A Madeley Life Story – Jack Smart’s memories of 80 years in Madeley

T. Dorsett’s shop in Park Street in the mid-1930s, with Jack’s brother Howard standing outside.

The sign top right reads ‘Battery Charging Station’.

The shop is now known as ‘Hallet’s’ – apart from the change of name little has changed (not even the window display!).


Off to Work

When I left school jobs were hard to get. I visited Horsehay Works, the Court Works etc., but all these were on short time. I went to work with my brother Howard for T. Dorsett, Ironmonger, Electrical and Wireless (Park Street, now Hallet’s). Howard charged the accumulators and worked on the wireless side. I was delivering mainly accumulators, fish oil to the fish shop and paraffin to small firms. The hours were 9.00am to 6.00pm with an hour for lunch. I was paid five shillings. I sometimes got a copper or two given to me but one house – the Barn Cottage at the top of Wrekin View – always gave me threepence.

After about 3 or 4 months I was given the job in the time office at Kemberton Pit. The hours were from 7.00am until 4.00am with half an hour for lunch. At that time, late 1934, a day wage coalface worker was paid 8s 7d, underground workers 6s 6d, the surface workers 5s 10d, and men on contract work, such as those working in the stalls, were paid what they produced in coal with any allowances. Sometimes these men worked in pairs and others in fours. The coaling shifts were Days – 7.00am to 2.30pm with 20 minutes for lunch, and Nights – 10.30pm until 6.00am. Afternoon shift was for repairs, supplies etc. Wooden supports were the common props.

The surface workers – screen, haulage workers and men at the pit top – had a small bonus. It may have worked out at 1 or 2 shillings for the week. The underground workers – pony drivers, haulage workers etc. – had a better bonus. The Top Coal could sometimes top 12 – 15s, the Vigar seam around 8 – 9s a week and Little Flint 6 -7s. All these bonuses depended on the amount of coal produced from each seam.

Contract workers, if they had a good stall, could top 12s 6d a shift. If the stall was not good they could be on the make-up, i.e. the wages were made up to around 9s a shift. The contract workers paid for the explosives they used: a penny an ounce for the powder and threehalfpence for the detonators.

The officials, deputies and shotfirers, were paid for six days, but most times they worked the six shifts. A deputy received 12s 1d a day making £3 12s 6d per week. A shotfirer was paid around 10s per day. Men carried a tin with 5lbs of powder made up of various sizes – 2oz, 3oz and 5oz. Each tin was locked and had a number stamped on the lid. It was booked out to them.

Tradesmen, blacksmiths, fitters, winding engine men etc. had their own rates of pay.

The time office was dirty. We had a fire which would take about 28lb of coal at a time. It never went out. The crickets kept chirping all day. I worked with Mr Tom Pritchard, who was the time keeper. At one time he worked on a bar coal cutting machine. This was a machine with a box in which picks were set and the machine cut into the coal. He had an accident when the box jumped out of the coal and the picks cut into one buttock and down his thigh. Consequently he had a limp.

My job was writing the book up for the next week, the mens’ check numbers, the rate for the job, inserting the time worked, putting the tonnage in. On Wednesday it was make-up day. All workers were paid up until 2.30pm on that day. Mr Pritchard went to work at 2.00am on Wednesday so that he could put the night shift’s time in: the time for the Tuesday afternoon shift had been put in before we left work on that day. On Wednesday when we had put all the time etc. in the books, they were taken into the main office to Mr Jack Brown, who worked the contracts out.

The men were paid on Saturdays at about 11.30am onwards. Contract workers had a round tin slightly bigger than a soup dish. The paper was in the tin to say how much they had made and they shared the money amongst themselves according to the number of shifts each man had worked. The day wage workers had a small round tin with half the top cut away and their check number stamped on the remaining half.

In 1935 the wages went up by one shilling a day.

I stayed in the time office for about six months and I remember the check numbers of all the workers to this day.

My next job was to take charge of the stores. I was 15 years old then. I had to order supplies of wooden props, rails, metal, bolts and the explosive powder. I also had to give out and put oil in drums when necessary and take the oil every day to the winding engine.

The main explosive magazine was a quarter of a mile away from the pit shafts. I went every day to fetch anything up to 1 cwt of powder and bring it to a small magazine just 20 yards from the shafts. The contract men would come and fetch a round tin, numbered on the top and locked, containing 5lbs of powder in varying sizes from 2oz to 10 oz. A book was kept with the tin number and who had taken it.

One day the manager, Mr Worthington, came to this small magazine and noticed a lot of stocks of old powder tucked away under the eaves and on a shelf. He said “Jack, I should get rid of that old stuff”. I said “how do I do that?”. He said “dig a hole and bury it or burn it”. I said ” is it safe to burn?. He said “yes”. The following Saturday morning it was cold so I thought “I’ll burn that powder”. So I found a 10 gallon drum, knocked some holes in it and I went between the powder house and the blacksmiths shop. I fetched the powder and placed it in the tin, put a couple of pints of paraffin on it. It burned great. I stood around this for several minutes warming my hands. I moved away to go into the blacksmiths shop. Just as I reached the door to open it there was an almighty bang. The windows in the shop were blown out. The engineer came running around the corner. He thought the powder house had gone up. I was really frightened. On the following Monday Edgar George, who was head lampman, found the tin in ribbons in a field about 120 yards away.

I finished in the stores after about seven or eight months.

My next move was to the fitting shop. I was able to work on lathes, planes, drilling machines and work with older fitters on various jobs. We still had steam winding engines and a coal washing machine was installed at the screens.

The Kemberton Colliery maintenance team, 1936, with 16 year old Jack (he hasn’t changed much in over 60 years).

Standing, left to right: Edgar George, Wilf Beddows, Albert Evans, Jack Smart

Kneeling: Cis Childs, ‘Padder’ Boden

Click the photo to enlarge it.

It was not long before I was working on machinery underground. I was about 16 years old when I went with Albert Evans to repair a coal-cutting machine in the Little Flints. The seam was about 2ft high. It was a night shift. It was very hot in the Little Flints and I remember dropping off to sleep – a very serious offense.

I went all over Kemberton Pit. At the age of 18 I was doing a shift in charge with two 14 year olds as my mates. I have run into the Top Coal about one and a quarter miles from the pit bottom after a main haulage pinion had stripped, a bag of tools over my shoulder and the lad carried the gear. Done that job and then called to a breakdown at the screens. It was afternoon coaling then and the shift was not finished until 10.30pm. We didn’t have pithead baths then so you went home dirty.

It was in 1935 that electric drills were first used. Up until then a man had to ratchet holes for blasting. He had two drills, one about 2ft and the other about 4ft. The short one was used first and then replaced with the longer one so they could drill into the coal or rock to a depth of 4ft.

Better means of cutting coal were introduced with the Cowlishaw/Walker machine. This was heavy and had three sections – haulage, motor and gear. On the end of the gear section was a rectangular arm about 2ft long on to which a jib was placed on endless chain with a box fitted to accommodate picks. The machine would be started up and the jib and chain moved into the coal to cut 4ft under the coalface. The haulage section had a drum with 22yds of 5/8in diameter steel wire rope on it. The rope was pulled a distance of about 20yds and staked by a wooden prop set at an angle. The drum was moved to the wind-up position and the whole machine moved forward.

In 1937, in fact Easter Sunday, I remember working on the Top Coal face helping to install a 20in belt conveyor. I could walk upright in that seam then. For working in the Little Flints we made our own skip and tray to take it up and down the face. The skip was pulled by a main rope and tail rope. I went on my own one night shift to dismantle the drive which consisted of a motor driving two drums on the same steel shaft with a clutch between them. I had to dismantle the lot and put in a new motor house about 60yds nearer the face. The day shift were coming in before I had finished it.

From 1935 until 1940 we young chaps started our own football team, playing friendlies for a couple of years and then joining the Bridgnorth District League. We played friendlies with any team available using our own shirts and shorts. We needed a set of jerseys when we joined the league. We held a rummage sale in the senior school which I had attended and raised sufficient to buy 12 jerseys for 11s 6d from a firm which advertised in a Sunday paper. The strip was from Grose and Co. and was royal blue.

We had a good team and several were to play in first class football. The year we joined, 1938-39, we were runners-up in the league and the League Cup. Traveling was a game. If the matches were not too far away we cycled but most of them were the other side of Bridgnorth so we had to hire a bus and pay for it ourselves.

The war came and it finished us.

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