Nostalgia: Young Wray mineworkers pulled coal on their hands and knees

This illustration of a turn tree shows the method used in Wrays coal mines for raising the coal from the shaft bottom to the surface. It was also used by the miners to travel up and down the pit shaft.
Illustration by John Robinson.
This illustration of a turn tree shows the method used in Wrays coal mines for raising the coal from the shaft bottom to the surface. It was also used by the miners to travel up and down the pit shaft. Illustration by John Robinson.

In the final of a series, local historian David Kenyon looks at the history of Wray’s last coal mine and the miners who worked there, including his grandfather.

In this week’s nostalgia we take a last look at the history of Wray’s coal mines and one of its workers – John Singleton.

The following extract is taken from a 1935 interview with John Singleton, who worked in a Wray coal mine as a boy.

“I asked John Singleton about how they mined coal on Wray Moor. He said the pit belonged to John Clarkson and Reuben (a boy). Mr Singleton worked in this pit as a boy.

“Only one person worked the face at a time. The shafts were 10 to 20 feet deep.

“The coal was brought to the pit shaft in ‘corves.’

“They were about two feet wide and three feet long with timber runners joined together with iron bars.

“Hazel ‘withies’ were then woven from bar to bar like basketwork.

“A corve would be loaded with about one hundredweight of coal.

“The coal seam was only 16 inches deep (pit props 16 inches to 18 inches). The workers crawled along from the shaft bottom to the coal face.

“They worked lying on their sides using their short miners’ picks to extract the coal.

“Boys on their hands and knees pulled the coal along. They had a pad of straw under a piece of leather protecting their knees.

“Coal was sold at four pence a corve. Carts came for the coal from as far as Morecambe.

“Often the carters had some time to wait while the coal was mined. At times they stayed all night. Dry coal cost 8d per hundredweight.”

John Singleton recounted a tale that Mr Clarkson had told him about ‘Perpetual Arthur Burrows’ who lived at Blands Farm. Arthur had no coal in his house to heat the water when his wife was about to be confined.

When the doctor complained Arthur said he would soon get some. Lifting a flag in the floor he hauled up some coal, as there was a shaft down into the tunnel below.

By the time of the 1901 census the Clarkson family were no longer working their coal pits on Birks Moss and their employment is listed as Backsbottom stone and flag quarry.

This ended more than 70 years of coal mining tradition within the Clarkson family.

More than 100 years since Wray’s coal pits ceased production, the Clarkson family name has only recently lost its family ties with the village when Ruth Whittam nee Clarkson passed away in 2015 aged 104.

Ruth was the granddaughter of Robert Clarkson, the last colliery proprietor.