August 13, 2015

Northumberland coal mining history - Hareshaw pit

Clive Dalton

Geology of Northern England
The Northumbrian fells with shallow coal seams underneath.  Photo of Sandy Syke formerly shepherd's cottage near Hareshaw and now a summer cottage for rent. Photo by Donald Clegg.
 The geology of Northern England shows the ‘coal measures’ mainly north of the ‘Tyne gap’, which is the boundary separating Northumberland and the Cheviot hills to the north, from county Durham and the Pennines to the south.  The river Tyne flows through the gap before it splits into the North and South Tyne at Hexham.

The coal measures are tilted, so are miles deep under the North Sea off the coast of Northumberland, and become shallower as they go west towards the Scottish Border. In the 1950s, the coal seams at Heddon-on-the-Wall were shallow enough to make open cast mining a viable option, after which the land was fully restored to even better and more level farm land.

Drift mining

The remains of roadway into the pit workings. Photo by Donald Clegg.

The active pit workings.  Photograph by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.  Collier collection.  A Collier collection photo.  The row of stone cottages is in the mid distance - clearly burning pit coal.

Up into the Border hills of the North Tyne and Rede valleys, the coal in places was so shallow that it was mined commercially from ‘drifts’ which were cut into the sides of hills.  In some places you could even see coal deposits showing on the sides of burns (streams) where they had been exposed after flood erosion.

In the 1950s the three mines listed below were the main ones in the North Tyne and Rede areas, and were not nationalised under the National Coal Board (NCB).  
Table below from Wikipedia. 

Men underground
Men above  ground
Coal type
Elsdon Coal Co Ltd

J Armstrong and Son
W.A Nixon

Small pits
There were also small drift mines owned by private individuals who sold coal locally.  There was one at Shilburnhaugh near Falstone, the Comb near Tarset, at Goatstones up the Wark's burn, and even a one-man pit worked by a local character called Ned Jacobson at Hesleyside near Bellingham.  Ned was noted for his occasional trips to Bellingham to slake his thirst, and then his failure to make it home again, finding overnight accommodation under the thorn hedge across the Tyne bridge beside the show field .

Hareshaw pit - history

The road up to Hareshaw Head farm on the horizon on the way to Otterburn. 
 Photo by Donald Clegg
The pit was on the right of the road in the above photo, and the miners' cottages and the village hall were on the left. In the far left of the photo is a brick structure which was part of the garage for the coal delivery wagons. It was also where the petrol pump was kept - locked with only one person with they key, but apparently according to Jim Bell, this was not a foolproof way of operating the handle of the pump which he found out in recent years from the clever thief!

There were three pits at Hareshaw after coal was found in the late 1800s.  The first pit was worked conventionally from a vertical shaft which was closed due to flooding.  The pit ponies were drowned in the disaster. 

The other two later mines were worked from drifts. The final commercial workings only went into the hill  a few miles, but they connected to the earlier drift workings which went up to the hill called 'The Beacon', over which the byroad ran over the fell to Woodburn.

 Out on the fell there were deep holes dug for ventilation of the shafts, and fenced off to keep livestock and people out.  But David Armstrong (son of the manager Bartram Armstrong) says it was a great challenge for the Hareshaw kids (him included) to sneak up on to the fell and climb the protective fence and look down into the scary depths of the mine and listen for movement.

Photo shows the winding gear for the shaft on the first pit.  Men's names in photo unknown.  Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

Photo shows winding gear and tubs coming from the shaft on their way to the screens. Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham

Jim Bell
Jim started working at Hareshaw pit aged 14 when he left the Reed's Church of England school in Bellingham.  His family lived in one of the stone cottages at Hareshaw. 

Jim worked at the pit for two years before doing  two years compulsory military service after which he returned to the pit as one of the wagon drivers until it closed around 1952. 

Jim remembers the two wagons were an Albion (registration JR 74) and a Commer.  He then drove for many years for Hugh Thompson in Bellingham who ran a general transport business.

Photo of Jim Bell by kind permission of David Walmsley, the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

 Hareshaw pit documents
Many of the documents from the pit when it closed in the early 1950s were deposited in the  Heritage Centre at Bellingham by Jim and the late Dorothy Bell who were foundation members of the Museum.  This covers detailed description of the mine and what it was like to work in it; living at Hareshaw and facets of local life; details of the families who lived there; the school and community hall; and a few reminiscences, especially from Arthur Pick who worked there for ten years

Hareshaw coal
Hareshaw pit produced Anthracite and Phurnacite (which was dust that was pressed into eggs), and they used to buy in coke to sell which was produced at the Blaydon coke ovens on Tyneside. The cost of Hareshaw coal in the 1950s Jim Bell remembers was two shillings and seven pence a hundredweight bag (2/7d per cwt).

Hareshaw pit – staff
Jim Bell has provided an extensive list from memory of men employed at the pit over a number of years, according to their duties.

John Riddel (Blakelaw farm), Edward Armstrong, Benson Coulson, Edward Milburn.
The role of these men is not recorded.  They were maybe business Directors.

Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

Owner and manager of last pit: Bartram (Barty) Armstrong. Son of the original Armstrong founders.

Deputies (men who were responsible for work and safety underground)
Jack Hutton (also Hewer)
Arthur Pick (also Hewer with highest production and earnings)

Hewers (coal diggers)
Bob (Shafty) Armstrong
George Bell
Harry Young
Billy Dodd
Adam Armstrong
Teddy Hay
Tommy Scott
Douglas Young
Binner Wright
Ossie Young
Chic Brown
Josey Dodd
Jackie Stevenson (killed in pit accident)

Putters (men who filled the tubs after the hewers)
Ken Pick
Harry Wilson
Dennis Benson
Thomas Armstrong
Tommy (Gally) Storey

Pony drivers (men who drove the 4 Welsh ponies pulling the tubs)
Jacky Brown
Harry Armstrong
Norman Armstrong
Harry Wilson
Jeff Little
Matt Hall (in charge of ponies and horses on Hareshaw Head farm)

Wagon Delivery Drivers
Tot Dixon
Albert Dodd ( Albion wagon  JR 74)
Jim Bell (truck (Albion wagon JR 74)
Bill Dodd
Bill Richardson
John Armstrong
John McLennan

Banksman (men who worked tipping the coal from the tubs on to the screens for grading)
Jack Hutton
Jack Hutton
Tommy Little

Jack Mason
Edward Elliott (Joiner)
James Ridley
? Hymas 

Office clerk (responsible for office work and wages)
Mary Potts

Photos of staff

Pit employees of various ranks judging by their dress - names not recorded. This looks like the bank where the tubs were emptied. Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.  Date unknown - c early 1900s?

1916.  The first four from the left in the photograph are William Dodd, Edward Elliott, Jack Hutton and James Ridley.  Jack Mason is at the right-end.  

Note the shorts worn by the men underground due to the heat.  Their thick woollen socks were home knit by their wives from wool purchased from Otterburn mill.   Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham. This photo was printed as a post card, presumably for sale to send to friends.

Getting to work
Very few miners had their own transport which at best was a motorbike.  Others got to work by pushbike or were collected by the coal wagon if it had been kept overnight in Bellingham.  On many occasions some like Tommy Little would walk to work over the fells past Blakelaw farm, Callahues crags and Hareshaw House farms to the pit.

Pit baths
There were none!  Pitmen went home and bathed when they got home in the long bath in front of the fire.  A highlight for us Bellingham Noble Street kids was  to sneak along and watch Tommy Little get bathed after arriving home from the pit. 

We knew every detail of the ritual. Ella would take the long tin bath off the nail on the wall at the back door and put it in front of the fire. She would then fill it with cold water kept in buckets in the pantry as there was only one tap in the street for all ten houses to share. 

Tommy would arrive and take his outer pit clothes off sitting on a cracket (small stool - see my blog on 'the Geordie cracket') as he was not allowed to sit on a chair with all the coal dust. Ella would then use a large enamel jug to lift hot water from the 'set pot' on the left side of the grate (the oven was on the right) and heat the bath water up to a good warm temperature.

Tommy would  then remove his underclothes and hop into the bath taking care to cover his vital parts so we kids couldn't see, and then wet and soap his head and body.  The water only came up to below his navel so there was no risk of an overflow onto the fireside mat. When finished Ella took the jug and poured warm water over Tommy's head down over this upper body.  He was 'home and hosed' and climbed out of the bath to get changed.  When dressed Tommy and Ella carried the bath plus dirty water and tipped it into the drain that ran along our back lane into the main sink by the tap. Where this went nobody knew!

There was also a 'hip bath' that some folk had with high back and front and low sides so you sat with legs outside the bath and only your lower body in water.

Pit accidents
Jackie Stevenson of Bellingham was the only person to be killed in Hareshaw pit.  It is reported that the accident occurred because he failed to follow safe practice under direction of Deputy Arthur Pick when propping the roof, and a stone fell and hit him on the head.

Customer service
When householders wanted coal, they didn’t contact the pit to order it directly by phone or letter, as there were few coin phone boxes around and local folk were not phone users.  And there was no central office or shop in Bellingham village for example, which took orders for coal. 

Coal wagon delivery

One of the wagons to be used for coal delivery in the Bellingham area probably in the early 1900s.  Photo by kind permission of Heritage Centre Bellingham.  The business is in the names of J and EM (Joseph and Edward) Armstrong.
The Hareshaw marketing system was simple and worked well where the coal delivery wagon made a regular delivery round and folk took what you wanted.  The delivery round must have been shorter in winter when more coal would be burned than in summer, and this must have been taken into account at the pit.

The coal delivery men were very skilled and had an intimate knowledge of everyone’s coal houses, to carry the one hundredweight (112 pounds) bags on their shoulders from the wagon, and dump it without damage to property and minimal dust to annoy the householder.  Householders then paid cash, which went into the wagon driver’s strong leather bag.  I think receipts were provided.

When we lived at Noble Street, my father had made a coal house under the ladder-like stairs in the back kitchen up to the single bedroom, and getting a bag of coal in there required great handling skills.  There were many coal houses like this in the terraced houses, but thankfully for the ‘coal men’, the new Council houses that some of us who were lucky to move to had proper dedicated coal houses with a full sized doors, which made emptying the bags easier.

The pitmen got free coal as part of their job, and it was dumped at their back door, which they had to shovel it into their coal houses themselves.  This 'pitmans' coal' was a mix of all the different grades of coal and  was always a very generous load!

Coal quality
Everyone expected to get top quality coal for their money, free from dust and small stones, which could appear in some seams and could not be separated in all the coal.  Stones would not burn so didn’t give out heat and there were cases where they were known to explode under the intense heat of the fire.  They ended up as white powder in the grate after burning.

Blame the wagon driver
It was the wagon drivers who copped the flak from anyone who had experienced problems with their coal – so one of their great skills was an ability to humour irate housewives with promises that things would be perfection in future!

Small coal
You could order ‘small coal’ or ‘slack’ which was coal got broken down into small pieces along with dust during the mining and screening process.  It was cheaper and was used to ‘bank up’ a fire overnight. In many standard ranges there was a shelf at the back of the fire where you could shovel the small coal, and pull it down with the ‘coal rake’, which rested in the fireplace along side the poker and small shovel. My father used to use this small coal in the firebox, which was ideal for banking up the small fire that heated the water pipes in his greenhouse.

Aerial pollution from the great clouds of smoke produced by small coal was not seen as an environmental problem in those days, and it gave a good yield of soot to make up a brew to fertilise the show leeks after the annual visit from Geordie Collings the chimney sweep.

Bulk orders
Farmers collected their coal direct from their nearest pit by horse and cart, and later by tractor and trailer which allowed them to travel from much further afield to the pit.  For many years, on the gate post into the pit was a large old fashioned alarm clock fixed to the gatepost with a notice saying 'No Tick' below it.

Sea coal:  This was coal where the seams became exposed by the continual erosion of the tides along the coast north of North Shields.  It was free to be gathered by anyone wanting to make some cash, provided they had a delivery wagon to go to the inland villages and offer their product at a cheaper price.  It's main feature was that being washed by the sea, there was no dust although some customers didn't like burning salt content.

David Armstrong remembers sea coal sellers going around the Hareshaw customers to steal their business and he said that on many occasions, the way they dealt with this competition was to buy the whole wagon load of sea coal off the sellers just to get rid of them.  They were happy enough to get home early!

Railway stations:  The other people who could sell coal were Station Masters. The Bellingham Station Master Donald McKenzie (always ably assisted by his wife Jaques)  had two open topped wagons of coal in a siding from which he bagged it and people came to buy it.  He didn't have a formal delivery service but what the station wagon (driven by Jimmy Wright) got up to would never be questioned.

Hareshaw village

Stone houses at Hareshaw.  Photo by kind permission of the Heritage Centre at Bellingham.

Family tenants were from left to right: - Matt Hall,  John McClennan, Billy Richardson, .Jack Hutton, George Bell.  By the womens' dresses it looks to be early 1900s.
Five of the miners' houses (above photo) were built of stone and four with wood frame with corrugated iron cladding.  Each house had one main room downstairs used as the living room and
kitchen for cooking.  Hot water came from the 'set pot' heated by the fire on the opposite side to the oven.  On the back of the house, under the long sloping roof was the 'back kitchen' where the stairs went up to the single bedroom.  The washing was done in here in a barrel and poss stick before being put through the mangle. There would be a boxed in area for the coal.  The pantry would be the other half of this area with a door on it.  In some houses there was a loft above the pantry for storing odds and ends.

There was no front door, and the only a door for the house went out from this back kitchen.

 The village hall was built with corrugated iron cladding and was the centre for meetings, social activities, and the Presbyterian church services and Sunday school. Matt Hall acted as custodian of the hall, which included a much prized portable organ which kept at home to protect it from the damp.

The village hall was also used as a venue by Bellingham's St Cuthbert's Church of England, and with confirmation classes when preparing children for Communion.  The Rev W.J (Daddy) flower took me there in his blue Standard car to join Kenneth Pick whose family lived in the village.  We were eventually confirmed at Falstone St Peter's Church by the Bishop of Newcastle before a spread of local home baking.

There was a school at Hareshaw from 1929-1931 when numbers justified it, and the education authorities approved, but in later years when numbers declined children walked the four miles to Bellingham.  Walking distances was accepted by children in those days and it was not until road transport became common that they were taken by Roddy Thompson's car to and from the Reed's and Council school each day.

Roddy was not only famous for his taxi service, but also for his fish and chip shop where a specialty of his and Mrs Thompson's was a meat ball in batter that he called a 'doodlebug' after the German missiles that were being fires by Hitler from France into Southern England. Thankfully Roddy's were the only ones to land in Bellingham.

There was a terrible tragedy with the school car when one of the Bell children (John) fell out of the moving car and was died in hospital.  Jim Bell, his younger brother, said the family never got over it.  John was about to take his 11+ exam but this was not to be. No action resulted for Roddy's driver.

75 years on
David Armstrong and I sat together from starting at the Reed's Charity School (Church of England)  in Bellingham in 1939 at the start of WW2.  We are a  bit different 75 years later.  Like all kids at the school with one very rare exception, under the tutelage of head master Joe Lumley, we all failed the 11+ exam, as he assumed that our future was in Hareshaw pit, on local farms, stone quarries and the forestry.  He had no expectation or ambition for any of us.

David  always worked around his father's pit and  learned to drive the coal wagons from regular driver Jim Bell.  He helped to deliver coal and remembers doing jobs like taking the four pit pones to Bellingham on a Saturday morning to be shod by 'Burnie' the blacksmith.  

All coal miners were exempt from military service under the 'Bevan Boy' scheme, so David was not called to do his national service at age 18.  Instead he volunteered and was accepted for the RAF where he learned to fly and at age 81, he still has a current pilot's license.

David Armstrong (left) and Clive Dalton
Special Request
If you have any information about Hareshaw pit, I would be delighted to hear from you.  It's very important that information is deposited at the Heritage Centre in Bellingham for future long-term protection and sourcing for family research by those interested.  Also, the many hard working folk and their families who lived and worked at Hareshaw pit deserve to be remembered.

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