An Interview with Mr. Jack Richardson of 24 Seaton Crescent, Seaham on July 29th 1978
Q – Please tell me when you were born?
A – I was born l890, the 6th of July.
Q – Where were you born?
A – I was born at Summerson’s Buildings, Seaham Harbour. That’s at the top of John Street. Straight along by Walter Willsons, then turn right.
Q – What brought your father here to Seaham?
A – Why he used to go about putting hoops (rings)on the wooden tubs. He was like a tub man, a cooper. He was a cooper when he first came to Seaham.
Q – Who did he work for?
A – I couldn’t say who he worked for. I think he worked for himself as much as anyone.
Q – Where did he come from?
A – He came from Middleton-in-Teesdale to Seaham Harbour.
Q – What are your first recollections of Seaham? Which school did you go to?
A – I went to the High Colliery School at the topof the Mill bank, it was a big school, I went there all the time. In Wilkinson’s time, that was the school boss then, Wilkinson.
Q – Was he the headmaster?
A – Aye, he was the headmaster.
Q – Can you remember any of the teachers?
A – Aye, Tom Venner was a teacher, he taught me in No. 4 class. Jimmy Bewick, in No. 3 class and old Joe Trotter, he was a good teacher. He was next to the boss I think.
Q – Assistant head was he?
A – Aye assistant, but that Wilkinson was a good man.
Q – Were they stern in those days, the teachers?
A – They were all men teachers at that school, no lady teachers.
Q – Did they use the cane in those days?
A – Yes, they used the cane they put you over theirknee and slapped you. They gave you the stick and mind it wasa drum-stick. I can remember one time, he put a fellow over his knee, one of my mates, and he ‘scotch heeled’ him – kicked him in the teeth. My mate was called Billie Bates, he used to have a fight every afternoon that lad, every afternoon coming out of school there was always a fight coming down that farm road.
Q – Were they fair fights then?
A – Yes.
Q – Not like today’s were they?
A – No, just straight forward, stand up fights.
Q – They fought fairly.
A – We used to walk down the farm road away from school down to the brick-works. That’s where I lived then, Billie lived in the next street, Cook Street, further over. We used to play football coming down that road every day.
Q – Were there any good football teams in those days?
A – There were no big teams then.
Q – Any school football teams?
A – No football school teams then. Now Charlie Parker he wouldn’t let a tin pass him, he used to kick that tin can all the way home.
Q – Was that Charlie Parker who used to play for Sunderland?
A – Yes, Charlie Parker who played for Sunderland. Peter Gartland also, we all used to come down that road together. Peter went away to the war later.
Q – Did you go to school with them?
A – Yes we went to school with them. Charlie Parker and his brother Freddie, Peter Gartland, Joe Osmond.
Q – Who did Gartland play for?
A – He signed on for Manchester City, Peter Gartland, then he had to go to the war.
Q – Who did they play for here?
A – Seaham Young Albion, that’s who I played for. Seaham White Star Football club took six players off us in a week. Six players out of our team, that only left us with seven.
Q – Was that when they were first formed?
A – Aye, they took six players out of our team in
a week, they got fined £250 for that.
Q – Why were they fined?
A – Because it was for poaching our players, it
was termed poaching, they took nearly all our team away. We
could hardly raise a team.
Q – Could they afford £250 in those days, Jack?
A – Why yes they could afford it, they were getting
good gates Seaham Harbour, Seaham White Star then you know. I
think that would be the North Eastern League team then. Geordie
Briggs was with them at the time.
Q – How did you enjoy your school life?
A – Why it was alright. I used to go up and down
to school every day, I never lost many school days.
Q – So you liked school?
A – I liked school, but mind I was pleased when
I left, because that No. 4 Standard was a hard Standard.
Q – How old were you when you left?
A – I think I would be about twelve when I left.
Q – Where did you go from there?
A – I just jobbed about and I started on the screens
at the High Pit. Before you got down the pit you had to work at
Q – How long did you work at bank?
A – I worked at bank for twelve months.
Q – So you would be 13 years old when you went down
A – Yes, I was 13 years old when I went down the
pit. I can remember going to the first cup final in 1913.
That was the year I got married. I got married and went away
to the war in 1914, I was away there till 1919. I was back at
Seaham once or twice for a leave. I remember coming back once,
and my brother was coming up the road on his leave and I said,
“Why I’m away back with you, I’m not gannin (going) to war and
you stopping here”.
Q – Did you overstay your leave?
A – I come home and overstayed my leave for two
days, then I went to London.
Q – What punishment did you get for that?
A – I got nothing. I went to London and stayed
for a night. I thought I might as well enjoy myself, never
mind about going over there among that rubbish.
Q – You didn’t get curtailed.
A – No, but I had a job to find the regiment,
they were up on the Western front, you know.
Q – Which regiment were you in then Jack?
A – 19th Division, Divisional Ammunition Column.
I used to be on the first lead of the horses. There were six
horses and a gun carriage, I was like the leading driver.
Q – Did you get any promotion?
A – No, I can remember going up into the trenches
one time with the ponies and guns. At night time you couldn’t
smoke nor anything, you just had to keep quiet. We used to go
right to the trenches with our guns and deliver the ammunition
to the gunners.
Q – This was in France.
A – Yes, you had to turn the ponies (there were
6 horses) and you didn’t know if you were going to roll into
the trenches with the ‘gallowa’ (horse) or not.
The fellas in the trenches used to say, “Make sharp and get away back out the way”. Because you might get shelled any time, it was ‘Hell on Earth’.
Q – Did you come through unscathed?
A – Aye, there were no aeroplanes then for us, no guide for us. They had aeroplanes, but we hadn’t. When I went over to the Somme that was the worst time. I went on the Somme in 1916 to prepare for the first of July, That’s when the first bombardment started. We used to take our guns up into the trenches in pieces and put them together in the first line in the trenches. When we got all the guns up, we used to go up there every night with half a dozen wagons of ammunition, to start the gun emplacement off with ammunition. Everytime we went through Albert (town in France) we used to get shelled, that was the main place. There was one big church in Albert which had a big spike on the top, a proper gold spike.
Q – Was it the spire?
A – Aye, it was the spire. I fetched a photo back, but some of the family ‘collared* it (took it for themselves) because it was a good postcard.
Q – Then what happened?
A – We came away from Albert and went back around the Western front to Kemmel. We had another do there to get them out of Kemmel Hill, it’s a hill like that see, and they were embedded in at one side. Well whenever the lads went up to the top they used to get shelled, but they prepared for a bombardment and they bombarded it. When they got them out and went over there they saw their places sunk into the hillside.
Q – Were they trenches?
A – Like proper houses, sunk into the hillside. They had cut all the rock out, they were just like houses they were living in. They were safe enough and couldn’t be bombed. Anyway we went away from there to farther up the line into Boulogne and those places. We came away from there back to the Somme again for the second do and that was when we got the Germans away. We got them away and do you know what – they turned round and shoved us right back to the coast to Armenes. However, we must have had good officers because when we were coming back to Armenes we went round and round to make believe we were fetching new troops in. They were directing us round and round, some going down over and some coming inwards, but really it was the same column.
Q – Was that camouflage?
A – That was for camouflage. We got them on the run and they never stopped till they got to Germany.
Q – Did you lose any brothers during the war?
A – No, I met my brother on the Somme. He got his foot hurt, I believe a bullet went into his foot, so he was discharged from the army. Another brother used to eat nutmegs to get out of the army.
Q – What did nutmegs actually do?
A – It was to set his heart away, make his heart beat faster. He was discharged from the army, through eating nutmegs.
Q – That’s the first time I’ve heard of that.
A – Then there was only me left in. My brother Billy lost a leg the first six weeks of the war in 19l4. It was shot off right up at the top and only six inches of leg was left on. He just died about 3 years ago, aged eighty one.
Q – How many were there in the family Jack?
A – Oh, about fourteen.
Q – Quite a family. You’d have quite a hectic life when you were young,
A – Oh, when we were all at home, well it was a big house. My mother died when she was 43 There were four lasses left, one of them took charge of the family – the oldest one.
Q – How old were you when your mother died then?
A – I couldn’t say how old I was. I wasn’t married at that time.
Q – Were you going to school or had you left school?
A – Why I think I must have left school, (she wasn’t alive when I was married) I can remember her funeral, I was still at home.
Q – How old were you when you were married, did you say?
A – I was twenty four years old when I was married.
Q – What type of work did you do when you came back, did you go to the colliery?
A – Yes, I went up to the colliery when I came back, I got on coal-hewing. Then I went onto stone work, I was like at the ‘beck and call’ (doing anything) for the overman then. He used to ‘collar’ me (make me do all the work). He used to say, “Ha’way (come on) Jack, I’ve got a job for you to do tonight. I want a return wheel putting in, there’s one broken and I want it done for tomorrow”. So then we had to go in, undo all the woodwork, take the iron frame out, take the wheel out and there would be two men fetching another wheel in for us to put in again. We saw that the woodwork was put back on top of the wheel ready to start the shift the next morning-. I was like a spare hand for him, he used to get me to do drilling and all kinds.
Q – What did you call that chap who was overman?
A – Anty Stark and Bill Defty – one followed the other one on. Anty Stark was with me when they were building the stoppings (brick wall), when they built the first stopping after the ‘gob’ fire.
Q – What fire was that, Jack?
A – Why, I’ll tell you what it was. There used to be a seam about fifteen feet high of coal. Now they went in to take the coal out, but they couldn’t get the timber to put in for the height. They couldn’t keep it up to go in so they stopped it and went in underneath.
They took about five feet of coal out and propped the other up
with barks (planks). They couldn’t keep that up so at the finish
when they had maybe took a pillar out or couldn’t keep the repair
work going they drew it all out. Now all that coal dropped and
the combustion set the ‘gob’ fire away. That coal all dropped
see, and it was lying in a heap like it was at bank and it set
the ‘gob* fire away.
Q – What ignited the fire?
A – Well I would think the air would get to it
and maybe got over hot so they couldn’t do anything with it.
See with the coal lying all night and the fresh air getting to
it, it would get ignited and would set the fire away.
Q – Was that combustion?
A – Combustion that’s right. When it came away
I was coal-hewing then.
Q – How did they stop the fire?
A – Well from the seam below we drilled holes
upwards for forty feet, which was the thickness of the seam
below, with two inch diameter drills. We pumped fifteen thousand
bags of stone dust up this one hole alone, we also did this
same procedure at various distances below where the fire was.
But the quantity of stone dust required on the other holes was
nowhere that amount, so I think that did a lot to stop the fire.
Q – Was there anyone killed or anything like that?
A – No, I was coal-hewing then and I can mind we
used to go in and prick our lamps. We had little lamps, there
were no cap-lamps then.
Q – Were they Davey lamps?
A – Davey. We used to prick up the wick about
an inch and it was only like a red gnarled smoke, we could
hardly see. We got word we had to come out. A putter came
in and said, “You’ve got to come out, just drop your gear and
get out-bye as sharp as you can”.
Q – Come out of the face, did he mean?
A – Yes, we just dropped our picks against the
tub, picked our clothes up and away we came out. We were first
out of the pit, so we must have got the first word of it. The
manager was standing at the bottom of the seam.
Q – Who was the manager then?
A – Mr. Swallow, he was a good manager. He was
standing at the bottom of this incline and he said, “Now get
straight away to the shaft, you’re all right, get straight away
to the shaft and don’t stop about”.
Q – What year would that be Jack?
A – Why I924 I believe, that was the first one.
When we got to bank, there were women and all them standing
about. They asked, “Is everybody alright?” “Yes everybody’s
alright, they are coming out-bye”. Anyway when we were all
coming out we saw one of the deputies carrying a roll of canvas
on his shoulder. He also had about half a dozen lights to take
into the places where they were sealing up, to stop the wind
from getting at the combustion. Anyway there was nobody killed,
Q – How did they put it out?
A – Now they came out and they sealed that pit up,
they put the stoppings up ‘out-bye‘, to stop the fresh air
Q – How did they seal it off?
A – They put bricks and sand over the top. That
stood for twelve months, then after twelve months they wanted
volunteers to go in when they opened it up.
Q – Was it closed for twelve months?
A – Yes, the West Maudlin was closed for twelve months.
Q – Just the one seam, was it?
A – Yes, just the one seam, but all the pit lay idle when they loused it out. When it opened out they wanted volunteers to force the way in and see what was to be seen. To get the road-ways renewed again and get the sets away
Well when we went in I volunteered to come off coal-work, me and my marra (mate) we went in. After we got the stopping down we went in. I can mind the sets that were standing on the landing which had been left. The bottom either lifted or the top had dropped, but all the set was fast. So we had to take the bottom out to get all those tubs out to make a new road in. Then they wanted stone-men on to repair the stoppings. To put the stoppings in to where the air-ways were, towards that ‘gob’ fire, where the (Maudlin) seam was, there had to be stoppings at every road. I think there had to be about six or seven big stoppings put in.
Q – Was that to stop the air from going in?
A – The fresh air, because the air used to go in one way and out the other. We got the job there to take one or two props out and hew the sides out a bit, for the coal, to make room for the brickies to get in, but they didn’t draw them out mind, they didn’t draw the tub out. They just edged the sides in a bit, and faced it in, that was for the roof (demonstrates). We just edged the sides in about four feet then they could get the bricks in, into the coal at each side. They put about a yard of brick-work up and put sand-bags over. They put a pipe in, you know, about four foot high, so they could make tests every so often. After we got that one finished we went to the next stopping to prepare another one. But the last stopping was thirty-three feet high, I worked on that, we had a hard job there.
Q – Was it frightening work?
A – That was the stopping I told you about. We built it six feet high and fifteen yards wide. The side was five feet thick, the middle was six feet thick and the other side was five feet thick. That went thirty-three feet up in height, and to get it properly sealed up we had to put a bradish (partition) up to drive the fresh air into there.
We had to take a canary cage in every day, a little lamp and a cap-lamp. The little lamp was to hang on the prop and if we saw the lamp going out we used to look to see if the canary was all right. If the canary was ‘off the bark’ (off the perch), lying on the bottom of the cage, we used to say to ourselves, “It’s time to come up.” There was a telephone just about five or six yards away from us and it was going every five minutes with the manager, Swallow, asking, “Who is on the stopping today, Mr. Richardson or Mr. Wilson?”
Q – You had to keep in constant touch with the manager.
A – Yes, “Don’t stop in too long now, if you feel yourself going, come back and get the fresh air a bit,” he would say. We were like that all the time. Anyway I’ll tell you about when we sat on the wall and Mr. Stark said, “Tonight Jack, we’ll have to put some holes (drills) on to get this down.” It had come down when we had come ‘out bye’. We got a shock when we got to know it was down when our marras (mates) went in.
Q – Would you have been under it?
A – Oh, if we’d stopped in that day and sat talking much longer, I would say about half an hour, it might have been on top of us.
Q – Did you have any serious accidents when you were down the pit?
A – I had one, where it was a low seam, there was a big fall one time and you could see up a height in there, we were clearing a road in to try and get a hold of the stone in there ready to come away.
Q – Down the slope, was it?
A – Yes, it was about six feet high and we could see something was going to come down. I looked up and a roller came down and hit me right in the bloody face. I was split down here (demonstrates), the mark is still here on my face. You know what, I was alright after it.
I went down the club the next day all bandaged up. Henry Armstrong, the under-manager said, “Jack, you shouldn’t be down here drinking.” I said, “Why I want a drink man.”
Q – Did you go to the hospital?
A – I went to hospital for treatment and they sewed it up.
Q – Were you out the same night?
A – Aye, I was alright after that, after I got the bandages off.
Q – How much compensation did you get for that?
A – Well compensation was nowt then, very little.
Q – About how much was it?
A – Well about eight or nine bob (shillings) a week, (40 or 45p in today’s money), that was all, the compensation was nothing.
Q – Was that the only money you had coming in?
A – Well aye, that was all we had coming in then.
Q – Well how did you manage on that then?
A – Well I wasn’t married then, I was living with my father and mother.
Q – Are you actually saying that people couldn’t afford to be off work in those days?
A – No, you couldn’t have stayed off on the compensation in those days. You had to be off three days before you got it, before you were entitled to it.
Q – Did you enjoy your youth?
A – Yes.
Q – Were you a keen sportsman?
Q – Oh, I was a keen sportsman. I played for Seaham Young Albion (football) same as Parker and them, but I was never good enough. I could run, I was a pretty good runner.
Q – Did you do any foot running?
A – No, I didn’t do foot running, but I was a good runner then.
Q – Can you remember some of the sportsmen in Seaham at that particular time?
A – There was one sportsman there, Herbert Cummings. I don’t know what time he did but oh ….
Q – Was that foot running?
A – He was a great runner, spoiled himself though. The family spoiled him with that much money. They put too much money on him and they put him back.
Q – That was in handicaps, was it?
A – Aye, he got put back. I don’t remember how many minutes it was for the mile, but he did a good time.
Q – What distance was he?
A – Oh, he did a hundred yards, but he could travel.
Q – Was he a sprinter?
Mr, Richardson – Sprinter, oh he was like ‘hell fire let loose’ (very fast).
Q – About an even-timer was he?
A – Aye he was even-timer, Herbert Cummings, I don’t think there was anybody could beat him.
Q – Did he run right away round in the handicaps?
A – Yes he did, he used to walk away with them he was so good. They got him at the finish, and he packed up. Anyway he’s dead and gone now, but he was a great runner.
Q – Were there any other personalities who were sportsmen at that time?
A – No I couldn’t say. Just Geordie Holly, he went away from Seaham Harbour you know, he was from Seaham White Star football team.
Q – He went to Sunderland, did he?
A – He went to Sunderland for £10, In those days imagine, £10.
Q – That would be the transfer fee, wouldn’t it?
A – Aye, £10 they got for him. Look at what he would have been worth today. There’s no footballer ever played as good as him, I don’t care where you get them from now, they weren’t as good as Geordie Holly.
Q – Was he captain at Sunderland?
A – No, he wasn’t captain.
Q – Who was playing at that time for Sunderland?
A – Why Charlie Thompson and all them were playing for Cuggie. He used to get about six men around him with a ball and shove the ball away over to somebody else to score the goal. I can remember him scoring four goals one day.
Q – Who were they playing?
A – I believe it was Blackburn Rovers, they were playing at home. He scored four goals and he went to put a ball into the goal when the goal-keeper tried to save it and Geordie Holly went into him and he somersaulted the goalkeeper up into the net. Geordie went back and lifted the poor fellow down and set him on his feet again.
Q – What position did he play then?
A – Geordie played inside-left then. Oh there wasn’t a better player that Sunderland had. Buchan and him, they all were good men, but there’s none as good as them now playing and now they get £350,000. They are not worth it, there’s none of them worth it.
Q – You don’t think football is as good now as it was in those days, do you?
A – No, it’s not as good now as it was then. This football that they play now, well I think England wants to stop it. This back passing from one side of the field to the other, I think England wants flogging for taking that on. This foreign stuff is no good. Passing the ball from one man to another all the way, they are not going for the goal.
Q – Do you prefer the old traditional way?
A – You want five forwards, as we had before. Five forwards, two backs, they just had two backs then, they didn’t mark the outside left.
Q – Did they have sweepers?
A – No, there were just the two backs and three half backs. The half backs were the men to mark and the forwards were all up the field together. Two good wingers and that was the best football that’s ever been. That’s what it should be now, I would say they would do better now if they were. These football shoes, well I would do away with them, they are only carpet slippers.
Q – Well the ball was different as well, wasn’t it?
A – Why, the ball is different, it’s not a leather ball. I don’t know what in the world it is.
Q – Synthetic.
A – The balls now they are no good.
Q – They are like balloons.
A – Aye, now the ball in those days, it was leather.
Q – Yes.
A – The football boots they had on, they sometimes went on the ankle. They had like a hard pad for the ankle. Like a proper pad fixed onto the boot, you know.
Q – Yes.
A – It was solid, that was to guard your ankle also there were shin-pads for you then. But now there’s nothing, only carpet slippers. I’ve seen them come off on the field, fancy a football boot coming off on the field and they just pull it on like a carpet slipper. I say they are no good, but they are alright for the ball that is there now. The big leather ball needed football boots with studs in.
Q – They were quite heavy to kick with as well, weren’t they?
A – Quite heavy to kick, and there was no long haired men in those days. These long haired fellows wouldn’t be allowed to play then, because it was ‘clarts’ (muddy) then, you know, on the field. If it was a wet day it was ‘clarts’ and everything, you know, why these fellows now would be no good if they went to head a ball.
Q – Their hair would get matted.
A – It would be no good for them.
Q – Were there any funny characters in Seaham in your day?
A – Why Geordie Breeze, he was the goal-keeper of Seaham White Star, Seaham Villa.
Q – What did he used to get up to?
A – I used to work agin (along side) him when I was at bank. He was a good goal-keeper. He went to live with a centre forward, Tommy Chisolme, and this Tommy Chisolme was a good centre forward, but he was a boozer (drinker). He would do owt (anything) for beer. He used to punish his wife, you know. He didn’t care what happened as long as he got his beer, but Geordie Breeze used to live with him. He used to punish his wife so much that Geordie Breeze took pity on the wife and he murdered the wife.
He murdered this fellow’s wife on account of him ‘braying’ (hitting) her to pieces you know and Geordie Breeze got hanged over that fellow. He was in jail, they put him in Seaham Harbour prison for murder. They fetched him out up to the station and I can remember I went down to watch them fetching him up. I saw him go through the gates to get the train to go to Durham and I said, “Why so long George.” He said, “So long Jackie, dear knows when I’ll see you again.” I knew then that he was going to get hanged because they did hang them in those days. He didn’t plead not guilty or anything, if he’d pleaded not guilty he might have got off. But the first words he said were, “I did the murder.”
Q – He admitted guilt.
A – Aye, he admitted it. He gave in, he did it, he had no trial, he was hanged. Aye, poor Geordie Breeze,
Q – Can you remember the strikes?
A – Yes the 1926 strike.
Q – How did you fare then?
A – About that time, the electricity board were laying cables away from the Mill Inn right up towards Hawthorn and those places, right up the main road. They were digging down so far on the path, just a certain width and I got a job. I was getting about £3 a week which was good money then for just digging. It was easy work just digging the path and laying a cable in.
Q – You were very fortunate,
A – I was very fortunate to get on with them, but I didn’t find work after that job was finished.
Q – How long was that job on for?
A – Oh, it was on for about fourteen weeks. Oh aye, right away from the bottom, along the Stockton Road way, right up nearly into Easington Village, just digging that every day. Transport was fetching us back home. That was good money then £3 a week.
Q – Some people would suffer though Jack, I presume. Did you know families who suffered through the strike?
A – Why they would suffer because it was the 1926 strike, you know, there was no money about then at all. I know my wage would be no more than £2 a week when I was working before the strike.
A – That was your weekly pay.
A – I was in a ‘flat’ coal hewing once and I only got a penny a tub, perhaps you could fill ninety nine. When I was putting I’ve seen me put one hundred and fifty from the same flat. There was a place called ‘silksworth’, it had a post-top and a post-bottom (very hard stone area).When they got to this place they could look over the top for about five or six yards and see just loose coal, it was all loose.
Q – Where was that at?
A – At the ‘Knack’ pit. We were working in the main coal, old main coal. It was a place called ‘silksworth’.
Q – How did it come to be called the ‘Knack’?
A – Oh, I wrote about it in my book, (a kind of diary).
Q – Can you remember when the Mill was going?
A – Yes I can remember when they used to fasten their horses up against the Mill pub. There were two hooks there to fasten the horse against. That was if anybody with a trap wanted a drink. They just used to fasten the horse up against the Mill door, went in and got a drink and the horse was left standing there. There were no buses then.
Q – No motorised transport.
A – No, no transport, just a trap used to run to the Harbour,
Q – Can you remember who had the trap?
A – Why old Knox had a one, A lad called Cox he had a good ‘gallowa’ (horse or pony) and trap. He could go down to the Harbour in about five minutes and come back again with about half a dozen in a trap. It was no more than about 3d (lp in today’s money) for a ride. Oh, those days it was all traps.
When I was working in the low seam in the ‘West Maudlin’ it was only about four feet high. We were taking the bottom canche (stone) up about a yard deep, we used to cut through it to make the height, you know, for the tub. I can remember I went to work one night and the overman, John Hughes, said, “Jack, they’ve been cutting at that place there and I want some holes in, I want it ‘fired’ for tomorrow.” I said, “I’ve had a few pints the night, man, it’ll knock hell out of me if I sit down there to drill holes.” He said, “Why haway, I’ll gan (go) with you, I’ll sit and wait for you for a bit.”
Q – Was it the ‘pom-pom’ then? (nickname for a pneumatic drill).
A – Aye, and a ‘cutter’, to cut the stone about five or sixfeet in, they wanted holes. It was just a low seam so I only had to sit and drill. Aye, I got them drilled, but I went ‘through the mill’ (felt unwell). I’d had too much beer, I told him that, but he was a chapel man. So I told the overman , Anty Stark, I was going home. So he says, “Why the conveyors going to start and I want you for conveyor maintenance man.” But I didn’t know anything about conveyors. He explained nobody else did and told me that all the stuff was there and a fellow was coming to tell me what stuff to lay out.
There were two men coming in with the brickies to fix two girders up and the first thing they wanted was the loading engine putting up. When they got the loading engine put up onto the two girders they would screw it down, and they would want a ramp building up to it. They gave me a diagram of what they wanted. I said, “I’ll want a few barks and chocks (wood supports) to make a proper gradient up, but I can do it all.”
Q – Was it like a ‘kip’? (mining term for ramp or incline).
A – Aye, like a kip. Anyway when I got that up they sent some stands in, to put the rollers on. Well I had to fix them on and I knew then I’d got into the way of it.
Q – Was that the first conveyor down the pit?
A – Yes.
Q – What year would that be?
A – Eh I couldn’t say, but they ‘worried’ (took all of it) the coal out of them when they did get a start. Anyway I managed all those rollers, got them up with the stands, screwed them all up to the side plates, but I laid the belt out first before I put the stands in.
I laid the bottom belt out away from the engine, right along you see. I rolled it out and put the stand over the top of the belt, put the bottom rollers in and everything, because the bottom rollers used to fix into the stand. When I got all the pillars laid out it would be away from here down to the lodge the length of it, (from his house in Seaton to the lodge near Byron Terrace School).
Q – How long would it be?
A – Oh, I would say about four hundred yards. It was a long belt, a long tongued belt. There was the ‘codger end’ (where the belt had to go round the end and come back round the top again). See there was the engine end, well the bottom belt had to come round the engine to lie on top of the belt right down on top of the rollers and be coupled up at the engine end. Then it used to go up to the codger-end and be pulled back with a ‘silvester’ (tightening machine) to secure it. You set your props to tighten your belts, then all was in working order.
Q – I understand.
A – You had to do the same with the two coal faces. Two of us, one at each side, were on like two belts to drop the coal onto the main trunk coming down.
Q – Were there two belts feeding onto one belt?
A – Two feeding onto one belt yes. I can remember one place where the stone was bad, but anyway there were chocks in and iron props, but they used to bend just like a bow.
Q – Iron. Well the old fashioned miner wouldn’t have metal down the pit, would he?
A – Why it was then, there were wooden props in, but they couldn’t keep them, they had to have metal props about six feet long. They were no more than about that wide, (indicates a few inches).
Q – What year was that?
A – I can’t remember, but I can remember getting my nose cut then. Anyway we got them away, then we came to a face where the water was coming through. The water was dropping through the top. I knew where it was coming from, I had been in that seam above and had seen the water in that seam. It came away one time, that water, when I was in the ‘main coal’ and it flooded the landing out. Anty Stark was the master shifter then, he wanted me to go to work that night. The landing had flooded and he wanted a pump in the landing. I had to take some old stockings and things in because I’d to take my work ‘claes’ (clothes) off. Well we went in, put the pump on the tram (trolley car) and went down into the water to where he wanted the pump. It was over the other side, and he wanted the pump over into that back end, so we had to stand there to pump the water out-bye.
Q – How deep was the water, Jack?
A – Why it was about that deep (indicates).
Q – A yard, do you mean?
A – Aye, a yard deep, right along the landing it was like a ‘swally’ (dip). The overman said, “It’s Christmas night so if we get this pump clear we can go straight yem (home).” I said, “Why I’ll have a go then.” Anyway we got the pump down, put two chocks down where the pump had to stand, and the next day we had to go back and put the props on, to bed them down, to set the pump away.
We got the water down, but it was all slushy and that for the drivers the next day when they did start. They wanted another pump farther out-bye and they drove a drift up into the main coal, from the ‘West Maudlin’. They wanted to make another sump. I told them, “The water mind that we are pumping out, there is more up that main coal than what you can cope with if it was to come through. What you want to do is to make a proper sump at the bottom of the drift, instead of pumping the water up the drift.”
Q – To let it go down the drift, do you mean?
A – Let the water go into the big sump, a proper
sump. Anyway they made a sump there about fifty yards long,
built walls right round it, put girders over, but it was never
Q – Get away.
A – They were pumping the water out and it went
into the West Maudlin, it had a leakage somewhere. I was on
this conveyor and the water started coming through the top and
I said, “We are going to get some water out of the main coal,
you’ll have a hell of a job on this coal face.”
Q – Why wouldn’t it go in the sump then Jack?
A – Why they couldn’t keep it going.
Q – Was there a fault in the strata? (structure)
A – It was the fault of the stone, it was coming
onto the conveyor.
Q – Like a leakage, do you mean?
A – With drawing the conveyor out all the time it
was getting a leakage onto the conveyor belt.
Where the water was coming out of the main coal it was getting
a leakage into the West Maudlin. The lads on the belts, why
they were taking all kinds – tea-cloths, over-macs, anything
that would keep the water off them when they were windy-picking.
Q – Did they get paid for the water Jack? (working
in those conditions)
A – Oh they got water money.
A – How much did they get?
A – They only got about 8d (3p in today’s money)
a day water money, something like that.
Q – How deep was the water they were working in?
A – Why it would be about a foot deep. The water
used to come down on them, it used to be like raining all the
time. Right along the face men were standing with table sheets
or proper wash-leathers, over-macs and things like that.
Q – Did you get any protective clothing from the colliery?
A – No, some of the men had Wellington boots on, anything that would keep the water off them.
Q – Yes, I see,
A – They were stripped you know and they would just have a sheet over the top of them.
Now to get that steel off the belt, I was at the engine end and there were two stone-men there also to put the bent steel on the belt at nights and run it off, I used to be at the engine end to receive it and put it onto the trunk belt and let it sail down the trunk belt to another man ‘out-bye’ who took it off.
Q – Were they steel props?
A – Steel props, yes, they were all bent, you had to clear the face where the bent ones were, they had to go out to get straightened. Anyway we got that water away. Now I must have gotten a little cut on my nose while working at the engine end. I don’t know what happened, it might have been a bit stone dropped. It never healed up, it was always red, like a red spot. Every time I used to come out to go to the baths it would start to bleed again. The hot water used to fetch it away, bleeding.
Why I signed myself on at the ambulance place and every day when I saw the nurse she said, “You are going to have a bad nose, I’m putting stuff on your nose there, it’s worth a guinea (£l.ls.Od – £1.05p in today’s money) an ounce. You are going to have a bad nose so you’ll have to see the doctor instead of me dressing it.” So I went to see Dr. Weir (my own doctor) and he said, “Oh, you’ll have to go to the hospital Jack, I doubt, if it’s not healed up. With hot water teeming on your head all the time.” So I went down to Sunderland General Hospital and they put me on the table. Two men stood holding my ankles down, another one keeping my hands down and they started to scrape it.
Q – Was there any anaesthetic?
A – No anaesthetic. And I was shouting like mad, I said, “What are you doing man, I cannot stand this.” Anyway they sent me out with a lump of wadding (bandage) on it. When I got out I just pulled the wadding off and put my handkerchief over as I was going to get the bus. When I went to see my Doctor I told him they hadn’t given me anything, all they did was scrape my face and I kept shouting. “Well you’ll have to go to Newcastle to the radium place because the nose is poisoned,” he said.
So they sent me to Newcastle General Hospital, to the radium place. I can remember them lying me on the bed, under a big light. I was lying there and I had a sandbag on my arms and legs, they wouldn’t let me move. That was to keep me there while the heat played on it. They put a pad on my nose with a hole in and they put me underneath the light and I was lying like that for about half an hour. They kept coming in and asking if I was alright. I said I was because there was plenty of heat.
Q – Did it heal?
A – No, they sent me away from there to Shotley Bridge to see a fellow – the plastic man.
Q – Plastic surgeon, do you mean?
A – He learned his trade in the army, he was telling me. They called him Herbert I believe, Dr. Herbert (he’s dead now, but he was just a young fellow then). He said, “Now I’ll tell you what I am going to do with you. I will cut a bit of skin off the back of your ear and I’ll ‘clag’ (graft) it on to your nose.” So he did, if you look closely you can just see the scar.
Q – Well I wouldn’t have noticed it Jack, did you receive compensation for that injury?
A – Yes I got paid for it; but pitwork was hard work in those days.
Q – Were you a member of any Workmens’ Clubs?
A – I joined the Conservative Club first, there were no members allowed on the committee, in those days. There were only the officials, they used to run the club. They used to stop in the club till about four o’clock every morning.
Q – Was that allowed, or was it illegal?
A – Why it was illegal. They used to stay in so long I think that was the reason they kept the members away -at first.
Q – Were there many members of the club at that time?
A – No, there wasn’t that many, but anyway when I joined that club I used to get the book called, The Graphic. There were some good books at the club then, so I put my order in to the secretary, and asked for them every month.
Q – That was like a monthly edition?
A – A monthly edition, yes, I got them for years and of course they stopped all the papers and magazines when they got more members in the club, all that fell through. Douglas Scrafton was the secretary then. Through time they allowed members to go on the committee. There was a man working at the pit, he was a deputy, and he said, “Jack, put me up for the committee will you?” Then the ballot was only by a show of hands. There were about nine of us, and the secretary asked, “Is that right, does this man want to stand for the committee?” I said, “He left word at dinner time, before he went to the pit, that he would like to stand for this committee, he’s a deputy at Seaham Colliery, Bobby Spence.” He got on the committee. About two years after that I put up for the committee and I got on, but I was voted on then by the members.
Q – Was it by ballot then?
A – Yes it was a ballot then and I was voted on to the committee.
Q – Have you any idea what year that was Jack?
A – Oh, I couldn’t say, well I did twenty-nine years on the committee.
Q – How old were you when you got on the committee?
A – I think I’d be about twenty eight when I put up for that.
Q – Did you come off in that club?
A – No I never came off.
Q – Other clubs usually go on for twelve months, and off for twelve months, did your club?
A – One could stay on the board all the time in that club.
Q – You could continue.
Q – Aye. So I got a job selling tickets for the committee, selling them to the members. Well you know, that was a big lift, it kept me in touch with all the members and they used to vote me on.
Q – Popularity, was it?
A – Aye, I was so popular with them.
Q – Why did you join the Conservative Club?
A – Because I knew it was a nice club to join and my brother was booking (taking horse bets) further down, so I thought I would join this club and maybe take a book on.
Q – Who was he bookmaking for?
A – He was bookmaking for Arthur Williams.
Q – Was he the bookie at Seaham?
A – Aye, so I thought I would follow his footsteps. Me and him together.
Q – Yes.
A – But this Williams, he wouldn’t let me get in touch with him, he just wanted the one man on, he didn’t want anybody else, I had to get another bookie, I went on for Hudson, I was at Gibsons then at the New Seaham Inn, I used to be bookmaker there. Old Gibson was the landlord then, but then we got another man called Harry Adams, he used to get these ‘Bell’s Wires’.
Q – What were Bell’s Wires*?
A – For the betting.
Q – Oh, the tips, do you mean?
A – The tips, he got the tips sent by post. I
was taking about £93 a week, at that public house.
Q – How much commission were you paid?
A – Oh, 2/- (lOp in today’s money) to the £1.
Q – So you were doing very well.
A – I was doing well, but the police were after
me, I knew that.
Q – Did you ever get caught by the police?
A – I never got caught by the police, but I knew
they were after me. I can remember one of them saying, “Oh, we’ll
get you.” That was Stephens, P.O. Stephens, he lived here.
Q – But you got away with it, didn’t you?
A – I got away with it, yes. I used to dodge
them, I knew what time they came up the road. If I saw them
coming I used to walk by the pub up the road and make believe
I wasn’t going in. I still had bets in my pockets, they could
have taken me then. My brother started coming into the pub to
try and get some of my bets because he knew it was good money.
Q – Which club was he in Jack?
A – He was in the Conservative Club as well. He
was a Conservative Club member, but he joined after me. I was
on the committee then, still taking bets. My sister’s man,
he was a bookie, he used to run under the name of ‘Smiler’.
I went on for him to help him out, I was taking good money. I
can remember coming out of the club one day, I think it would
be a big race day, on a Wednesday. I had a great deal of money
in my pocket, some betting slips also the coupons. Newcastle
were playing that day and they lost.
Q – Are you talking about football?
A – Aye, it was a cup tie or something, but Newcastle lost that day.
If they’d won the bookie would have ‘got a rattle’ (lost a lot
of money) because there were only about nine games on the coupon,
like a short list. He said, “Go on, I’ll put the coupons out.”
They looked like all home bankers, but when he saw how much
money I had taken on them he said, “Jack if all the home teams
win I’ll be broke.” Eight of them won, Newcastle saved him as
they got beaten, he won about £104 that day.
Q – How long were you a bookie?
A – I think about twelve years, I was on for Hudson
first, then finished off with Smiler.
Q – When you were on the committee did you put up
for any official positions?
A – No, I was just a committee man all those years,
but my brother was secretary of the club. In those days no
women were allowed in the club, but the dart team wanted to bring
their wives in. I moved that all members should be allowed to
bring their wives in if they so desired. The motion was passed
unanimously. Then bingo was introduced, but my brother was
against it, so he resigned.
Q – You said you were on the council, which council
A – I was Independent. Mr. Curry, the builder,
retired so I put up in his place for the New Seaham, Seaton Ward.
There was no one in for Seaham Harbour, they had their own Urban
District. Ours was Seaton, Slingley with Murton.
Q – Yours came under Easington District Council, did
A – Yes, I was on there for six years, voted on
by a ballot of the residents. I was on with Mr. Bulmer, the
farmer, for three years, then when he retired through pressure
of work on his farms, a Mr. Armstrong put up. He used to be a
Conservative agent at Darlington. He was working at the mine
and he was elected, but after about four months he turned Labour.
Other councillors wanted me to turn Labour also, but I refused. I said, “No, the people of Seaton put me in as an Independent so I’ll not let them down.” Well by this time I was getting a little bit fed up with Mr. Armstrong chopping and changing from one party to another. Then a woman who was doing a lot of social work locally and working in the Community Centre put up against us. Mr. Curry said to me, “Jack, I don’t think you will get elected this time.” I said, “Well I’m not worried.”
Well never mind she beat me, but the reason being I think was, the polling which took place at Seaton School finished at 8 o’clock that year instead of the usual 9 o’clock. All the farmers and their workers who used to vote for me did not vote, as they did not know the times of the ballot had been changed. They didn’t finish work until 8 o’clock so they were too late when they went to vote. About sixteen people told me later when I met them, that they were too late to vote and I was only beaten by nine votes, so that was that.
Q – Did you enjoy the work on the council Jack?
A – Oh yes. Although I stood as an Independent all the other councillors treated me with respect and as a friend. I can still remember them today, Mick Purcell from Horden, Tommy Metcalfe was Chairman at that time, he was from Murton. ‘Cosher’ Davidson, Billy Goulding, Charles Short, Sharpe, also a man named Watson from Dalton-le-dale. Three years after that, Seaham Harbour along with Easington, amalgamated and changed their boundaries, but Seaton was left out.
Q – What do you do now, with your spare time, now you are retired?
A – Oh, just play bowls, that’s my only pastime. I’ve been a member of Seaham Park Bowls Club since 1911. I played all those years for them and still play for the veterans now at eighty-eight years of age.
I am the only surviving founder member left. We played in the
T.D. Marshall league, that’s the Sunderland league, Sunderland
and District, We dropped out of that because the games did
not start until 7 o’clock on a Saturday night. So by the time
we finished and got back home we hadn’t time for a drink of
beer. Then we joined the Durham and District league, also the
Coast league, which was for veterans, Billy Smith and I joined,
I still play with him now.
Q – I can see you have one or two trophies, are they
A – Oh yes. This one I’ve won five times, it’s
the ‘Champion of Champions’ cup. That other one is the Seaham
Aged Miner! cup for ‘rink bowling’. There are three men on
a team, but I got the cup this year, to keep.
Q – Who would you say is the best bowler you have
seen in your days?
A – Well Freddy Rippon from Horden, We went to
play at Horden and they beat us twenty-one to seventeen, but
it was myself to blame because I should have gone up the green
to see where the other bowls were situated and I didn’t, so
I was at fault.
Q – A lot of people say bowls is an old man’s game,
would you agree with them?
A – It’s not, it’s a young man’s game, one has
to start young at it. The older one gets, the more experience
he gains, but a lot of chaps don’t take the game up until they
are getting on in years and they are too old to learn by then.
Q – Who is this young boy in Seaham who is supposed
to be a budding champion?
A – Stephen Halon. There was an open competition
for the ‘Dunne Memorial’ cup for Seaham Park Club and I won it
the first year by beating this thirteen year old youngster in
Well the following year we were both in the final again and he beat me that time by two, that boy was a good prospect for the future. He packed the game in when he started courting, now he’s told me he is going to get married shortly. But that was the only cup he won, the ‘Catherine Dunne Memorial’ cup and he never bowled any more.
Q – Well Jack, it’s been a pleasure talking to you also listening to you, thank you very much.
Interviewer – Mr. J. Porter.
Do you know if Jack’s diary, mentioned in this interview, still exists