I was pleased to exhibit my artwork at the National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield in 2018. By listening to stories told to me by my uncle, a former miner in Upton, I was able to create a series of mining-related collages. He described the hard working conditions in the mining communities and told me about my great-great grandfather, great-grandfather and grandfather – all three of them called Peter Thomas!
My great-great-grandfather, the first Peter Thomas, was a miner at Askern Colliery. His wife Elizabeth also had an important job of tapping the windows of miners’ houses to wake them in the mornings for their shift work.
My great-grandfather, the second Peter Thomas, is pictured here aged 17 – the same age as me when I had this exhibition in 2018. He was a talented musician and able to play the piano, trumpet and violin. He was a band leader involved in the local events in the districts of Upton, Askern and Doncaster. In his spare time he enjoyed repairing cars. Just like his father, he was a miner all his working life.
He worked a 7½ hour night shift driving the machines to cut the coal. He was over 6 feet tall and when the coal seams were narrow would have found it uncomfortable crouched down and working on his knees.
My great-grandfather wore no ear protectors and no mask to cover his face from the coal dust. He wore his flat cap to work but no hard hat to protect his head. At times it was so hot that he would work wearing only his vest and shorts. He was hurt sometimes and left scarred from his dangerous work and eventually he died from pneumoconiosis (CMDLD – coal mine dust lung disease) also known as “black lung disease” because it was caused by long exposure to coal dust.
There were many accidents at Upton Colliery and I saw in the village that there is this memorial plaque dedicated to the 60 men who lost their lives at Upton Colliery (1926-1964).
“THE PRICE OF COAL”
My grandfather was also called Peter but was known in the mining community by his middle name, Hulton. He too left school at the age of 14 and tried a variety of jobs before applying for work at Upton Colliery. He worked at the pit bottom moving the coal but only stayed in mining for a few weeks before deciding to leave Yorkshire and join The Royal Navy where he trained to become an electrical engineer.
Other members of the family who worked in mining were my grandfather’s brother Vincent, an underground engine-wright and foreman, and also his step-brother Donald who has been kindly helping me to gather this information. Donald worked for 30 years at South Kirkby Colliery about 4 miles from Upton and did his training underground as a fitter, then worked later above ground in the fitting shop. His important job involved maintaining the equipment and repairing machinery. Donald told me that there was no problem of unemployment at the time as everyone could go to work at the pit.