King Coal Is Still In Derbyshire

 In Environment, Health

The coalman appeared outside my barn window, having stepped out of his truck. This was covered in full sacks ready for delivery. It could have been a carnival float but no, this was the genuine thing. The coalman was short, his face and his clothes as black as a crow. The scene took me straight back to my 1950’s childhood, which is not a good place. When expensive coal was delivered to our council house, it was dumped in the coal shed. The massive bulk of the sacks shrunk to a molehill on the floor. Everybody felt cheated by these deliveries, that the hundredweight (cwt) was short. Worse, because it was cheap coal, it was more slack, black dust, rather than lumps. The fact that king coal is still in Derbyshire feels like somebody walking over my grave.

Hot and cold

Coal leaves me cold because my stepfather banned me from the fire. That was lit in the evenings only, warming my mother and sisters, those allowed to watch the tv. My brother and I were excluded, banished to the kitchen. If my stepfather was on overtime, I did sit in front of the fire. It was heat all down your front, frozen all down your back. It’s strange how King Coal reflects the darker aspects of childhood. Even at my secondary modern school, one of our school trips was down a Shropshire coalmine. Coal was king in 1960, along with empire when I was taught that Clive of India was a local Shropshire hero. How the mighty have fallen.

The black stuff

Oddly enough, Ann and I are reading a book on the Peak District coalfields. These were all sunk on the gritstone around the edge of the limestone plateau, from the 1700’s. I have walked all those areas but never realised how much coal was extracted from many hundreds of shafts. It was poor stuff, sulphurous, and gave off copious smoke. This reminds me that I cannot walk through my village without coal smoke wafting up the nose. It’s faintly pleasant, somehow reminiscent of household comfort. It suits me to forget the poisonous fumes in the air. However, the image of the sheer hell those miners must have gone through never leaves me.

King coal is still in Derbyshire

After Ann I married, an elderly lady neighbour asked me to be her first-foot on New Years Eve. Consequently, I stepped across her house threshold first, before her or Ann, at midnight, holding a lump of coal. In many Northern areas, it seems they choose a tall, dark and handsome man; the old lady only mentioned a lump of coal. If, on his next visit, the coalman skips over the drive and puts in a rendition of, “I’m getting married in the morning”, then it’s likely to prompt another post.

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