The True Miner’s Story

What do you really know about a bunch of Miners, that arrived here well over 100 years ago, many of whom brought their families with them from all over the UK, who were responsible for making and shaping the history of our surrounding towns and villages and who are still contributing, in a positive way, in our local communities today, in this little corner of Kent?

I suspect that almost all of you will know something about the 1984/85 Miners Strike and maybe even the earlier strikes, through  local and National media, but do you know the whole true story about the Kent Miner and his Family?

However important the strikes were and still are today, they were just small chapter of our long history. There are many other untold revelations, from sinking our shafts right up till our present day which when told as one story, will reveal the truth about Kent’s brave miners.

SHAKESPEAR COLLIERY 1896-1915

Kent’s first coal mine was Shakespeare Colliery (also known as Dover Colliery)

The Colliery was owned by Arthur Burr’s Kent Coalfields Syndicate Limited and was formed in 1896 to take over the old Channel Tunnel workings at Shakespeare Cliff.

When sinking the second shaft, they hit water and it filled the shaft so fast that eight of the fourteen sinkers were drowned.

This pit never produced commercial coal.

Some say this Colliery produced small quantities of low grade coal, some say it never produced any coal at all. It has been reported that the famous writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was one of Arthur Burr investors, promised that Dover would become the ‘Liverpool of the South’ and would become one of Britain’s six biggest cities.

Burr was eventually accused of being a conman and was made bankrupt in 1914.

For more interesting information about this pit and Mining in Kent, please visit Dover Museum, Market Square Dover Kent. CT16 1PH. See website for more details. http://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/Exhibitions/Coal-Mining-in-Kent/Coal-Mining-in-Kent.aspx

TILMANSTONE COLLIERY 1906 – 1986

Tilmanstone Colliery, was the next colliery to have its shafts sunk.

It was also known as the East Kent Colliery.

Situated near to the village of Eythorne. Arthur Burr’s Foncage

Syndicate began work on the first shaft in 1906. In 1909 a hoppit (hoist bucket)

fell down the number two shaft, killing three men and

destroying the pump pipes. One thousand gallons of water a

minute poured into the pit. Coal production did not start until March 1913.

Trouble beset this pit until in1926 when Richard Tilden Smith became its new owner. Tilden Smith had some very ambitious plans for Tilmanstone, linking the pit with Dover Harbour via an aerial ropeway and he began to gather much support an investment that would have changed the future for everyone in the Kent Coalfield area. Sadly, he passed away in December 1929 and the industrial expansion that he had planned for East Kent, was shelved for ever.

For more information and a chance to view some stunning film and photo archives, along with some fascinating artefacts, please visit Elvington and Eythorne Heritage Centre. Elvington Community Centre, St. Johns Road CT15 4DZ. Open every Tuesday morning 10am till 2pm.

http://elvingtoneythorneheritagegroup1.webs.com/

SNOWDOWN COLLIERY 1907 – 1986

Kent’s first pit to produce Commercial Coal.

Snowdown Colliery is situated alongside the main Dover to

Canterbury railway line, near to the mining village of Aylesham.

This colliery was also started by Arthur Burr’s Foncage Syndicate in 1907, and the first sod was cut by Mrs.Weston Plumptre.

During the sinking of the shaft at Snowdown, a water pocket

was hit at 260ft (79m) and the shaft flooded drowning two men.

The first coal was brought to the surface on the 19th November 1912.

At over 3000ft deep it was also the hottest and most humid pit in Kent and was given the name ‘Dante’s Inferno’ by the miners, who would work naked and could consume around 24 pints (14 litres) of water in an 8-hour shift.

There were frequent cases of heat stroke and exhaustion.

This colliery was served by the Faversham to Dover railway,

and a halt (Snowdown and Nonington) was provided. Two

locomotives that worked at Snowdown are the St. Dunstan,

which can be seen by visiting the East Kent Railway at

Shepherdswell, http://eastkentrailway.co.uk/ and the St. Thomas, which is at the Dover Transport Museum, Whitfield. http://www.dovertransportmuseum.org.uk/

Both of these venues are very interesting and well worth a visit.

To take a look into Snowdown’s Collieries past, with books, photos, films and music and to have the chance to talk to some dedicated mining historians, real mining characters, from our now closed colliery, please visit Aylesham Heritage Centre, between 10am and 12pm every Wednesday at Aylesham House, Dorman Avenue South, CT3 3AA.

CHISLET COLLIERY 1914–1969

In 1911, German industrialists invested money to drill bore holes at six local site’s around the Canterbury area, to prove the existence of coal. Chislet Park was the chosen site and sinking the shafts begun in 1914 by the German Anglo-WestphalianCoal Syndicates Ltd.

The outbreak of the First WorldWar, put an end to this venture but on 24th November a new company, The Chislet Colliery Ltd, was set up and in 1915 sinking was resumed.

Chislet became one of the first collieries to train Bevan Boys for the

Mining Industry. Geological and manpower conditions fluctuated over the years and although the Chislet miners worked hard and fought hard, to keep coal production going, it became the first pit to close.

More interesting info can be found at:- http://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/Exhibitions/Coal-Mining-in-Kent/Coal-Mining-in-Kent.aspx

A Distinct Culture

Miners came to the Kent Coal Field from all parts of England, and were referred to as “tribes” on many occasions in the past. They brought with them different dialects, religions, social and welfare traditions that changed and forged the heritage in this small corner of Kent. As feelings changed towards miners many positive things were achieved. More schools and churches were built and welfare clubs were opened. New medical centres at the collieries saved not only miners’ lives, but those of locals as well.

Miners from all over the UK uprooted their families and descended on this little corner of Kent.

They were met with hostility, they were shunned and they were forced to turn to their own kind, to form what became a new culture that shaped and made history, in our local Towns & Villages.

Housing estates were built for only miners to live in, they were sited outside of towns like Deal Dover, Canterbury & Sandwich, in villages at Hearsden, Aylesham and Eivington, a short distance from the collieries.

Schools, churches and welfare clubs were purpose built for miners and their families.

Communities where they lived, began to flourish and even though they were treated so badly by the locals, the mining communities made sure that everyone benefited from their desire to create and sustain, a better way of life for them, their families and the locals.

The “mining spirit” was born.

By the time I came along, these communities were well established and I could not have had happier start to my life.

My earliest memories as a child was playing in the street, where I was born, with lots of other kids who’s mums and dads were all my aunties and uncles.

Both my Grandad’s were miners, one from Newcastle, the other from Barnsley, my dad was a miner and I now know that actually I only had one real uncle who was a miner, although I had well over a dozen uncles.

Nearly everyone in my street were members of my wider family, my dad’s and grandad’s workmates.

I can still name them all and even remember which houses that they lived in and whatever direction they took over the years and when our pits closed, they still remain part of our mining family today.

My Dad’s closest friend and one of my favourite mining uncles, is my Uncle Russ, he takes great delight in recalling the night my dad went to work on a night shift and everyone knew he was not in a very good mood.

Russ asked my Dad what was wrong and my Dad announced that he just found out that my mum was pregnant with me and that he did not know how he was going to make ends meet, as they were already struggling to survive, looking after my brother & sister and a third kid was not planned for.

Knowing that I wasn’t planned and that my dad was disappointed with my unexpected arrival, doesn’t make me feel very good but I can fully understand how worried and concerned that he must have been, especially as it was 63 years ago and times were much harder back then.

Miners have always lived in, or on the edge of poverty and the most important values to every miner was his family, his community and the next generation. They fought many battles over the years, some were about money but even those were not about greed, they were forced to fight for everything. The majority of disputes were about health & safety issues, brought about because of their concerns, not for themselves but for those who would follow them into their mines. If they gave in to pressure from managers, to work in unacceptable dangerous conditions on their shift, then others would be forced to do the same on other shifts and in different parts of the mine or even at different pits and they were always conscious that what they did back then would affect the next generation of miners, including their own siblings.

As a child playing in the street where I still live today, I remember it being a simple life. During the week, after school it was homework, then out to play. No TV’s, no gadgets, homemade stilts, soap boxes, kites and a bit of scrumping.

Weekends were full of adventure & mischief.

Walking or cycling the 3 miles to Wooler(Willow) Woods, to play with the gypsy kids on the handmade rope swings and bring some bluebells home to Mum when they were in season.

Or going to the marshes to catch newts and swim in Lord Northbourne’s pristine fresh water lakes and for the few weeks before bonfire night, we would drag huge branches and even tree trunks, the couple of miles home, to see who could build the biggest bonfire.

I never had the biggest bonfire but I often had the best firework’s.

That was because my Nan, Mum and a couple of auntie’s, worked for Astra Fireworks from home, where they got all the whole family licking and sticking labels on what seemed to be millions of bangers. I think they made some like an old penny for a black sack full of bangers.

Everyone’s house was open, doors were wide open all summer and you just walked in if you were calling for a mate or delivering a message from your Mum. If you timed it right, you could even get a fresh baked cake or some biscuits or even be invited to sit down for dinner with something? and chips.

My Mum worked at a local food store and I remember her telling me how embarrassed she was when other miner’s wives came in to buy miners bacon, which were nothing more than scrap ends of bacon fat & rind with maybe little bits of meat attached.

My good friend Charlie, nick name “Charlie from Kent” still tells the story about having his favourite breakfast, which was a bacon shape sandwich.

He tells, that if his dad had a good week on contract (like getting a bonus) and he gave Charlie’s Mum extra housekeeping then sometimes, she would buy some slices of the best bacon. She would then fry it in lots of lard and when the bacon was cooked, she would put a couple of slices of bacon between two pieces of dry bread, squash them together, then take the bacon out and make his dad a proper bacon sandwich and Charlie would have the bacon shape sandwich.

My earliest memory of my Dad being a miner, was when I was about 5 or 6 yrs. old, I woke up in the early hours by unfamiliar voices and saw a black man being brought into the house on a stretcher.

I was taken back to bed by my sister but I woke up early and rushed down stairs to see who the strange man was and found my (now cleaned) Dad laying on the couch. He had got buried when the roof collapsed on him, in the heading that he was working in and they brought him straight home covered in coal dust. He injured his back in that accident and was never the same again.

I did not follow my dad down the Pit straight away, I tried a few other things first but I was drawn to it in the end I applied for a job.

I was interviewed by a manger called Mr Breeze who asked if my Dad worked at the pit and if so, what was his name? I told him my Dad was a miner called Tom Cox and he told me to report to work for training on Monday and said that he knew my Dad and he hoped I would work as hard as my Dad had done as a miner. That was the end of my interview.

I won’t dwell on the 84/85 strike, for reasons I will explain later.

What I will say at this time is that we had no choice, they wanted to shut the Kent Coalfield, we wanted to keep it open. Either we just let them shut all of our pits and say goodbye to any future that we had or we fight to keep them open. We lost the strike and in 1989 our last pit Betteshanger Colliery, shut and our Kent Coalfield closed down.

For around 10 years, most of us lived in some sort of red mist, some still cannot forget or forgive, some will never move on.

For me, the turning point was a local tv news program, people in Dover were being asked about our coal mines and virtually no one knew that we had ever had coalmines in Kent.

This was shocking and I remember being quite upset about it, so I decided then that something had to be done before our mining heritage was lost forever.

I found out about a group of ex miners who had set up Snowdown Colliery Heritage Centre at Aylesham and that Jim Davies, who worked with my Dad at Betteshanger Colliery was one of the volunteer organiser’s. I teamed up with Jim and some other volunteers from the other mining communities to move our Miners Statue from Dover seafront, onto our newly formed Miners Way Trail, which connected our mining communities.

This was the first step to remind people that mining existed here in Kent and that our mining communities were still there, alive and kicking.

The next revelation for me came when I attended one of Jims Mining Talks, that he was giving at local village halls, schools and welfare clubs.

Jim was the last working miner in Kent, so to speak, he switched off the light and closed the door. Jims family came down from Wales to Kent, in 1931/32 and his whole family has been active in all aspects of our local mining communities, especially with the welfare clubs, rugby, bowls & our Betteshanger Brass Band, right up to the present day.

Jim is our most prominent and renowned, Kent Mining Historian, who has been involved in writing many mining publications and film projects, who’s collections of mining pictures, films, music, audio and artefact collection, is very prolific and quite unique.

Most Kent Mining material that can be found on the internet, belongs to Jim, most material picked out and used in different publications and programmes etc, comes originally from Jims personal collection.

Recently I received a request from the Mining Museum of China, asking for permission to use pictures that they found on the web, which they wanted to use in their “World of Mining Museum’s” publication, that they are producing and all of the pictures that they picked out belonged to Jim, who kindly gave his permission for them to use, which he is always keen to do.

Jims “Mining Talks” are quite simply amazing.

I have attended many of his talks over the last ten or years and they have developed into the most wonderful story of our Kent Mining history, spanning over 100 years.

In miner’s welfare clubs and heritage centres, even ex miners are glued to their seats and are astonished with learning many things, that even they did not know about their own history and heritage.

In Town & Village halls, people from the wider community, are amazed to find out that there is far more to miners than just going on strike.

At one talk that I attended they had never had so many people in their village hall, ever, the organiser said that he had never known such interest in any other topic that they had chosen to speak about.

The talk, with a presentation and Q&A, takes about an hour but people are so fascinated with what they have just seen and heard, they have a myriad of question and it often takes Jim a couple of hours to pack his gear away because they line up to ask him questions.

The truth is that most people only know about the miners as being militants and going on strike and to be honest, they don’t even know the true story behind that.

Of course the strike was important but it was only a small part of our history and it has been covered from many angles in many ways.

The whole “Mining Story” from sinking the shafts, right up till present day, is far more important and one that has never been fully covered before in any way.

At Jim’s talks, it became obvious to me that not only were the people fascinated by our story but they wanted to know more about it as well. The word has got round about these talks and he has many advanced bookings, even for the next couple of years and he is often asked back to the same venues because it is so popular.

Fortunately, Jim has so much material that he can constantly tweak it here and there and I always look forward to getting the chance to go along when I can, because I know that something new will have been added and I will get to learn something new, that even I did not know about.

The two most asked questions, are “what was is like to work down the pit”? and “what is mining spirit”?

Neither can be answered simply.

When we describe the conditions that we worked in down the pit, that then invokes many other questions. Why would anyone work in those conditions? Were you frightened? Why would you want your children to follow you into such a dangerous job? Was it worth it? Did you get paid enough? And the best one is would you do it all again if you had the chance? I have asked that same question to every mine that I know and everyone replied yes, including me.

Mining wasn’t just about going down the pit, it wasn’t just a job, it was a way of life, it was about belonging to a very large community, a big family.

Ours Mining Spirit is not just confined to our area, nor is it confined to the UK.

When disasters strike in other mines, either here in our own country or anywhere across the world, we feel their pain, we sympathise with their family and friends, we mourn their deaths.

I know that I that I could travel to any mining area in the world, knock on another’s miner’s door and I would be welcomed in, as he would, if he knocked on my door.

That’s Mining Spirit

Our story is very unique.

Created over 100 years ago, by men, so desperate to make a new life for themselves and their families, that many of them walked to Kent from as far away as Scotland and Wales.

A culture that was spawned out of adversity but never the less strived to share their community spirit.

These people have struggled for most of their lives, but they have done so with smiles on their faces and compassion in their hearts.

Brave men and women working in the bowels of the earth to keep the fires and furnaces burning during two World Wars.

Miners risking life and limb to win coal for the rest of the country to use in their homes, hospitals, schools and industries.

Hundreds lost their lives in pit accidents down our mines in Kent.

A Memorial Board with the names of those brave Miners who lost their lives in mining accidents at all 4 of our collieries, are engraved on a plinth, at our Miners Statue Memorial Site, which is situated at the entrance to our new Betteshanger Country Park.

 

Those miners who are now coming to end of their days are paying the ultimate price, often slowly and in great pain, for them and their families, for doing a job that many others would not ever consider doing.

My Grandads and my Dad passed away after suffering with Pneumoconiosis & Silicosis for several years. These lung diseases are caught from breathing in years of coal dust.

Most miners die from one of many different mining related diseases or from injuries previously sustained down our collieries.

Breathing in coal dust for any length of time, working in the conditions that they had to work in, is a death sentence for every miner.

If our story is not recorded now, it will be too late.

 

With our mines all gone and with the years rolling on, we can now see that the pits were not the hearts of our communities, essential for those communities to survive.

The Hearts of our communities are the people themselves and they will continue to survive, they will continue to make their communities and the wider communities, a better place to live and they will continue to make and shape the history of their surrounding Towns & Villages.

The story of the “Kent Miner” is not over yet.

 

Being part of the “Canary Boys” project, is the next important step that we are taking, to make sure our heritage survives and our communities have a future.

 

This is such an exciting project that we are so pleased to be involved with and part of.

This is a unique and innovative way of delivering our story across the UK and hopefully, eventually across the globe.

This project will allow us to take our story to some of those, who probably have already forgotten about us or to some who only remember us, as striking militant miners, like we have been portrayed in most other media, over the years.

 

Taking this production to other mining areas, will be successful for obvious reasons.

Our industry is now closed, which means we are all now looking for a legacy to leave behind for our next generation and this is a perfect platform to launch the Story of Miners, all across the UK.

I truly believe that all areas connected to our mining communities will welcome and support “The Canary Boys” and the travelling pod.

Cities and Towns outside of mining areas will want to find out what the life of a miner was like.

The pod will deliver the intrigue and the content, to inform its visitors and deliver the surprise that there is much more to learn and to enjoy about something that has never been seen and never been spoken of before, about the Miner’s Story.

 

There is so much content and different direction that is available and can be used, which will allow the pod to be very diverse and adapt itself to many venues and various scenarios.

  1. On a sporting theme, rugby, football & cricket, have been well established in our mining community life and many stories and interesting facts can be revealed at venues like Twickenham, Wembley and the Oval etc.

Brass and Silver Bands and Choirs are synonymous with mining and would not be out of place at such venues as Glastonbury and Night of the Proms, etc.

 

It is time to tell our Miners Story and I hope you will support “The Canary Boys” Project, in any way that you can, please?

Kind Regards

Gary Cox.

Director Betteshanger Heritage CIC

 

 

“Keep the Flame Burning”

“Never Let it Die”

(Dave Worthington Ex-Kent Miner)

 

 

 

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