The night the roof fell in

George Schofield, George Bywater and William joiner receive an award - I’m not sure who from. I think this image is from the Walsall Observer.

Brian Stringer – The Clayhanger Kid himself – has very kindly contacted me with his memories of the October 1956 accident at Walsall Wood Colliery. Brian sent me the following:

Hi Bob.

The article you featured re the medals presented to Mr Schofield (as we had to address him), George Bywater and Henry Joiner, brought back memories of that tragic night for me. I was 18 at the time and a maintenance fitter. It was my week to cover the night shift.

As I came to work and made my way to the bike shed, I noticed dozens of cars parked around the pit head baths. I asked a colleague what was going on and was informed of the accident. I was told to ignore my boss’s job instructions for the night, and go to the Charles Coal seam where the accident had occurred. We all had to muck in and do any task required by the head of the rescue team.

My first job was to go back to the surface and fetch two dozen hacksaw blades. I was then sent back with a mate to bring a full tea urn to refresh the rescue team. I was then sent back to the pit bottom to fetch a new cap lamp for the head of the rescue operation who I believe was a Mr Wight. This lamp caused one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Officials lamps differed from ours, in that they had a beam more akin to a spotlight, while ours was dimmer and spread out. We could always see a gaffer coming from miles away by the piercing beam. If we were loafing around the cry would go up, ‘Aye up there’s a spot coming’, and we would be gainfully employed by the time the spot reached us.

So as a mischievous 18 year old, I was heading down the main road inwards with this gaffers lamp, when I saw lights in the distance coming towards me. I immediately nipped in a manhole at the side of the road, and as the miners drew level, turned my own light off, held the spot under my chin, shone the beam up under my face, and jumped out looking some ghostly apparition from hell.

To my horror I saw that it was a stretcher party bringing out the first of the recovered bodies. If ever I needed a hole to swallow me up it was then.

I never mentioned the incident to anybody till fifty years later, when at the memorial service in Walsall Wood church, Graham Cresswell, who was one of the stretcher bearers, bought the matter up. He told me that all the lads smiled at my discomfort and apportioned no blame, as it was just a pit prank that had gone wrong, and could have happened to anybody. He finished up by saying ‘Your face was a bloody picture Bri.’

Brian Stringer

I’d like to thank Brian for his touching and very honest account. It’s always wonderful to receive first hand accounts of such momentous events, and I realise that must stir some bad memories. Cheers, Brian, you’re a gentleman and a true friend of the blog.

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9 Responses to The night the roof fell in

  1. Caz says:

    Hi Bob and Brian,what a lovely personal account to read.This is why i love the internet and your blog so much. long after we are all gone, future generations will be able to read this..best wishes caz

  2. Julie Le-Moine says:

    I have a feeling this is the accident that an old neighbour of mine, Lionel “Paddy” Walker was rescued from but I’m not quite sure. He used to tell me about his pit accident when I was younger and he never forgot those that perished along side him. When the tin man went up we suggested that he be called Paddy in honour of him but alas it didn’t happen. Whenever I come to Brownhills and catch my first sight of our Miner I always think of Paddy. He passed away a few years ago now but he was a larger than life colourful character.

  3. brian stringer says:

    Yes you’re quite right, the only one to be rescued alive was ‘Paddy’ Walker who was stuck sitting upright ‘like a cork in a bottle” as he put it, till he was rescued. I last spoke to him at the Memorial service at Walsall Wood church and was only too glad to shake his hand because he died soon after.
    His wife Clarice worked in the canteen, and after our nightshift we always guaranteed a good ‘day’s’ sleep after eating one her porkpies with lashings of Daddies sauce, washed down with a big mug of Horlicks.

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