Harthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History WebsiteHarthill with Woodall Memories and History Website

Fred Smith - An Account of his life

CONTENTS
Foreword
Introduction - Boys’ Pastimes
A Game of Tig – “Poachers and Keeper”
Hunger
Coal Strike – 1896
Food
Punishment/beatings
Playing Truant
Poaching
The Evangelist
Sent to the Workhouse
First Day in the Mine – aged 12
The Reverend B. Darley, Rector of Harthill
Stigma
The Pony Driver
Injured
Back to Work
Father’s return, and my leaving
Injury and death
Lay off
Back to Work
Back Home and Friendship
A Change of Colliery and a Change of Working
Courting
Back to Kiveton Colliery
Religious Studies
John Barleycorn
Appendices

Foreword

Fred Smith was the Grandfather of Ann Crowther and her Mother gave her his diaries to read. According to Ann – she was spellbound, and couldn’t put them down. See what you think?

The "City of Refuge" referred to in the first chapter is Firvale, a street of late Victorian terraced houses on the outskirts of Harthill. Reputedly, people who were persona non grata in Harthill were banished to Firvale, locally known at that time as ‘Sodom’.

This story ends rather abruptly but I am sure with more research further pages may be found.

Edward J Mullins
Harthill with Woodall History and Memories Society
July 2018

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Introduction, Boys’ Pastimes

They called it the City of Refuge, it was free from ecclesiastical dominion, it was free from the autocracy of the ducal steward. There were about one hundred houses and about 500 inhabitants and always there was and is a gang of poachers to ravage the game laden estates that are contiguous. Six miles away is Welbeck Abbey, the home of the Duke of Portland, eight miles away is Clumber where lives the Duke of Newcastle, six miles away is Sandbeck Hall and many other lesser houses which are surrounded by parks and woods full of the game that delights the poaching fraternity. I was very lucky to be born among such beautiful and healthy surroundings, if I had been born in a town like Sheffield, I should undoubtedly have been a rickety, undersized guttersnipe. In the country, I was always in the open air, rambling in the fields and woods, fishing with bent pins in the ponds, blackberry gathering, mushroom finding, watercress picking and potato roasting at gypsy fires. Thousands of pictures crowd my mind of these boyish days spent in the fields and woods and now as I walk round those scenes of boyish adventures, pangs of exquisite emotion strike through my whole being.

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A Game of Tig – “Poachers and Keeper”

I can see the scene now, a half dozen boys with coats turned inside out holding conclave in a cabin made of boughs and sods. On a box in the centre of the cabin, a lighted candle guttered in the draught and lighted up the macabre scene. An old horse pistol was the weapon most prized and carried by the leader and it was quite a ceremony loading it with the black powder, shot and gun caps which I often purloined from my father's store of poaching tackle. One of our number had to go out into the wood and be the keeper; after the shooting started, he would endeavour to touch one of the others. On being touched, the poacher turned into a keeper, and in turn hunted the others. When any difficulty arose in getting the first keeper, the following process of elimination was gone through: each boy put a finger in a cap and one of the number, beating time on the fingers, would repeat the following doggerel:

"Ink, pink, the pudding stinks
The fat begins to fry
No-one in but Jumping Jack,
Out goes my mutton pie.
Penny on the water, two pence on the sea,
Three pence on the railway, out goes he."

The boy whose finger was touched at the word "he" was the keeper.

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Hunger

One of my earliest memories is of hunger. I should have been about four years of age, my father was in jail and the only food to be secured had gone to feed my brother, aged two. For four days, my mother and I lived on water. The first day was pretty bad, the second and third were hell. On the fourth, we were getting sick and weak and I remember I was beginning to experience a sort of unawareness. Things took on fantastic shapes and I crawled about in a world of ghosts and immaterialness. She solved the problem somehow and we had a feast on the fourth night, it was bread soaked in warm water. How good it was. God!, never shall I forget it. In all the subsequent meals in later years, in all the gastronomic feats I have perpetrated, none has exceeded in rapture the memory of that meal of bread and water sops. Oh, we went to the relieving officer when father went to jail, but here was the nib, my parents were not married — no relief, no parish dole for the disrespectable and undeserving poor. "You can go into the workhouse until your man comes out of prison" was the answer given by the relieving officer. I understand things are somewhat different today and official relief does not depend on morality.

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Coal Strike – 1896

Another experience in connection with this relief business — in 1896 there was a coal strike in South Yorkshire and the colliers in the village banded together and went into the farming districts of Lincolnshire on a begging tour, taking with them a dray to carry back the proceeds. My father was again in jail at this time and food was very scarce and hard to come by. The band of colliers arrived back from their expedition and word went round that there was to be a great distribution of food for the Lincolnshire farmers had been very generous and the dray was heavy laden. There was great rejoicing and pieces of Lincolnshire bacon were frizzling and Lincolnshire eggs were boiling, Lincolnshire flour was being baked into Yorkshire bread and Lincolnshire mutton was being roasted but the jailbird's woman came empty away from the share out.

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Food

I could go on for years about food. When I look back on my boyhood, it seems to have been one long struggle for food. Thousands of experiences crowd into my mind, and the idea of food runs through them like a red thread. I remember one laughable experience that occurred when I was about six years old. It was a custom in the village for the housewives, when baking, to put the hot cakes outside on the window sills to cool. I used to get away with many of these, but one day a tall, angular and no doubt distracted woman caught me red handed. In the struggle for the still hot cake, both she and I got our fingers burnt and she finally yanked me into her kitchen, saying, "I'm going to put you where the monkeys put their nuts". I still don't know where the monkeys put their nuts but I know she didn't get me there. Here's another food picture — across the street from our house lived a beautiful old lady named Mrs. Covell.

She wore a lace cap and usually a soft shawl over her shoulders, her voice was quiet and kind. She had a sweet look in her eyes and carried on a small baking business. Every Saturday morning I went to her kitchen and ran errands and she rewarded me with a parcel of broken pastries, teacakes and bread. At this time, I was nine years old, my two brothers were aged seven and four always attended me and I delegated the minor errands to them. George, the one aged seven, was passionately partial to anything with jam either on or in it.

Picture the three boys planning and speculating the contents of the bag, Diplomatic pourparlers would commence even on Thursday, trade bargains were made and veiled threats were used on the potential share up of the raw material, which manufactured boyish energy. The lesser nation, in the form of Jack, the youngest, appealed to our chivalry and displayed his weakness and his need. George made great sacrifices for his jam, and I, the Great Britain, the old hand in colony getting, displayed my fleet and calmly gave them what I didn't want.

In the sweet smelling kitchen the old lady would smile at me with her kind eyes as she packed the good things in the paper bag and my eyes would wolfishly watch each piece as she took it up in her clean and white hand, and all the while making mental reservations as to the final share up. Over the coal house, where we should have kept our coal but never did because we never had any, was a cubby hole under the slates and this was our holy of holies. In this cubby hole, we spread the feast, away from prying eyes and snatching hands, and the great urge of self preservation was appeased.

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Punishment and Beatings

Pictures, pictures, pictures; they stand out cameo-like in the huge canvas I call my life. The painting of them created the whole gamut of human feelings and emotions and their effects and consequences are still operating in my whole mental and physical makeup. Why e.g. should I have the perverseness which is illustrated in the catchphrase "Always agin the Government". My father always considered me in the light of a liability. I was the personification of the chains that bound him to the galley. I was no asset and he treated me accordingly. Whenever I came within striking distance, he struck and many times when I was staring a-wonder at some phenomenon of village life, when I was so interested as to have momentarily put aside the nearly ever-constant watchfulness, a bolt from the blue would descend upon me and I was in his clutches. Some cuffs and a parting kick on the seat would accompany some instructions in regard to my future behaviour. The government, as personified in the old man, laid a heavy burden on my young soul and many heavy beatings on my young body. Every kind of activity delightful to a boy was forbidden. Football was just a pack of fools kicking a bag of wind, swimming made me thin and my job was to sell the results of his poaching.

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Playing Truant

Down by the top end of the first Harthill Pond was a large bank side covered with gorse bushes. It was an out of the way place and remote from any public road or pathway, and in this I had cut a hole out of the bank side and covered it with branches and sods. It was rainproof, very secret and a great joy to my young soul. In it I kept my possessions, books and papers mostly, buried in a box in the floor. Instead of going to school and having my education according to the rules and regulations of the Board of Education, I played truant, retired to my retreat and was entranced by the killing of Red Indians and the capturing of New York criminals. I was the king of truants and brought the business to a fine art. Of course, on the principal that the jug goes to the well too often, I was caught. A school bobby was set on to enquire into the absenteeism that was rife among the schoolboys in the village. He was a butcher, a little man named Renshaw. I well remember my capture. I was laid in the sun, just outside my retreat, when I heard him scrambling amongst the gorse and had hardly time to hide my book before he was at the door of the hut.

He was very partial to the expletive "Bloody", I suppose with his being a butcher, and his first words were "You can come with me Mister Bloody Frederick. I've come for you and I'm bloody well taking you." I knew him well as I had business relations with him, selling him rabbits and such and he knew me well. We both knew, I think, that he had a very poor chance of getting me to school if I turned awkward. Furthermore, I knew that he had a sadistic streak in him which spelt trouble for me if I defied him, also I knew that he would try his damnedest to get me there. I began to make terms. We compromised and agreed on the following - I was to go quietly and Renshaw promised no violence, both on his behalf and on behalf of "Old Gaffer Harrison", the schoolmaster. On the way, one and a half miles to the school, Renshaw with my collar in his grasp, boasted about every human quality he possessed or thought he possessed. The nearer we got to the school, the weaker became his promise of no violence, and he gradually worked himself into such a frame of mind that on entering the passage door he helped me through it with his foot to my backside and forgot to intercede for me to the Old Gaffer. I straightened things out with him the same night by getting some of his rabbit skins out of his slaughterhouse near his back door and selling them to him at the front door.

In my retreat, I had the Bible, "Uncle Tom's Cabin", Dickens's "David Copperfield", a volume on the history of Scotland, a volume of Huxley's lectures, a life of Hannibal and various others I can't remember. I was very fond of the Bible, especially the Pentateuch and the four Gospels, and on these parts of it, I was what might be described as an authority. Which reminds me of an occasion that occurred in the local Chapel, of which I was a very infrequent visitor. This infrequency of attendance was not on account of any personal disinclination. I was always ready to go anywhere where I might learn anything, but on account of the peculiar fact that in our village no one, either young or old, ever went to chapel or church in old clothes. As I seldom had new ones, so I seldom went to pray or praise or to see or be seen. However, on this occasion I speak of, I was there. The preacher, due to the scarcity of adults in the audience, began to question the children. In a very short time, he found out that I knew more about the Bible than he did and with the offer of sixpence, he got me into the pulpit. With a few leading questions I expounded on the ancient history of the Jewish race and he prophesied a great future for me as a preacher. His prophesy turned out wrong as, like the owl, the more I got to know, the less I had to say. The business, or shall one call it recreation, of poaching is again brought to my mind today, March 5th 1934, as my brother Jack, the Jack with whom I used to share the bags of food, received a sentence of four months imprisonment at Derby for poaching - armed poaching, according to the newspaper report. Jack is thirty six years old. He inherited his father's liking for poaching but forgot to acquire his liking for reading. When I was nine years old I experienced my first taste of real poaching, pheasant shooting it was and the circumstances are still so vivid in my mind that at this point I purpose to give a detailed account of them.

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Poaching

The night was a frosty, quiet one with a nearly full moon riding high in the sky. My father for once in a while, had no companion to accompany him in his exciting trade, and it was imperative that he should do something, for the wolf was not only at the door, he was inside. As he collected his gun and ammunition he cast a speculative eye in my direction and then another in the direction of Mother, and I knew the position. He wanted some company. Off he went without saying anything and, after some minutes, I put on my coat and, by some subterfuge, escaped the house without alarming my mother. I knew she would not be alarmed, as I had stayed out many nights before, sometimes in summer for more than a week at a time. I found him waiting for me at the sand quarry gate and on joining him we set off. By the direction we took I knew we were going to Welbeck Park.

Six miles or more we travelled, mostly across fields, only using the road to cross, and then very circumspectly and quietly. Outside a small wood near Whitwell Common, we stood and listened for a long time, an hour I should think, and the romance of the night sounds sent cold shivers down my spine. I knew the ecstatic feelings of the hunting instinct, inherited from the dim past, were coursing through my whole being. The far-off bark of a farm dog, the crow of a pheasant in the wood, the staccato yelp of a fox and the stir of life in the undergrowth made the night pregnant with a palpitating mystery. The laws of nature were being enacted in the night and their long arm stretched into the heart of a nine year old little poacher. I was part of that nature and was going into the night to kill, to kill that I might eat. The moon rode on serenely, regardless of the struggle below.

The night was alive with death and capture, for on the air came the faint scent of a cigar. The old man sniffed and said he thought that might be the "yogs" (gamekeepers) were on the watch and had given themselves away by smoking. A good poacher never smokes while he is actually on the job, nor does a good gamekeeper. Bad ones of both persuasions do.

We passed over the top of Cresswell Crags and across the Worksop and Mansfield road into Welbeck Park, across which we travelled until we came to a plantation in which, said the old man, were hundreds of pheasants as tame as fowls. One side of the plantation there were three blazing wood fires and as we sat on the fence on the other side, we could hear men talking; more watchers of the bright hued tame fowl which is shot in the daytime for sport and in the night time for food. About half a mile off on our side of the plantation, I could see the stately home of the Dukes of Portland, Welbeck Abbey, its windows alive with lights and its turrets gleaming in the moonlight. All around the ground is honeycombed with tunnels built by the Duke of Portland. My father knew every inch of these tunnels, for, as a boy he had carted stone from Gypsy Hill Quarry to be used in the building of them. Dotted about the place are circular glass windows, flush with the ground, to light these tunnels, and father proceeded to open one of these windows. This was our line of escape.

He took the gun parts from his pocket, fastened them together, and we silently crept into the plantation. "I'm going to have two shots," he said. "Look! them's the two" and looking up into a tree I saw two objects not unlike footballs, apparently hanging twenty feet high amongst the branches. "Get ready to pick up the first one. I'll pick up the other" and up went the gun to his shoulder. I began to shiver. My heart seemed to stop when — bang!, and then Bang!!, and all the silences of the night were rocked as by the crack of doom. It reverberated through the wood like the sound of a drum and a million echoes rumbled under the trees like a train in a tunnel. "They'll hear us at the Abbey" I exclaimed. "Never mind the Abbey. Get after that bird" he whispered and I scrambled after the pheasant. I picked it up. It was warm and wet and sticky with blood and feathers. "Got it?" I heard him whisper. "Yes" I answered. "Well, come on then" he urged. "Can't you hear them coming?" Yes, I could hear them coming. Men shouting, dogs barking, and to this accompanying hullabaloo, we flew to the tunnel window. I went down first, he following and pulling the window down behind him. We scuttled along the dark tunnel until we came to a part where it was open. There we climbed out and walked across the Park to another cover where we shot two more pheasants.

On the way very elaborate precautions were taken, I acting most of the way as pilot; that is, walking along in front but keeping in contact by a pre-arranged system of signals, and we arrived safe and sound about 4am.

The village schoolmaster, Mr. Harrison, little realised, when I sold him one of the pheasants and sat in his class the same morning, that the pupil who insisted on using his left hand in writing, had been out most of the night shooting pheasants, outwitting gamekeepers, and breaking the laws of property which he so carefully inculcated.

This was my first experience of poaching. On the morals of the game I am not, in this book, making any observations, leaving that to a novel I am writing which deals with the subject. At the age of nine I became a real poacher. During the next three years I went many times. Since the age of twelve I have never been but sometimes when the moon is riding high, or when there is a blustering wind in the night, my whole being urges with an aching desire to go forth into the night. Why don't I? Because I have read the books. I now go into the mysteries of the mind and there find such ecstasies of intellectual perception that amply reward me for the loss of the instinctual reactions that are got by a night's poaching.

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The Evangelist

Some twelve months previous to the events in the last chapter, my brother George, two years my junior, got drowned. He went through the ice on the top Harthill Pond. The tragedy made no lasting impression on my young mind, except that I got a new set of clothes and in consequence visited the local chapel while their newness lasted. This brought me into contact with a remarkable phenomena, a phenomena which, at the time, I was always extremely astonished at. A lady evangelist named Sister Reareley, was conducting a fortnight's mission at the chapel. Her mission was a very successful one and every night there were witnessed the liveliest scenes imaginable. Women went into paroxysms of emotion, tore their clothes, had urges of exhibitionism and swore they were married to Christ.

Young men openly testified to the most horrible sins and went home and burnt their football and cricketing tackle. There was a revaluation of all values. The place had been turned into topsy-turvy-dom by a religious fervour that swept through the place like a consuming flame.

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Sent to the Workhouse

Of such were the state of affairs in this cesspool of petty crime at whose centre I struggled and endeavoured to read my books. Early in 1904 my father transported his gang to Worksop and we very soon understood that he had deserted us. No legal remedy was available in our case as we were outside the law because my parents had forgotten to get married and the position was a very grave one. It was useless to invoke the aid of the law in making my father undertake the responsibilities of sustaining the family he had created. It was useless to appeal to the poor law authorities for any relief because even our existence was a sin, in their eyes to be exorcised by starvation of penance in that place which is both the terror and the last refuge of the poor. We asked them for bread, they gave us the workhouse.

The last night in the only home I had known was a very poignant one. Our few bits of furniture had been sold and scattered about in various houses of the neighbours, and we stood in the empty house, whose very walls were redolent with the smells of rabbits, a smell which I now heartily detest, a very sorry and non-understanding lot. Mother and I were sorry, very sorry; my sorrow was an angry one. I swore vengeance, vengeance on respectability, vengeance on the blind forces of the law that does not recognise the workings of natural forces, vengeance on the man whose ignorance had made it possible for him to desert his natural children.

My mother's sorrow was the weak and helpless sorrow of one who was down and done for. The others did not understand that an impasse had been reached. How could they, the next younger than myself was only six years, the next three years and a baby of five months. My boyish rage against the forces of destiny were as useless as my later rages against those same forces; the thing had to be gone through. I threatened to run wild and become an outlaw. I was not going to become a workhouse brat. I was not going to be an Oliver Twist, yes I had read Dickens's "Oliver Twist".

The night passed, my rage also and I decided to accept the shame. My mother had made arrangements to enter the big house at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, so informing her that I would be there, I set off to walk the whole of the seven miles to Worksop. I went by the paths through the fields and woods, and many times I regretted giving her my promise, for the wondrous beauty of the woods and fields made my impending imprisonment more horrible. I had always been free to roam in them at will, now I was going to be cooped up by grey stone walls and tardy charity.

At two o'clock I stood at the gate and watched my mother with the baby in her arms and Jack and Alec one on each side, coming down the Worksop street and without a word we met and entered the gate and somehow or other we got to the door. It did not have inscribed above it "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" but it ought to have had "The iron will enter the souls of all who enter here" inscribed on the threshold; because all who enter have downcast eyes, they are the defeated. Our reception had that formal, cold quietness which I suspect is common in workhouses and prisons, and we were ushered into a cell-like room.

After a short while, an old man came and took we three boys into a cold stone-floored room where there was a large zinc bath and we were ordered to strip our clothes. Due, I think, to many painful experiences in childhood, the taking off of all my clothes in any one else's presence, was and still is a very soul wracking business. I would rather have given up my right arm than see my younger brothers and this old man see me in the nude. I refused to take them off. He fetched the Master. I still refused. The Master sent for two younger men. At the end of a titanic struggle, in which I fought like a tiger, I was bathed and dressed in a fresh lot of clothes.

One must not have any phobias when one is accepting official charity. My brothers were then bathed and dressed and the old man was instructed to accompany us to the children's home which was situated at the other end of town. Before we set off, my mother was brought into the detestable bathing room to bid us goodbye and to extract a promise of good behaviour from myself. With this, the man, bravely and without handcuffs, conveyed us to the children's home which we reached about five in the afternoon.

The matron of the boys' house was a very beautiful and kindly lady of about thirty years of age and after receiving a description of the "young devil" she, with affectionate taps and kind words, introduced me to the other boys. There were about twelve of them. The eldest and largest, a boy named Jacob Cook, informed me that he was the boss. As I was a head taller than he, I thought that he wouldn't be very much longer. I thought the other boys were a poor lot, quiet, shy, inoffensive, poor physique and no life about them; yet they didn't ought to have been, for at every meal there was an abundance of good, plain food. I suppose it was the defeatist spirit that they had taken into the place.

The next morning, Sunday, I was invited by Jacob to accompany him and two others to see a relative of his who lived across the town. On the journey they speculated on my fighting abilities and I understood that they had much trouble with gangs of boys who taunted them. Our return lay along the canal bank and their fears of meeting their enemies were soon realised. Four boys stood on the bank apparently intent on trouble. As we drew up to them the largest barred my path, spat at me and hissed "workhouse brat". I hit him in the mouth and he fell in the water, the three others piled on me and the whole five of us were in the water. They were much surprised at the ferociousness of the attack and were routed.

My companions meantime had withdrawn further down the path. I climbed out of the water and joined them. They were loud in their praise and began to speculate on my chances with so & so and so & so, evidently the leaders of other gangs. He was sorry about my workhouse clothes which were muddy and wet and wondered how the matron would take it. She was very severe on fighting, he said, and it was a pity I had got wet. I asked why he did not join in the fight. He said he would next time, that is if it was not on the canal bank. He had great objections to spoiling the beautiful clothes that he had been provided with. We were still on the canal bank so I knocked him into the water. The other two ran off and Jacob and I, muddy and wet, dragged our way to the Home and the matron's censure. She was an understanding lady and, cutting short the snivelling of Jacob, she ushered me into her room and listened to my explanation; after which she admonished me with a twinkle in her eye and that was the end of that.

The next morning, Monday, the old man again arrived with our own clothes and told us we were going out. We quickly changed and accompanied him back to the workhouse. There we were joined by my mother who informed me that she would rather be starved to death outside than starved and worked to death inside.

We shook the dust of the detestable place off our feet and began our seven mile trek back to Sodom, which we reached in a blinding snowstorm. Two rooms were secured and we collected our few pieces of furniture from the places where they were stored, and started to housekeep again. The first night in our new home, mother and I spent it waging a bloody war with the bugs it was infested with. The next morning I secured some sulphur and ‘stoved’ the bedroom, after which I filled up the holes with soap and we were tolerably free from them ever after. The rent of the place was half a crown per week and my mother's brother undertook to pay this for us while I could find a job. Meanwhile mother got charring work to keep us in food. Under ordinary circumstances I could not leave school until July 1st when I should be thirteen years old. It was now the latter days of January so I applied for permission to take an examination, the passing of which enabled me to leave school on a Labour Certificate.

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First day in the mine – aged 12

In April of the year 1904 I commenced work at the Kiveton Park Collieries. My choice of vocation had no other considerations but the economic one and such matters as psychological adaptability, mental characteristics, physical fitness and social status had no influence. The amount of money that could be earned, and immediately earned, was the deciding factor and I became one of those individuals who was a round peg in a square hole. I hated the work then and today, after thirty years of it, I still do not like it.

My ambition then was to become a writer, a newspaper writer. When I eventually found out a few things about newspapers, my ambition switched on to book writing. I have still that ambition and if I live, I shall write a novel that will do for the coalminers, England's black slaves, what Uncle Tom's cabin did for America's black slaves. The mental, emotional and physical sufferings of the colliers is a putrefying sore that stinks to high heaven.

I started work on the night shift, going down the mine at 8.45 pm and coming up the next morning at 5.30 am. Any boy who works through the night is a boy no longer. This may appear to be a startling statement, nevertheless it is true and I will put it down again. Any boy who works through the night is a boy no longer. Like a girl who is changed into a woman by a night of shame, so a boy is changed into a man by a night of work. As I journeyed to the pit, I was regaled with many horrible accounts of the circumstances and happenings that obtained in the coalmine. The other young colliers, with whom I went, were insistent that I should appreciate the nastiness of their occupation. As I was to immediately experience them I decided, like Asquith, to "wait and see" and I did see.

At the lamp house, I got out a lamp. Its number was 582 and it had an oil flame of about one half candle power. Then to the pit head to await my turn to enter the cage to descend the mine. The first descent of the mine is supposed to induce one to wet one's trousers and on reaching the bottom the other boys made an examination of my nether garments to verify as to whether I had or not. I had not but the examination, forcibly carried out, made me angry and my fighting spirit began to arise. Some dark hints about initiation gave me some alarm and I decided that if my body were desecrated, it would be a dead one. From the pit bottom we proceeded to the stables where the pit ponies were housed. In a recess all the pony drivers were collected and I, as a new starter, was welcomed with acclamation. My baiting would be a diversion. I was told to sit in a box (it would be about five foot long) and to put my new tin bottle on a small wooden block. Immediately the bottle got on the block, the leader of the gang kicked it off thus denting it. I had joined the club.

The overman came to set us off to our respective jobs. Mine was to accompany a man who was going to find and repair a leak in the water pipes that carried water from some old workings of the mine to the sump at the bottom of the shaft. We set off, he leading the way; after walking for a long time I thought we had walked many miles, I asked him how much further we had to go and was informed that we had only got about half way. I was beginning to get very concerned and in my imagination pictured us walking to the centre of the earth and not having time to get back. I asked him the time. It was 11.15; besides walking into the earth we were walking into the night. The gallery along which we travelled was in a very bad condition. In places we crept on our hands and knees it was so low. Loose pieces of rock overhung from the sides and from the roof and there was a mouldy smell of old and rotten timber and in many places we had to wade through stinking water. When scrambling over a fall of roof, I got my lamp in the dark. My companion got exasperated. He informed me that I was of no use to him with no light and told me to sit down at a corner and wait for him.

I didn't like the idea of being left in the dark but made no objections and, after setting me down in a place of comparative safety, he went along to find the leak. It is very difficult to describe the absolute darkness that obtains in a coalmine. It doesn't seem to be just the absence of light, a negative, it seems to have positive qualities, a something that presses upon one; a whole enveloping blackness that impinges upon one like a black velvet covering. It is the nearest thing to the absolute that my mind has ever been able to conceive, and the silence that can be felt. Absolute silence, absolute darkness; in the bowels of this thing called earth, this atom of matter which spins and rushes through space, I sat and pondered on the mystery of my being and felt like a fly enmeshed in the coils of the unknown. The experience was indescribable. There was nothing to illustrate it by, and no-one who has not been in a mine and without a light, can fully appreciate the circumstance. I wonder if life was like that before light waves and sound waves evolved eyes and ears to see and hear. If thoughts like these were in my mind as I awaited the old coalminer, I have forgotten about them.

I well remember that as the minutes passed with leaden feet, I began to get somewhat panic-stricken. What if he too had got in the dark? What if he had got buried by some falling roof? What if he had gone another way and I was forgotten? All these questions were repeated again and again in my mind and the time dragged and dragged, the darkness pressed and pressed, and the silence was pregnant with a malevolent menace.

It appears to me on reflection in later years and on the evidence of further experiences, that Nature or some unknown influences perfectly measures our courage or resistance to panic so that the moment when the tension is reaching breaking point is also the moment when the tension is relieved. In this case, just as I had reached the limit of endurance; just as I was about to rush off to find some human company; just at that moment I heard my companion's footsteps and saw the thin yellow gleam of his lamp. I had been alone for three hours.

We ate the food that we had brought with us and then began our return journey; altogether we had walked and crept a distance of five miles, two and a half each way. The pit bottom with its brick arches was a welcome sight to my tired eyes and I eagerly awaited the time to ascend. At 5.30 I got on the cage to be drawn out; this cage was made of iron and held ten men on each of its two decks. The journey of 1200 feet was accomplished in one and a quarter minutes and the sensation of going up is rather a peculiar one to the novice, for when the cage reached about half-way the engineer takes off the steam and one has a feeling that the cage is going back down the shaft. The sun was just rising when I came out of the mine and in a glorious dawn I journeyed back home to the tune of many birds that were just then in full spring song. Thus ended my first shift as a worker in a coalmine.

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The Reverend B. Darley, Rector of Harthill

The smallest and most casual incidents often are the starting points of series of happenings that, in their consequences, are of great importance. The way of life appears all plan and set, nothing new in sight, monotonous and fixed, and the smallest flutter of a leaf, as it were, and away one goes on a new road. Such a leaf fluttered in my path a few days subsequent to my starting work as related in the last chapter. It so altered my life that it caused me to make two resolutions that had far reaching consequences and it began an association from which I was to obtain much material to assuage my hunger for knowledge. Rev. B. Darley, the Rector of Harthill, was a man who took great interest in the younger people, especially boys and young men, of the parish. He was a great sport and was very insistent in his opinion that the playing of team games was a great factor in the formation of character. That his opinions were not lukewarm is proven by the fact that he spent all his stipend on making his opinions into actualities. Of course at that time, we had no film stars to stimulate their erotic gambols and Hollywood slang and were perforce to exercise our urge for hero worship on the personalities of such men as Ranji and W. G. Grace.

The Reverend gentleman had a boys' cricket club. Any boy up to the age of 17 was allowed to join and, by the payment of the nominal sum of sixpence, had the pleasure of all the amenities that were profusely provided by the parish parson. These amenities were not inconsiderable as they included every article necessary to the playing of cricket. No test team was better equipped and attended; bats, balls, pavilion, field, and if one attained the proficiency and honour of getting into the team, a whole outfit; white trousers, white shirt, tie, blazer and cap and, last but not least, the company of the rector was provided most Saturdays from May to September. The Rector umpired and advised his team of white clad boys as they played other teams of boys at and from the surrounding colleges, estates and villages. He had been to Eton; he had been to Oxford and he infused the spirit of those two places into his boys. Over the fireplace in the clubhouse was the motto "Manners maketh the man" and every Saturday when we gathered for the day's play, he asked, "What are you?" We answered "We are gentlemen".

He paid for our conveyance to the grounds of opposing teams, for our teas when the matches were finished and for many other things of which only he and the recipient were cognisant. He was a great man; he more closely followed the precepts of his great Master than any other man I ever knew, and, in the words of Shakespeare "His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world "This was a man".

I was walking along the street one day and met this man. He held out his walking stick, stayed my progress and meantime suggested that I should attend his Bible class. I involuntarily glanced down at my dilapidated boots. He saw the glance and guessed its portent. Pulling out his pocket book, he wrote a note which instructed the local boot seller to supply me with the best pair of boots in the shop. The following Sunday I became a member of his class, an ardent disciple of his creed and a great admirer of his personality. I even remember the subject of the address he gave on my first Sunday; it was how the great biblical figures were typical of Jesus Christ. It was a delight to me to hear him say that word "Christ". He said it with such reverence and the penultimate sibilant sound "st" came from his mouth so beautifully that I had an emotional reaction each tune he said it. As I subsequently heard him say it many, many thousands of times, my mind was made so much better able to appreciate other beautiful things by the constant enjoyment of appreciating this. After the address, which like all the talks, he gave to his class, was given while he strode up and down the room, the business of arranging for cricket practice was discussed.

I was very enthusiastic for the game and the following Wednesday I paid my sixpence and was there for the first practice. The reverend gentleman soon discovered I was left handed and, with the Yorkshireman's love of a left arm bowler, he set to teach me the rudiments of bowling. I took to it like a duck taking to water and the first match found me a member of the team with a reputation of a demon bowler. We were playing a team of boys from Retford Grammar School. They were noted for their cricket prowess and it was reckoned that we were up against a stiff match. They won the toss and took first innings. The rector was our umpire and it was decided that I should commence bowling at his end. Now he was to see the result of his coaching. The first ball knocked down the batsman's stumps, so did the second, third, fifth and sixth; five men out for none, and I was the centre of all the sensation. The whole team were out for fifteen runs and I had nine wickets for four runs. At the subsequent tea table I was the recipient of many congratulations and our great patron promised me the best pair of cricketing boots that money could buy. Three days after he amply fulfilled his promise.

The next match I must mention because of an amusing incident that took place. It was an away match and was played before a very august gathering; a house party of a member of the House of Lords and the noble peer's son was the captain of the opposing side. Many people from the village travelled to see the match and incidentally to see and get many more things they seldom saw and got in their native village. The little butcher cum school bobby, Renshaw, was among this exodus and rode with us in the brake. On the strength of having once hauled me to school, he took me under his special notice and promised me half a crown if I bowled his lordship for a duck.

The titled young gentleman won the toss and, as becoming his rank, came in to take the first ball. He never saw it. It spread-eagled his wicket and, as he disconsolately surveyed the wreck, Renshaw, the little man with the big expletive, to the consternation of the distinguished company and the secret delight of we boys, shouted "Well bowled Frederick, that's knocked his bloody coronet off" Unlike his other promise, Renshaw fulfilled this one. He gave me the half a crown, told me to call at the shop for a free joint of meat and promised me the same every time I bowled out for a duck any member of the aristocracy.

On our journeys to other villages, schools and estates it was my practice to sit next to the Rector and my love of reading very soon became our one topic of conversation. I had retrieved my store of reading from my retreat in the gorse bushes and was at this time still busy with Gibbon's Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. He was very interested and appreciative of my passion and assuaged my hunger for books by borrowing some from the library at his London club. The first he borrowed me was ‘The history of Rome’ by Titus Livius and thus I was able to indulge in the doings of my special hero Hannibal. As he borrowed me books until I reached the age of 25, I shall bring many of them up for review when I get to that part in my life in which they were significant in the evolution of my mentality.

At Aston Hall, an estate about three miles from Harthill, lived a gentlemen named Captain Verelst. He had a son named Harry. Harry was a scholar at Eton College and was a great cricketer. During the summer holidays when he was home, he organised a boys' cricket team and matches were arranged and played in various parts of the country. One Sunday afternoon the Rector informed me that young Master Harry had been to see him about including one of his, the rector's, boys in his team and he had recommended myself. I felt very honoured but mentioned the fact that, as these matches were played on weekdays, I could not afford to lose my wages and, furthermore, my only clothes were not calculated to inspire even a modicum of a sense of equality in the minds of young aristocrats who were in a majority in the team. Out came the pocket-book and from it an order to the tailor to supply me with an outfit that would at least ensure my equality in the matter of dress. I was informed to be at his house on Wednesday morning, bringing with me my cricketing outfit.

Dressed in my new clothes, I was there carrying my luggage in a brown paper parcel. He smiled at the parcel and soon found me a suitable leather bag. He said I looked like a young gentleman, if I acted like-one he would be very pleased. He asked how much I was paid per shift at the colliery and gave me ten shillings for pocket money. A servant man with a horse and trap from Aston Hall arrived and conveyed me to Aston Hall to join the rest of the team and we travelled to Lincoln for the match. I have forgotten exactly what big house it was where the match was played but, as it was a two day affair, we all stayed overnight. As I had not come prepared to sleep, I got over the difficulty of the servant enquiring about my night clothes by informing him that it was warm enough to sleep without them. I did not tell him that people of my status did not use night clothes, being content to sleep in the shirt they wore during the day. If I had he probably would not have displayed that obsequious deference which he found necessary to extract from me one of the four half crowns that the Rector had given me. We had two hours' play before lunch and during them I put up a good performance. This was sufficient to break down any probable social barriers. I was accounted a "good man" and thus a game of cricket was again vindicated by exercising that levelling influence which is inherent in all team games.

At luncheon, I, who had always managed my meals with a minimum of cutlery and ceremony, was initially perturbed by the galaxy of eating tools and the presence of a flunky behind my back was not at first conducive to my happiness. However by watching the others and imitating them I soon got used to it. I could treat servants as they deserve to be treated and found a use for any kind of cutlery that ever came out of the city of Sheffield, and any kind of service that could be wrung from the heart of a servant.

That night at dinner in the baronial hall, I certainly minded my P’s and Q’s. Pit parlance would not have entertained the company and it would not have sustained the credit my cricketing ability had gained for me. Of course, cricket was the topic of conversation and a remarkable feature was that, although I was probably the youngest there among the boys, my voice was the deepest. The other boys had very light soprano voices and always sounded to me like girls. I felt much older, more like a man. I was very loath to express my enthusiasm. I was less gushing and my mind was too much concerned with the main point of any discussion that fluttering around the frills of any idea did not appeal to me. One old army general who was present, asked me what school I went to, and, on my telling him "Harthill", he averred the opinion that they must concentrate on cricket there and he would come over sometime and see us at work. I hoped he wouldn't for he would have found a board school, no cricket field and no cricketers.

I am not going into any further details of my doings either in this match or the many other matches I played with Harry Verelst's team. What I want to point out is that by virtue of my cricketing abilities, I entered into an environment utterly different from any I had hitherto experienced, and in virtue of the fact of my having read many books, I was able to hold my own in most discussions that obtained in that environment. The rector was entirely satisfied with my doings both as a player and as a gentleman, and my association with him and with other people through him had much influence upon my later life.

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Stigma

The fact of my illegitimacy, of my being a bastard, caused me more mental anguish in the first twenty years of my life than any other influence. The old adage that the sins of the fathers fall upon the children has no better example to prove its truth than the example of the bastard. He is the victim; he suffers the penalty of a sin that was committed before he was born; he is an ever living reminder to the actual sinner of the sin he has committed and of which the bastard is the result. In a village community where one's business is everybody's, where the physical, and moral abnormalities of every cupboard’s skeleton is the common knowledge of all, where every tongue that has a weakness for wagging, has plenty of material to wag about, the existence of an illicit sexual union is not made a pleasant one.

Six weeks after I was born, I was baptised at Harthill Church and given the name of Frederick Smith. My father's name was Smith and the event was recorded in the following edition of the monthly parish magazine. In the next edition this was corrected and my name was pronounced to be Frederick Egley; Egley being my mother's name. I was registered as Frederick Smith and, as I have always insisted on being called Smith and was married in that name, the efforts of the editor of the parish magazine in insisting that my name was Egley have only been effective in so far as they drew the attention of all his readers to the fact of my having been born in shame. I was not wheeled about in a perambulator – my mother, her 12 children not withstanding, never had one - but if I had been I should have created comment as I took the air, as the baby who caused a flutter in heaven by trying to enter in a false name. I think it was Shakespeare who asked "What's in a name?" I would answer that, from my experience, there is more in a name than this question suggests.

As I grew up the epithet "bastard" was thrown at me often as a defence against my aggressiveness, and often as a method of putting me into my place at the bottom of the social strata. If the user of the word was within striking distance, I always struck, and as my younger brothers came in for the same calumny, I was their natural defender.

As the boys from the other villages were informed of my weak point, I often had a fight on my hands. However, it was not in this respect that I was greatly troubled. It was that half insidious half ostracism, that kind of patronage in which I was received in any local gathering, that created a rage in my breast. On the principle that bastards always beget bastards, I was looked upon as a potential ravager of all the females whose parents had been careful enough to have them born within the holy bonds of wedlock. Up to my seventeenth year I had not been on speaking terms with any girl except in one case and she immediately cut me on learning the facts of my birth. The grand dames of the village many times within my hearing, prophesied that I should end my days on the gallows, and the stern-faced fathers warned their sons against my criminal tendencies.

There I was at the age of puberty; a raging psychic conflict in my soul, an inferiority complex being created by my illegitimacy, a left-handedness that suggested a will to evil and a peculiarity of thought processes, an economic problem that was never solved and a raging urge for vengeance upon a world that was treating me so badly. Of such are rebels made. All revolutions are built on such and of such are the great destroyers. I withdrew myself into the books where I found what the outside world had not to offer. In them I found a companionship that was for always and did not depend upon any accident of birth and social status.

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The Pony Driver

I continued my work at the colliery and very soon became a pony driver. In the Kiveton Park Barnsley Seam at that time there were about 100 ponies being used for haulage purposes. Each boy usually drove one pony regularly and many sentimental attachments between the boy and his pony were wont to be developed. This gave rise to much rivalry and many arguments on the abilities of their respective charges were carried on. "I know that Dan can take three empties up 6Cs gate" one would aver with pride."Why, he couldn't pull an old hen off the nest" another would counter. "Tha wants to see Linnet take four fullens on 83's cross gate" and so on it would go. "I'll bet thee he can't" and "I'll bet thee he can" and "I'll tell thee what, I'll bet thee my week's wages that Dan couldn't take four fullens on 83's cross gate." "Right, I'll bet thee." Whenever the drivers congregated, at street corners, in the mine or anywhere else, that was an example of their talk.

These little ponies each had a name, often descriptive of their temperaments — Lion, Tiger, Fly, Mettle, Dandy, Spanker, Nobby and Ruff are some I remember. My first was Ruff, a small grey. He was remarkably intelligent and a great bond of affection sprang up between us. On my way to work I stole all kinds of field produce - turnips, carrots, clover, green shoots off the hedge, apples, potatoes etc. - and took them down the pit for Ruff. His food in the pit was straight chop and oats and these titbits were a delight to his soul. As I walked into the stables, he would hear the clatter of my iron-shod boots and whinny his impatience and his appreciation of any green stuff was a delight to see. He laughed. Holding up his head, he drew back his teeth. He could drink out of a tin bottle and would nuzzle round my pockets in search of any boiled sweets or lumps of sugar. If the points were against him, he never went over them and derailed the tubs.

When taken off the empty tubs, he always went and stood ready to be hung on the full ones. If I told him to hurry, he hurried. He never jibbed. He knew the bad places in the road. He had an uncanny pre-vision of danger and often stopped in the road to avoid falling roof. Altogether he was a very bright spot in an otherwise monotonous job.

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Injured

When I was 14, I was severely injured in the mine. It happened in this way. My pony was pulling a full tub, weighing a ton, along the gallery, or gate as we called them, and had come to an incline which necessitated the putting in of a locker. A locker is a piece of wood which is put into the spokes of the wheel, thus making it slide and acting as a brake. I had put in the locker and was scrambling along the side of the tub to get to my pony when the loose dirt slithered under my feet. One of my legs went under the tub, the wheel going over it. I could not walk and it was two miles to the pit bottom and a further two miles from the colliery to my home.

Over the two miles underground, I was conveyed in a tub. The shaking gave me a great deal of physical pain and the idea of an economic crisis gave me more mental worry. This was before the days of motor ambulances and the injured were then taken home in the pit cart, only the severely injured being conveyed in a horse ambulance. I did not like the idea of being taken through the streets at two o'clock in the morning in the rattling pit cart. On evincing my dislike, an old but hefty collier volunteered to ride me home on his back. He did so and, knocking up my mother, he gently lowered me down on the sofa and did his best to calm her fears.

I am reminded of the old collier who went to break the news of his mate's fatal accident. He said to the unfortunate wife "Be you Widow Jones?" and upon her disclaiming widowhood, he said "Yea, tha art lass and they're bringing the proof in't pit cart." However, my case was not so bad as that but I shall not forget the scene as, in the yellow gleam of a paraffin lamp and under the troubled eyes of my mother and the wondrous eyes of my younger brothers, he gently bared my lacerated leg to convince her that I was "none hurt too badly". I had a morbid craving to go to the hospital, I suppose on account of having, in my childhood, visited Sheffield Infirmary to see my uncle when he was a patient there for many months after being badly crushed in the pit.

My injury wasn't bad enough for this but I derived a good deal of pleasure in the attention I got and also the reading I was able to put in during my enforced idleness. The Rector brought me many books, mostly the magazine and boys' adventure type, and he also somewhat relieved our economic stress for I only received 4/8d (four shillings and 8 pence = today - 24 pence) per week as compensation and this was wholly inadequate to pay the half a crown (12.5 pence) per week rent and feed five of us.

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Back to Work

In six weeks I was again ready for work and, as my job had been taken by another boy, I was sent on the afternoon shift to drive to the coal getters. This was a more important and a much more arduous kind of work. The coal getters hew and fill coal into tubs by contract at so much per ton. I believe the price was then 1/10d (9 pence) per ton. One great factor in his wages is whether the pony will or can take him sufficient tubs to fill. The "will" depends on the mind of the driver and the treatment he gets; the "can" depends on the physical circumstances of the road he travels over and the pony he drives.

The colliers I drove to were excellent men both in their work and their treatment of me but the conditions of the road were as bad as possible. Each journey I went was of more than a mile; a mile of low roof, twists, turns, inclines, and the rails always strewn with debris from the sides and roof. The pony was always in extremis and the tubs were often derailed.

Most of our work was in a temperature of about 90°F. We stripped to the waist and were as black as hell. There were four of us boys working together, but there was no friendship between us as there was no time from our work. I did not make friends with my pony. Indeed, I hated him because I had to thrash him to the work, which was beyond his capacity.

This is the main cause of cruelty to pit ponies. It is very bad for the pony to be strained and ill-used and it is very bad for the boy who, if he has not any sadistic impulses, will soon have some created.
I can imagine plenty of kind hearted souls who have not even snick at the realities of life, holding forth on how they would not countenance the thrashing of a little pit pony under any circumstances. Let me say here and now that while ever coal is mined by contract and under a competitive system and is hauled in mines by ponies, the little ponies will be thrashed.

The ponies had to be thrashed at that date and, contrary to the asseverations of those who are responsible, they have to be thrashed today. On the day I am writing these words, April 16 1934, I have been getting and tilling coal by contract in a coal mine. A kindly boy of 15 has been driving a pony which hauled the tubs and he has thrashed it, thrashed it apparently unmercifully. While my heart bled for the poor helpless thing, I was unable and unwilling to interfere because, under the circumstances, I saw the necessity of it. The treatment that kills one pit pony will produce the wherewithal to buy some more. There is little sentiment in business and, in the coal getting business, there is absolutely none.

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Father’s return, and my leaving

Just previous to my 15th birthday I had a serious change in my domestic environment. It had been apparent to me that my mother was considering the possibility of my father's return and only my opposition to this had kept him away so long. I had understood he was anxious to come and live with us again and his many ambassadors had made great promises on his behalf. I had no faith in his promises and had absolutely refused to give any countenance to his return.

One night when I returned home from the mine, he was in the house. He had brought many tasty kinds of food, as a peace offering I suppose, and my mother had prepared a sumptuous meal to divert my mind from the real point at issue. He welcomed me with honeyed words and for the first time did not strike me when I came near him.

I refused to be placated. I refused to be feasted and I refused to believe in his promises. He did not evince any alteration in his disposition when I recounted some of his shortcomings. He used veiled threats and this was useless. I was a child no longer. I was tired, in my mind and in my body, after a hard day in the mine. As he had seen in me the personification of the chains that bound him to his domestic responsibilities, so I saw in him the creation of all my troubles. Had he not caused me to be born in shame? Had he not exercised his spleen against circumstance upon my body? Had he not deserted me? Had he not put upon me the burden of his children? And the heaviest burden of all, had he not put upon me the odium of his name and ill fame?

I quickly bathed the coal dust off my body and on going to bed, issued my ultimatum from the bottom of the stairs. "If that man comes to live here, I leave." "He is coming tomorrow" answered my mother. "Well" I said "I am going tomorrow" and I continued upstairs to bed. In the morning I packed my few clothes and books and left the home I had helped to keep together. I went to my grandfather's and life and its complexities were made much more difficult. I had certainly jumped out of the frying pan into the fire and, as this book is not purely a record of domestic chords and discords, I will not recount the sad experiences I had in my new home. I was not happy. I could not find any kindred spirit and no-one in my immediate circle was interested in books. My grandfather's house, before I went to live there, had not a book in it. My reading caused much derision to be exercised against me. When I spent money on newspapers and books, I was considered to be very queer and, when I spent time and oil in reading them, they suggested I had something dreadfully wrong with me.

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Injury and death

At the mine I fared somewhat better, as I was put on the day shift driving a pony on another district. There were nine pony drivers with a corporal in charge of them. This corporal, a middle aged fellow, was the victim of various sex perversions which eventually landed him into gaol. I could not denounce the libidinous old monkey nor come to any open rupture because he had saved me from certain death. It was in this way.

My pony was pulling three full tubs down a gallery and I was riding on the limmer iron (the limmer iron connected the shafts in which the pony is geared to the tubs he is pulling) and we were approaching an incline. It was necessary that I should put in some lockers. They were on the tub. The roof was very low and, as I reached for the lockers, my head was trapped by the roof and the coal on the tub. Before I became unconscious, I managed to shout "whoa" to the pony. He must have stopped for had he not, I should have had my head pulled off, as the roof got lower and lower. However, the old corporal found me, as he said afterwards, with the pony scraping and scratching his feet, impatient to be going.

It was about this time I first saw a man killed in the mine. He was a monstrous fellow. Big Bill he was called, for he was 6ft 6in in height and broad in proportion. His work place, where he hewed coal, was no more than 3ft high, and under such congested circumstances, he looked even larger than he really was. I was sitting waiting for his filler to finish loading a tub and Big Bill was scrambling in the gob to get some stones with which to build a pack. There was a crack, some of the roof came down upon him and his neck was broken.

I have seen death in the mine since then. I have had thousands of hair breadth escapes myself but none have created such an impression upon my mind as this did. Here was a monstrous man, a Goliath, a man who could have picked me up and put me in his pocket. Stripped to the waist with his sweaty body gleaming in the light of his lamp and his chest, arm and shoulder muscles rippling and pulsing with apparent super-human energy, he looked like a god; a modern Hercules. Then a small crack and he had become lifeless, a supine piece of matter, a part of the price which is paid for coal. On his dead face was a look of startled surprise and from the open mouth there oozed a trickle of blood. I was horror stricken and next morning when I had to fetch some tubs out of the then empty death place I was very thankful even for the company of the little pony.

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Lay-off

It was while I was working on this district that there occurred a smash of great dimensions which brought the pit to a standstill for 11 weeks. We were carrying on as usual one morning when word was brought that we all had to go out of the pit. We ungeared our ponies and proceeded with them to the stables. On reaching the pit shaft the scene was beyond description, lighted up by flamers, it represented chaos gone mad as there were twisted steel ropes, broken iron, wood and coal all over the place. We could not be drawn out of this shaft and had perforce to travel two miles underground to another shaft.

Next day I visited the top of the shaft and found that the engine drum on which the ropes which drew the cages up the mine had come out of its bearings and had crashed through the end of the engine house. The drum looked a colossal thing, peg‑topped in shape and covered with iron spikes on which were wound the ropes. The two 3 ton cages had crashed 400 yards down the shaft and with them had gone the eight coal tubs and the coal and ropes and various staging: no wonder there was chaos at the bottom.

It was expected that the pit would not work for some considerable time and I looked forward to a long holiday. I was in a very poor state of health; my blood was poor. Every cut I got (and cuts and abrasions are frequent in a coalmine) refused to get better and I had bandages on most of my fingers. I had no zest in life and, with much reading and the introspection consequent upon having no outside interest, resulted in my having various hallucinations. These hallucinations took a variety of forms. I held long conversations with the spirits of men who were long since dead. I heard voices telling me to do the most incomprehensible things and all my daily actions were surrounded by mystic signs and significances. However, the eleven weeks rest from the pit put me back into normal health and the latter part of it would have been very happy if it had not been for the constant reminders of my economic obligations. I only received 5s. (25p) a week from the trade union and, as I had never saved any money, spending it all on books, this did not go far in the family budget.

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Back to Work

When the pit started again I got a fresh job. This was as a bell man on a level. A level is the main road in a pit along which ran an endless rope which hauled full tubs from the coalface and empty tubs to the face. The tubs were fastened to this rope by iron clips in trains of 20 and as more than 1,000 passed up and down in a shift of eight hours, there was a considerable amount of traffic. The level was two miles long and I was stationed in the middle of it; if there was any dislocation of traffic, I received a signal by bell wire and instructed the engine man, a mile away, to stop the rope. It was a very good job and I had much time on my hands. The under-manager of the seam was a religious man and so were most of the other officials. If I spent this spare time reading the Bible everything was alright. This is what I did, so the good old Book came in for a lot of reading and besides giving me many hours of interest and much instruction, it added somewhat to my prestige at the colliery.

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Back Home and Friendship

In the winter of 1907-8 I went down the mine six days a week at 5.30am when it was dark and came out at 5.00pm when it was dark. The only time I saw the daylight was on a Sunday. My face was bleached white and looking back upon that time I can see that my philosophy was also bleached white.

When I was 16, I returned to my mother's home. Various family alterations had made life for me impossible at my grandfather's and my mother's constant invitations to go back home at last induced me to again live with my father. There had been two additions in the family, my two youngest brothers being born while I was away. While we were congested, nine of us living in a three roomed house, life became fairly tolerable. My father worked at the mine and only went poaching as a spare-time hobby. He helped me to buy a bicycle and with this I began to get away from the village and see much of the country. In the summer of 1908 I found a friend, a youth of my own age, who was also interested in books. I had formed his acquaintance in the mine and through an exchange of ideas on what we knew of life, we had found that we had many aspirations in common.

His mother was a little above the ordinary collier's wife and when we weren't ranging the country on our bicycles, we sat at her feet and listened while she expounded. She taught me many things, the most important that I should not be ashamed, or even embarrassed by the fact of my illegitimacy or the ill fame of my father, as the most respectable people also had skeletons in the family cupboards.

She had the history of every local family at her finger tips and it appeared that at sometime in the growing up of even the most respectable family tree, a branch or even the trunk had not gone as straight as it might have done. She used to amend the saying of Christ "let him who is without sin, cast the first stone" — by "do not expect anyone to cast a stone because no one is without sin." She taught me that it is not what people do that matters but rather what they are caught doing and, while today I am of the contrary opinion, thinking that people suffer more from hidden sins, at that time I was all the better for being able to realise that I had plenty of company in what I considered to be my shame.

My friend and I on nearly every Saturday went to Sheffield to watch football. With the Sheffield Wednesday team played a local young man named Harry Chapman. He was brother to the famous Arsenal manager, Herbert Chapman. He was a delightful player to watch and as we worked at the same colliery in which he used to work, he very often got us into the ground without paying at the gate. After the matches we roamed Sheffield streets in search of book shops and adventure. On one occasion, emerging from an old bookshop on West Bar, we were accosted by a member of one of the gangs which at that time infested Sheffield. He invited us to look at some books he had for sale. The books did not look very interesting but we took them and stood in the street turning over the dirty pages. Over the top of the book I was looking at I saw the gangster picking my friend's pocket so I struck him under the jaw and knocked him down. No sooner had I done this than the whole gang of five or six had born down upon us and we were under a struggling mass of infuriated gangsters. One put his fingers in my mouth and started to pull my cheek to the back of my head. He made the mistake of letting one of his fingers get between my teeth so I promptly bit it off. His screaming brought two policemen to the scene and we were rescued.

A fine pair we looked, clothes all torn, bodies all bruised. My mouth felt as if it had been round my head. The half finger, which my cannibalistic impulse and my young teeth had secured, I carried away still in my mouth. I did not want the police to know about it and, however many unsuspecting pockets it had picked, my sympathies were with its one time owner and not with the police who I imagined would have scoured Sheffield to find a hand it fitted. It is said that virtue has its own reward, but in this particular instance my virtue in screening this mutilated gangster had for its own reward, a very painful penalty.

Two years after this event, I was in a Sheffield pub called the Atholl. This pub was just off Pinstone Street and at that time had an unsavoury reputation, and why I was in it I don't know - ostensibly to drink beer, otherwise possibly to satisfy my inordinate curiosity. There were a few other typical Sheffielders in the tap room and I quietly listened to their conversation and now and then took a drink from my glass. After a while I gradually became aware that a man on the other side of the table was glaring at me with hateful and malevolent eyes. I tried to remember if I had seen him before but I could not. His glaring continued and I began to get alarmed, wondering if he was a mad man. Eventually, with care, he put his right hand on the table. It had half the third finger missing. Again I heard his scream and I realised I was in a tight corner. As he rose to get me, I tipped over the table and he went down with it. As I was leaping over to make for the door, he grabbed my foot and brought me down. No sooner was I down than he had me. His hand went between my legs and clutched my testicles. As he squeezed, the pain became so exquisite and racking that I shudder at the remembrance. It was so intense that I was gradually being reduced to a gibbering and drivelling idiot, and, had not the landlord rescued me, I should have gone stark, raving mad.

After thus anticipating my story by two years, I will get back to the late autumn of 1908. We started a football club    and getting together a team of youths and a field, we joined the Portland League and played football on most Saturday afternoons. The name of our team was Harthill Juniors and in the locality we became famous as the dirtiest team that ever stepped on a football field. As a team we were the most brutal, kicking, fouling young set of hooligans that ever pretended to play football. Worse, we took a pride in our notoriety. The player who committed the most fouls was the recipient of the warmest congratulations. Our centre-half, who never let a match pass without deliberately injuring some player on the opposing side, was our captain and most popular player.

It is my contention that all village youths from 15 to 20 years are verging on the edge of idiocy. Every form of physical exercise is acclaimed and the instinct for physical brutality is given full play. Book reading or mind exercise is looked upon as something weak and effeminate. Even the mention of poetry would create stares of astonishment and sarcastic jeers.

Most of the members of our team were would-be boxers and in a weak moment I bought a pair of boxing gloves. Not satisfied with brutally handling the opposing teams at the weekends, we slugged each other in the weekdays. Broken noses and black eyes were rife and, when tempers warmed up, off would come the gloves and the fight would go on in earnest with bare fists.

The landlord of one of the village inns was interested in boxing and had many professional boxers come to train there. My friend and I went to watch and became sparring partners. We were rewarded by odd half crowns and many good hidings. One pro I remember, a black man he was, gave me twelve good hidings in a fortnight and an extra-good one on the last Saturday morning he was there.

At the local village feast and at all the village feasts for miles around, the boxing booths were the most popular feature in the entertainment line. The proprietor and his sluggers had a fine time putting to sleep the village champions. My friend and I were inveterate feast-goers and no visit was complete unless I had tried for the golden sovereign that was usually offered to the tyro who stayed on his feet for three rounds. The sovereign always eluded my grasp and my reward was the slugging.

Football, skating and boxing in winter, cricketing, swimming, going to feasts, Sheffield and cycling around the country in summer, besides a good lot of reading were my recreations during the time I was growing into manhood. By these I made many companions and had one good friend. Life was fairly happy. Together my friend and I read many books, some we bought in our bookshop forays and some I got the rector to borrow from the library of his London club.

I am not quite sure that all these brutal activities are worth writing about except to prove that my reading habits and my love of poetry notwithstanding, I was a fairly decent hand in activities that demanded physical courage and brutish tendencies. I was not particularly afraid of physical pain. Of course I did not like it. I don't suppose anyone does but I never made a song and dance about it when I had to lump it. A good hiding or two taken in the right spirit never did anyone any harm. In fact, the hidings I received at the hands of the professional sluggers never harmed me. On the contrary, they taught me not to squeal when I was beaten and, more important, not to crow when I had won. A good loser is a better man by far than a bad winner and one learn more by losing.

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A Change of Colliery and a Change of Working

I had been returned to my mother's home about 12 months when I left Kiveton Park Colliery and went to work at the Barlborough Colliery, one of the pits belonging to the Staveley Coal and Iron Co. Here the working conditions were very much sterner; no sentiment tempered the cold blast of business and I got a foretaste of the mechanisation that was later to demoralise the old stamp of collier. Manpower did not count, it was so easily and cheaply secured.

Colliery villages are warrens in which young colliers are bred like rabbits, and with the urge for propagation and a minimum of the necessities of life, each coal mine has plenty of human fodder to glut us voraciousness. The worn limit the maimed are easily replaced.

On my first shift I was put to learn to drive a coal holing machine. It was especially adapted for heading, i.e. undercutting the coal 10 feet wide and six feet on. The motive power was compressed air. After one week's tuition, I was sufficiently expert and a test to see how much heading could be done in a week was made. The manufacturers of the machine promised rewards to the machine men and the young colliers who were chosen to do the work and possessed those characteristics peculiar to Derbyshire miners: strong in the arm and weak in the head.

At 6am on Sunday I made the first cut and while I was cutting another man was drilling six shot holes. It took us an hour. The shots were charged and fired and four young colliers went into the smoke and dust to fill out the blasted coal. It was about 10 tons and they filled it in one hour. In went the machine again and another cut was holed and blasted and again filled out; six feet into the solid earth each time. The only air we had to breathe came through the engine. It tasted sweet and oily and the continuous impregnation of burnt explosives made it keen to the nose and lungs. The incessant noise of the engine in so confined a space played havoc with one's ears and the heat was terrific. We worked naked except for short knickers and boots, and our sweating bodies collected a film of black dust that made our skin itch. Our casualties through sickness and exhaustion were more than 75%. As the weak fell out under the strain, more young colliers were brought in to fill their places. It was good training for the horrible hardships these young men were subsequently going to endure in the Great War, for, as they were good coal mine fodder at this time, so were they good cannon fodder when the war came along.

In one week we cut and blasted a gallery 10 feet wide and seven feet high, length of 82 yards. The great earth shook to the blows of the mechanical pick and the rip of the chemical compounds. Every day when we came out of the mine, there was an unlimited supply of beer in the lamp house and we All went home more or less drunk to sleep until the next morning and another day of hell. At the end of this test week we were all given a golden sovereign (1 pound) over and above our usual wages, and were well satisfied and proud to have had the opportunity to gorge ourselves to the top of our best with work and to the top of our gills with beer.

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Courting

After this week of bestiality things calmed down somewhat but still, if we were not so rushed, the bad air, the heat and the noise gradually under­mined my health. My ears began to emit a fluid, I vomited very frequently, I had nightmares and saw hallucinations. In three months I had more than enough of this job and cast about for an excuse to leave it. The excuse arrived: one Thursday night as I walked along Harthill Street, I met a girl. She had dark brown eyes that held in their depths all the mystery of the world. She was a stranger to me but as our eyes met I was engulfed by a sudden rush of ecstatic emotion that I trembled and nearly fainted on the spot. The question was: how to get her? If I went about it in the usual village fashion, it was very likely that the facts of my undesirability as a sweetheart would be made known to her before I had inspired her to have sufficient feeling for me to withstand the gossip. I made plan after plan and I discarded them all quickly. I discreetly enquired and found that she had come to Harthill as a nursemaid and that her home was some three miles away. Any plan, to be at all successful, must ensure that I met her somewhere outside the village and continued so to meet her for at least a few months. If the village got to know I was courting, they would queue up to inform against my character.

On Saturday morning, I informed the pit gaffer that I would he unable to come to work on the following day, Sunday afternoon. He enquired the reason and when I told him I was going after a girl, he exploded into a flood of lurid language, ending up by explaining that work was vastly more important to a man than the most angelic being that ever wore skirts. I told him I was of a different opinion and to prove it, he could take his work, his pit and his coal cutting machines and go to hell with them. He gave me the sack and so, without a job, without a character, without a name and without the slightest experience, I was about to issue forth on the love trail, the most important, the happiest, the most inspiring, adventure that makes the most sordid life a thing worthwhile.

On Sunday I watched the road between Harthill and the girl's home and was rewarded by seeing her go along it for her day off. Being Sunday, I conjectured that she would be going to some church in the evening and, after cogitation upon which it would be, I decided that I would attend Steetley. Steetley Church is a very lovely old Norman church about five miles from Harthill and some two miles from the girl's home. I had guessed well, for as I lingered near the old churchyard gate, she came up and went into the church. I quickly followed, and went and sat in the same pew next to her. She asked me to share her hymnbook, which I did, and thus any formality in the shape of an introduction was rendered unnecessary. On coming out of the church I suggested that I .accompany her to her home and wail until she was to return to Harthill when I could further accompany her. The idea was an agreeable one and we dallied along the 'quiet lanes in the summer evening, talking the usual stuff that young people talk when they are intent on getting to know each other. 

On reaching the outskirts of Harthill, I proposed that we should separate and that I should enter the village by way of the fields, and as this had also been in her mind, we stood on Loscar Lane to say goodnight. Hitherto I had not dared to even touch her hand or shoulder as we walked along and the smell of her sweetness and the nearness of her virgin beauty made me tremble and faint with emotion. The idea of kissing her amounted to something approaching heaven and invading the Holy of Hollies. Also she was apparently so highly strung and sheered and carretted about like a young colt, that any sudden or rough actions I knew would for ever put her beyond me. I asked if she would meet me again. She would but when and where she did not know."Do you want to meet me again?" I asked. "I don't know" she answered. Dare I kiss her I wondered? "Can't you tell me when and where?" I asked. "I don't know" she still answered. I must kiss her, I thought. "Has any young man taken you home before?" "No" she whispered. "Well" I ventured "it is usual, when one takes home a girl, to give her a good night kiss. May I?" "I don't know" she whispered again. I put my arms around her and kissed her and .nearly had heart failure in the process. Never before, nor I think never since, have I felt such rapturous emotion that I experienced in that moment. I had given my first kiss to a woman and she had not resented it. We looked long into each other's eyes and I knew she would meet me again. For two years we met every Sunday night. The village moralists hurriedly informed her of my history. They informed her parents and they wrote me letters, commanding me to cease speaking to her but our courting thrived on opposition. During those two years we read together many books in the realms of literature. We made many discoveries, more than ever we made in the realms of love. In our stolen hours of lovemaking, I came to know the sweetness of her and the holiness of boy's love and girl's love. It was not an enduring love but it was an innocent one, a sweet one, a holy one. We kissed wonderingly and reverently. We talked gently and delicately and I still think she loved me. I know I loved her. I know I worshipped her and I knew then and she knew, I had no thought of tarnishing her virgin innocence by taking our lovemaking any further than the few handclasps and kisses we took and gave. She has a special place in my memory and it is very dear to me.

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Back to Kiveton Colliery

In consequence of getting the sack at Barlborough Pit, I had now to find a fresh job. On the Monday morning, after the Sunday on which I had successfully entered into the love game, I went down to Kiveton Colliery and interviewed the manager. He told me I could start work there on the afternoon shift that very day. My job would be filling and, as I consider this to be the hardest manual labour that is done or ever has been done by any human, I shall endeavour to give a description of it.

Before the introduction of coal cutting machines, coal was hewed by hand. Experienced colliers undermined it, usually six feet under the whole stall in length; about 40 yards. The weighting of the roof would break off this piece. Probably it would consist of 100 tons, all one solid block, and the fillers job was to break it up and fill it into tubs which held half a ton each. These tubs were a yard high and ran on a narrow gauge railway and the filler had to lay his rails up to the coal. The roof was four foot high and was always weighting lower. Surrounded by props, the filler, in such congested circumstances, wielding a nine pound hammer, a wedge, a ringer and a dresser, broke up the coal and filled it into the tub. Stripped naked, except for short pants and boots, and in an atmosphere of 90 F, he wedged and rived and lifted and trammed and sweated for eight hours. On my first shift I broke up and filled 17 tubs, about nine tons, and as I got 9½d per ton (4 pence), I had earned 7s.3½d (36 pence). My fingers were cut and lacerated at the ends. I had cramps in my arms and chest and I did not read that night.

The next day, with my hands hardened by the application of Friar's Balsam, I again attacked the great lump of hard and shining coal. My wrists cracked up and I strapped them with worsted. My fingers cramped into the palms of my hands and I had to push them back to get hold of the hammer. I only filled seven tons. Two miles walk underground and two miles from the pit head to my home was an agony each step and that night I twitched and jumped in my sleep. With a prodigious bottle holding six pints of water, I crawled to the pit for the third day. The two coal hewers with whom I worked took a sadistic delight in my pains. They had been through the same hell in their younger days and swaggered of the days when they had filled an immense amount of coal with blackened finger nails and lacerated hands. My back muscles spasmodically refused to function, I bumped my head on the roof, I had moments of blindness and through being continuously in a bending; position, I had excruciating at the bottom of my back. I only filled six tons.

I went thin and pale and listless. I had no interest in life and I had upon me a great and heavy tiredness. My relatives and friends said it would kill me. They begged me to chuck it but my pride held me on, and I determined to beat it or die in the attempt. In two months the tiredness had gone into my bones. I walked jerkily and my movements were entirely unrhythmic. I did not read, I did not play, I was nearly too tired to go out on Sunday with the girl. I just rested and worked and became that worst of all beasts, a work-beast, an unimaginative automaton. I was only conscious of my pains when the torn muscles were strained and the tired bones rasped in their dry joints. In six months I had pretty well mastered the job. By a system of eliminating all waste movement and introducing a rhythm into the necessary movements, I could fill from 10 to 15 tons and my wages averaged about 9s. (45 pence) a day.

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Religious Studies

I got going with my reading again and joined a Bible class at the local Wesleyan Chapel. Here we sang hymns and listened to addresses given by a local man and any other chapel preacher who happened to visit the locality. I had the idea of becoming a nonconformist minister and began to study religion. From studying the Christian religion, I got into other religions and, the more I got to know, the more I doubted the truth of any of them. Christianity, as practiced by the people of my immediate locality, was not a phenomenon that appealed to my stomach and they who professed it were unlikeable to me. I was never one to accept any dogmatic assertions without knowing the whys and wherefores. When I began to ask questions and they answered me with the old shibboleth, "we must believe". I asked them who said we must. They quoted me authority and promised me belief when I had a change of heart.

One afternoon a Wesleyan minister castigated Tom Paine. He instanced him as a blasphemous atheist who, on his death bed, renounced atheism and had tried to crawl into Heaven at the last minute. I enquired who this Toni Paine was and was told he had written a book called “The age of reason”. On the next Saturday I bought the book. It was published under the auspices of the Rationalist Press Association and its price was sixpence. On the first page I found that the author was not an atheist and straightway wrote a letter to the Wesleyan minister, telling him he was a liar. I thought there was something wrong with a religion if its ministers had to lie, even when it was not on the defensive.

Any belief I might have had in fatherhood was killed when I was a child. Therefore, as is usual with most people, I could not transfer an earthly father into a heavenly father ideal. I was out for vengeance on a world that had treated me badly and now, when I asked questions of Christian ministers and they told me lies, it appeared that all the fond illusions were to be ripped out of my life. I had found that there was nothing grand in fatherhood, I had found that there was no dignity in labour and I had found that social activity was rife with clique, pride and lying. I decided that Christianity, as manifested in the chapels of my locality, had nothing to give me and as I had nothing to give them, we neither of us robbed each other.

A man's soul is like a ball thrown at a wall; it bounces back. From the blind wall of religion, I bounced back into anti-religion. By way of “The age of reason”, I secured other publications of the Rationalist Press Association. The most important and the one that more than any impressed me was Ingersoll's lectures and essays. Here was the meat I was after.

Hitherto I had read the Bible always with a reverence due to my belief in its divine inspiration. From now on, after reading Ingersoll, I appreciated it only as a work built up by human minds and, as such, circumscribed by human limitations. At every opportunity, in the street or in the pit, I did attack the good Christians, often individually, and reduced them to rage and rags by lashing them with the fervid criticisms I got from Ingersoll. Never before did I have so exciting a time. This was better than boxing or footballing or even cricketing. To quote the book I was attacking, I went about like a raging lion seeking whom I might devour. Never had Ingersoll so ardent an admirer. His passion for knowledge as a force to eliminate superstition found an echo in my soul. I considered all the villagers, who were then and are now essentially superstitious, were very badly in need of my Ingersollian medicine. I did not know that people, and especially village people, insistently adhere to the old and the usual. New knowledge, like new wine, must not be put into old receptacles. I very soon acquired a reputation as an atheist and hellfire, brimstone, and a shrieking last minute penitent deathbed was promised me. One old local, grown petrified by long attendance, often told me how he, from the battlements of Heaven, should laugh at me, shrieking for water in the dames of Hell; the sadistic old bigot.

Before I had read Ingersoll, my acquaintance with the works of Shakespeare had been limited to the few lines I had been forced to learn at school. Ingersoll's lecture on Shakespeare whetted my appetite to read and to try to understand the works of the World's greatest poet. If this lecture were all that Ingersoll had ever said, the World would still he indebted to him. When I read the lecture, I was enthralled by the immensity of the subject and the imagery of the lecturer. To give some sonic idea of the characteristics I can do no better than to quote the     last paragraph, or what in his speech would be the peroration. He said “Shakespeare was an intellectual ocean whose waves touched all the shores of thought; within which are all the tides and waves of destiny and will; over which swept all the storms of fate, ambition and revenge; upon which fell the gloom of darkness, despair and death and all the sunlight of content and love within which was the inverted sky lit with eternal stars - an intellectual ocean - towards which all rivers ran and ran and from which now the isles and continents thought receive their dew and rain." Could anything be greater than the subject of that saying? Could anything be better said?

If the old rector heard of my doings, he laid low and said nothing. He still borrowed me books and it was at this period of my life that he borrowed Darwin's Origin of species for me. My mind was not ready to conceive the idea of evolution as completely as it eventually did with the aid of Herbert Spencer and Darwin's epoch-making book did not create such a milestone on my way to knowledge as it did in the Victorian age of thought and philosophy.

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John Barleycorn

At the age of 19 my contacts with John Barleycorn had been very infrequent and, while this influence was very widespread in the environment in which I lived, he had not yet made any great call to me. My father drank beer whenever he could get it. My mother's brother drank beer whenever he could get it. Seventy five pet cent of the men I knew drank beer whenever they could get it, from what I could perceive, they drank it, not because they liked it, but because their imagination was of so low a quality that they couldn’t get any kick from life without it. Alcohol made them forget their tired bones and muscles; it made them remember and exaggerate whatever few red letter days they had; it made them forget the stupid futility of a life full of work, gross feeding, sleep and domestic pettiness. A man cannot love his wife if he is always physically tired, if his children are in the way, if his home is the place where he only rests and eats and the idea of working class domesticity has no reality.

At that time there were no cinemas in the locality for the young men to go and, if there was any dancing, it was at the pubs. In Harthill there were three pubs; the Beehive, the Square and Compass and the Blue Bell. These places on Saturday night were usually full and the colliers got their weekly drink and were made to forget. At the age of 14 I had joined the Rechabites and was thus somewhat under a restraint, but as I got older and saw the other members of the Rechabite Society indulging in alcohol, the restraint became weaker and its influence gradually passed away. I had three young men friends and, as two of them were fairly good singers, we graduated to the pubs where their singing could be exercised and appreciated. The local landlords, especially at the Blue Bell, gave us a great welcome and the singing of my two friends secured plenty of beer at a very small cost. By mutual arrangement, the landlord disguised the beer and called it hop bitters, a non-alcoholic drink, so any suspicions of our having broken the rules of the Rechabite Society were annulled. Constitutionally I did not like beer. I did not like its taste. I was in no need of stimulation, as the pursuit of knowledge nearly always kept me on a high pitch, but I went to the pub because the others went.

There were the bright lights. There was the chance to expound on my knowledge and there were the men who had the courage to listen. I don't for one moment suppose that my talking made one iota of difference to the minds of the men to whom I talked, but at that time I thought it did. At 8 o'clock on Saturday night they were lit up and argumentative and oracularly emitted sayings that their grandfathers had said 40 years before. At 9 o'clock they were rowdy and quarrelsome and at 10 o'clock they were mostly speechless, hoggish and sleepy. From 7 to 9 o'clock, before the poison of John Barleycorn had tendered them stupid and mulish, they talked and haggled. When they didn't forget their swinish toil, they wrapped around it a cloak of romance and danger. Some of them dimly remembered Bradlaugh, making a speech in an adjoining parish. Some of them even concurred in some of my ecclesiastical assertions and, like the nations of the earth, when they couldn't agree to differ, they agreed to fight.

Whether it was due to some chemical constituent in my make up, I never got drunk, i.e. I never got into a state in which I staggered or fell into the gutter or went into a semi-coma or felt sleepy.

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 Appendices

The City of Refuge

The "City of Refuge" was Firvale, a street of late Victorian terraced houses on the outskirts of Harthill. Reputedly people who were persona non grata in Harthill were banished to Firvale.

The Duke of Leeds was Lord of the Manor of Harthill and the major landowner in the parish but he did not live locally.


Fred's Brother George

The burial of George Smith alias Egley, aged 8, is recorded in the Harthill Parish Register on 10 December 1902. Fred modestly does not tell us that he dived rep­eatedly into the 50' deep freezing water to retrieve his brother's body.


The Workhouse

Although Harthill was in Yorkshire, for Poor Law purposes it was included in the Worksop Poor Law Union. Until the 1830s; each parish was responsible for the relief of its own poor via the parish poor rate. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act grouped parishes into Poor Law Unions, controlled by Boards of Guardians. The Guardians generally felt that it was more cost effective to concentrate the paupers into a central workhouse where husbands, wives and children were normally separated. By the end of the 19th century it became common for children to be housed in separate children's homes rather than in the workhouse itself.


Canon Bertram Darley

Canon Bertram Darley was Rector of Harthill from 1891 until 1923. Fred Smith appears in 1904 group photograph of the Harthill Choir Boys Cricket Team, with Canon Darley wearing the umpire's coat (reproduced in Harthill with Woodall; the village and its people (1989).


Maharaja Shri Ranjitsinhji Vihabj

Maharaja Shri Ranjitsinhji Vihabji, Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar (1872-1933), Indian ruler and cricketer. Ranji came to England in 1888 and on coming down from Cambridge in 1893 decided to remain in England and qualify for Sussex for whom he played from 1895 to 1904. He was chosen to play for England against the touring Australians in 1895, scoring 154 not out in the second innings. Ranji set standards of run getting that were not to be equalled until the era of Bradman and Hammond. He was the first man to score 3,000 runs in a season, a feat he achieved in 1899 and 1900. His career included 72 centuries and 14 double centuries. Reasons of state forced him to return to India after the 1904 season and his later cricketing career was curtailed by the loss of an eye in a shooting accident in 1915.


W. G. Grace

Dr. William Gilbert Grace (1848-1915) had a long and distinguished career as a cricketer for Gloucestershire and England. He made his first-class debut at the age if 17, made his final appearance for England in 1899 and played his last first-class match in 1908. In a career of 43 years he scored a total of 54,896 runs, including 126 centuries, and took 2,876 wickets.


Harry Wilson Verelst

Harry Wilson Verelst, son of Harry William Verelst of Aston Hall, was born in 1890. He joined the Coldstream Guards, reaching the rank of acting major. During the First World War he won the Military Cross but was killed in action in September 1916.


Robert Green Ingersoll

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-99), American lawyer and orator, known as the “great agnostic” The son of a Presbyterian minister, he rebelled against his father’s vengeful God, but was inspired by Shakespeare and Burns. Ingersoll was the author of numerous books and pamphlets, including The Christian religion; an enquiry (1882) and Thomas Paine's vindication (1887).


The Independent Order of Rechabites

The Independent Order of Rechabites, a teetotal benefit society founded in 1835. They took their name from the Biblical Rechabites, the descendants of Jonadab, son of Rechab, who refused to drink wine.


Charles Bradlaugh

Charles Bradlaugh (1833-91), politician and advocate of free thought. Elected as MP for Northampton at the third attempt in 1880, he refused to swear the parliamentary oath on the Bible, insisting on the right to affirm instead. This right was finally established in 1885, after several law suits. His powerful oratory won him a considerable following among the more radical work.


Fred's Writing Ambitions

Fred never wrote his novel but he did write a play, The modern Prometheans, in 1931. The play deals with the miners' opposition to the introduction of mechanisation into the pit at "Coaldale" and the reduction in jobs that would result. Unfortunately the play has never yet been staged.

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