September 1, 2020 - Alex Channon from Swinton, Greater Manchester, England, shares his memories about his first-ever job. What was your first job?
My first job after leaving school aged 15 in 1965 was with the NCB (National Coal Board). After a weeks induction at Sandhole Colliery in Walkden, I was assigned to surface work at Bradford Colliery which was at the site of where the Etihad Stadium now is. I would cycle to the colliery from my home in Prestwich which I guess was a distance of about 6 miles.
The work involved unloading materials from wagons into mine cars to go directly underground. This was hard, physical work for a young lad straight from school. Most of the materials were wooden chocks and props for supporting the roof on the coal face. Heavy bags of stone dust were also unloaded. Stone dust was used underground to stop the spread of fire in the event of an explosion or fire.
After a few months at Bradford I went to Mosley Common Colliery for a 13 week underground training course before I commenced my underground work at Agecroft Colliery in Swinton & Pendlebury. My first job at the colliery was with the Ventilation Department. This involved taking air and dust samples as well as measurements of airflow.
I had to cover a few miles every day underground to collect samples and readings. Agecroft Colliery had on average 22 miles of walkable roadway with some extremely steep brows. The steepest brows were an incredible 1 in 1.5 and on one such brow there was ski lift for men to ride up brow.
After several months with the Ventilation Dept I decided I wanted something different and just before my 17th birthday I successfully passed the interview to immediately commence a four-year apprenticeship as a Colliery Mechanic. At the pit mechanics were known as fitters. The main role of fitters was maintaining and assembling machinery of various types. If something didn’t fit we made it fit which is partly why we were known as fitters. Mining was a dangerous job and during my time at Agecroft several men paid the ultimate price of coal. I suffered serious injury on more than one occasion and was fortunate not to lose a leg in one incident.
During my time as a fitter, I also trained as a Mines Rescue Brigade Man. I had a small part to play following the explosion at Golborne Colliery near Wigan which claimed the lives of 10 men 1989. My role in my team at the time was to carry the canary in a small cage. Canaries are very sensitive to carbon monoxide gas and serve as an early warning of the presence of the gas.
My 25 year mining career ended in 1990 when Agecroft Colliery closed. There are now no coal mines left in the UK. Swinton where I now have lived for over 40 years was largely built on coal since the 18th century with several collieries in Swinton and the surrounding areas. About 8 years ago I formed Friends of Agecroft Colliery which has a Facebook following of about 900 members. Since my retirement 5 years ago I have developed a greater interest in our coal mining past and have made a commitment to maintain the history and heritage of coal mining in my home town of Swinton.
On leaving coal mining in 1990 I worked in a Children’s Home for a couple of years before 22 successful years in education. However, coal mining is now in my blood and what started off as My First Job has become a lifetime interest.