A Winter Story – Echoes of the Mine
by Marianne Birkby
Hummmmmmm Hum Hum Huuumm
“Huh whats that weird noise coming from the hole in the wall?” The boy in the bobble hat tilted his head to one side while clutching a load of Christmas shopping. It was cold today with the odd snowflake falling. “Yep its like a weird tune – dunno what it is but that red stuff is coming out thick n’ fast” said the girl through her red fluffy scarf. The children were looking at the Harbour Wall in Whitehaven which had been pouring red pollution out of a culvert for a full year or more. The authorities said there was nothing to worry about in the red stuff gushing from the honeycomb of old mines. Nothing to worry about for the health of the marine life or for humans. But looking at the pollution right now the girl and the boy weren’t so sure. There was a dead great black backed gull with wings outstretched circling slowly around in the water, like the last marshmallow in hot chocolate.
200 Years Earlier
Sweat mixed with coal dust dripped off the girl’s nose as she gripped the reins. “C’mon Flash last haul of the day.” The pony she was leading, whose coat was dapple grey under the coal dust, was pulling a heavy tram of coal on iron rails deep underground. The pony was sweating as much as the girl and ready to head back to the stable. No ordinary stable though – it was huge – for around 50 horses deep under the sea bed. Just a small part of the enormous 500 acres of this pit beneath the sea and the shore of Whitehaven. The labyrinth of deep mined tunnels connected with other pits equally huge all along the coast of Cumberland. As she neared the closed pit doors she heard the small boy humming. He worked in darkness with no light but he made up tunes in his head and hummed them to himself in the darkness waiting to open the doors for the horses. He liked Flash and the girl and gave them an extra special humming tune. In another life he would have been a musician.
Then the girl heard another noise. The man came bursting out of the darkness and tried to grab her but she pushed the lighted candle she held in her hand in his face and he staggered back. The man was a strong fellow, who a few months earlier had his life saved along with that of the lives of the girl and boy. Flash had, by some equine premonition, refused to enter a tunnel whose roof had then collapsed moments later. Now, the boy, who rarely spoke, shouted to the man “leave her alone.” Angry, the man picked up a piece of coal and forcefully hit the small boy on the head, a fatal blow.
The man was sentenced to just one months imprisonment. The boy, who received no justice in life or in death was missed by the girl and by the pony who continued their lives in the dark, deep underground and under the sea. The melodic humming of the small boy was often heard drifting through the mine tunnels by those with ears to hear.
An article in the local paper the Cumberland Pacquet of September 1824
““Robert Carter of Whitehaven, was charged with the killing of Peter Andrew the younger. On Friday, 10th September 1824, he approached a young driver, Susan Shaw. She told the court – I was driving a horse and tram in the pit, and the prisoner and the deceased were present. I had a candle in my hand, and Carter coming to me, I put the candle in his face, which raised his anger and he gave me a blow. He was going to his work again when Peter Andrew said: Bob Sponge, what did you strike my driver for ? I heard him in his reply speak very angry to the little boy, so his right arm swing back, and immediately I heard the little boy shout out, and I went to him, and said to Joe Lucas who was present: Robert Carter has kilt the little boy. I found the deceased standing bleeding from the head, there was a wound on his left temple. I believe the blow was given with a piece of coal.”
The above is a story inspired by the “confidence” that West Cumbria Mining have that they will begin a new mine off the coast of West Cumbria in 2024 just five miles from the world’s most dangerous nuclear waste site. A nuclear waste site vulnerable to induced earthquakes which did not exist 200 years ago when Flash the pony saved the boy, the girl and the man in the story from the coal mine roof fall. The “confidence” of West Cumbria Mining is pure hubris as their licence to drill has expired. A new application has gone in from WCM to the Coal Authority for a renewal of their three licences for underground coal mining. The applications are heavily redacted meaning that the public are denied sight of the applications by WCM. But the public CAN write to the Coal Authority and urge them not to approve West Cumbria Mining’s licences to drill. The licence applications can be viewed here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coal-mining-licence-applications/coal-mining-licence-applications
The Coal Authority can be written to here urging them not to give West Cumbria Mining a licence to drill https://www2.groundstability.com/contact/