In gagging, wretched dust and dirt
By feeble candlelight they worked
Muscles aching, sinews cracked,
Alone in the dripping, Stygian black
Where only the whites of their eyes they showed
While hack, hack, hacking at the lode.
Danger, blackness all around,
Crawling over rock sharp ground,
Reborn each shift end from mother earths womb
From those man-torn ironstone catacombs.
To this eerie world our forefathers came
From debt, uncertainty or perhaps workhouse shame,
Rather than belong to the ranks of the poor
Joined the migration to North Yorkshires moors
New steam-age travellers with life hardened wills
Drawn like a magnet to those bleak northern hills.
With all senses strained for gas and rock falls,
Amid water, sludge and dark slimy walls,
And tap, tap, tapping the charge in the lode,
Then a measured black hiss till it explodes.
They learned fast to be cautious did these brave men
Who dug at the rock face with dust in their phlegm.
Swelling the populace of Middlesbrough town
To free the ironstone from deep underground,
With few possessions, children and wife,
Their hopes and ambitions to start a new life.
So they honeycombed hills around Guisborough town
and started to take Roseberry Topping down.
Dwelt in granite villages on grey, windswept hills,
To toil for blast furnaces, factories and mills.
Twisting and turning their hammered reams
To free more ore from thick Cleveland seams
Sickly, sulphured water dripping down upon their heads,
Unable to smoke, they chewed baccy instead.
Dark and damp with flickering lamp sending their spoil to the sun
To pay the rent, to buy the food. Praise God, another days money was won.
Ore taken from these mines rich veins
By miner, pit horse, by tub, by train,
To blast furnace, to yard and manufacturing works.
Additions, subtractions in ledgers by clerks.
At Eston and Skelton, Boosbeck and Stanghow,
Those great miners were then booming, but so silent now.
As the dockweed, nettles and brambles reclaim
The last working signs of these once famous names
Its so easy to imagine now the air fans whine
After touring the museum at the old Loftus mine.
The clatter of horses, suck, hiss of great pumps,
Rattle of the narrow gauge on the points and humps.
Rusty swing of the tubs, laden with stone
And heavy steam machinery that would shake to the bone.
The banter of the miners, each in whom they trust,
Squinting into daylight, eyes blinking free of dust.
Elderberry flourishes over the desolate shale tips
Where our forefathers once laboured with hammers and picks,
And from empty ruins of pit stables, roofless and torn,
From darkness to darkness, horses were led, each dawn
To heave heavy ore tubs from the heart of the mine
Along where now nettles and brambles hide the narrow gauge line.
To those stern, proud Victorian moustachioed chaps
Sepia photoed with shovels, waistcoats and caps,
Who lived out their brave lives in Boulby or Staithes,
Now also with nettles and brambles covering their graves
Long gone is that era and those men of iron
Under M in this millenium in the archives of time
But are those miners resting now, in their life ends longest dream
Or are their spirits out there still, at the lightless, thick main seam?
Hearing comrades ghostly echoes on those lonely dusty draughts
Which will forever whisper down, along countless dark, deep, endless shafts.