JIM DOWLING Jim started work at Florence on 1.1.1954 and remained there until November 1985. He went as a full-time official for the Power Group NUM until 1999. He spent 14 years on the NEC covering North Staffs, Cannock, South Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire & Leicestershire. He now works in the Miners' Advice Centre for North Staffs.
I came straight from school in Ireland. Actually me mum was over here so I came to my mother.
My brother worked at Florence Colliery, so naturally I decided to go for the same place of work.
As I walked up the colliery drive, my first recollection was seeing the canteen and baths - which I'd never seen anything so big in my life - passed the lawn, and then I came to a building which I later found out was called the Mortar Mill.
Outside the Mortar Mill was just a pool of mud and slush, about 9-12 inches deep. I was trying to scout my way round it, when suddenly I heared this man shouting (who I later came to know as George Hemmings), and because of the dialect and language problems, I couldn't tell a word he was saying, and he probably couldn't tell a word I was saying either.
Eventually I got through the quagmire and followed the signs to Training Office, which at that time was a portable cabin type thing at the bottom of some wooden steps which led up to the lamphouse.
On entering I knocked on the door and a voice shouted 'Come in.' Opening the door there was a bloke sitting behind a desk, who I later found out was Jim Hanford, the training officer at the time. He asked me a few questions - how old I was, what school I went, asked me if I would like a job in the pit, to which I replied Yes. He then produced a piece of paper, which I signed, and he told me to be at the pit Monday morning, at 6 o'clock, and report to the surface foreman, a Mr Cyril Dean.
I turned up Monday morning, asked for Mr Dean. He told me to go away and sit in the training office until Jim Hanford arrived. On his arrival, I had a bollocking off him. He asked me what I was doing. I told him what Mr Dean had said, so he gave me some sort of a form, sent me to the stores to get a pair of boots and a hard hat, which eventually I had to pay for. And at 8 o'clock I was going down No 2 pit with Jim Hanford. It was my first time in the cage and the first time down the pit.
When we got to the pit bottom, the coal arrived in small tubs which held about 10-15 cwt of coal, and they arrived in batches of 8 into the pit bottom where one bloke's job was chucking lockers into the spokes of the wheels. (They were pieces of iron with a solid round end.) Some of these tubs had become derailed, and as we stepped out of the cage the overman in charge of the pit bottom (this was Jim Keeling, who wore an American-style fireman's hat, plus fours and had big dark eyebrows like Dennis Healey's. He must have been well over 6', a big build of a man) and as I stepped out of the cage he was effing and blinding and going round screaming. He threw his stick away, and then he'd got an oil lamp, which he threw along the roadway in temper. Then he turned around and he screamed at me 'What's your name?' I was absolutely terrified. I couldn't even answer him. So he grabbed hold of me by the shoulder and said, 'Come with me', and there was one of these tubs pretty well off the tracks and he said 'Grab holt of this'. As I bent down to help him lift it, in one movement he lifted the thing on himself, onto the rails, but in so doing bumped into me and knocked me against one of the arches and I knocked the side of my face. I think it was only then he realized how frightened I was. After things had settled down, he came to me and slipped a Fox's glacier mint into my hand. From that day on, him and I were good friends. He tended to take me under his wing a little bit.
Then with Jim Hanford I travelled on the paddy train, which was a marvellous experience for me, into the Moss district. It seemed to take an age, but of course later I found out it was a long way in. He took me a tour of the district, including up the face, out the return, and we walked all the way back to pit bottom. We then came up the pit. It was only than that I was issued with a locker key and I was told to go have a bath. I found that a very embarrassing situation at the time, but of course you soon became used to it. I then had to go back up to Jim Hanford where I had a cup of tea waiting, when Cyril Dean, the surface foreman was also there, and I was told to report to Cyril the following morning in the surface cabin, which I did.
One of the things which remains in my mind vividly I caught the pit bus home to Blythe Bridge at 3 o'clock and right on the front seat was an old fellow named Jack Carr, from Cheadle, who I later came to know, and he was 68 and he was still lobbing-on at the coal face. He was filthy dirty, in his dirt - he was one of the few men who didn't bathe at the pit. I arrived home about half past three and I've never felt so tired in my life. I had my dinner and went straight to bed and never heard a thing until my mum was shouting me at 5 o'clock next morning, and even then I was shattered.
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