Folk worked ‘til they dropped

THE remarkable work ethic of our grandparents and great grandparents never ceases to amaze me.

Friday, 5th November 2010, 11:07 am

They just seemed to work, until they dropped, but this was in an age when there was no welfare state and no old age pensions.

People continued to work until infirmity or ill-health took its toll, and employers didn’t consider age as a handicap.

They valued age and experience and didn’t pressure older employees to move on and make way for the young ones.

Some time ago I wrote on this subject and mentioned Aaron Pickles, from Briestfield, who worked at Combs Colliery for 71 years.

Another local miner mentioned, John (Jack) Inman from Thornhill, worked until he was 87 and never knew a day’s illness.

He started work when he was six and worked in the pit for 82 years, surely a world record for the mining industry.

How anyone could work in the same job, day after day without a break for 80 years, beggars belief, especially in a job so steeped in danger.

Surely no other job carries with it the dreadful fear of being buried alive or trapped underground waiting to be rescued.

Few stories have gripped our imaginations more than the case of the Chilean miners which gave us some idea of the risk these men take to earn their daily bread.

Yet these were the risks thousands of Dewsbury men who worked down local pits had to take day after day.

In our grandparents time there were coal mines in every part of Dewsbury, mainly in Thornhill, Shaw Cross, Dewsbury Moor, Scout Hill, Ravensthorpe, Batley Carr, Whitley, Briestfield, and Chidswell.

A camaraderie developed between miners which couldn’t be surpassed in any other occupation or industry in the world and that is what kept them going.

Many of these men lost their lives or were seriously injured in pit disasters but there was never a shortage of men willing to do this kind of work, which says something for the kind of poverty which existed.

SINCE writing about long-serving miners, more information has come to light about John (Jack) Inman, who died in 1912 aged 87.

His great, great grandson, Ian Blythe, has been researching the Inman side of his family and come up with some interesting details,

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a photograph of John, but he does have a photograph of two of John’s sons, Alfred and Ernest (Ian’s grandfather) who followed their dad down the pit.

John was born in 1826, the son of George Inman, of Thornhill, and Sarah Fell, of Birstall. John married Harriet Thornton at Thornhill Parish Church, in 1848, and continued to live in Thornhill until somewhere between 1851-1861.

On the 1861 census he was listed as living at Grange Lane, Overton, Nr Middlestown, where he remained until his death in 1912 from acute bronchitis.

He was buried at St James’s Parish Church, Flockton, where his headstone can still be found.

During his research, Ian came across a book called Black Diamonds written by Percy C Greaves in 1938, which mentioned John.

It recorded how he had worked for collieries owned by the Lister Kaye family for 80-and-half-years without a break.

He started at a Denby Grange based colliery as a trapper boy when he was just six years old.

He recalled how his father had taken him down the pit and left him at the trap door, picking him up again on the way home at night.

John later became a pit locomotive driver and had many other jobs at the pit during his working life, and never knew a day’s illness.

When he had worked at the colliery 70 years he was offered a pension of £1 a week, a cottage to retire in and free lighting and other amenities.

With tears in his eyes he had begged to be allowed to go on working, and although the offer was repeated many times over the years, he feared that giving up work would have killed him.

John worked up to the last, and although he didn’t actually die on the job, he died only a few hours after finishing a full day’s shift.

In his obituary it stated that he had caught a little cold on the Sunday but had insisted on going to work the following day.

He returned home at 4.30pm after finishing the shift and two hours later he became ill and death occurred at eight o’clock the same evening.