Wednesday, 19 July 2017

"Brownies" and "Knockers"

"Brownies" are by no means unknown in West Cornwall. Some few years ago a brownie was said to occasionally appear in a certain house in Chapel-street, Penzance. He was perfectly harmless, apparently portended nothing and when he came seated himself comfortably in a chair by the fireside. A prominent Penzance man once assured me he had seen him.

The existence of "knockers" will not be called in question by any true westcountryman. These are the "Old Men" working away underground at their old "Pitches" (i.e., workings). Unfortunately for the romance of the thing, they are generally heard in miners' cottages in remote country districts; but there have undoubtedly been cases in which the inhabitants of houses built over filled and forgotten mine shafts have heard some very queer noises, connected in all probability with blasts of gunpowder in the mine beneath them.
LINDUM.
(Reply to Query 883).

In 'The Cornish Telegraph' for 22nd October 1908. What does he mean, in the cottages? This makes it sound like more of a poltergeist and less connected to the knockers of the mines. I don't know. Brownies are usually found around the house.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How Our Miners Live.

A week in the South Wales Coalfield.

Having dealt with the historical aspect of the South Wales coal trade, in a cursory and perfunctory manner it is true, but at least sufficiently to clear the ground for a connected and consecutive inquiry, I will now proceed to deal more intimately with the actual subject under notice, and describe the work the miner performs, and what he is, and has been, paid for it. It is important to give these facts thus early for the vital reason that, after all else has been said, the nature of the miner's toil and the remuneration which he receives therefore are the solid bases upon which every other consideration impinges, whether political or social, individual or organic.

To rise with the miner in the morning one must be stirring early. He goes to his work about 6 a.m., for every man is obliged to be at the bottom of the pit before seven o'clock. Here, at the very outset, it is a remarkable fact that several hundreds, if not thousands, of men in the Rhondda, Aberdare, and Merthyr Valleys do what many London flaneurs would consider a fatiguing day's work before they even handle pick and shovel. Say on such a morning as that of Tuesday last, when the pleasant autumn weather of the past weeks was suddenly replaced by an almost arctic temperature, how would one of our "gilded youth" like to leave his bed at Merthyr and trudge five miles over one of the highest and bleakest mountains in the district to a colliery at Cwmpennar, after being fortified against the wintry blast by a draught of weak coffee, supplemented by a modicum of bread and, perhaps, some fried bacon? Yet there are scores of colliers who do this in all weathers, rain or shine, with wind or blinding snowstorm, and medical evidence is forthcoming that when a man is in a weak state of health the exercise and exposure caused by such long walks, apart altogether from the actual labour performed by the collier, are most injurious to the constitution.

Well, the bottom of the shaft is reached at last, but in many instances further pedestrian exercise awaits the miner, for he often has to walk half a mile or a mile before the locale of his day's work is gained. It is useless to follow his methods of work in detail. Suffice it to say that for the next eight or nine hours he delves and hews and shovels with might and main until he has worn himself out with exertion. There is not a single pleasant or invigorating feature about the occupation. Ploughing is hard work, but the man engaged thereat is inspired by the ever-varying beauties of nature, whilst the song of the thrush or the blackbird is so tuneful to the ear that the plough-boy who does not indulge in an emulative whistle is capable of crimes before which Shakespeare's unmusical man would pale. In most other avocations, no matter how wearisome or engrossing, there is some such relaxing feature, but the only diversion afforded the collier is the arrival of a fresh tram, combined with a possibility of being crushed to death or burnt to an unrecognisable cinder at any moment.

Yet in the dark recesses of the coal mine there lurk superstition and imaginative mystery. What can be more weird and gruesome than a deserted pit, and where else could a living mortal have any realistic conception of the silence of the grave? Not even the ordinary sounds of nature can be heard, whilst the black void may be readily peopled with uncanny phantasms. Did not Will Gwyn, under such conditions, whilst working a quiet hour's overtime in the Cwm Shon Pit, see his own living wraith carried past his stall on a noiseless tram, and escorted by a ghostlike troupe? And would any of his mates ever forget the look of wild horror on his face when, six months later, they carried him mortally injured past the same stall? But legendary lore is surely out of place in the midst of a diatribe on work and wages.

About four p.m. the miner concludes his day's toil, which is unbroken save for an interval of 10 minutes for dinner, and he re ascends to the surface, glad enough no doubt to see the sky above his head once more. There are occasions, however, when he does not come up the pit shaft the same healthy, animated human being that he went down in the morning. Whilst he and his mates are busily employed hundred of yards beneath the earth's surface, those who live near the colliery are suddenly electrified by a deep, sullen boom, which resounds through the air, and frightened wives and mothers who rush to the open doors of the cottages see an unwonted column of smoke, and steam, and dust rising from the pit-mouth. No need is there to tell them what has happened, for brave men are already preparing to descend into the cavernous depths only to return ere long with a ghastly load of corpses, charred and shattered out of all human semblance.

An explosion is only one out of many risks which the collier runs, but it is usually the most appalling from its magnitude and extent. If he returns to the earth's crust safe and sound, he has five miles to walk homewards (this, of course, being an extreme through plentiful case so far as distance is concerned), and a sorry-looking object he is with his black face and hands and coal dust-laden clothes, a striking antithesis to the occupants of his employer's landau as it dashes past him on the road.

Assuredly this man has done a genuine hard day's work. What is he paid for it? - From 3s 7d to 4s 6d as a general average, so that if he is lucky enough to obtain six shifts in a week he earns between 21s 6d and 27s per week. An employer told me yesterday that the hard-working men in his colliery could make from 30s to 35s per week. This may be so in individual cases, and when full time is worked, but as a matter of fact at the present day, owing to reductions, stoppages, restriction of shifts, and other causes, the number of miners in South Wales who receive less than a guinea per week greatly exceeds those who earn a larger sum. But festina ente - this crucial question of the wage-rate requires some little scrutiny and amplification. In a work entitled "The Colliers' Strike in South Wales," written by Mr Alexander Dalziel, there is a tabulated statement which shows the fluctuations in wages for day labour at the Aberdare pits from 1848 to 1872. The figures are probably reliable, though the general tone of the work is one of ill-concealed hostility to the men and open animosity to the Miners' Union. From this, then, it appears that between 1848 and 1871 the daily wage rate averaged 3s 4d. In February, 1872, it was raised to 3s 7d, and in June of the same year a further advance was effected to 3s 11d.

Then came the halcyon period of 1873-4, when a collier thought he had done a poor day's work if he had not earned more than 12s, and it was no infrequent thing for a man's monthly receipts to be £20, "which I've had paid down solid into my hand," as one informant told me. Unfortunatley the same story of neglected opportunity, of riotous living, and absurdly extravagant expenditure has to be repeated in the case of South Wales as in every other instance where fabulous sums were realised unexpectedly by persons previously unaccustomed to such earnings. During those same years, the Northumbrian pitman used to leave Seghill on a Saturday afternoon, and go into Newcastle in gorgeous array. there he would drink champagne because it was expensive, though he really preferred beer. As a compromise, he would quaff the vintage of the sunny south from a pint pewter pot. He was given to even more laughable heights, or depths, of foolishness, for there is a well-accredited tale of how a couple of miners from Upgang, whilst dining in a restaurant, swallowed the entired contents of a bottle of Chutnee sauce because they had seen a gentleman at another table helping himself to some. So it was in South Wales, though it would appear that here exesses were chiefly directed to matters of personal adornment and bedizening the wife and daughters. However, no tangible good, save a warning for the future, can be achieved by recrimination over past wastefulness.

All too soon came the certain retribution, for in 1875 occurred the great strike and lock-out, which brought thousands to the verge of starvation. But an even worse period was in store for South Wales. the opening days of 1878 were darkened by stories of distress, which was described in the London newspapers in a highly sensational manner. According to a correspondent of the Times - an ill-fated journal which now, as then, seems to be destined to be misinformed as to Welsh matters - people were feeding in some places on potato-peelings, raw cabbage leaves, and brewers' grains; whilst in Merthyr hundreds in a state of semi-starvation could be seen turning over the refuse in the search for food.

Though the statements were highly exaggerated, the distress in South Wales and Monmouthshire was exceptionally severe. Many of the collieries were idle, and at the utmost only two or three days' work per week could be given. Lord Aberdare, with his usual philanthropy, laboured hard at this juncture to relieve the afflicted. He distributed soup in hundreds of quarts per day, and Lady Aberdare started a clothing estaablishment at Duffryn where necessary garments were made for free distribution. Mr Simons, of Merthyr, and also many others, did much in this way. At the same time Lord Aberdare denied in the columns of the Times that the colliers were in the condition of the Madrasees and Mysoreans, with whom they had been compared. The bulk of the colliery population was able to maintain the struggle, although with difficulty and many privations, without receiving aid from the rates or even private charity. There have been periods of distress in the interim, but not of such an exceptional character. Last winter, for instance, steps were taken to form a relief fund at Merthyr, where, in addition to many other districts, privation made itself keenly felt. In fact, let the miner be thrown out of work for a week, and he is immediately on the verge of starvation.

It is possible for a man earning 21s per week to adequately maintain a wife and family and at the same time to save money? Most people would return a negative answer to this question, but the position is rendered worse by the fact that perhaps in one week, owing to a slackness in demand, the collier can only work one or two days. He must live, if only on bread and tea, and to do this he gets into debt which it takes weeks to wipe out. the picture is not a pleasant one.

A sympathetic write-up in the South Wales Echo, 14th October 1887.








The Miners of Wynnstay.

The miners at the Wynnstay Colliery, says the Daily News, refused to go to work on Saturday, because Zadkiel had prophesied that a calamity would occur in Wales on that day. Now, we do not quite see what effect their abstention from work could have upon the calamity, if it were due, but perhaps some of them fancied that if such a thing were coming round that way, they might have a look at it. And it did come. The prophesy was fulfilled. The men lost a day's work, which their wives would consider a quite sufficient calamity. Moreover, when they wished to return to work yesterday, the Company informed them that there was no great demand for coal, and that they might as well go home again. Whether this combination of circumstances promises well for the discouragement of superstition in that quarter, it would be hard to say.

There was no sudden visitation of the cattle plague, no colliery accident, no unearthly darkness, or other phenomenon, that showed unusual agencies to be at work; but a calamity did certainly occur. Zadkiel is not always so fortunate; perhaps because there are not very many districts of England in which his followers abound in numbers and in faith, and are ready to lose a day's work in order to confirm his predictions.

The Cardiff Times, 17th May 1873.

I'm guessing this magazine is what 'Zadkiel' refers to. There's no need to be sarky when people's lives could be at stake. Really.

Chats with some of the miners.

[By our special correspondent.]

Ugh! When I stepped out of the train at Port Talbot on Thursday this was my first exclamation. The rain was falling in torrents, and the wind, blowing in fierce gusts, swished into my face in a most disagreeable manner. Disliking this quite as much as the Morfa colliers fear things supernatural, I hailed a hansom, which afforded me shelter until the rambling village of Taibach was reached. There I found that the same condition of affairs prevailed with regard to the colliery as on Tuesday. Groups of colliers stood or "squatted" wherever shelter could be found. They were busily engaged in discussing the situation. After a few rather ineffectual attempts to glean some information from these, I entered the new and spacious hotel recently erected at the entrance to the village. Several colliers were seated there, the theme of conversation being the same as that which occupied the attention of their fellow-workmen without.

"Strange affair?" I ventured.
"Yes, 'tis rather queer," was the reply of an intelligent-looking man, sitting near the fire. The men were perfectly civil and respectful to a degree, which is neither queer nor strange, considering that the benign influence of "Morien" has been felt in the district.

In the course of my investigation I endeavoured to discover the nature of the noises said to have been heard by the colliers. One old collier, who is still in harness, upon hearing my question, pointed the stem of his pipe at me, and said:- "One of the men who heard the strange sounds described them as resembling the noise of running 'drams' in the old workings. Now I remember many years ago when I was working in the Peprose Pits, hearing a warning like that. My mate said to me, 'John, somebody'll be killed in this colliery very soon.' I laughed at him, and said he was skeered, but before that night shift was over he himself was killed by a fall in the roof. Although I don't believe in what you newspaper men call superstition, I do not like to jeer at men when they hear things like that."

Another old collier remarked: - "You see, sir, we colliers aren't so simple as some would make us out to be. But these men have heard noises, and we shan't be satisfied until we learn that the pit is in thorough working order. We carry our lives in our hands, so to speak, and we have a right to be assured that things down there is as they ought to be. An inspection can do no harm, anyway."

All the men whom I spoke to await the report of their agent, Mr. Isaac Evans, before entertaining the proposition of returning to work. "Unless the condition of affairs is perfectly satisfactory at the Morfa, we won't resume work. we have every confidence in Mr. Isaac Evans, and shall abide by his advice," seemed to be the prevailing opinion.

After my interview with the colliers, I proceeded to the pit. It was a short journey - only about two miles - but it seemed almost interminable to me. I had barely set out when a fierce squall burst. the rain beat mercilessly against me, and the high wind rendered it impossible for me to protect myself with my umbrella. However, I made the best of a bad bargain, and when I reached the Morfa Pit I met with Mr. J. Dyer Lewis, sub-inspector of mines, and Mr. Isaac Evans returning from the pit., accompanied by Messrs. Maddocks and Aubrey, overment at the colliery. All were becomingly attired, and all carried a thick super-stratum of coal dust. Mr. Lewis reported everything in good condition, and said the men might return to work at once. I accompanied Mr. Isaac Evans on the return journey to the village.

Upon being asked his opinion as regards the alleged noises he said, "Well, I am not superstitious myself, and must admit not having inquired very closely into the matter. I am principally concerned in discovering whether the pit is in proper working order. At the same time, when one hears intelligent men of considerable experience saying such things, and having regard to what has already happened at the Morfa, it would be unwise to disregard altogether what they regard as premonitory warnings."
"How long have you been down to-day?"
"We went down at ten o'clock this morning, and returned to the surface at about three o'cloc."
"Do you consider the pit to be in good working order?"
"Yes; the Morfa coal is fine stuff. I don't think that there's a better seam than the Cribbwr existing."
"I didn't quite ask you that, Mr. Evans."
"No," he replied, with a perceptible twinkle in his eye. "Well," he continued, "I would prefer not giving an opinion now. I have to report to a meeting to-night. The men will decide as to whether they will return to work."
"How many men are employed?"
"About 250."
"Do you think that they will soon resume work?"
"They may or they may not. I can't say."
And with this unsatisfactory reply I had, perforce, to content myself.

On Thursday evening a meeting of the miners was held at the Somerset Hotel, Taibach, when Mr. Isaac Evans, miners' agent, submitted a lengthy report dealing with his investigation of the condition of the pit. After a protracted discussion it was decided that the men resume work this (Friday) morning.



A PARALLEL CASE TO THE MORFA CASE.
A COLLIER'S EXPERIENCE IN CWMAMAN.
Interesting Letter from Mr. W. Thomas, Bryn Awel.

We have received the following interesting communication from Mr. W. Thomas, Bryn Awel, Aberdare:--

To the Editor of the "Evening Express."
Sir, - It occurs to me that the following may interest some of your readers, and especially those of them who are employed at the Morfa Colliery:-
Some 25 years ago, when I was in charge of the Cwmaman Colliery, I had a fireman there who was one of the best, most truthful, and conscientious men that ever went down a coal-pit - a man named William Lewis. Late one evening he came to my house, and asked to have a word with me privately. His wish was, of course, at once complied with. When we were alone he told me his story, which was, shortly, as follows:--

While making his examination of the workings of his district the morning of the previous day he heard a report, and felt the effects of an explosion, and instantly turned aside to the mouth of a stall to shield himself from the effects of the blast. He remained there some time, when the slamming of an air-door further on, and nearer the face of the workings, attracted his attention. Knowing, as he did, that there was not a human being in any part of his district - all the night men having gone out, and the day men not having come in - he became much disturbed. However, on he went, and just as he reached the outer door of a pair of air-doors that were on the main heading, not far from where he had sheltered himself, it was opened by a person, whose name he gave; then came a haulier at the head of a horse, followed by a tram, in which were several dead bodies, all of whom, as well as the haulier and the men who followed the mournful cortege, he well knew, being persons who worked in his district. He for a minute or two, discussed the accident with these men, and told them to tell me, should they meet me coming in, that he had gone on to the face to make sure the air doors were all right, and that no old timber or brattice-cloth was smouldering there.

On reaching the working faces, however, he found all in order, and that even at the "faces" where the persons whose dead and charred bodies he had seen dead and disfigured used to work not a trace of an accident could be seen, and he became satisfied he had seen an apparition - "drychiolaeth." He continued the examination of his district, and came back to the locking cabin at the bottom of the pit a little later than usual, and there impatiently waiting him were, amongst others, the very persons whose dead bodies he had seen brought out in the tram an hour previously.

He had, he said, spent a very miserable couple of days, and had not slept a moment the previous night, and felt he was bound to come and tell me what he had seen, and thus warn me of the accident that was sure to follow. I tried to laugh him out of his fears, but soon found out that that would not do, so pretended to treat his statement seriously. I knew he had been ailing for some time, and suggested he should take a couple of weeks' holiday in order to pick himself up a bit, but this he would not hear of, saying he was not going to leave me in the lurch when he knew there was such a calamity in front of me in his district, and that he would see it through, come what may.

To soothe him it was arranged between us that extra precautions should be paid to the ventilation, and that his brother - who was also a fireman in another district in the same pit - the overman, and myself should visit the ventilating furnace frequently during the following days to see that it was properly attended to, and that he and the airway man should pay special attention should be paid to any blowers that might break down.

He then left me, and bravely continued his avocation for three or four weeks more, doing his work with marked ability and care, until his health would no longer permit him to do so, and in a very short time I and others had the mournful duty of accompanying to its final resting-place in the Aberdare Cemetery the remains of one of the most truthful, loyal, and conscientious men it has ever been my lot to know. Pob parch i'w gofiant.

That he believed every word he told me I am certain of, and I am equally certain that his "drychiolaeth" was due to the nervous condition he had been reduced to through protracted indisposition, and which illness, in spite of rest and change of air, soon brought him to his grave. I should add that no explosion ever took place in poor William's district, and that some of the men whose bodies he so graphically described as being burned and brought out in a tram are still alive, proving that my friend's "drychiolaeth" was the result of his own imagination, stimulated by his state of nervous debility. Might the Morfa affair not be traced to the same cause?-- I am, &c,.
W. THOMAS.
Bryn Awel, Aberdare, Dec. 11.

In the Evening Express, 13th December 1895.



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Superstitions of the Miner: Cornwall

By T.H. Rogers.

In addition to the general superstitions of Celtic Cornwall, there are, or were, several others held by the miners specially connected with their occupation, and as dangers usually increase strange beliefs there is little wonder that we find remarkable superstitions extant in mining circles.

Superstitions connected with the "Knockers," who were believed to have lived and worked in the mines, hold premier place in the Duchy. They are spoken of as the spirits of persons who inhabited Cornwall many thousands of years ago, and who, "though too good to be condemned to hell, were not good enough for the joys of heaven." Old miners state that in bygone days the noises "Knockers" made came through the blackness of the levels, and there were occasions when the beating of the borers, the falling of rock, and the rolling of barrows by the little people were mingled with their sharp cries.

The "Knockers" were eceedingly playful amongst themselves, but a demureness came over them when they knew they were being watched. Miners considered them friendly, and that they rendered meritorious service by leading them to valuable mineral deposits and lodes, as these little people were never heard working on other than rich ground. They could, however, be vindictive, and this the miner found to his dismay if he spoke of them in disrespectful language or neglected to follow the custom of leaving a part of his dinner in the level of the mine for their enjoyment.

Time was also when Bucca, the "Storm God," was a spirit Cornish fishermen thought necessary to propitiate. They left a fish on the sands for him, and in the harvest field at lunch-time a piece of bread was thrown over the shoulder and a few drops of beer spilled on the ground for him to insure good luck.

Lewis Morris, writing in 1754, illustrates the quaint earnestness with which miners of that time spoke of the "Knockers." He states: "They are a kind of good-natured, impalpable people, but to be seen and heard, and who seem to us to work in the mines; that is to say, they are types or forerunners of workers in the mines, as dreams are of some accidents which happen to us. I must speak well of these 'Knockers' for they have actually stood my very good friends, whether they are aerial beings called spirits or whether they are people made of matter not to be felt by our gross bodies. Our old miners are no more concerned at hearing them blasting, boring holes, landing deads, &c., than if they were some of their own people; and a single miner will stay in the work in the dead of night without any man near him and never think of any fear or harm that they will do him; for they have a notion that the 'Knockers' are of their own tribe and profession and are a harmless people who mean well.

"Let who will laugh, we have the greatest reason to rejoice and to thank the 'Knockers,' or rather God, Who sends us these notices. The word 'supernatural ' used among us is nonsense; there is nothing supernatural, for the degrees of all beings, from the vegetable life to the archangel, are natural, real, absolute creatures, made by God's own hand; and all their actions, motions, and qualities are natural."

The "spectral hand" was another superstition of great importance. It was known in several mines as well as in the slate quarries of Delabole. A light was said to ascend and descend near the  ladders just ast the light of a miner's candle did when a man was going to or coming from his work, and when the credulous watched the strange light they saw a spectral hand near by. Unhappy was the man who caught sight of this, for he read in it the coming of death or great misfortune.

St. Agnes miners believed in the strange story of a woman named Dorcas, who committed suicide by throwing herself down one of the shafts of Polbreen Mine, and the apparition of her haunted the place long after. She took special delight in tormenting the miners when they were at work by calling their names and in other ways enticing them to leave their occupations. This prevailed, it is said, to such an extent that when a tributer had not done well during the month he was jeeringly asked whether he had been chasing Dorcas. When a fall of ground was about to occur it is said that she more than once warned the miners, and not a few lives were saved in consequence.

It is related that a miner named Lean was saved from sudden death in Wheal Jewel Mine in the parish of Gwennap by a "spectral" voice. He was hundreds of fathoms distant from any other person, and as he walked slowly through the levels, absorbed in examining a rich course of copper ore in the roof, he was startled by the words, "You are in the winze." He at once threw himself flat on his back at the bottom of the level, and, on sitting up, discovered that his heels were on the verge of the end of the winze, left exposed and open, embracing the width of the "gunnis" communicating with the next level, ten fathoms below. When warned he was about to take a step that would have resulted in death.

A miner considered it extremely unlucky to see a hare cross his path; it was believed that the spell could be avoided by going home and recommencing his journey, and people are known to have walked several miles to rid themselves of the bane that was upon them. It is recorded that a fatal accident was once foreshadowed at the famous Wheal Vor Mine, in the parish of Breage, by the appearance of a "spectral" hare, or white rabbit, in one of the engine houses. Men tried hard to catch the animal without success, and once when shut in a wind bore in which it had run it is said to have disappeared altogether.

It was a belief long held in Cornwall that when a woman died broken-hearted she came back to haunt the originator of her death in the shape of a white hare, and this phantom accompanied him everywhere and ultimately caused his death. People of the parish of Gulval relate a story concerning the victim of a white hare. It is said that a man of Kenegie was killed when hunting through falling from his horse, frightened by the spirit of a maiden, and was often seen riding and walking about in his hunting clothes.

In the days when witches and witchcraft held sway it was believed that witches took the form of a hare, and that they uttered some queer incantations when they changed from one shape to another, and it is interesting to note that colliers of the North of England and the miners of France held similar superstitions in connection with the hare.

It has been claimed that the courses of rich lodes have been indicated by small dancing lights, known in Cornwall as "Jack o' Lanterns," and not a few miners to-day hold the belief that where these are observed there are rich mineral deposits underground. It is said that the fortunes of North Basset Mine, near Carn Brea, were entirely changed by means of these strange lights.

About 70 years ago the miners could not discover sufficient mineral to meet the cost, and it was decided that if matters did not improve the mine would have to be closed. Grace Mill, an elderly woman, who lived near the mine, implored the miners - without success at first - to sink a shaft where she had seen the "Jack o' Lanterns," and when everything else had failed they set to work in the place recommended by Grace. Here was found what has been described as one of the richest deposits of malachite, red oxide, and black and grey copper ore ever found in the county, and profits of over £90,000 were made. "Grace's" shaft is still pointed out, and the old woman for the remainder of her days received a weekly sum of money from the directors in recognition of her services and advice.

Black cats are said to bring luck, but for some reason not easily accounted for miners considered themselves warned off a level if they met a black cat in it, and would not go there until the animal had been driven out. Old miners dropped tallow from their candles or a piece of their dinner by the side of snails to ensure good luck. In early times, however, snails were regarded as mysterious creatures, and Herodotus wrote that they were hermaphrodites, and therefore capable of determining events. Throughout the ages they were used in various forms of divination, and this probably accounts for the respect shown them by the old tinners of Cornwall.

There were many other superstitions that entered into the lives of the miners, and some of them come to us as meaningless; but that may be because the fragment bears no likeness to the cermony or belief to which it belonged in far-off days. Careful study will reveal the fact that the superstitions of numerous districts are strikingly similar, and things identical are widely diffused, which causes students of folk-lore to speak of the legends and traditions of different countries as parts of a creed once common to almost the whole world.

Western Morning News, 24th February 1926.





Saturday, 11 February 2017

Utter cynicism about mining superstitions

Cure for Superstition.

Miners are known to be a superstitious race: their superstition, however, is sometimes made a pretext for idleness. There is a recipe for curing this species of the disorder. In some extensive mines in Wales the men frequently saw the Devil; and when once he had been seen, the men would work no more that day. This evil became serious, for Old Beelzebub repeated his visits so often, as if he had a design to injure the proprietor. That Gentleman, at last, called his men together, and told them, that it was very certain that the Devil never appeared to any body who had not deserved to be so terrified; and that, as he is determined to keep no rogues about him, he resolved to discharge the first man that saw the Devil again. The remedy was as efficient as if he had turned a stream of holy water into the mines.

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 10th April 1819.

Ascension day superstitions

Thursday was carefully observed at the Bethesda slate quarries, not, however out of respect to the religious character of the day, but in deference to a superstition which has lingered for many years amongst the Penrhyn quarrymen, that working on Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday as it is better known in the district, was sure to be attended with a fatality or accidents of a serious charachter. Some six years back, the management succeeded in partly overcoming this feeling, and several of the men worked, an arrangement which was continued about two years. Strange to say, there was always an accident, and Ascension Day continues to be an idle day so far as the Penrhyn quarrymen are concerned.
Cheshire Observer,  24th May 1879



A Welsh Quarry Superstition.

Yesterday, work at Lord Penrhyn's slate quarries at Bethesda was entirely suspended, not out of any religious regard, but in deference to the belief that has long lingered in the district that working on Ascension Day is invariably accompanied by some serious accident. Several years ago the management induced the men to disregard this feeling, but every year there was an accident, and now not a man will venture into the quarries on "Holy Thursday," as it is locally termed.

Lancashire Evening Post, 8th May 1891.


Thursday, being Ascension Day, there was a complete cessation of work at the Bethesda slate quarries. This is occasioned, not by any religious regard for the day, but because of the feeling long prevalent that work on Ascension Day is inevitably attended with accident. No quarryman will set foot in the quarries on that day. The slate trade is extremely brisk here and in other parts of Carnarvonshire.

Blackburn Standard,  25th May 1895.


Quarry owners yesterday intimated to the North Wales quarrymen that a free day in August will be granted to the men as compensation for working on Ascension Day in disregard of the old superstition that it is fatal to work on that day.
 Shields Daily News, 23rd May 1925.