Readers of this blog are well aware of the impact Thatcher’s policies had on the coal mining industry during the 1980s. There have been a number of poems addressing the experience faced by the miners in their fight to secure the livelihoods. However, the impact was much wider than just those working at the coalface (sic). Besides the local shops gaining from a miner’s income, there were also those who delivered the coal – the coal merchants.
Like many in the industry this was hard work, and given the fact it was most needed in winter, the delivery of coal was often freezing work. Delivery was the end point, there was much work to get the coal into the sacks; heavy shovelling and when frozen, the coal would come in great lumps that needed separating. Horse and cart made way for trucks by the middle of the 20th century. The ‘coalies’ didn’t have a uniform as such, but there was a dress code as they were dealing with the general public. They would wear leather backed hats, to protect their shoulders and head; they also wore ‘spankers’, which were straps just above the knee to stop coal dust going up their legs.
Patrick Barron’s poem “The Coalmen” takes the point of view of a young child looking out their bedroom window at these black and grey men, carrying huge sacks weighing up to 50 kg, “as if they were carrying their own mothers across a river.” There is something of the mythical about these men, as though they were in disguise, as though they weren’t meant to be seen, shadows almost. (more…)