Blog No.17: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 3 – 1900 to 1945 – Tracks 1 to 4

The first four tracks of the ‘album’ covering the first half of the 20th century – from a true mining disaster to the football rivalry between Tyneside and Wearside

BLOG NO.17 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.16 FIRST, CLICK HEREIf you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Whilst these particular blogs don’t get the same number of visitors as my Close Encounter blogs, I will continue with them, for a while at least.

Welcome to a blog about tracks 1 to 4 of Part 3. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 3 covers 1900 to 1945. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1900), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.


Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 1 – And Far Beneath Them – This was my centennial tribute to the 168 men and boys who lost their lives in the West Stanley (Burn’s) Pit disaster of 1909. Stanley was the town I grew up in, but, strangely, I only heard about this much awful disaster many years later. Please excuse me if this time I quote in detail from Wikipedia.

“The 1909 explosion occurred at 3:45 p.m. on 16 February. By 2 a.m. the downcast shaft was available for rescue parties to descend. They entered the Townely and Busty seams, and from thence went into the Tilley seam. In the latter they found and brought out 26 men. From the Townley seam four men were found, but one died from the effects of afterdamp after 30 hours. Eventually another 165 bodies were retrieved, two were unaccounted for when the search was called off.[15] In 1933 later workings broke into the Busty seam and two skeletons were discovered. They were identified as the missing men.[16]


By this date a significant amount of electricity was being used underground. Two electrically driven coal cutting machines were used in the Townley seam and one each in the Tilley and Brockwell seams.[17] The largest motors underground were the 100 horsepower (75 kW) pump in the Busty seam near to the Busty shaft and the 100 horsepower (75 kW) haulage motor in the Townley seam. There were also two smaller 25 horsepower motors and three 5 horsepower motors elsewhere in the colliery.[18] To power this a 40 Hz 550 volt 150 amp three phase generator was installed on the surface which delivered the power through insulated (but unarmoured) cables down the Busty shaft.[19]

As well as the motors, there were a few incandescent lamps around the shafts.[20] All other illumination was from Marsaut and Donald type safety lamps. The lamps were lit and locked on the surface, and if extinguished had to be sent back to the surface for relighting.[20] However, following the discovery in 1933 of the two skeletons an inquest was held (as required by law). At this inquest J B Atkinson attempted to present fresh evidence that another type of lamp was in use. This was the Howart’s Patent Deflector lamp which was larger than the standard lamps. As a result of the increased volume the lamp was unsafe; an explosion inside would be large enough to pass through the gauze and ignite the surrounding atmosphere. The coroner allowed him to read the statement, but the jury were directed to disregard it in their determination of the identity and cause of death.[21]

Other preventative measures were watering, control of shot firing and inspections. Watering to keep coal dust damp was performed regularly, however the inspector cast doubt upon its effectiveness having observed pools of water next to dry dust.[22] Shot firing to bring down stone and, in some seams, coal appears to have been tightly controlled.[23] Inspections on behalf of the men were meant to be carried out every three months. The reports from January 1909 could not be produced. Those from September 1908 were produced and were all satisfactory.[24]


Five minutes before the explosion the man in charge of the large pump in the Bust seam advised the generator house that he was about to start the pump. This was normal procedure. Five minutes later there was a “burring” noise from the generators indicating an electrical overload, followed by two of the three (one per phase) fuses blowing. Smoke issued from the downcast shaft, in other words moving against the air flow, followed fifty seconds later by a fireball and cloud of smoke. A few moments later the cloud was sucked back down the downcast shaft as the air circulation re-established.[15]

Both main shafts were damaged by the explosion. The downcast (Busty) shaft suffered damage all the way to the surface, and then the casing between the pit top and the heapstead[d] was blown down. The upcast (lamp) pit also suffered damage, but fortunately the fan was uninjured and continued to run.[15] Before the district inspector could arrive the shaftmen had already started to clear away the debris from the downshaft. A temporary hospital was established at the pithead. Medical and rescue stores were brought in and by 2 a.m. the cages could be lowered down the pit. The men mentioned above were brought up, but there were no further survivors. Recovery and exploration work went on “unceasingly” until 6 days after the explosion all but two of the bodies had been recovered and brought up. The search for these two (the ones found in 1933) was abandoned due to increasing danger to the recovery parties.[15]


The first step in investigating a colliery explosion is to determine where the explosion occurred. In the case of West Stanley the official report states “in no case that we [ie Redmayne and Bain] have investigated has it been more perplexing than the one under consideration”.[26] The first thought was that the seat of the explosion might have been in or near the engine house in the Towneley seam, but further investigation rendered this unlikely. The Brockwell seam was next considered. There was evidence of some burning; this being the only place in the mine where it was observed. No cause of ignition, accumulation of gas or the presence of a blower[e] was found. Further damage to the props and the separation door indicated that the explosion had swept into the seam (“inbye”) before sweeping out (“outbye”).[26]

There was no damage to the Tilley seam and the men working there had been saved, so it was not considered further. The only seam left was the Busty coal. The onsetter, Matthew Elliott, was the only man to have survived from the Busty seam and his evidence is quoted at length. Critically the electric lights went out at the time the explosion was heard (“Yes, it was instantaneous”), some time before the cloud was observed by a safety lamp.[26] Two mining engineers who had arrived at 8 p.m. following the explosion were cross examined and agreed that the explosion occurred in the Busty seam and was due to a coal dust. Neither could say how the dust was ignited.[26]

The inquiry then considered how the coal dust might have been ignited. Four possibilities were considered: Open lights (lamps or matches), shot firing, sparking from friction and electricity. No evidence of faulty lights or contraband was found (though there remains the question of the Howart’s Patent Deflector reported at the 1933 inquiry).[27] All shots were accounted for and every shot hole inspected; none was fired at the time or shortly before the explosion.[28] Friction from tubs (coal wagons) against the rails or following a derailment was considered and dismissed.[29]

Electricity was then considered. The fuses within the mine did not blow, but evidence from the colliery electrician mentioned a previous occasion when sparking had burnt through a cable and not blown the fuses. Dr W M Thornton, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Armstrong College was then called as a witness. He considered three causes but settled on one in particular as the most likely; that a train of coal dust between the terminals of a junction box or switch causes arcing between the terminals which ignited the coal dust causing an explosion within the box. This explosion raised enough dust to trigger a bigger, fatal, explosion which spread throughout the mine.[30]

The report concluded with a number of recommendations including better mechanical protection of electrical equipment (impact and ingress of gas or dust), trip coils in place of fuses and better cleaning.[31]


A pit-wheel memorial was erected at Chester Road in Stanley.It shows all of the people who died in that incident.[32] A memorial service was held in 2009 to mark the centenary of the disaster.”


I actually recorded all of this song with GarageBand in 2009 when I was recovering from shingles, sitting in an armchair in the living room, so my voice is a little wobbly at times. Apologies. I did try to re-record the vocals recently, adding in one of the coal seams l hadn’t mentioned – the Tilley – but it just didn’t seem to have the same feel, so I left it as it was.

Dialect words: bairns=’children’; owld=’old’; cracked=’chatted’/’bantered’;

Track 2 – He Volunteered For The Money – (1914) – I did cover the next two tracks in an earlier blog, but I will list them again here.

Whilst the Northeast of England had the two army regiments of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry, it was with the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers that the miners of the region would join as Sappers. Sometimes it may not have been the duty of fighting for King and Country that led them to do this, but the money, which was considerably more than that of most colliers. The two songs I wrote are set at either end of this awful event in history. The first – He Volunteered For The Money – takes place in 1914, with a miner volunteering for the extra money.

There are dialect words in the second track: thowt=’thought’; knaa=’know’; urth=’earth’; aall=’all’; divn’t tell uz=’don’t tell me’; me marra=’my work mate’

Created with the aid of GarageBand on the iPad.

Track 3 – I Never Thought I’d See The Day – The tune for this song started life as one of the newer songs for the belated 40th anniversary recordings of my musical, Leaving School. Set in 1918, with a Sapper returning to the mines, it is about how his experiences in the war have made him see mining as not being as bad as he used to think. Whether this is how it affected some returning miners, I don’t know, but this is where my imagination took it.

All instruments care of GarageBand and Logic Pro X.

Track 4 – The Magpies And The Black Cats – This will be appreciated by those who know of the longstanding rivalry between the football (soccer) teams of Newcastle United (The Magpies) and Sunderland (The Black Cats). It was ever presence in my youth, just as it is now, but at present Newcastle supporters are revelling in the fact that Sunderland are doing so badly. I have always been a Sunderland supporter, but want any Northeastern team to do well, no matter who they are.

Created with the aid of Apple Loops and GarageBand on the iPad.

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017


Blog No.18 will be Part 5 of my Close Encounters with George Martin (producer of The Beatles),  Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) and Irishman Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains), all in one day.

Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below – the polls are anonymous) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)




3 thoughts on “Blog No.17: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 3 – 1900 to 1945 – Tracks 1 to 4

  1. Before I proceeded to listen to the music, I read about the mine explosion. It helped me to see the dangers from a whole new prospective. I commented on the first two tracks several days ago.

    Went back to Blog 9 see if ‘I Never Thought I’d See The Day’ was listed on LEAVING SCHOOL tracks, and it is not. However, your link here to Leaving School, says the track for the song may have been moved.

    I will say that if one has been to war, I believe they come back a different person entirely, and hopefully they see home also with a whole new perspective, including the job they left behind.

    I’m going to listen now to Magpies and Black Cats. I had no idea, until I read the description that it wasn’t about birds and cats.

    I Love this song because it’s light, considering the rivalry. Are you singing with a harmonious chorus, or is this a special effect?

    Unfortunately now days, teams tend to have followers who are disruptive making it difficult to take one of your kids to a game without fear of fighting and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The song in Leaving School is called The Way I Feel About You. When I click on the link it took me straight to the track, so I’m not sure what’s happening there.

      Very funny that you thought The Magpies and the Black Cats was about animals, although totally understandable for someone not from Northeast England.

      It’s only when I first read the detail of the explosion – and I read the actual full reports – that I appreciated the complexity you talked about.

      Thanks, as always, for your comments and thoughts.


      Liked by 1 person

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