Silverwood Logo by John Doxey background photo Mick Carver1900 - 1994

Dedicated to the Miners of Silverwood

History of the Mine

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Silverwood Mine

Hollings Lane

Thrybergh

South Yorkshire England

Webmaster John Doxey

Main Photos Jonathan Dabs.

 

 

 

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DRY STONE WALLING UNDERGROUND

Drawing by Fred Spencer copyright

A PRESENTATION BY FRED SPENCER

Ex Silverwood miner and policeman

 

 

The excellent article below was published in The Dalesman of January 1999, author Fred Spencer has kindly subscribed the piece to this site along with one of his drawings which is seen above. The article describes how the skill of dry stone walling was not just limited to farmers in the Dales. The article also contains some very sound advice for would be dry stone wallers as only a Yorkshireman could give it.

 

DARK DAYS UNDERGROUND

 

MY wife and I enjoy our regular visits to Goathland, never tiring of the dales and moors with their breathtaking scenery. Many an hour we have spent watching the men repairing sections of dry stone wall, damaged by the ravages of time. Such work takes me back to my teenage years, in the 1950s, when I was introduced to my first experience of building a dry stone wall. The old boy given the task of passing on his skills, had a countenance as hard as the stone of his craft. The scars of time had lined his face, causing it to look like the rows of dry stone walling, criss-crossing a dales hillside.


He was liberal with his encouragement and advice. Unfortunately, the fire in his belly had been doused by the passage of time. He took advantage of my youth and enthusiasm in completing the manual side of our task. “Get thisen dar’n to a furm futtin,” he would say. “Tha best not start buildin’ on’t loose, or tha’ll ‘ave it fallin’ dar’n afore tha’s gorrit arf way up.” He would continually remind me of the required yardage. “An mek sua it’s three yard long, no more, no less, cos that’s all tha’ll get paid fo.”


He wasn’t far wrong, three yards it had to be, the height varying between four and six feet, with side walls of four foot six. These dry stone wails were not the ones we associate with the Dales and Peak District which remain standing years after completion, there for all to admire. Who could fail to appreciate the skill of the craftsmen and wonder at the sweat and tears that had gone into those miles of walling, as their patchwork transformed the countryside?


These craftsmen were either poorly paid labourers, or farmers working all hours in an endless effort to make their holdings pay — but at least they had the benefit of the fresh bracing air being carried on the wind, as it came off the moor or down the dale.


Not so in the climate I found myself working in, half a mile underground, in the Barnsley seam. The warm, dusty darkness of the coal face, made one tend to melt. The temperature and humidity remained constant, regardless of the weather on the surface.


For many years, the building of dry stone walls on the coal face, was an essential means of supporting the roof, after other supports had been removed. Such walls, known as “packs” had to withstand tremendous pressure, as the strata above, lowered to replace the void left in its midst, where the seam of coal had been removed. A poorly built “pack” would collapse whilst being built, or at the early stages of compression. One that had been well built, would allow a controlled lowering of the strata, thereby taking pressure off the advancing coal face.


The building of such “packs” was a skill that had to be learned. Choosing the right stones was important, particularly those for the corners — these had to be on the large side and heavy, being tied in and placed with care, not unlike those on the surface. It was soul- destroying to see one’s efforts fail like a deck of cards, there being no extra pay for digging out and starting again.

 

We took a pride in our completed work, although unlike the dry stone walls on the surface, our efforts were not to be admired. The coal faces advanced into the strata, where no man had stepped before, leaving our efforts behind, where no man would walk again. The cycle of production had to go on.
No doubt many an old collier, out enjoying the freedom of the Dales and Peaks, will have his thoughts turned to those dark days underground, when he sees the beauty of those walls stretching away before him.
— John F, Spencer

 

As an addition to the above I have added another of Freds poems below which is a conversational piece about working along side a disruptive workmate down the mine.

JACKCoal Miner carved in coalCoal Miner carved in coal

Jack pass us coalbar
Jack gi' us a pinch
Jack pass us pick
Jack as tha' eard

Jack pass us shovel
Jack spare us a chew
Jack pass us lump 'ammer
Jack ar's thi pigeons

Jack gi' us a lift o'er 'ere
Jack pass us gun and baggin
Jack watch thi' back
Jack 'ow is your lass

Jack 'old us this prop
Jack gaffers cumin up't face
Jack why haven't you filled off
Gaffer why don't you. . . . . . .

FRED SPENCER

"There is a message here, some shifts on the coal face you could graft, with outside influences holding you back from filling off, it wasn't for the lack of effort, the last thing you wanted was the deputy making some sarcastic comment."

 

Many thanks Fred for contributing here on this site.

Copyright Fred Spencer fred@coalface.fslife.co.uk

 

Poetry by Fred

The Price of Coal 

Colliers

Jack

Loss

Articles by Fred

Morgan Memories

Dry Stone Walling

 

Tales from the Mine Page 1 Bruce Wilson

Tales from the Mine Page 2 Bruce Wilson

Tales from the Mine Page 3 Bruce Wilson

Tales from the Mine Page 3a Bruce Wilson

Tales from the Mine Page 4 Fred Spencer

Tales from the Mine Page 5 John Doxey

Tales from the Mine Page 7 Geoff Walker

 

 

 

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