Every time I visit Hanley these days I am reminded of myself and all of my family’s connections with one of the city’s sites of industrial heritage.
It is through the only symbol of our heritage of Hanley Deep Pit which is still on display, the original wheel from the pithead. It is set in concrete at the entrance to Hanley Forest Park, at the top of Union Street.
Hanley Deep Pit covered an area between the top of Union Street up to the Old Plough public house along Town Road, previously named High Street. The main gate was at a point where the small road now gives access to the present Bennett House.
The area had two famous pithead gantries and wheels, also railway sidings where truck loads of coal were found in the coal wharf. This being the area where coal merchants would purchase coal and come to bag and load up their wagons and lorries to be delivered to their customers.
My dad Arthur Wilcox, born in 1886, was a miner in the coal industry in the 1920s and 30s, when mining was really a very tough and dangerous job.
He came out of the mines in 1932 and bought a horse and cart to start his own coal business.
He later bought a lorry and, along with my eldest brother Bill, went into business together, a family concern.
Unfortunately my dad had to retire early, in his mid-50s, due to an illness called pneumoconiosis, a lung disorder caused by coal dust from his early years as a miner.
This was a difficult time for my brother Bill, left on his own to carry on with the business. So I decided I would try to help, I was in my early teens and still at school but I helped all I could.
Early in the morning, at around 6 o’clock, I would go to Hanley Deep Pit Wharf with Bill to hold open the coal bags while he filled them with coal from the trucks and then I helped him to lift them onto our lorry.
We usually got about 60 bags, each weighing one hundredweight, on the lorry each morning before dropping me off at home to wash before I went to school at 9.30 am. I was often reprimanded at school for not having clean hands.
During the six-week summer holidays I spent many days humping coal or as they called it in the trade ‘coal jaggin’ at the tender age of 14. Each day when Bill and I arrived at the Deep Pit coal wharf we would pull in at the main gate in High Street, we would then pull onto the weighbridge.
At the window of the timekeeping office, our other brother Syd would be there to greet us. For many years he was the lead timekeeper at Hanley Deep Pit.
Before the war, he worked at Shelton Racecourse wharf, down Cobridge Road.
The main gates were right opposite to the end of Century Street. I believe it got its name from the horse racecourse which was at the site from 1824 until its closure in 1841.
Next to it was the Shelton Iron and Steel Works.
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Each day Syd would weigh our lorry on the weighbridge as we entered the wharf and then he would also weigh the lorry when it came out, loaded with coal.
The difference in the weight would be the amount of coal we would be charged and invoiced for.
Syd also worked out the wages and salaries for all the miners at Hanley Deep Pit and also the wages for the men working at Shelton Racecourse.
To get the timesheets for the men at Shelton Racecourse wharf Syd told me he would hitch a lift on the light engine called Progress, standing on the footplate and would steam down and across Waterloo Road, down to the Shelton Racecourse. The wonderful age of steam!
I remember opposite to the gates to the Deep Pit in High Street was a small row of back-to-back terrace houses, just before they built the prefabs at the end of the war.
As a bonus for the miners there was a newspaper and fag shop at the end of the terraces and in the middle of the houses a small public house, which I believe was called The Hawthorne.
You can just imagine the coal miners coming off shift, calling for a paper and a packet of fags then into the pub to order a pint of beer to swill down all that coal dust – wonderful!
My brother Bill would use the pub opposite Grove School called The King’s Arms.
The locals used to call it the Corner Pin. They sold very good Joule’s ales.
When I was in my teens I remember on Christmas Eve, Bill took me along with him. They served a very strong ale which came out of a wooden cask and was called Pony Ale, which they would only serve in half pint glasses. It tasted like barley wine.
I remember having two half pints of it and when I was walking home my legs just folded under me. I suppose that’s where the phrase ‘legless’ comes from.
At the Deep Pit head I also vividly recall the large train of overhead buckets which carried the unwanted dirt and coal dust waste across an area called the Red Rocks and deposited this waste on two large hills which are now part of the new Forest Park.
I remember the two hills were quite hot inside and the authorities had quite a job in the beginning to get any bushes and trees to grow on them. There were always quite a few people gathering small pieces of coal and slack in their bags and buckets for their fires.
Also on the Forest Park site there was a clay bottomed pool, and I think that is what made the authorities choose to put a lake there. Unfortunately there were also problems with that too. The designated area for the lake was filled with water but there was an obvious leak because all the water drained away. So the bottom of the lake had to be reinforced and filled once more.
Hanley Deep Pit was closed in 1962 and my brother Syd was transferred to Chatterley Whitfield, until being made redundant in 1977, two years short of his pension age.
I remember he came to me and asked if I could find him a job sweeping up gold dust at Pidduck’s jewellers, instead of sweeping coal dust.