Poem of the Month: The Gallower

Horden Coal Mine - it still holds the record for deep mine coal hauled in a day.

By Gordon Liddle

My Grandfather’s nickname was The Gallower (pit pony). First day down the pit at 14, working miles out under the North Sea in a 22inch seam with a wheeled tub tied to his leg. Lost part of an ear in a tunnel collapse. I used to help him with his allotment and he taught me gardening. He was as hard as nails. Made my Aunt (his daughter) cry.


My grandfather on his first day down the pit, with his father

The Gallower

Nana at the dolly bashing it with vim

steam in the kitchen          stewing beef in the range fire banked,         warming 

the stoneware hot water bottles

                        ready for the night

Black lead and scrubbing soap stone on the front step coal in the ‘hole   delivered      once a month.

                        A miner’s due

Geraniums on the windowsill

            Scarlet red flowering          or lemon scented white plastic cups speared with

            cuttings for next year

Blackclocks on the floor

            Nana hates the little buggers scuttling across the carpet  but they don’t squash,            they crack                and when chucked on the embers                          they sizzle and pop

The whole house revolves around 

                                    the fire in that grate

            Grandad’s meat and gravy                      warming in the cast oven heated by the coal                                      that same black gold  

                                    that he spent a lifetime digging out

                                                deep from under 

                                                            the North Sea

Same meal   every day,  meat and gravy,   

                        dipped with brown bread

served            on a stool by his chair

                                                that chair,

                                     no-one else allowed sitting there

Then a pipe              after the meal         walnut plug tobacco,                      cut with a penknife from the chunk

rolled in hands blue scarred        the miners tattoo                           and smoked with big blue wisps

washed down, 

                        with a glass of Old Navy Rum

If I was sat near as a child he’d reach to a jar on the mantelpiece  and I’d get one of his treats        ‘Here you are ‘buggerlugs,            a black bullet to suck.

                                    This’ll keep it shut for five minutes’.

He’ll be home soon, hour or so              but      for now he’s down the allotment                  sucking on his pipe

Granddad growing rhubarb

                                    by the compost heap

dibbing cabbages and leeks,       each leek      with a bottomless jam jar rammed in the soil                  for watering             and feeding                

                                                                        direct to the roots

                                                  the only way to grow prize vegetables

Tomatoes on benches in the greenhouse

            armpit shoots                                  rubbed off every time he passes

pinched out with a grime engraved finger and thumb

That greenhouse  a greenhouse like no other

a collection of coloured old doors and glass

            blue   green             red                  paint peeling           yet,                   to me,            as a child

                                                                        a cathedral

the stained glass windows

             as evocative as

                        those in Durham 

or the rose window at York Minster

When I wanted to be alone I’d visit the allotment

            take the key from under the brick

and sit on the bench in the greenhouse  basking in the heat

of what I thought was the tropics         imbibing the scents of his labour

                        My Grandad

A proud man,

conscious of his place

 a pitman through circumstance  not          from choice.

Proud of the graft he’d given to the pit

proud of that record

                        9th May, 1930

                        six thousand, seven hundred and fifty eight tonnes  mined

             in one day   from Horden pit     a  record that stood for thirty years              in a pit eventually closed 

                                                                        by a grocers daughter

He never missed a shift even after        on one occasion     buried  under a roof collapse

dug out by his marra’s

                        missing part an ear                                    and with a wound to his leg                                  that suppurated for twenty years after

Deaf from the constant noise of the pit that left him separated from us all

                        but still defiant,       

his pride

                                    took a blow when

             a few years before he expected

   the pit made him redundant     and from that day

he never walked by that street again

So,      after the work down the garden           a slow stroll home via the comrades club 

                                    for six or seven pints

and some crack about leeks

and how it’s bloody obvious that digging in straw 

                                                            helps the ‘taters

If talk comes round to the pit

             Granddad up and leaves

carrier bag full of greens

            for nana and the kids

When I was young, the door never had a key, nor even a lock.             

ten years after the grocers daughters betrayal, mine was closed, my visit 

            revealed a lock

                        a burglar alarm and grills on the windows

A community destroyed

            and                 a confused old man

The things that linger most to me

                        of the both of them

are the smells they left behind

            Walnut plug tobacco         and fresh picked tomatoes

Nana’s piny smelling of flour and baking

                                    rock buns and stotty cakes

The smoke from the fire  fresh greens and stewing meat rice pudding with carnation milk

                        thick skin on top                             with a touch of nutmeg

                                                and scented geraniums


Gorden Liddle

Gordon Liddle was born 1956, Horden, County Durham, United Kingdom Married, lives and works at his Derbyshire studio. BA Hons, Sheffield Psalter Lane Art College Gordon has had numerous positions and travelled extensively through the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Africa and Europe, with particular interests in religion, democracy, politics, economics, MMT, and culture. The results of these studies form the basis of the series of works now under way. Numerous works bought by private collectors #Madonna Victorian Mood Bought by Andrew Cavendish the 11th Duke of Devonshire is owned by the Chatsworth Collection. ‘Celestial Teapot’ was exhibited at La Galleria Pall Mall in London for one week in 2013, 4 days at Art Basel in 2014. Currently working on Gaia, The Sixth Extinction Series, of paintings, woodcuts and hopefully etchings soon. Also writing two books and a book of poems and rants. Gordon is on Twitter @sutongirotcip and his website is pictorignotus.com 

Gordon as a young man in the Yemen