Huddersfield Chronicle (19/May/1894) - Grange Moor, Emley, and Life in the Pit
GRANGE MOOR, EMLEY, AND LIFE IN THE PIT.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
Is Grange Moor destined to become famous ? It has already a political history, for is it not reported that the world-menders of 50 years ago intended making it the starting point of a march on London with the purpose of over-awing Parliament by their force of numbers and imperative demands? Is it not also reported that these men, armed with blunderbusses, pickaxes, rusty swords, horse pistols, pikes, crowbars, hedge stakes, and broomsticks, only waited a commander and the word of command in order that they might attack and overcome all opposition? Is it not, further, more than a legend that these valiant men, at the sight of an innocent and unsuspecting old lady dressed in scarlet, let their hearts fail them and ran pell mell in all directions, scattering their accoutrements as they vanished or fell into the arms of a troop of soldiers which had been sent to watch proceedings from Huddersfield? The pot-house babblers, the coffee-house politicians, and the arm-chair legislators of to-day talk as if they would be more valiant than their predecessors, but if the crucial moment came, and the authority of the law was about to be firmly vindicated, perhaps even they might be found slinking off into dark lanes, back streets, and hiding themselves in safe places until all danger was gone. Grange Moor can also show what, perhaps, no other township in Yorkshire can, that, if not a seaport, it makes gateposts of the jawbones of a whale, and thus gives the gapelings who gaze on them some idea of the Leviathan of the deep. Further, is it not a thing of very recent history that its high table-land, four or five miles from anywhere, can draw 14,000 or 15,000 people to its second year's steeplechases ? Verily, there must be something marvellous about Grange Moor. The last time I went to this peculiar place I started my walk from the tram terminus at Almondbury. The subject in the tram was "Newspapers," and several were freely criticised, and reasons given why the speakers took them. One sturdy, open countenanced, John Bull featured gentleman, aged about 65, said he had taken the Huddersfield Chronicle for 35 years, and should continue to take it, his chief reason for so doing being that its statements were fair, reliable, and not extreme, unlike many others that made it necessary for one to read their opposites in politics to get anything like a balance of "truth. I thought this an excellent reason, as well as an excellent compliment, from a man who had read the paper more than a third of a century. I was soon in the valley, and as soon enjoying the grand scenery of Woodsome, and living over again the rambles and incidents of long ago. When once I began to rise from Dogley Bar to Highburton, Linfit Lane, and Emley Moor, I thought I should never reach the top. It was very tantalising, but when I succeeded the prospect was grand. There were Bretton Hall, Cannon Hall, and the charming slopes towards Coxley Valley, which I will not now attempt to describe. Suffice it to say that it was more than worth the walk to see. I had not seen Emley and its sylvan surroundings for a third of a century, and I thought they were more lovely in consequence, or may-be my appreciation of the beauties of the earth had been heightened in the meantime. Emley was, on this occasion, my chief aim, and its church my fond object. I had vivid recollections of the late honoured and revered Rev. Mr. Pym, to hear whom I was taken three or four miles on Sundays, and whose preaching I shall never forget. There was no mistake about the mission of Mr. Pym. He never minced words to suit the passing whims and foibles of the day, or adapted himself to the pettifogging littlenesses of designing cliques. He was sure of his ground as a minister of God, and he always spoke as one commissioned to tell mankind the truth at all times, in plain and unmistakable language. He spoke of hell as hell, not as sheol or hades, of sin as sin, and of evil in every form as wrong, and not so much as shortcomings and weaknesses, to be forgiven after the sinning and repenting ideas of many. His contrasts between good and bad were clear, sharp, and distinct, and he never failed to make a lasting impression on the mind and soul that he preached the truth, the Gospel truth, and that he would act that truth though the heavens should fall. Before reaching the place I let my fancy play with my imagination as to what I should see when I got there ; the old pews, the lofty pulpit, the strong stone pillars, the tablets in the chancel, the dear churchyard, and a hundred other things, but my sorrow'may partly be imagined when I found not only the doors locked but the churchyard gates barred also. I tried every means of entrance but to no purpose. I had also pleasant recollections of the hotel where we had dinner in order that we might remain for afternoon service, and always resolved to see that place if I ever went to Emley again. I went but found the only room accessible was one containing a motley group. Undaunted I entered and took stock. To the right was a woman with a pair of black eyes who had not been washed that day, and perhaps not for some days. Near to her was another who looked anything but a member of the gentler sex, and who seemed to have been drinking all that day. Two men, with bruised faces, sat beside them, also two others who boasted of having been in gaol and about coming from Dawgreen. Half-a-dozen others with features that showed cunning, crime, and misery, scowled at me beneath their eyebrows and made me feel that it was only daylight that kept them from all but devouring me. I was evidently looked upon with suspicion, and as a mark of my welcome I received wrong change for what I ordered, but as the sum was small I let that pass. I started several topics of conversation, but could draw no one. I soon found, however, that their object was to draw me, or rather my cash. I made sure that, as far as one could place reliance upon their words, none of them had lived long in the place, and felt certain that they had never known Mr. Pym, or heard his burning eloquence upon such grossness as they manifested. When I got into the open air I did not wonder that the church doors and gates were made secure. I would not have trusted the party I had just left even with the dead. I was quickly in the midst of fine landscapes and surrounded by the unspeakable purity and eloquence of nature. If man is vile, the glorious woodlands, the mossy meadows, the lovely hillocks, and the dancing, purling streams are not. I walked a long distance without meeting anyone or wanting to, yet I was far from lonely. My next resting-place was the quiet, comely, and unassuming church of Flockton. Here I sat relieved and forgetful of Emley. Undisturbed, I had time to inspect the dear place thoroughly Time may efface its tablets, its marble may crumble into dust, its walls may know a sure decay, but the charm of its holy influence as a shrine where mankind meet and worship is not of stone, of wood, or of brass, but of memories that must live on to eternity. It will ever be one of my pleasant memories. I then passed pit after pit until I reached Grange Ash, where I witnessed another scene of debauchery and drunkenness. Within hailing of this pleasant knoll I have seen man fights, dog fights, cock fights, foot races, wrestlings, jumping matches, and all manner of violent contests. I have witnessed men quarrel, strip to the waist, fight, and be friends again within the half-hour; unlike the blatant fighters of the present day who challenge the world, and forthwith flit from continent to continent out of the way of a possible opponent, do all they can to get talked of in the papers, are feted by a lot of brainless ruffians, become suddenly rich by merely exhibiting themselves, and move about the globe with more attendants than Ministers, Prime Ministers, Lords, and Kings. Here, instead of the fighters having sponge-men and bottle-holders, they would go together into a field, unaccompanied by anyone, and struggle till the vanquished cried " yield." What used to puzzle me as much as anything was the amount of punishment these men could withstand, enough to kill a dozen town-bredlings. They would come up smiling immediately after I had thought them all but battered to death. This was in the days when the constable, in reply to information that a fight was taking place, would say — "Let them fight a bit, lad, the'll be better to part after a while." Of course Grange Moor has warm hearts, brave hearts, true hearts, and good hearts, yea, as warm as the glow from the coals they send to cheer the hearths of Huddersfieldians. I have seen them rush into danger and complete a rescue in the most hopeless of cases, and know so much about miners generally that if I wanted any dangerous work doing, where pluck and hardihood were the chief things required, I should make their ground my recruiting ground. I have seen and assisted in some terrible events in the pit. I have seen men crushed beyond recognition; seen them burned to a cinder; torn limb from limb; heard their dying words, which were generally of the loved ones who were soon to be fatherless and husbandless. I have been present when men have rushed in terror to the pit bottom after an alarm of fire, and have seen them battle with their other dread enemy, water. I have heard them singing one moment and seen them lifeless the next, buried beneath tons of rock and coal, yet never did I see one of them hesitate to rush into danger if he could render assistance or save life. 1 have seen men pitched into the air and fall down the shaft by over-winding, and have been in the pit bottom when the rope has broken and the cage has dashed into the sump with indescribable force and terrible destruction. I have also been at the pit top when the rope has broken and heard the fearful roar of the falling cage into the depths below, while the broken rope has played fantastically overhead and swept the pit top with its serpentine coils. I have heard the oozings and bubblings of the terrible gas as it escaped through the crevices of rock and coal, and seen it lit and flash, or linger and play along the workings like a Will-o'-the-wisp, until it died out for want of a further supply. I have been present when old workings have been tapped, and the fire damp has forced us all to run for our lives and when the slightest defect in our safety lamps would have caused us to have been blown into eternity. I only know from reading what surface earthquakes are, but I have been in many earthquakes in the bowels of the earth, and terrible as the former must be, I doubt whether they can be much more dreadful than the latter. To be caught like a rat in a hole when the roof begins to "weight" without any apparent means of escape, in the midst of groanings, rumblings, yawnings, bellowings, tumblings, and explosions, or be compelled, as forlorn hope, to scramble through the thick of falling rock, without light and with nothing but the sense of direction to guide one, is an awful suspense, and an experience I do not wish again to undergo. I have been in mines where the coal was 9ft., 6ft., 4ft., 3ft., 2ft., and l½ft. thick, and seen men work in all postures, and often where clothing of every description, except a belt and a cap, was superfluous. I have seen men work in water from morning till night, beneath streams that poured upon them continuously. I have seen them work where the heat was so intense that anyone near them would freely perspire without exertion, and where the workers were almost invisible in the dust and steam caused by their labour. I have descended 500 or 600 yards into the earth in a few seconds, and have ascended as quickly. I have looked up the shafts on clear days, and seen the stars through the long dark telescope of earth, which at the top was five or six yards in diameter, but which from below seemed but a span. I have watched the cages in their upward and downward flights pass each other like a flash of lightning, but which could be so skilfully controlled that the man at the engine, 600 yards above, could, with a four-ton loaded cage, crack a nut at the bottom without smashing the kernel. I have seen the blue subtle gas fill the safety lamp with potent flame, and when all lights have had to be put out for fear of an explosion and we have had to grope our way to the pit bottom for a mile or more. I have seen men work in black damp, when their naked lights refused to burn no matter how held, and have assisted in fanning the foul gas out of the workings by the waving of shirts and coats in air passages. It is quite a common thing for boys to push their "scoops," or corves. 300 or 400 yards through many turnings when they have lost their candles or their lights have gone out. I have known these boys made bald in a few weeks by their having to push the corves with their heads, and seen the blood trickle down their backs caused by "snigging," or coming in contact with the roof, notwithstanding their padded shirts, provided by as kindly and as true mothers as ever breathed. I have seen the strong "ram" or run their corves, after an exhausting race, against the heels of the weak, and seen them meet on a single line and contest the point, as to which should go back, by sheer strength, often resulting in a general fight when the parties and their defenders met at the pit bottom. I have seen tons of roof fall and block up the passages immediately after I bad passed beneath or before I got to the place, while at other times the rock has quietly descended just low enough to stroke off the coal that might project above the top of the corve, and thus crush the fingers of the lad as he dashed down the passages, and force him to loose his hold and let the "scoop" run away without control till stopped by its upsetting or coming into collision with another. Many men and boys in some mines dispense with any protection whatever for their feet, and become so hardy that they can do better without clogs than with them. I have seen these boys beaten and heard them sworn at in an awful manner, yet when they have been waiting for corves at the pit bottom no more jolly a lot of lads could be found on earth. They would laugh and sing and tell tales without end, and though in winter they scarcely ever saw daylight, they would dance and play in the candlelight, and strive with each other in rivalrous feats of strength and agility. When younger, fiction had for me an uncontrollable fascination. Since then facts have taken the place of fiction. The truths of a varied life are as startling, as entrancing, and as enthralling as any that imagination can depict as possible. Verily, one-half of the world does not know how the other half lives. When you draw your family around you, and thank God that your lot is cast in pleasant places ; or, when you feel envious that you are not as well off as your neighbour appears to be, you might feel a glow of satisfaction, as well as a glow from your fire, if you would think of the labour and danger entailed ere the black diamonds that are boiling your kettle reach your comfortable hearth.