Childhood Memories of Park Pit & It’s Miners by Les Haywood

Many thanks to Stephen Haywood and Graham Haywood for letting me reproduce their fathers memories of Park Pit when it was still working.

As a child I remember the miners who worked at Park Pit came from a wide area including such places as Guisborough from where they would walk to work and back each day. A few characters from Skelton who worked there were Jack Haywood, Johnnie Bulmer, Charlie Jackson, and many more who formed a tight-knit community. There was also Jack Snaith, the blacksmith, and Herbert Bulmer who was ‘cartage man’ delivering clogs of wood to houses in the area.
In its heyday, safety at Park Pit was non-existent – safety helmets hadn’t been thought of and candles and carbide lamps were the main forms of lighting. The miners thought nothing about safety when they lit their clay pipes for a smoke, or failing that, they’d bite off a piece of tobacco and chew it. I remember each miner who smoked a clay pipe stuck it in the peak of his cap so he wouldn’t break it in his pocket.
One of the favourite games us children would play at the pit was ‘shoot the miner’. We would cut a hollow stem from the hedge-back and then gather a handful of hawthorn berries (cathaws). Then we’d wait for the cage coming up before shooting the berries at the miners as they emerged from the cage. Their language was anything but polite and we always had to make a run for it before they came charging down the steps, swearing and laughing at the same time. We’d sometimes think we were safe and would slow down to gather more ‘ammunition’. Suddenly, a huge hand would land on your shoulder and shake the living daylights out of you! Then he would give you a sandwich left from his ‘bait box’ and a handful of carbide for your cycle lamp.
The miners who lived at Skelton Green used to walk to the allotments and empty the spent carbide from their lamps onto the gardens – they used to think it was as good as lime.
When walking through the pit yard we always looked in the blacksmith’s shop and would ask Mr Snaith if he would make us a hoop (‘booler’). He never refused and would pretend to measure how tall you were so he knew how big to make it!
There was one phrase common to miners and it was ‘off tack’, which was a list of stoppages taken from their pay, a not too pleasant reading.
What did the miners find for pleasure you might ask? Well, they made their own. This was the time before TV and there were very few radios, so it was common to hear the ‘chink, chink’ sounds coming from the grass plot in front of Prospect Place where there were several quoit pitches. Games were in progress from just after tea until around nine o’clock when all became quiet as they all disappeared up to the New Inn for the ‘last hour’.
There also seemed to be a lot of musicians in those days – out would come trumpets, accordions, banjos and other instruments as the miners enjoyed a musical evening outdoors. Some were members of the brass band which was always in big demand at local events.
Nearly everyone had a garden, often with a pig sty and a ‘hen run’. The exchange of plants for the gardens was a regular feature and not a penny ever changed hands.
Accidents at the pit varied from minor to serious, but nearly all were treated at the miner’s hospital on Boosbeck Road. Apart from those with serious injuries, most miners would be back at work still wearing their dressings – they were frightened to ‘stay off’ because if they did not work they got no pay.
Life in the pit was hard, but with great comradeship, the miners helped one another to get along. Was it a sad day to see the end of the pit? A few would say “yes”, but the majority shouted, “Hooray!”

Les Haywood

Leave a Reply