Collecting coal

Tony Lester recorded several "memories" which were published in the Derby Telegraph. This is one of them.

Derby Telegraph 13 October 2014

Dad used to fetch coal from the pit and I used to help him for a while until he employed a helper because his brother, Ewart, had to go into the Army. The public had small nuts of coal in bags. The miners had a load of "best" coal delivered every so often. This was tipped loose on the roads outside their homes, which they had to get in themselves. It consisted of unsorted lumps and "slack" for banking the fire up at night.

We also fetched coke, the residue of distilled coal, from Matlock gas works for the school boilers. To me, visiting the gas works was very exciting. There were ovens down the middle of a big building with access on both sides of them. One end of the ovens was closed then a machine on rails blasted slack from the other end until it was full and the doors were sealed with kaolin (fire brick clay). The ovens were fired and the slack was a red hot mass. The doors were later opened and the mass was pushed out with long rods with a blade on the end, the same shape as the ovens. Hosepipes were then used to cool and break it up as coke. What with the heat and steam, I imagined it was what Dante's Inferno must have looked like.
When the coke had cooled, we loaded it on to the lorry with large forks and took it to the "Bottom" Council School and unloaded it at the boiler house through a 3ft square hole in a wall.

The boiler worked well as the school was always nice and warm in winter. My great uncle Eddie Martin was the caretaker for many years and he was also a local barber.