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STEPHEN " Star Clips" MARSHALL

By Stephen Marshall

Alfred Blyton courtesy of Rosalie Walkington

 

Foreword by John Doxey

Stephen is the son of William Marshall and the great great Grandson of Alfred Blyton [ Pictured left ] who are both featured on this site. Upon reading the story of  Alfred he was inspired to send in his own memories of working at Silverwood,  in doing so he has provided a great little insight into the beginning of a mining career, from his first day at the Silverwood which makes for some very enlightening and amusing reading, descriptively written to which he even provided a title.

 

 


 

 

 

CONFESSIONS OF AN APPRENTICE ELECTRICIAN

 

Steve Marshall in his schooldaysI started work at Silverwood pit in the summer of 1973 at the age of 17 as an apprentice electrician, and although I left in 1980 I still have a few fond memories of my time there.
After a few weeks at Manvers training centre, my first day at Silverwood was in the surface fitting shop with a young fitter called Collin Newey, he had a job to do at the top of west pit headgear, and asked if I wanted to join him, so off I went.
The headgear was the huge structure that towered over the shaft, and supported two giant 22 ft diameter pulleys. These pulleys guided the steel ropes that were attached to the cages that went up and down the shaft.
There was a steel stepladder with a handrail on either side going up one of the sloping legs of the headgear all the way to the top. I had no problem getting up it was only when I got to the top that I realised I had vertigo!
I had seen these pulleys from a distance on many occasions they were after all local landmarks, but now I was just a few inches away from them. My heart started to beat even faster when the pulleys started turning. Within a few seconds they were running at full speed apart from a few creaks they were almost silent.
It wasn’t long before Collin finished the job, it was when he saw me clinging to the rails that he must have noticed I was terrified. “Calm down” he said “ there is another way down”. I started to feel a bit better then, but on looking round could not see any escalator or lift shaft, and wondered what he meant. He pointed to one of the ropes.
“Grab hold of that and it will lower you towards the engine house, when you get close to the ground just let go” he said jokingly. This was my first experience of mining humour; it wasn’t to be my last. Collin went down the steps as if it was a carpeted staircase leaving me at the top. I eventually sat on the top step and came down one step at a time on my bum. Needless to say I never went up there again.

I spent the early part of 1974 in full time education at Mexborough tech .The miners were on strike at the time, but the national union of mineworkers insisted that apprentices did not interrupt their training so we were forced to carry on working.
When I came back to Silverwood later that year I went to work in the surface electric shop where I met electricians Albert Green and Ray Pell. Within a few minutes of arriving I was taught the most important job of all, how to make a perfect cup of tea.
It was then my responsibility to make sure that the kettle was full of water, plugged in and switched on 20 minutes before snap time. The kettle was so big it took almost 20 minutes to boil.  You didn’t need to look at a watch to know when it was snap time as the electrician’s labourer Albert Sutcliffe would come up a spiral staircase from the cellar and shout at the top of his voice. “Snap time, get yer mashings in”. This was my signal to make the tea for Albert, Ray and yours truly of course. Everyone else could make their  own tea. We would all then go in to the snap cabin, this was a brick built room in one corner of the shop with a huge table the size of a billiard table in it. There would be about a dozen or so men eating snap in there. Although most of the men were smokers it was considered the height of rudeness to light up a cigarette whilst anyone was still eating, I remember one occasion when a young lad did. Steve Ball an electrician had not finished his snap when the young lad, whose name I can't remember lit up a cigarette, Steve immediately came out with the wise crack. “Is it ok if I eat my sandwich whilst you smoke” The lad not realising this was sarcasm just replied  “yeh”. A few moments later Steve finished his snap, and was putting his snap tin back in his bag, he was fidgeting with it for ages, I was unaware that he was also manoeuvring his buttocks towards the young lads face, and then at just the right moment he broke wind. No one said a word, although there were a few giggles. The young lad certainly got the message, and always waited for everyone to finish his snap before lighting up.

 

I also remember being sent to the stores for a long stand. So off I went and asked Stan the store man for a long stand. About 20 minutes later Stan asked,” Have you stood there long enough? I didn’t twig on immediately, so another 20 minutes passed before he asked me the same question. It was then I realised it was a joke. I did only fall for it once, even though attempts were made to send me for a left handed spirit level bubble, and a pound of initiative.

Before I could go underground at Silverwood I had to do 4 weeks underground training at Manvers.  This took pace in the Melton field seam, which was used for training purposes only. When the cage stopped at the Melton field seam it was only a few hundred yards below ground, with about half a mile of shaft still below us. The instructor would stride into the roadway, turn on the lights and lower the kepps. This was like a bridge that was connected to the shaft side and came over on to the cage so that we could walk into the roadway without falling down the shaft. The training itself was mainly safety and awareness, but we had to work on some of the haulage systems. I remember the dreaded endless haulage, so called because it was continuous steel rope running along a rail track down the roadway, round a return wheel, back up the other side and connected to a stationary compressed air haulage engine.
The first thing we were told about any haulage system, was never to stand astride the rope as when the engine starts the ropes have a tendency to whip up towards the roof, and if you were stood over it at the time you could say goodbye to ever fathering a child.
Our task was to couple and uncouple tubs to the rope. Tubs are a term used for mini wagons that carried coal before the advent of conveyer belts. The rope would be running at a few miles per hour, and the tub would be stationary on the rails, there was a bracket connected to the tub and sitting on the rope, this bracket had a wheel on it that looked like a spur on a cowboy boot, it was called a star clip. The idea was to whack the star clip with a steel baseball bat and this would clamp the bracket to the rope and the tub would begin to move. Sounds simple eh. Well I just couldn’t get the hang of it. We had been split into 2 groups there was a team connecting the tubs on one part of the roadway, I was with the uncoupling team a bit further up the roadway.
I had stood and watched the other lads perform the operation with perfection, one great whack on the star clip as the tub went by and the tub came to a halt. Now it was my turn. The tub came towards me, I allowed it to pass, then I whacked down and totally missed the star clip, hit the rope instead, whack again, this time I hit the bracket. Whack, whack, whack, still missed, so much so we had to do an emergency stop on the rope, otherwise the tub would have ran into the buffers. The whole thing was set up again a few times before I finally did it. The tub went passed me, but this time instead of whacking down on it .i gently tapped the star clip, and the tub came to a halt to tremendous applause and cheers, I felt as if I had just scored the winning goal for England. That was the end of the shift, and we made our way back to the shaft side were the cage was waiting for us. The last man on the cage was the instructor who turned the lights off, retracted the kepps , and strode onto the cage. Because no one was left to operate the signals for the cage, a signal had to be sent to the banks man listening at the top of the shaft. Striking the side of the cage with a piece metal making a horrendous noise did this. Three bongs followed by one bong was the signal to raise the cage, the banks man would then signal to the engine house, and the cage was raised to the surface. We all had a well deserved shower, and changed into clean clothes I was the last man out of the baths, and had to hurry to board the mini bus that was waiting to take us back to Silverwood. The rest of the lads were already on board. I remember Garry Carter shouting “Come on star clips my dinner will be getting cold”. It was then I realised the nickname star clips was going to be with me for sometime. I haven’t seen Garry Carter for over 27 years, but if I saw him tomorrow I’m sure he would say, “Hi star clips how’s it going”.

 

© Stephen Marshall 2007

 

 

Many thanks Stephen for sharing your story here.

 

 

 

 

 

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