Our good mate Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler has struck gold again. This transcription of an article from the Lichfield Mercury, of Friday, 4th January 1904 is a real gem, both for those with a keen interest in mining at the time, and those who are scholars of the nomenclature and language of our area.
We all know areas called ‘The Swag’ – There’s Jeffreys Swag and Plant’s Swag at Chasewater, for example. I remember tales of young coal-pickers being bawled out for picking bat not coal.
This article is wonderful, and I thank Peter for yet another great find in the archives.
Some peculiar words are used in the connection with coal mines and the modes of getting the coal. We find such terms as square work, long wall, pillar and post, drift system, past wall, and strait work, each indicative of a method of extracting the black diamonds.
The surface in the immediate vicinity of the pit’s mouth is the “bank”, and “sump” is used to describe that part of the pit shaft sunk below working level for drainage purposes.
“Brazzil” is an inferior kind of hard coal, “cobbies” all “kibbles” are round coals, “chats” are small coals, “clunch” is soft shale, and “bat” is the hard shale, which usually forms and layer between two seams a coal.
The “down cast” is the shaft conveying air to the underground workings, and the “up cast” is the shaft up which the return or used air ascends. The lack of adequate ventilation is expressed by the Black Country collier in one word…damp, but he distinguish various kinds, such as fire-damp, after-damp, choke-damp, white-damp, black-damp, and peas-blosson-damp, each having its peculiar features.
He applies the term “sulphur” to explosive gas, and “fire-stink” to the fumes given off by undergrown fires. By a “stint” is indicated a set task of piece-work, the “shift” or “turn” and is a day’s or night’s work, and “joey” is a term significant of the time to leave off work.
A collapse of the surface into old workings is called a “crownin-in”, and if water accumulates in a subsidence of more than ordinary proportions the place is dubbed a “swag.” A “thing” is a fault or displacement of strata. This word is commonly heard it inquests into mining fatalities, and is also the term “bump” a superincumbent weight.
The main entrance to underground workings is a “gate-road”, a “navvy” or “thurling” is a length of working between two main roads, and “man-of-war” is a small pillar of coal left to support the roof in thick coal workings, and “pot-hole” is a small break in the roof. The word “burn” is a localism applied to the round open baskets which were at one time taken to the pit bank by colliers wives, and filled with coal from the spoil. They contained sufficient for one fire or “burn”, hence the name.
We conclude with one other provincialism “ lazy back”, the loading stage at the pit bank, so called because the stage is on a level with the bottom of the cart which is to be loaded, and so enables the work to be formed without much stooping.
(Lichfield Mercury Friday 1st January 1904)