Searching for Coal
Look Back at the poverty of yester-year
SEARCHING FOR COAL TO KEEP THE FAMILY WARM
(or The way things were!)
There once was a place where coal could be collected when there wasn't any to be found on the beach, or the pit bank. That place was outside town near Lowca, where there are two coal mines. I can remember seeing the men riding their bikes, minus tyres and inner tubes, which had been removed from the wheels because they would never have withstood the weight of the coal.
Part of the pit top at the Harrington mine was the coal washery where water was drawn up from a dam in the stream at the bottom of the hill, passed through the wash, removing the fine particles of dust, and then discharged onto the side of the hill, where over the years, the flow had formed its own stream bed. The stream ended at the bottom of the hill, where the water and coal dust flooded the field which, unsurprisingly, was called the Coal Dust Field. There bloomed one solitary plant with small yellow flowers, in the middle of the field.
Men would come to the field from Whitehaven on bicycles and would scrape the dust into heaps, then form it into balls the size of tennis balls, allowing them to dry before putting them in bags. Each bike carried three hundredweight of coal dust balls; one bag was put through the frame and rested on the pedals and the two remaining bags were laid over the crossbar. When they were fully loaded, the men would help each other push their bikes, one at a time, up the hill to the church. Once on the Long Mile it was a fairly level road to Keir's garage.
During those times, while out looking for something new to amuse ourselves, my pals and I often saw and heard the groups of men riding their rattling bikes all the way down the new Road to the Bus Station. The shortest way of reaching the Coal Dust Field was via the Wagon Road but it was used on the outward journey only because it had so many potholes, making it almost impossible to manoeuvre with the heavily laden bikes. Thus the return journey was usually along the Long Mile.
Formerly of Whitehaven