Ayle Pit



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.

For simplicity;
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 much.

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 good days.

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 battery loco's.



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