Miners' memories helping to re-write Doncaster's industrial historyÂ

Around 30 years ago, they were objects known to thousands of men across Doncaster.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 3:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 3:49 pm
Former Brodsworth and Bullcroft miner Thomas Metcalf, aged 86, of Scawsby, with a miners lamp battery, and former Rossington and Brodsworth miner Ernie Plastow, aged 81, of Woodlands, with a pair of miners' knee pads.

Today, they are museum pieces, relics of Doncaster's coal mining heyday.

Now, the pieces of industrial hardware that were used by miners across the borough have been taken out on a tour of former mining towns around the borough.

Former Brodsworth and Bullcroft miner Thomas Metcalf, aged 86, of Scawsby, with a miners lamp battery, and former Rossington and Brodsworth miner Ernie Plastow, aged 81, of Woodlands, with a pair of miners' knee pads.

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For some, they are sparking recognition and nostalgia, while others are bemused by pieces of hardware which are alien to them.

The move to take them out of the museum and into the villages has been taken forward under a scheme called Pit Sense, which aims to help bring people closer to their own heritage.

And officials are hoping it will also help them cast new light on items in the Doncaster Museum collection, with new information about items about which they have little knowledge.

The two-year project is being run by Ruth Carrington, a former school teacher, who moved into working in heritage last year.

Andy Waterworth, aged 55, of Adwick, with a colliery locker bays sign. Any was a miner at Brodsworth and Bentley pits

Most of the work on the project has gone on in the former mining towns of Stainforth, Woodlands and Denaby Main, areas which Ruth describes as '˜massively influenced by the pits'.

She said: 'Not everyone in these communities comes into the museum in the town centre. We're trying to engage people in the communities with their heritage.'

They also plan to introduce youngsters to older residents, so the former miners can share their stories of the industrial past, and the dangers they faces and the friendships they forged underground digging the coal that fuelled the nation's power stations.

They will be brought together at All Saints Church, Woodlands, for an afternoon of oral history on Sunday March 24. The stories will be used to create a community exhibition. A bigger exhibition is set to be staged later at Cusworth Hall.

Former Brodsworth miners Bob Colville, aged 87, Dave Alvin, aged 76, and Dave Gilling, aged 75 with a lever and ratchet used for pulling pit props underground.

Ruth and a team of volunteers have also brought in '˜mystery objects', about which the museum has little or no information, in the hope former miners can help explain what they were for. There are many pieces of equipment in the collection that are labelled only as '˜unknown mining equipment'.

One such item was a brass rod, with a round disc fixed to the end, the rod welded to the bottom of the disc rather than the middle.

Thomas Metcalf, an 86-year-old former miner at Brodsworth and Bullcroft Collieries was able to make a suggestion as to what he believes it to be, on a visit to the touring exhibition when it stopped at Woodlands Library. He believes it may have been used to scrape away dirt from holes that were drilled in the wall of the pit tunnel to place explosive charges.

Ruth said she was already working with schools on the the project in Denaby, and would like to get involved with more. The collection includes pictures of teenage miners who would have been working at the coal face when they were the same age as many school children are now.

Ruth Carrington at the Doncaster Museums Pit Sense Exhibition at Woodlands Library

'The items here are from our collection and we want to make them more widely known,' she said. 'The former miners, who are the experts, can help us interpret them.

'The museum took items from its collection on the road for the 19-14-1918 World War One project. We are doing something similiar. It's been really exciting to be part of this, which is quite unusual for the museums.'

Andy Waterworth, from Adwick , aged 55, was another former miner visiting the exhibtion at Woodlands Library.

He started work at Brodsworth Colliery as a 16-year-old in 1980, working there until 1990, when he moved to Bentley pit for three years, before leaving the industry in 1993, and retraining as a social worker.

He managed to solve one mystery, involving a black and white site, described as a locker number. It carried the digits 49 and 96. He explained that it was the sign that would mark a locker bay, and area containing several lockers, in the area around the showers.

He said: 'I've recognised a lot of the equipment. and its been really nostalgic, also some of the items are from well before my time. It's brought back some memories.

Thomas Metcalf, from Scawby, brought some of his own items to the exhibition '“ a belt battery which was used to power the lamp on his miners helmet, and his knee pads, which were used by miners to protect their knees when they were kneeling.

He said he took a job as a miner after initially working on a farm. 'The money was much better at the colliery,' he said.

They attracted the attention of 81-year-old Ernie Plastow. Ernie started work at Rossington Colliery at the age of 14, before later working at Brodsworth.

'I noticed the old battery and knee pads,' he said. 'They brought back a lot of memories for me from my time underground.'

Former Brodsworth miners Bob Colville, aged 87, Dave Alvin, 76, and Dave Gilling, aged 75, were looking at the items together, sharing recognition of many of the exhibits.

They spotted a lever that was under underground for pulling out pit props and chocs..

Bob said it was used the the tunnels were extended, being used to move things forward. He said. The lever would be up upright, and it would move things with the ratchet.'

'It's brought back a lot of memories, coming down here,' he said.