Bevin Boy, miner and publican (2013)

Location : Derbyshire, Bilsthorpe, Cresswell, Lincolnshire

Peter was a Bevin
Boy who stayed on working in the mines and ended up as a publican.

Peter,
what age where you when you left school and what was your first job?

I was fourteen years old when I left
school. Me first job was an ironmonger's errand boy, and I stuck that for six
months, and then I went to work for a baker on bread round out in the country
six days a week, dawn 'til dusk.

And
what did you have to do exactly?

Oh, I delivered, called at different
houses, delivering bread and whatever. Bakery stuff.

And
what sort of hours did you work?

Oh, from ‘bout eight o'clock in the
morning probably seven o'clock at night.

And
how much were you paid?

For that job, three pound fifty. Three
pound ten shillings.

Right.
And did you enjoy being out?

Oh yes I did an’ all, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Did
you like being in the fresh air as well, and the exercise. And what did you do
after that?

Call-up
to the mines

Oh at eighteen I got my call papers, to go
into the coal mines as a Bevin Boy.

But
you didn't actually want to do that?

No, I wanted to go in the Navy.

Why
did you want the Navy?

I don't know! Just one of those things.

Right.
So you got the Bevin Boy job.

Aye.

And
where did this send you?

They sent me to Creswell Colliery for a
start, in Derbyshire. I had to do – I told you four weeks’ training, but it was
six weeks’ training. And then I was sent to Mansfield to go to work at
Bilsthorpe Colliery.

And
what did the training involve?

Just showing us round the coal mine, just
showing us round, showing what people did, different things. We didn't do a lot
at all.

U-huh.
Observation learning?

I lived in, lived in a youth hostel.

And
what were conditions like?

What – underground?

Yes,
during that six weeks.

Oh, it weren’t too bad for us because they
never took us into anywhere where it might get dangerous for us or anything
like that. We didn't get that until we went to the colliery that we were sent
to.

Right.
And how did they introduce you to that?

Just banged us on the bus and sent us.

(laughs)
And what did you do that first day then?

Oh, they were just telling us what was
what. Oh, I can't remember how many were, I think there were about a dozen of
us, and we had different instructors, about four to an instructor, and they
used to show us things, take us down the mine. Show us round where we might be
working.

And
so what was your first job there?

First job was on haulage, clipping tubs on
and off, off the haulage rope, I brought the full tubs from the coal face, sent
the empty ones back.

And
how many hours were you doing that?

We had to be down the mine for seven
o'clock and we knocked off at half past two.

And
how did you react to that? You were used to being out on the roads.

Didn't bother me.

It
didn't bother you at all?

No, I got used to it.

Yes.
And what about being underground, the smells, the dust?

Oh, the dust – it wasn't so bad when I was
working when I first started, but once I got onto the coal face the dust was
shocking.

And
when did you get on to the coal face?

Oh, not till, phouf, three and a half
years later.

Ok.
So you were doing mainly haulage?

Mainly haulage, and a bit of fitting.

U-huh,
what kind of fitting?

Machinery fitting.

U-huh.
And so you were talking about the dust. Tell me a bit more about that.

Oh well, the, the big machines that were cutting
the coal – 'cause the air was just flying in one direction, it was coming down
one roadway, along the coal face and up the other one, and of course there was
just flying dust, all the while once the machines were working. And it was –
that was straight on the machines, but still got a lot of dust. Didn’t kill it
all. Nowhere near.

And
did it affect you at all?

No, not at the time. No, never has
affected me. A while ago, thirty years ago they did start paying compensation
to ex-miners, but … where did I have to go for an examination?

(Mrs
H) We
had to go right down to Kent, didn’t we?

Kent, aye. And they paid me fifteen
hundred pound, and that's about all most of them got. Some were worse..

(Mrs
H) Silicosis
came in didn’t it, you got a lot of that.

Yes, samonicosis… I know that's not
right, anyway. But some of them were worse than I was. So I say, dust never
bothered me.

M-hm.
So, you got to the coal face, and tell me about the working conditions, and
what you did exactly.

Well when I first went on the coal face I
went with an experienced miner for a while, and then they gave me a stint of me
own. Working conditions – they were very hard work. Pick and shovel, um… well
I told you last time you was here that the stint was nine yards long, five foot
six deep and three foot high, and that was mine 'til I went home.

And
you said you thought it was lucky that it was three foot high?

Well it was for me because I'm not very
tall.

Yes.
But you said it could be shorter then?

There could be shorter seams than that. I
never heard of anything less than three foot, but I think the ones you get up
North, I think the seams were… though they're still the same seams because
they run from one end of the country to the other. But once you got up North they
thinned out a bit.

So
how were – were you on your knees, or crouched, or-

Oh! On my knees, all the while, 'til we'd
finished.

Right.

We had to – we wore knee pads. Strapped on
our knees.

And
was it hard on the back?

No, that didn't bother me. No. No, it
never has done.

So,
you did that for a number of years?

Yeah, I can't remember exactly how many
years I did it for. Then I went to train for a shot firer, I had to go to night
school for that one night a week for about, oh for a couple of months, couple
or three months I think, I'm not quite sure.

That
was in the evenings, or during the day?

In the evening.

So
you continued working at the coal face?

Oh yeah aye, we didn't get no time off to
go to night school like then, like they do now.

Right.

And I got my shot firing papers. I’ve got
‘em somewhere and I can’t flaming find them!

So
tell me what a shot firer does.

What a shot firer did. Well there was five
holes in each stint of coal. Three or, phouf, I can't remember now. There were
five anyway. And when the coaley was ready for you to go and blow his coal
down, when they’d got all the gubbins out from underneath, used to have sticks
of six powder, sticks of explosives, carried forty detonators, and had eight
stints to look after.

So
what is, sorry can I interrupt – what is a stint?

Nine yards long four foot six deep and
three foot high.

Ok!
(laughs) So you placed your charge in there.

Yeah, we had to rake the old dust out from
in the holes and then ram the powder down, put a detonator and blasting powder
and then ram straight up behind the powder. And then clear everybody out the
way, oh, so far down the coal face, and blow it.

M-hm.
And you had no accidents I assume, or was –

No, not really, no.

So
in fact a fairly safe procedure then?

Oh, if you follow the procedure properly,
yes, it was. If you did as you're supposed to do. Ha ha!

Ok!
(laughs) You did your best.

We did – we used to have short cuts.

(Mrs
H)
Only if you knew it was safe.

Yeah.
So you did that?

Then I started for me deputy's papers, I
got them in deputy's papers, and then I got a coal face of me own to run. One
of them that I did run had about forty men on it, plus a few by-workers so I
had quite a few men underneath me.

And
what sort of jobs were they doing?

They were filling coal out, yeah, they
were filling coal. Pick and shovel.

And
you were doing the shift work, the organising?

Yeah, yeah. Aye.

And
you also held – you worked with the gas, testing for gas?

Testing for gas. It was mainly up in the roof.
It's difficult to explain. The coal – they used to take the coal out, and then
they used to leave like a big, a roll-away, it's like that, so the man behind
you, taking this rock down to make the roll-away. And that's where you used to
get the gas, in the … and if we did ever find any we had to pull a rattice
cloth across.

Rattice
cloth?

Rattice cloth. To drive the air up over
the top and bring the gas down.

What
did that look like?

It was like, oh I don’t know, it’s
difficult to – like hessian, like sacking. It wasn't sacking but it was similar
to it.

Right.

And they used the sheets of it and you
used – I used to tie it to them up there and they used to go up and over the
top and bring the gas down. It weren’t often you found any in the general
atmosphere. If we did as I told you before if there was one or quarter percent
you switched all machinery off, two and a half you withdrawn your men. But that
never happened to me.

Never
had to happen.

No.

So
would you say your mines, they were safer than some of the ones further north?

Oh yeah well there’ve been some bad
explosions down the mines over the years, no, I wouldn't have thought so, no.

Was
there any water in your mines?

Not where I was. I never, never worked in
water, thank God.

Why
do you say that?

Oh, you're kneeling, you'll be kneeling in
it.

Yes?

Up to your thighs, you would. Trying to
get a shift of what you’re supposed to be doing.

So
it just adds an extra –

Oh, terrible working the water.

– an
extra dimension to it, really. What are your main memories of working as a
miner?

I don't really know. Comradeship, I
suppose. I mean, you'd have two miners hating one another’s guts but if
something horrible happened and one got buried or owt like that, they’d break
their fingernails. Digging them out.

Yeah, it was hard, hard.

And
did some men suffer physically because of the work?

Oh yeah, bad back, bad knees, being on
your knees all day, bad back, bad knees, yeah.

But
you think the camaraderie, sort of saw you through?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Did
you have anything like the Welsh miners who had choirs and things like that?
Any club?

No, most collieries had got brass bands
but, but I can’t remember any choirs.

Brass
bands?

Oh, yeah.

(Mrs H) Yorkshire had a lot of brass
bands.

Oh, they did. All or most collieries had
their own brass band.

(Mrs H) Where my was there were.

So, yeah.

Comradeship
– and recognition at last

And
thinking back to your Bevin Boy days, was there that sense of camaraderie, or
young lads together?

Oh aye, they used to – they used to go out
for a drink at night time to the local club, or pub, or go for a game of port
not pool or billiards. There wasn't much to do aye, really.

And
were you – did you have the sense of helping the war effort?

Not really.

You
felt, by yourself – did you feel removed from it?

Yeah, yeah. While we were here, war
centres down here, that was the main thing. A lot of lads trying to get out of
it but they couldn't, they wouldn't let them.

They
just didn't like the work?

They didn't like the work, they were
trying to get out of it but they couldn’t.

Right.

They wouldn’t let you leave, they wouldn’t
let you leave to go in the forces or anything.

Yes,
So eventually of course the Bevin Boys were recognised.

Yes, they were.

Are
you going to tell me about that?

Yeah, well, the first thing that were
recognised was they marched at the Cenotaph on Memorial Day. And then they put
in for medals, but they didn’t – they said you can't have a medal but
eventually they gave us a badge as you saw up there.

It
was Norman Lamb who –

He presented it, yeah.

So
did you feel that you'd been recognised at last?

Oh, I suppose so, yeah. Aye. Yeah.

It's
quite – it's quite something to have, isn't it?

Yeah, it is. What’ll happen it to when I
kick the bucket I don’t know.

(Laughs)
I'm sure there's somebody who can handle it.

Oh, I suppose. Aye.

(Mrs H.) I’m sure there’d be somebody in
the family who would take it.

So
after you finished the mining, were you pleased to leave the mining in the end?

Yeah.

Sorry,
first of all, how long did you actually stay with the mining?

Twenty-five years.

Twenty-five
years!

Aye, I met my first wife, then married,
that's why I stayed.

And
so you then eventually decided to go into something else?

Yeah, into the pub trade.

The
pub trade

That's
quite a change.

A big change, yeah. It was.

So
tell me about that.

Oh, not much to tell really, had some good
customers, made some good friends.

Your
pub was in a village I think?

No, the first one I had was on the edge of
Lincoln town, Lincoln city. And I was there for …oh… my wife and I were
there for about twelve years I think, and then we took one in the country.
Unfortunately she only lived for about another two years. So I was on me own
for about five years.

So
tell me about the work in the pub.

Oh, the work in the pub … got up in the
morning, then there's normal breakfast, then washing up, tidying up, anything
that wanted doing in the cellar. I had a cleaner come in once a day for a
couple of hours but I did half of the work meself.

And
you had some food as well?

Yeah, I did a bit of food. Not a lot. It
was there if anybody wanted it.

M-hm.
And I believe you didn't like the new regulations that came in?

Oh, well who does, phouf! It’s all
paperwork now, like the same with any trade, any industry now, it's all
paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.

So
in the end you –

I just had – oh, I just had enough, got a
chance to get out with a decent, a decent amount of money so I packed up. I
packed up at sixty-three and a half. I packed up about eighteen months before
retirement paid. And then I met this one here.

(Mrs.
H) I beg your pardon?

(Laughs)

I met this one here. At Retford.

And
you eventually arrived in Norwich?

In Norwich, oh aye. We all – because of
R's – most of R's family's this way, not all of them, but most of them are.

(Mrs.
H) The children are.

Right,
so, um – when you look back on your life, what would you say were the parts you
really enjoyed best?

(Pause) I'll have to think about that one.
Um, well I mean me first wife and I of course, that was … And then I met R.
Oh I don't don’t know, might be going on holiday. Thing was I went on holiday
on me own quite a few times because by then me first wife had died.

Views
on the miners’ strikes

So
you're not choosing your job then as your highlight?

No, not really, no. No. Always glad to get
back up the pit once the shift were over.

U-huh.
One thing we haven't talked about was the miner's strikes. Were you –

No, well, I'd finished then. If I had been
involved I still would've had to go on into work as the collier deputy to go on
underground and take on in all the areas to make sure everything's all right.
But no, I'd finished before then.

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