In 1908 we were boring in the gutter trench at the Chew Valley dam and it was a very cold winter. I lodged at Upper Mills at one time but was such a rough old place I shifted and went down to Rough Town in Mossley. The crowd where I lodged was Nick Docker, Scan Williams, Curly Williams, Snatchem, and London Snowy. They all worked up the Chew Valley, landlord Offland and all. He was a, gangerman and his missus was a knockabout as well.
We were getting good money there, until the walking ganger come along and says, 'You men are earning too much money' and knocked a ha'penny afoot off. We'd been getting a tanner an hour until then. We were knocking out twelve shillings a ten-hour shift.
The contractor was Momson and Mason and the dam served Stalybridge, Ashton-under-Lyne and Dukinfield. The dam was right on top of the moors at the end of a gorge and it was too steep and high to get materials up an ordinary railway. We went to work in small railway carriages, roofed with tin, with back-to-back seats. At the end of the route we got out and walked up the cart road up the gorge.
The puddle and muck for the dam come from Mossley and when that got to the end of the route the wagons were uncoupled and dragged up the mountainside by a winch. On the top-yard an mgine pulled them to the dam.
There were two gangs of men boring with jumper drills in the gutter and two men in the sump hole. In one gang was Geordie Owens, me, a feller they called Taff and one big lazy old bugger. Old Shoebury was filling peat wagons. The men in the sump were Tommy Tucker and his brother.
Well it was a very cold hard winter and we were seventy foot down by December and there was ice half way down the trench sides. We went back to work after one dinner time and Tommy Tucker goes into the sump hole with his brother. We'd blasted just [1/2] before dinner, but one of the holes had misfired and when Tommy struck it with his pick, it blew out. It blew half his face off and caught his brother on the head.
We needed a round-bottom skip to get them out of the trench but the skips on the derricks were square ones with doors in the bottoms. Eventually they got hold of the right skip and wound them out. They carried them down the mountainside and put them on the paddy train but Tommy died just before they got him to hospital in Manchester.
His brother was hurt bad as well. He was laid up for a long time but he did get better eventually and I worked with him in the Lunedale tunnel later. They were navvy people, like us, only they were tunnel tigers by rights.
Chew Valley Reservoir, Greenfield, Dec. 4th. T. Arnisson (38) killed owing to fuse accidentally exploding. — Navvies' Letter.
Chew was a hard place. You could die of exposure in sight of the smoke of Manchester and Sheffield. The mills and all the houses smoked up to the moors. Usually the wind from Lancashire blew the smoke into Yorkshire.
The dam is one of the highest in England, so high there are no hills on either side of the lake: only low flat banks, like a fen. Within a few feet of Chew Brook's source another beck rises and flows the other way into Longendale. Chew Brook flows into its lake through black mounds of earth, like miniature tips around a colliery.
On the moor it is bleak and black. The moss — the bog — is more water than earth. The ground oozes black water, stained prismatically like oil. Grass humps up between patches of bare black earth. Up there is nothing but the moss. Each step opens up more black patches and bright green holes. Lost curlews cry. Hares are big as lambs. The wind always blows.
Old Shoebury was filling peat wagons up there. He belonged to Shoeburyness in Essex and he used to go fishing at one time. He looked (Ad for his age. I first met him in Portsmouth. I never see him no more until I see him working at Chew, then we jacked and went on tramp together. He left me at a place called Crych in Derbyshire. I never see him no more.
I lodged with Offland at Hirwaun in South Wales, next time I lodged with them. I see them again in Ewden after the war. Walt [2/3] Offland was his name.
I come out of a pub, drunk, and it was raining. I slept under a hedge and woke sopping. I got to Hirwaun and was give some of landlord Offland's clothes. I asked how I was fixed for going to work. He said the night shift only so I had to put the wet clothes on again.
The job there was mining. You put in a dozen holes and Offland came and charged them and fired them. We had to take eighteen inches of f the roof and the bloke striking for me struck me on the temple. I fell into the invert among the water. I told Offland I got a clack aside the head. He bathed it, bandaged it, and I stopped the night in the hut until daylight.
Snatchem he got crippled up, he did. He fell down a coalpit in South Wales. They were sinking it.
I don't know what happened to the fat bugger. He always wanted to be sitting down turning a drill. We got fifteen-foot lengths of hexagon steel and used them as jumpers. That's how we come to be using them. He had to work then.
Scan Williams was boring with three other men. His little boy got suffocated in cement in Ripponden. Someone shouted to poke the cement through the chute. The boy got on top and fell through. Scan's wife had left him. A Welshman. It was a long time ago. [3/4]
Notice of Tommy Tucker's death is from Navvies' Letter 123, March 1909.
Last modified 19 April 2006