A few years ago an old workmate of mine now departed Charlie (Straggy) Handcock gave me a note book to read which contained the poems of Harry Fokinther a workmate from Charlie's days at Ramcroft colliery. Harry moved from Ramcroft colliery when it closed and went to work at Oxcroft colliery where he was later so tragically killed. His wife gave Charlie the poems and he would let people borrow them to read. I suggested that I could photocopy the original and do a few copys for Charlie to pass around so that the original was kept from the riggors of public reading, I also asked if I could keep a copy to which Charlie agreed.
I enjoyed reading the poems so much that I tried to persuade Charlie to have them published to raise money for a suitable charity, this he declined to agree to.
I think these poems should be in the public domain and respecting Charlies wishes I have produced only a few copies for other people to read.
The original writing of each poem is signed with the authors signature and contains comments about some of the poems origins this has been included. The poems have been written using the original spelling and punctuation but differ slightly from the originals in so much as all words of the poems start with a capital letter and each poem starts on a new page.
I have added a few notes on Ramcroft colliery at the end of the poem section for those interested. My father and uncles worked at Ramcroft colliery before its closure.
(You can download a copy of the Poems in PDF format at the bottom of the page).
A.N.Bridgewater June 26th. 1998.
The Ancient Miner.
Over four score years and ten,
This beauteous earth I've trod,
And for this wondrous span of life,
I humbly thank my god.
He gave me health and kept me safe,
In him I'll put my trust,
For fifty years with scarce a break,
Ive toiled within earths crust.
l did not come through this unscathed,
Of knocks I ve had my share,
Through hewing coal my backs become
A tattoists nightmare.
At early sobbing of the morn,
My pick i'd swiftly weild,
Till pearly shades of eventide,
Shrouded lane and field.
Long and ardous were the hours,
To earn a meagre pay
In winter time for weeks on end,
I scarce saw light of day.
To supplement our frugal fare,
I'd go with dog and gun,
And poach the game from anywhere,
To get both food and fun,
Oft times our fruits of toil upheld,
Some rich mans grand retreat,
Yet we were called the social scum,
And names I won't repeat.
Enough of my unholy past,
Let's to the future fine
For there's splendid opportunities,
For young men in the mine.
I must confess I am confused,
By machinery I see,
Being taken to out local mines
On the wagon of N.C.B.
How they worked these monstrous things,
I could never understand,
Or how they got them down below,
To me it beats the band
My sons explained and gave them names,
Of shearer and trepanner,
It seems to me there getting coal,
By button, key and spanner
What a contrast From my day,
No shot firer to pester
For the sole devices that I knew
Were siscol and sylvester
You do not have to work so hard,
But you must go to school,
To make these titans cut and load,
Needs no blundering fool.
I must accept this modern age,
Of juke box and guitar,
Though tolerant l try to be,
It gives my ears a jar
I watch my grandsons do the twist,
It needs energy I'd say,
I can also do the twist,
Just half an ounce a day
They sing of girls with fancy names,
Like Jezebel and Selina,
I still prefer sweet Nellie Dean
And my old concertina.
I do not grudge them their gay time,
Or criticize their ways,
I'm only thankful I've been spared,
To see these brighter days.
If the Lord who gave me this long life,
Would my youth return to me,
I'd go and train with all the lads,
For a miner I would be
Possessed once more with radiant youth,
With prospects bright and clearer,
Down the pit I'd go again,
And learn to drive a shearer.
The old man portrayed in these verses actually Lived, and strangely enough showed great approval to the modern mining after a full working Life in the mines of Derbyshire he lived to be nearly ninety two.
One million years and more I've lain
Neath rugged hill and windswept
Abundantly my seams expand,
Beneath the face of this fair land.
In ages man endured the test
Of delivering in my stubborn breast
With implements so crude and frail
To penetrate my rocky mail
Mids't sweat and grime I have teen
On womens backs and shoulders torn,
On little chudrens loins I'd ride,
From early morn 'till eventide.
Thus the tale of my fast life,
A history of shame and strife,
Tis' gone forever this cursed stage,
To a better and brighter age.
Now with every mechanised device,
I'm torn asunder in a trice
With drills I'm bored and powder fed,
Then blasted from my rocky bed.
On rubber belts I am conveyed,
Let not this progress be delayed,
For when I see the light of day,
for all your toil and sweat I'll pay,
The brightest jewel in the crown,
Or other gems of great renown,
Are but mere dross compared with me,
Black and grimy though I be.
For from my loins spring countless things,
From battleships to minute springs,
Tractors, Locos, Light and Heat,
And even the Daily Bread we eat,
And countless other things untold,
Ar iso from my resourceful fold.
In this your darkest hour of need,
If you would still your children feed,
Arise in one united band,
And hew the coal beneath the land.
This was composed as an appeal to all British Miners to return during the critical War Years.
For half a century you have borne,
The rigours of the pit,
Its every phase you have endured,
Yet still you'r fighting fit,
A remarkable achievment,
A record to admire,
Over three decades you've fought,
Explosion, Gas and Fire.
The gallant rescue teams you've led,
Whose deeds we do not know,
Appalling must have been the scenes,
You witnessed there below.
Fire can be mans greatest friend,
Or be his deadley foe,
You've fought it on the surface
And you've fought it down below,
Heroic deeds are oft portrayed,
By gilded decoration,
Those scars of blue suffice
Your value to the nation.
Leasure you have sacrificed,
It has not been invain,
Many men can thank you,
For relieving him of pain.
A ribboned tunic goes to show,
Your service in First Aid,
A worthy member of St John,
Efficient, sure and staid.
Unseen perils of the mines,
Did not your zest impair,
You are quite prepared to meet
All dangers from the air
For should our country be attacked,
In this Atomic Age.,
We are certain youth be there,
Should hellish fire rage.
Clear headed and courageous,
With physique of a bull,
God gave you all these talents,
And you used them to the full.
Eventually you will retire,
Though you will not rest,
We who know your qualities,
Here wish you all the best.
This poem was written as an appreciation to Albert Edwin Smith, known to us all as Ted. Fire officer at Ramcroft Colliery.
Prompted by the local and national search for future coal reserves for the Staveley company to aid the war effort it was proposed in October 1914 to further exploit the Palterton and Heath area. An area which had been worked during the nineteenth century by smaller shallow mines on the Sutton estates. The original lease being owned by the directors of the Staveley company from William Arkwright on a sixty three year lease for 5,000 acres of coal which they purchased in 1882.
The Ramcroft colliery company was formed under the guidance of Charles Paxton Markham of the Staveley company and exploited the Top Hard seam in shafts of 152 yards deep as a direct result of the war effort. After the war it was decided to construct a branch line into the colliery with sidings, two pieces of land were leased on March 25th. 1919 for an annual rent of £37:2s:6d.
For a ten year period from 1929 the mine was mothballed and three men maintained the colliery.The colliery reopened for coal production as a result of the Second World War in 1939 with the Hardwick colliery company controlling it. The five hundred colliers employed could supply around a quarter of a million tons per annum from the Top Hards, High Hazels, First and Second Waterloo seams.
Experiments were carried out at the colliery during the 1940's with the first hydraulic pit props, the colliery was vested into the National Coal Board in 1947. In 1935 a pipeline was constructed from the colliery to the coking ovens at Holmewood to supply it with water to quench the batteries, so a six inch diameter pipe and pumping station were installed to supply the waste Ramcroft water to the plant.
A drift was constructed in 1952 to link the First Waterloo to the Top Hard seam to increase production, this was short lived as the colliery closed in 1966 and shortly afterwards the area was opencast and the last remaining seams the Clowne, Sough and High Main removed from the Deep Ring Bell opencast operation and the land returned to agricultural use once more.
Photograph kindly donated by his family
November 2nd 1966.
Age 53 Years.
'In The Bowels Of The Earth
His Toil Is Done
But In Gods Own Garden
His Lifes Begun'.
Many thanks to Harry's family for correcting some discrepancies on the page, for the photograph of Harry and shedding a little light on someone I never personally met but have enjoyed his poems so much. A.N.B.
The man referred to in "The Ancient Miner" was Harry's grandfather, Joseph Attenbrough. Harry left Ramcroft colliery on the Friday and started work at Oxcroft on the Monday and was accidentally killed on the Wednesday, he is buried in Scarcliffe Churchyard.