We thank the manager of Ayle Pit Northumberland
for the following information of this fascinating pit.
The pit is in Northumberland, but only just, the boundary
literally runs at the back of the workshop. At one time the pit
worked in Cumbria through a different drift, then when this was
worked out a new drift was driven in Northumberland whilst the screens
etc. were still in Cumbria. However, the companies involved in the
colliery are all registered in Cumbria.
We work a modified system which I christened 'Alston
Longwall' cause can't think of any other way to describe it.
Headings taken off main drift 70-80 M. When in working districts,
bords turned off heading 12m centres. Bords wide enough to take
tub and about 5' 6" high. Coal 18" usually and this is
up in the roof as we take the floor to enlarge roadways as the roof
breaks with uneven sides when worked on top caunch and big shoddys
are prone to roll off sides without notice.
Coal extracted from each side of barrow way (bord)
till you meet the lad in next bord, so about 5 m or so. Stone from
caunch forms roadway packs. Bords taken 50-60 m but after this the
logistics of taking full and empties in and out slows you down too
The working day is very simple in layout, we work
on a weekly cycle (in theory at least). Each hewer has his own working
which comprises 11M or so of coal (width that is). Access is via
the 'barrow way which runs up the middle of the face, this is enlarged
to accommodate the rails and tubs etc. Roughly 5 m of coal is extracted
from either side of the barrow way.
Stage 1. Coal extracted to advance the barrow way,
advance roughly 2m by 1.2m width.
Stage 2 The stone beneath the coal has then to be
removed to enable the tubway to advance. The caunch is bored, a
single hole usually, and the stone fired. These debris are then
formed into packs either side of the barrowway where the coal has
already been extracted. As the bord advances this forms additional
support to keep the barrow way open. The height of a working bord
depends on whoever is driving it, usually 5'6".
Stage 3 After rails have been laid commencement of
extracting coal. Each man differs but usually enough coal is taken
from each side to set bars over barrowway then he will concentrate
on one side at once. Each side should last 2 days, so the first
day is the best as you can reach the hewed coal from the barrowway
and get it straight into the tub. As you work your way along the
face the coal has to be thrown back to enable it to be loaded, so
you are handling it twice.
Stage 4 Extract the other side... again 2 days work.
Each tub holds 10 cwt, the hewer takes the full tub
out of the bord himself to the mainway where he connects it to the
back of the loco and takes an empty in, repeating the process.
The rate at which coal can be extracted depends on
conditions. When we are developing and each heading is in the solid,
the coal can be exceptionally hard and you may struggle to get 6
a day, with a lot of the coal being slack and not lumps. When a
few bords have been worked along a heading ,each bord holing into
the next 100% extraction, the weight works to our advantage and
the coal comes off in big lumps and you can get 10-12 a day on the
When it's good we can get 40 a week, when its bad
you can be down to 20 odd. The coal is not laid down like most coals
in that it doesn't have a bord and end as such (grain). It is cone
in cone formation, the weight opens these backers up lovely. Also
it is a dull Gray colour rather than shinny black. Still it is good
hot anthracite though it can give off a sulphurous smell if you
leave the Parkray open!
Coal is hauled out of the pit via 3 tonne Clayton