Archive for January, 2016

Raise Not Shift, Dear Old Harold Swift

January 24, 2016 2 comments

Harold Swift was my great aunt’s first husband and fell 54 feet down New Brancepeth colliery pit shaft back in 1940. He was a datal hand and lived in Jubilee Street New Brancepeth. For years I have tried to establish why he met his death in that way and whether it could have been prevented; recently I found out the circumstances of his death all those years ago, as described by witnesses. The coroner was Mr J E Brown and the relevant HM Inspector of Mines was Mr W B Brown. The inquest was held at New Brancepeth, very probably in the New Brancepeth Tavern which was at the top of Unthank Terrace.

Witnesses: Mr James Smith, a shifter of Colliery View New Brancepeth, and Mr  John McLaughlin, a winding engineman of Hall Avenue, Ushaw Moor.

James Smith stated that verbal signals had been given before the accident and he had on previous occasions given such signals to the  winding engineman when he needed the cage to move. He said that if Swift had said ”raise” instead of ”shift” the cage accident would not have happened.

The coroner stated that ”it is dreadful to think that a man lost his life through the use of one wrong word.

John McLaughlin said that when Swift shouted to him to lift the cage he understood that he wanted to get clear of a kibble and he raised the cage about one yard. If Swift had used the signal [I take this to mean an appropriate alternative non verbal system] witness would have raised the cage steadily. McLaughlin admitted that the Coal Mines Regulations imposed a duty on him, and that in the case of an indistinct signal he had to make sure.

The coroner  returned a verdict of accidental death and commented that the accident should not have happened. He further said that ” I have heard with some amazement that verbal messages have been in practice at this colliery instead of a recognized system of signalling”. It was his hope the practice would cease.





Categories: Memories

Saturday Night At The Movies?

January 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Not really. But the action was at the Ushaw Moor Empire back on a nippy Friday in April


At the time there was a national miners’ strike and Mr Batey of the Durham Miners’

Association was up on stage addressing a packed house of coal miners. He was bitter

about several things but there is no need to rake over old coals except to consider the


he felt that the Government [a coalition] had tried to put the miners in a bad light with

the public by suggesting that the Miners’ Federation was inhuman towards pit ponies and

allowing the ponies to starve.

Are you shocked at that lie?  Are you surprised? Probably not,  because I imagine you try

to read between the lines and assess most carefully what is being presented. You have to,

especially as we still have a press that is mostly right wing and singing away to prop up

the credibility of the rich and powerful.


Categories: Memories