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Frank Bacon - Local Collieries

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Down The Old Coppice Colliery - Now Hidden Under A Green Hill
Article by John Flint - New pictures by Mike Inman.

"IT'S a few years now since I used to work on the Coppice Colliery Screening Plant Looking back now the Coppice Pit stood at the end of Hatch Lane and many times, when I walk through the now green fields where the pits once were, my mind goes back to the times when those fields were a hive of industry, the huge slag heaps where the trees now grow.

I walk down the road that once ran from Crick's in Marlpool to Middle Farm (now demolished) and Flat Meadows Farm, and pass the point where it ran by the pit head baths on one side and the pit coal landsale on the other, where the colliers' coal was taken from the coal wagons shunted there by the colliery locos.

And as I walk down the lane and look to the left and see the visitors' centre of Shipley Country Park I think of the time when at that spot, or near to it, was the engine house and the large iron frame of the Mickley Pit Headstocks.

Further down the lane, looking towards the left, were the colliery stores of pit props, iron girders, rings and wood blocks - in fact everything for the working of the Coppice Pits - and there would be small pit trams ready loaded to go down the Mickley and Coppice pits.

Many lorries came down this lane at that time fetching coal and slack to put in the stock yard at the back and side of the pit head baths.

Looking further to your left you could see the colliery loco sheds, the boiler house with the tall chimney, the fan house where air was sent down the pit to ventilate the roadways there. Just to the right of the fan house was the Coppice Colliery screening plant where I was to work for 10 or more years, separating the coal from the dirt (bat) call it what you may. The dust in the screening plant fell on the men working in there, like soft rain, it was a dirty, dusty and filthy job.

Many of the workers in the colliery screens were old men who at one time or another had worked down either Mickley or at Coppice Pits and were finishing their working days on the screens.

There's an old saying that "you have to eat a ton of dirt before you die."

After being a farm labourer for a good many years, breathing in the good fresh air of the land, spreading cow muck with a muck fork and doing other jobs of the farm, to leave all that behind to work at the Coppice Pit.

Screening Plant with all that dust and muck etc, I must have eaten my ton of dust quite easily.

The foreman at the time when I started on the Coppice Screens was a Mr Arthur Noon, and the engineer was Frank Wibberley. On the screens there were five continuous steel belts, each about 20 yards long, but only three were in use at the time I started. These were the Coppice Coal Belt, Mickley Belt and the Colliers Coal Belt. Between each belt there ran the dirt belts.

Men working on the steel belts during coal turning used to pull or throw the dirt and bat and let the coal go down the steel belt to the lowering belt. From there it went into the railway wagons or lorries that were under the screens. The dirt and bat used to go onto the belt that ran to the huge slag heap.

At one time my job was on the lowering belt and it was to make sure no dirt ever got into the railway wagons. There were many times that the bat that came down on to the lowering belt was so big that we had to use crowbars to shift it.

Sometimes there was more dirt than coal on the belt and we had to stop them tipping the trams at the pit top so that we could clear it off the belt.

Towards the end of my time at Coppice I worked up the colliery sidings with Bill Buxton and Charlie Rose, cleaning out the wagons and wagon lowering.

I remember the huge wagons that came from a power station in London. These wagons held about 40 tons of coal slack each.

Where the Coppice Colliery Sidings once were is now a mass of trees and the only reminder of where the sidings were is a gate on the left hand side of the lane leading to Hat Meadows Farm, through which lorries used to go on their way to get loaded with either slack or lump coal from under the screens.

There was one time when we were told that we had to go down to empty railway wagons at Woodside Washer. The loco took us down there on the Mineral Line and after the shift was finished we were brought back to the Coppice Pit, again on the loco.
Now what a vast change there has been over these last few years. The Coppice Pit, screens, boiler house, railway sheds and the powder magazine and offices have all gone and in their place are the rolling grass fields of the country park. In my mind I can still see the ribbon of coal coming down the steel belt on its way to the railway wagons and hear the clang of dust being thrown off onto the dirt belt.

My last memory, of which there are many, is that of Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner by Mr Owen V. Watson, who at one time worked at Coppice Colliery. The poem he wrote was called Ode to a Green Hill, and went thus:


If perchance these words survive.
The frailty of this mortal frame.
The others of my race will know
From whence this green hill came.

That far below in its dark heart
Now lies for all eternity
Steel tortured traces I and others
Left in caverns without pity.

All that's left of a mining past
Deep within its bosom lies
Far beneath the emerald crest
Where countless ghosts do sigh.

Let them look and think awhile
Of Coppice miners and their dead
Suffer a moment of sad regret
For the blood and sweat long shed.

Yes, they were young and ever thought
That death was just for others
They too laughed and danced and sang
In the company of their brothers.

So let this hill be a monument high
Lasting 'til the end of time.
To a breed who soon will be no more
I dedicate this rhyme.

Oh green hill when the rains do come
And hurry down your creeks.
Will you too remember them
As tears stream down your cheeks.

There's one line in that poem that stands out in my mind, that is: "From whence this green hill came". Ask the men who worked down Coppice Pit, the men who worked in the screens, the loco shunters, the wagon lowerers, those who worked on the slag heap, in the powder magazine, the pit head baths and the canteen, and even those who worked in the offices of Coppice Colliery, and they could tell you "from whence this green hill came".

But when the pit was working the hill was not so green. The grass was not so lush; nearly everything was covered in either coal dust or dirt. Railway wagons were being shunted here and there; In fact the whole place was, as I said before, a hive of industry.

In passing I must not forget those people who made the green hill, the men of the open-cast who, when the Coppice Colliery had finished, went to work on the site of the pit and demolished everything to get further coal from the site, and put it back as it is now.

Long may it be a pleasure for people to walk over. But do not forget "from whence this green hill came", or those who were injured and maimed and some who died in the quest for coal.
Let this hill be a monument to them too.


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