb did say to me, if ever I wanted to go back, while he was the Under Manager, there would always be work for me.
In June 1929, four of us were talking about starting a Labour Party, as we had not got one, so we decided to form one, so we went to see Mr. Sibbring at the Old George Inn, to see if we could have a room. He said on two conditions, you leave it as you find it, and you can have it on Sunday afternoon between 3pm and 5pm. That's how the Labour Party started at Whitwell and four of us put 2/6d each to start it (12½p), we asked Mr Sibbring how much it would be? That's my donation to the Party as long as you leave the room as you find it.
I was transferred from Whitwell Colliery to Steetley to teach the Bevin Boys - the Polish and our own young youth, the Action of Mining.
The qualifications I had, I could have been a Deputy, even an Overman, but my speech was the trouble. The Under Manager wanted me to become one and he said he would help me, for the papers in the book showed I was capable.
During the years with the Labour Party at Whitwell I did everything but the treasury. When I came back to Whitwell in 1951, I was delegate for the Whitwell Miners until I retired in 1966. The big men I have met at Chesterfield once a month at the Miners Office on a Saturday afternoon and at Staveley on a Sunday afternoon at the Co-op Hall.
In the year 1981 I won the Mr Harris book for all the years service I had done in the Whitwell Labour Party. I was like King Bruce of Scotland when he was in the cave watching the spider get to the top of his web, and he said if a small thing like that can succeed, I can, and he did, he hammered us at Bannockburn.
In 1982 my late wife and I went to the Bannockburn district, and saw the cave. It was more like a slit in the rock. I tried three times before I got my ticket for merit, and I received a voucher to the value of £10 to be spent at any book shop, and any book I wanted, and that was the book I bought at Smiths of Worksop. At the presentation the Whitwell Miners' Welfare, I also received a pen from the Whitwell Labour Party, with my name on.
I had two disappointments from the Whitwell Labour Party, the first when I went to the Chesterfield Miners' Office to receive my merit award, only Mr and Mrs Bob Walker were there. Then in 1982 when I won the Outstanding Voluntary Service award, I had to go to South Normanton to receive it. Only ten of us attended, six Labour members, me and my wife, sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I had to fill a form in and answer 30 questions. We have not heard of anyone else winning one for their services.
When I lost my loved one, I had a Minister to see me, as Mr Warden was away on holiday. It was Rev. Hoyles from Dinnington, and while we were talking he noticed the certificate on the wall, and he said "Can I have a look at it' and he said "You are lucky to have it signed by those three gentlemen, for I know them quite well."
I have seen lots of changes in our Party, but it won't make any difference to me. I enjoy the night out, I also go to Council meetings, Wild Life, Garden Meetings, History Classes but the best of all is when I go to my Methodist Church on a Sunday morning or Sunday night for I am given strength to carry on, I promised my loved one, I would keep going as long as my legs would carry me.
End of my story from 2½lbs to 10st 3lb. Going to 87.