Yorkshire Garland

The Apprentice Dialler

Performed by:
Terry Armitage
Recorded in:
Recorded on:
Recorded by:
Mining - Coal

Archival information

Time Signature:
Roud id:
Laws id:
Master title:
Apprentice Diallers
Places Cited:
Markham Main,


Got me dudley  and me snap tin , got me cap lamp and me dial,
I’ve left me tally  on the battery rack.
There’s Kenny, me and Malcolm stood at upcast no.3 ,
It’ll be nigh on six hours ‘fore we’re back.

For we are apprentice diallers, keep yer gates and faces true,
In Meltonfield and Parkgate East and West.
When the trepan-shearer’s  turnin’ and the coal it is a churnin’,
For we all know Yorkshire coal it is the best.

I’m sitting on the paddy and the driver’s spanned the wires,
The engine’s started and the rope’s away.
We’re heading for 323’s  our traverse  for to do,
400 yards  of face to thurl  today.

I’m spragged across the scraper , crouched in 3 foot 6 of seam;
There’s noise and dust and bedlam all around,
With me back against a Dobson  and me eye up to the lens,
Six-hundred-and-fifty yards underground.

Now you Durham men come down here  with yer tales of skinny seams,
Hand digging on yer belly for yer pay.
When you tek yer shovel on to t’ face and it is upside down
You must go off to turn the bugger round right way.

Well there’s Yorkshire Main and Brodsworth, Hickleton  and Markham Main,
There’s Highgate, Goldthorpe and there’s Rossington;
And each pit’s turning twenty-thousand tons of coal a week;
It’ll be a hundred years  before we’re done.

Well it’s twenty years hereafter and the winding gear’s  all gone,
And Kenny, me and Malcolm’s on the dole;
For the grocer’s daughter’s  government that plays with people’s lives
Are pretending there’s no market for our coal.

And some day in the future when yer need the coal again,
And the colliers trained to win it are all gone,
You’ll curse the bloody Tories and their lying cheating stories,
And you’ll feel the nuclear poison creeping on.

Final chorus
For we were apprentice diallers, kept yer gates and faces true,
In Meltonfield and Parkgate East and West.
Now the trepan-shearer’s dying and the good coal it is lying,
For we all know Yorkshire coal it was the best.


Dudley – the round metal water container with leather strap

Snap tin – the rectangular metal tin with a semi-circular end for holding the snap (food). It clipped onto the belt. If you didn’t keep your food in a tin the mice (or rats) would get it. Pits had either mice or rats, not both. I believe Highgate Colliery, which was a drift mine, i.e., had a steep tunnel and not a shaft, had rats.

Even though the instrument looked nothing like the old dials, it still kept the name. Made by Cooke. Troughton and Simms, it was like a small theodolite. It was accurate to 20 seconds of arc.

Tally--a small brass marker with your number on. When you took your lamp off the rack, where it had been re-charging overnight, you left your tally on the hook. That way, it could be seen if you hadn’t returned and were still down the pit. Diallers generally had spot lamps which had a narrower beam more useful in surveying.

Every pit generally had 2 shafts; one, the upcast, was enclosed with airlock doors and had a huge fan which pulled the air up the shaft. The tunnels, or gates as they were known, were arranged so that the air would be pulled down the downcast shaft to the face, then back to the upcast. Hickleton Main was unusual in that it had 3 shafts.

At Hickleton Main there were five seams; the Barnsley and Dunsil were worked out; the Newhill and Meltonfield, and the Parkgate. The Meltonfield (3’6” thick) and the Parkgate (5’0” thick) were being worked in the early 60s.

The trepan-shearer was a coal cutting machine used in the Meltonfield. It was awesome to see working as it had a jib cutting the top of the seam, a jib cutting the bottom, and a cylindrical drum cutting the middle. The coal literally poured onto the scraper.

The paddy was a train adapted for man carrying; the face could be 2 miles from the shaft. In the Parkgate the paddy was pulled by a diesel engine, but in the Meltonfield the engine was fixed at the pit bottom, and it drove an endless rope which looped to the gate end and back. The engineman couldn’t  see the paddy, so he was signalled by the driver using an instrument a bit like a paint roller with no foam to connect wires running parallel in the roof and carrying a current. The shorting out of this caused a signal.

All faces had a number

Faces had a main gate and a return gate. A traverse (survey) was necessary to make sure these were running straight and parallel, and that the face was straight.

Faces were usually 200 yards long, but at Hickleton one of the faces had 3 gates and was 400 yards long. I can’t be sure it was 323’s

Thurl was to tie in true. When you’d done the survey and checked all your angles, the total difference should be 180 degrees. If it was it had thurled. If it wasn’t, you did it again!

The scraper was a coal conveyor running the length of the face. It consisted of a flat steel bed with a chain running at either side: between the chains at right angles were steel bars at about 2’0” centres which scraped on the steel bed and so moved the coal. As the dialler could not stop the scraper, thereby halting production, he had to set up the tripod carrying the dial over the moving scraper.

A Dobson was a hydraulic prop which had taken the place of the steel fixed props and timber wedges. As the dial was set up over the scraper, it was necessary to straddle the scraper, and as the seam was 3’6” or 5’0” high, to lean back against the prop to brace yourself.

In the early 60s there was an influx of men from the Durham Coalfield, as their coal was almost worked out. We had a surveyor from Durham who told me the story in this verse. Some of the seams they worked were so low that you couldn’t turn a shovel over! About 1’0”! I don’t know if it’s true but it’s a good story!

In my time the three pits in Area 2 with the biggest coal production were Brodsworth, Yorkshire Main, and Hickleton, turning about 30,000 tons each a week. It was a matter of pride that your pit turned the biggest weight of coal.

Selby was being sunk in the early 60s. It was said there was enough coal for 130 years!

The headgear or winding gear was the “pulley” wheels which form the symbol of the coal mine. Pit men never called them pulleys.

We all know the grocer’s daughter. Or the Witch of Grantham.