Black As Coal

I was never down a coalmine but I can name a few. I grew up in the Lancashire coalfield of Atherton, Hindsford and Tyldesley, and I saw black-faced miners coming home from work every day. My own father never had a black face that I saw, because they had pithead baths installed in Astley Green, where he worked in those years after the war. He always had a shower before coming home.


The names of the pits stay with me now, those that were operating when I was a lad going to school. I passed by a pit every morning. It was called Chanters Colliery. A railway line of coal wagons ran beside the slaughterhouse as I crossed over the Piggy Bridge on my way to class. Chanters was technically in Atherton and the local brook, Hindsford Brook was the boundary line between Atherton and Tyldesley. There is a football club, called Atherton Colls that was started up in 1916, ostensibly, I think it was, to bolster morale during the Great War.  Still going strong, I occasionally look them up to see how they are doing.


I can think of five pits that were working during the fifties of my childhood. Back o’t’ Church, also known as St George’s, was situated just south of Tyldesley railway station, central to the town. Down below that was Gin Pit and Nook colliery. Gin Pit seemed a strange little place, just a collection of terraced streets surrounded by farmers’ fields, homes dedicated to miners and their families, a micro version of Tyldesley itself.


Another pit was called Cleworth Hall colliery along Manchester Road way, and finally there was Astley Green Colliery, a very deep mine on the edge of Chat Moss. This was where my father returned to mining after the war, when the pits were nationalised and wages were improving.


Chanters, Cleworth, Back o’t’ Church, Nook, Gin Pit and Astley Green…these are the names that live in my mind. Oh, and Mosley Common pit…nearly forgot that one. This was a big and modernised pit that employed 3000 men.


I’m going to be a miner, I said one time to my dad, as we sat in our front room. No, you’re not, my father replied. His quick reply surprised me with its rapidity. I got the message immediately that following my father down the pit was not going to be on the agenda.


As things turned out I got a black suit, not a black face, as I joined the ranks of the priesthood, and in the year of my ordination, 1970, the last pit in Tyldesley, Astley Green, closed for good.


Brian Fahy

19 May 2022

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