SKELTON - IN - CLEVELAND
IN HISTORY

The Last Deputy out of the Last Cleveland Ironstone Mine.
Frank Holmes.


The Last Shift leaves North Skelton Ironstone Mine on the 17th January 1964.
Man at the front is Deputy Frank Holmes.

Frank was born in Lingdale in 1924 and like the majority of men of his era in this area worked in the local Ironstone Mines from an early age.
He says that he applied for the job of Errand lad at Skelton Co-op when he was 14 and was told by the Committee that he was the best of the applicants, but his mother did not spend enough at the Co-op shops.
So he biked from Lingdale to Saltburn every day for 5 shillings a week to work at Mead's Shop and had to spend 10p of that crossing the old Halfpenny Bridge.
At 16, he started at Kilton Mine on the picking belt, where ironstone was sorted from shale.
He then moved to Lingdale Mine, where his father, Alec, was the "Banksman", the operator of the pit cage on the surface.
Frank worked for some years blasting at the face and says his shoulder still aches from pushing the ratchet drills. Eventually, having learned all aspects of the job, he was made a Deputy.
It was a dangerous life with constant risk of roof falls and he recalls seeing many injuries.
He was down Lingdale mine on the occasion of the methane explosion on the 25th August 1953.
"Luckily for me" he remembers "I was doing a job on my knees about 400 to 500 yards from where the gas ignited, but in a direct line from it. Even so the force was enough to blow me down on my face."
The men in the vicinity of the explosion were badly burnt and 7 eventually died. Frank remembers helping to carry them out and the Skelton Doctor Stevenson going down the mine to administer morphine.
The accident that stands out more in his mind was the death of Alan Forbes on the 28th August 1961, which made Alan's mate decide never to go down a Mine again. A chunk of rock, over a cubic metre, fell from the roof on this poor lad. "All you could see was one foot sticking out." Miners had to stand on the rock to break it up to reach his body.
On another occasion at Lingdale a young lad was beheaded when someone gave the signal for the pit cage to move while he was still inside it.
In 1958 Lingdale mine closed and Frank transferred to North Skelton Mine. Two or three years after this he moved to live in Skelton, where he has stayed for the past 50 years.
He was injured himself in North Skelton Mine when two tubs fell sideways and trapped his ankle, resulting in five weeks without work.

Below is a Youtube slideshow showing what life was like down North Skelton Mine shortly before it closed in 1964. Frank has kindly added some more detail here to explain further what is happening in the photographs.
The miners worked either 6 a.m to 2 p.m or 2 p.m to 10 p.m. During the last War the pits worked 24 hours. Frank actually went to Middlesbrough to enlist in the Forces, having done National Service at the age of 18. But he was told the job down the Mine was just as vital.
Miners took a "bait bag" for a meal break down the Mine and the drink was often cold tea.
They collected their safety helmets which had a light at the front, powered by a battery which was worn on the belt. In the old days miners used just a candle, the "midge" and then progressed to a carbide lamp.
The only mains powered electric lights were at the pit bottom.
Wages in 1964 were about 20 for a five day week, but Frank says he usually worked 7 and rarely had a day off.

Miners at Lingdale queue for their pay. Frank Holmes is far Right.

The miners at the face were still paid as they always had been by the tonnage of stone that they produced.
They would chalk their personal number on each tub of stone, which would be weighed on a weighbridge after leaving the cage on the surface.
There a Company man and a Union man would record the details.
Frank remembers it was 2 shillings and sixpence, ["half a crown" or 12 and a half pence in today's money] per ton, when he last worked the face at Lingdale.
This amount was divided between the 4 men who worked as a team and they had to pay for the explosives that they used out of that.
From the beginning the Mine Owners had always arranged everything to their own advantage.
A team at the face would hope to fill around 40 tubs in each 8 hour shift and each tub carried about 3 tons of stone.
The Deputy and day workers put up the roof supports, which in the old days were wooden props, but in later times were steel as seen in the photographs. Frank reckoned that the wooden ones were best as you could hear them groaning a warning if the roof was going to come down.
If, however, it was immediately obvious after firing that the roof was unsafe the team of 4 would be obliged to stop production and make it safe. Two holes were drilled in either side of the working and steel posts attached with bolts. These would be used to support a steel beam.
Frank says that he used to support the beam while it was being put in place with his head and one time this caused him to lose his voice, require a hospital visit and a week off work.
Other workers in the Mine were paid a regular wage.
Frank says that they rarely saw the Management with perhaps a daily visit by the Under-Manager. The Deputy below ground made any day to day decisions.
The Engineers, Electricians and Maintenance men stayed mainly on the surface and went underground only as required.
Frank recalls very little Union activity and as he says they "just got on with it."
The old miners used to tie string round their trousers just below the knee, supposedly to stop rats running up their legs. Frank says there were none in his day, but quite a few mice which the miners fed with bits of their bait.
There was little Health and Safety. Despite the risk of getting a foot crushed by falling rocks the miners often wore rubber wellington boots, like the driller in the slideshow, because in parts the mine was full of water.
Three pumps were working constantly at North Skelton, each capable of lifting 1000 gallons per minute the 740 feet to the surface.
The slideshow shows two men operating a ratchet drill.
The drills were air powered by an airline from the Compressor House which could be some distance away underground. The tips of the drill bits were changed about once every shift.
These made a hole some six feet into the ironstone, into which 4 sticks of dynamite and a detonator would be pushed followed by wetted small pieces of drillings.
These small pieces would be packed in tight, "stemmed" with the stick.
[In the first days of Mining, gunpowder was packed into a hole made with just a metal spike, sealed with straw and set off with a squib.]
About 20 of these holes would have to be drilled for each blasting. By drilling the holes in the right place a fairly even ground would be created for laying the rails for the tubs to run on.
Depending on how much stone was brought down each 8 hour shift would manage to do 2 to 3 blastings.
After the smoke and dust had cleared the Deputy would inspect the place with a metal rod for anything loose in the roof and the size and colour of the flame in his Deputy's Lamp would inform him if any gas was present.
The stone was then loaded into tubs by the "cranner".
Usually there was a team of 4 men blasting and loading and 3 or 4 cranners could be working in different parts of the mine at any one time.
The teams were also responsible for laying the "plates", rail-lines, for the tubs to run on.
At North Skelton the tubs were moved from the face to Sidings by a diesel powered loco, until a "set" with an average number of 24 tubs had been collected together.
From the Sidings these "sets" would be lowered to the pit bottom or hauled by cables, driven by two electrically driven haulage drums.

This photograph at North Skelton Mine is purported to be the pay queue on the day of closure.
Frank points out that if it is, the scene was specially arranged as one miner is carrying a candle and another a carbide lamp, whereas North Skelton was the first Mine to start using battery powered lamps.

North Skelton was joined up underground to the neighbouring mines of Lumpsey, Longacre, Kilton and Lingdale some 2 to 3 miles away and men could be working a good distance from the pit bottom.
The main East Cleveland iron seam made a saucer shape from where it outcropped in the Eston Hills to its lowest point at North Skelton, so there were gradients underground similar to those on the surface.
The miners proceeded to attack the seam in a chessboard fashion, blasting forward for 22 yards and then working sideways to leave 22 square yard pillars.
Part of these too could be taken out later to leave a "stook", or thinner pillar of stone.
Most of East Cleveland was supported at one time on these pillars and subsidence resulted on the surface in some areas.
When the tubs reached the pit bottom, where they arrived from two directions, they were wheeled into the pit cage.
At North Skelton this cage was a double-decker, with two tubs one above the other.
The were hauled the 700 feet to the surface in no time.
The communication system between the operator at the bottom, the "onsetter" was by a primitive Morse code called "rapping" where a metal clapper sounded at the surface to guide the "banksman".
1 rap for "Stop", 2 for "Go", 3 for "Men in cage", 4 for "Raise Steady", 5 for "Lower Steady".
After leaving the Weighbridge a mechanical tipper upended the tubs so the stone fell directly into Railway wagons below to be taken to the blast furnaces on Teesside.

At the closure of North Skelton Mine in 1964, the last miners were paid the princely lump sum of 5 for every year they had worked in the Mines and no Pension.
Frank actually went back down the Mine on the Saturday after it closed to sort out and the lads with him were stuck down the Mine for threequarters of an hour after their shift ended, because even though the Mine was closed they had to go through a regulation changing of the cage cables that only occurred about yearly but was due that day.
Frank soon obtained employment on the Power Station at Wilton ICI and worked there until retirement.
He then volunteered to help at the Mining Museum, Skinningrove and while there among other things put up the roof where they demonstrate the blasting operation and built the furnace for the blacksmith's shop.
He will be 90 in September 2014 and still lives in Skelton.
During the year 2013 he had a life or death hernia operation, shortly followed by having 60 percent of his bowel removed and even worse for him suffered the loss of his beloved wife of over 60 years, Doreen, [website owner's sister].
Despite all this he keeps cheerful and still has a sharp mind. He gets about on his mobility scooter and can do more with computers and tablets than the average nerd.
If everyone in this area and Britain was as hard-working, self-reliant, loyal, honest and generous as Frank, we would all have a better place to live.

Another recollection of life in North Skelton Mine by Bill Templeman, who appears in the slideshow can be read:- here.

Click to play.
Enhanced still photographs taken from the film "End of an Era"
Background music "Death or Glory", Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

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