A Ghost story for Christmas

6 Dec

scooby doo

This story has nothing to do with campervans. It is the true recollection of something that happened to me along with several others, in a coal mine around 1974

haunted mine figure

This picture is intended to give an impression of what we experienced. Our Staffordshire coal mine had steel , H section “ring” supports, not timber props but you get the idea. I hope that you enjoy some of the background information.

At the time, I was working as an apprentice along with one or two others with a small group of mechanics, stripping a tunneling machine in a coal seam known as the “Banbury”. Coal seams lay across the strata, stacked above each other at various depths in the Earth’s crust.Like jam and cream layers in a cake. Other coal seams, locally were named the “Rowhurst”, the “Coxhead” and the “911”.Some were being worked at the time but others were worked out, long forgotten. Records of some were scarce or even lost

Apprentices had to wear yellow hard hats to warn others that here was a “green horn” , wet behind the ears. The more paternal fitters, electricians and miners would watch for your safety. Others would just take the “mickey”.

We were working in the return airway of a newly developed , retreat mined, coal face. two roadways are constructed parallel to each other into the seam of coal. the coal “face” is then dug out to join the two tunnels. Our return airway tunnel was somewhat higher in the strata than the intake air or “main gate”, so you had to climb up the  250 yards of coal face to get into “the return.”

The heavy machine which had been used to construct the tuunel which we were in had done it’s job and needed stripping down for removal to the surface. The tunnel needed dressing up with water pipes, for fire fighting and dust control and as yet , importantly, there was NO cabled communication system installed as yet. We were effectively isolated in a dead end or cul de sac, unless you wanted to trek down the slippery, wet and timber- propped coal face.

Now, the “Banbury” seam was known to be wet. Very wet. Water poured in constantly from above and pumps in the lower, main gate removed the ochre stained fluid , ultimately to the surface. Water was also bubbling through the coal seam , literally forming a “bulge” of water on the coal face. Frightening for young apprentices, but you got used to it. It was just how it was.

I was with a good team. They worked hard and looked after us. The officials left us alone as we usually completed the allotted tasks. We had an old collier labouring with us. He was showing his age and was treated with respect. At lunch break, as usual, we set down our tools and lifting tackle and cleaned up, the best we could. We ate our “snapping” (sandwiches) holding them in wrapping paper to keep the bread clean. A swig of water and we rested our backs against the tunnel wall to cool off , sitting on a bit of timber to try to stay dry. One or two of the men switched off their battery powered cap lamps to “rest” their eyes.

During this “snapping” break we heard someone coming down the tunnel from the direction of the surface. We could hear his boots banging against the steel rail track, the rail sleepers and once or twice , his walking stick on the steel rail itself. We could see his cap lamp shining down the tunnel and we all flicked our cap lamps on. We did not  want to be caught, “resting our eyes!”

It was a long walk down that tunnel. Probaly close to a mile from the air doors junction accessing the main routes, in and out of the mine. Eventually, the figure came into view , his own cap lamp and now his safety “Davey” lamp flickering his shadow on the tunnel wall. So here we had an official visiting us. Given away by the Davey lamp and stick. Strange, as nobody was due in and nobody walked all that way without reason. The figure stopped about 80 to 100 yards from our group and we could only see his cap lamp shining towards us. The men in our group were puzzled. Which official is it? A friendly allie or one of the more stroppy types? One of the fitters shouted a greeting but all we got back was a cap lamp being waved side to side. The figure turned and we heard him returning up  the tunnel. Someone said, “miserable bugger!” then we were back at work.

airdoors

As we worked, we discussed the stranger. We had not seen his face, just his lamps and silouette. Our leader said that we could find out who he was on our way out,at the end of the shift. At the air doors we had to be counted, in and out, by old “Joe”, another old collier, who’s job it was to limit the number of workers in this higher risk area by sliding counters along a wire slide and handing in and out counters to anyone entering the tunnel were we worked. This was a statutory Legal requirement.

That’s an example of a ventilation control or airdoor above, just as a guide.

When we finished work, we set off on the mile walk to the airdoors but when we asked old Joe, who was perched on a makeshift chair at the side of the tunnel, just who had come into the tunnel at snapping time, he said “Nobody”. We said, “come on Joe, no kidding about! Who came in? ” “Nobody!” replied Joe, becoming angry when we continued to pester him. For a couple of days, we forgot about the strange figure and we worked on, stripping the mainframe of the weighty tunneling machine.

Then , one day, as we were getting near to snapping time, we were alerted by a figure, rushing down the tunnel from the direction of the airdoors. We could see his caplamp and swinging “davey” lamp. This time though, he was running, shouting very loudly. We stopped work and listened. It was an official known to the team. He was shouting ” get out now! the main gate has flooded! There’s been a massive inrush!”

We just ran. Tools were left behind and we ran away from the inrush of floodwater surging up the coal face towards us. After a few hundred yards, we younger, fitter guys had to take the old timer by his shoulders, in turn and half carry him towards safety, his boots hovering above the rail sleepers.We were running for our lives.It was very emotional at the time.

When we got to the airdoors and the first telephone point, completely breathless, hot and weary, where we were told, “it’s OK, the flood has slowed down.It’s safe at this higher level. Get to the train and go home.” Joe was clutching the phone, in constant touch with the control room at the surface. I have never been so glad to leave a coal mine. But within a week, the pumps were back in use and we working again in the “Banbury”

For quite some time now, I have often pondered on whether or not we had been warned by that ghostly figure, trying to  predict the flood before it happened?? The two appearances were remarkably similar. Still living fairly locally,  bumping into old colleagues at the market, on garage forecourts etc over the years, there have been a number of weird chats about the pit and the day the “banbury” flooded. More questions than answers. Just who or what was that faceless figure? A guardian angel?

(Following H.M. Inspectorate investigation, it was almost certainly shown to be previously mined coal seam or seams above the “banbury” which had formed an underground lake which burst down and through the working seam.The water pressure must have been enormous!  No-one was killed. Flood recorded at the time as a “reportable incident”)

 

Advertisements

2 Responses to “A Ghost story for Christmas”

  1. jon December 12, 2015 at 4:37 am #

    Hi, you never told me that story before. Did you know about the face at Hem Heath Colliery where materials were thrown about and the latch boxes (emergency stops) on the face conveyor kept on being operated. The coal cutter driver died on that face and all happened after he died..

    • Dinkum December 12, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      Had not heard about that one. Thanks Jon. Let me have the full story and it can go in the next “Amazon” book. I have quite a few first hand stories told to me by mutual friends. The shaft signals at the “big shaft” at Trentham also operated by themselves following the first of the three fatalities there. I remember helping with the Coroner. Deeply moving times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: