Our Century

Miners die in pit explosion

Pit explosion article
How the news was broken by the Express & Star of October 2 1930.

In one of the worst mining disasters seen in the region for years, 14 miners perished in an explosion at Grove Pit, Norton Canes on October 1.

The Express & Star reported how the anxious crowd showed "extreme reverance" as the bodies of the men from the afternoon shift were carried up from the pit to the carpenters' shop which was used as a mortuary.

The large, modern pit employed 1,000 miners and a rescue team led by manager Mr N., Forrest worked for ten hours before the first body could be recovered.

One widow told reporters of her loss: "He was a good husband and a good workman.

"He had never worked afternoons before, and it seems so cruel that he should have gone this time and not returned."

Within 24 hours an emergency fund, started by the Express & Star with a 50 donation, had reached 85.

By the end of the year it stood at more than 6,500.

1930 - when dad got his cards for being 21: Tom GilbertFor millions of Britons, the 1930s were a time of terrible hardship as the worldwide Depression spread. Tom Gilbert, (right) of Chasetown, born in 1925, remembers hard times:

"My father was an apprentice engineer but was given the sack when he was 21 because he had come of age and was entitled to the full man's wage.

"Employers wouldn't pay it. He was out of work from 1930 to 1937 and had to sign on at the Labour Exchange every week.

"I used to go with him. There were long queues of men, thousands of them. You could be in the queue for five or six hours and you had to sign on or you wouldn't get your dole money.

"My father found work in 1937, three days in work for 35 shillings and the other three days on the Labour for which he received 30 shillings.

"His total income was 3.25 in today's money. That had to feed a family of seven.

"There were two boys and three girls and we all shared the same bed, three at the top and two at the bottom. It was the only way to keep warm.

"My father had my name put on the works register to start work as an apprentice engineer. I did this in July, 1939, aged 13. I picked up my first week's wages the day that war broke out.

My father had to pay one shilling and ninepence a week to the Ideal Society to cover my mother should she have to go into hospital to have a child.

"There was no National Health or maternity benefits. There was nothing except the means test and the soup kitchen.

"My first week's wages were nine shillings and eight pence. I got one shilling pocket money and from that I had to save sixpence. Woodbines were fourpence for ten, tuppence for five with two matches.

"As a boy at school, I had to collect horse manure then sell large bunches of flowers for three pence and lettuce for one penny or a halfpenny each. I then had to wait for my pocket money.

My father gave me a halfpenny. He'd say: Don't waste it!'.

"You never heard of murder, mugging, rape or robbery. A murder in this country was world news. Everyone helped each other. Houses were left open.

"A police officer was always in the vicinity and very respected. If you were caught doing something wrong you would get a clip round your ear and be taken to your father who also gave you a clout around the ears, sometimes the strap, and sent to bed without tea.

"There was a lot more respect for people in those days."

Happy, happy days in Walsall: In 1930 Olga Martin of Walsall was nine and busy exploring town on foot. Nearly 70 years on, she recalled the old town as clearly as ever:

""In the 1920s and 1930s, I used to walk from Kinnerly Street in the Chuckery down to Blue Coat CofE School, where the new bus station is now.

"We lived next to a butcher's a grocery shop run by Mr and Mrs Spruce, and opposite was a bakery and cake shop. Produce was baked on the premises and their cream cakes were out of this world.

"There was Mr Clarke, the chimney sweep and nearby The Royal Oak where my dad was to become manager and where I was married from. Opposite was Ditchfields bakery, the best bread, pork pies and fruit pies in the town.

"Upper Bridge Street began with a pub on the corner and then a few shops which lay back: Hall's a butcher, Miss Ridgeway's a sweet shop (6d a quarter), Dolman's corn and pet shop and a very nice dress shop on the corner of of Goodall Street, which led to the police station.

"Coming into Bridge Street was Grays on the corner of the square which ran through to the market place and contained a superb greengrocers, a music shop and Farmers news-agent, the Palace cinema, the back entrance to the Empire cinema, a flower shop and more that I am unable to recall.

"The Bridge with Sister Dora, the clock in the middle and the policeman on point duty. The Midland Bank with a manhole outside where the snow was shovelled into the Tame and the Blue Coat Schools. Mr and Mrs Whybrow were the caretakers and you could obtain a small glass of hot milk for a half-penny at playtime in their kitchen. Oh, what happy, happy days."

Arthur Walters
Suddenly there was a mighty explosion, a redness in the sky. It was as though all the houses were moving...

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