Coal Board Work


Hello and welcome to the first edition of Sams Canteen.

We were sat in the office the other day at one of our rare quiet moments when we were thinking of what would our readers want to see/hear in a blog. I had just been telling a story from when I was an apprentice that was from back in the 80s when the health and safety was, to say the least, a bit relaxed when I thought thats it ill share some of these.

Sams canteen is now up and running and we will be open & posting stories that actually happened though we may have to change the names except mine to protect the not so innocent.

So grab a tea, coffee, and biscuit and enjoy the memories.

Sit back relax and enjoy the story
Sit back relax and enjoy the story

Coal Board Work

I’ll set the scene, it’s spring 1984 and a young tall dark and handsome (ok it was a long time ago)  Sam Cooper with a huge main of tussled curly dark hair had only just been released from college where he had been learning how to plaster as part of the CITB Apprenticeship Scheme. The scheme was a block release so the first months up to christmas, our group was in the college classroom and workshop with Norman and Dale the two lecturers.

I was assigned to a company in Barnsley called SM Halls, Cudworth builders. The main work of Cudworth builders was like a lot of the construction companies and subcontractors around where we lived, the Coal Board work. This was work to properties due to subsidence caused by the ground moving due to mining way underground.

Being on the scheme I got £25 per week from the CITB and at the time miners were taking home around £120.00. I did get a job at Lyons bakery after I finished my exams at school for the summer and the basic pay was £70 per week. It was a big drop down but I knew that I didn’t want to be going to the same place to work every day and I wanted to learn a trade. thinking back it was a mature way of thinking for a 16-year-old and it has worked out not bad.

My day started when the clock/radio alarm went off at 6am. it was a white one but had gone a sort of creme/yellow colour due to the curtains being open and sun shining on it over the years. It had a black dial and red digital numbers and was a Christmas present from mi mum n dad one year. The alarm was set for radio 1 and it would have been a Wham song, Prince, (When Doves Cry), or even the Kane Gang (Closest Thing to Heaven) that was playing quietly.

So, up n downstairs to get mi breakfast which in them days would have been, kettle on, tea wi 2 sugars, bowl of cornflakes, 2 slices of toast n a Kit Kat, I used to put the portable telly on that was sat on the kitchen worktop and then watch Good Morning Britain because they were a bit more relaxed than the stuffy BBCs Breakfast Time, then I would eat mi breakfast before setting off out to get the bus at 6.45. The Cudworth bus came at 7 and back then I knew all the times of every bus going up & down Burton Rd. Can you believe on a week days they came every 5 mins and it was only 2p for kids and 5p for adults. the most expensive adult fare was 10p to go anywhere in South Yorkshire.

Cudworth Bus
Cudworth Bus

So the bus took 15-20 mins to get to my stop and a short walk got me to the builder’s yard passing the knicker factory on the way. there were always streams of cackling girls and women going to work smoking at the same time.

At the yard, there would be all the workmen of all ages from 16 up to 60 and the clothes they had on made it look like something out of Micheal Jacksons Thriller video. What you have to remember was this was pre-work wear. no Snickers or Scruffs. The clothes the lads had on were ones they actually used to go out in, some even had suit jackets on but the main item would be jeans, T-shirt, and crap jumpers.

They worked in their old going out clothes
They worked in their old going out clothes

So at the yard, Trevour would come and hand out the worksheets while the lads were taking the P out of each other and most of the lads worked in twos anyway.

I was with Neil and Bry the 2 plasterers and there was a lad called Andy who was learning and labouring. Now I’m not saying I was the sharpest tool in the box but Andy was as thick as a castle door and the lads never held back in letting him know. I later used to see him working as a security guard in town looking a bit like Mall Cop.

Bry looked about 70 to me but I’m reliably informed he was in his 40s at the time and Neil was 19 both were brilliant at plastering and were fantastic teachers to start me on my plastering journey.

This particular dayIi was put with neil and we were given an address in South Elmsal. We had a lath & plaster ceiling to drop then re-board and skim. South Elmsall at the time like a lot of areas around here was a pit village and these pit villages could be rough in both meanings of the words. The street we went to was terraced houses and we pulled up at 8.30 and knocked at the door. An old woman about 70 years old opened the door and Neil told her we had come to do the coal board work. She said ok and we walked into what can only be described as an empty front room with a bed in the far corner, with some sheets on, and an old man laid there who was about 85. It was like the house in Charlie and the Chocolate factory but one person who was not moving and was fast on Frankie (asleep).

Just picture an Old Man
Just picture an Old Man

Neil asked when the old man would be moving and the woman said he can’t be moved and we would have to work around him. Neil explained what we had to do but she was adamant that they could not move the old guy. The house was filthy and I didn’t have the strongest of stomachs back then and the smell was making me feel sick.

Neil went down to the red phone box at the end of the street and called the yard to speak to Trevor, where Trevor said they were behind with the work and it had to be done because they were in danger of getting the coal board contract taken off them.  That was it then, he came back and told me to get the dust sheets and all the gear out of the van.

We put the dust sheets over him on the bed and luckily there was no carpet down and we moved the furniture out into the back yard. All this time the guy still had not moved and me n Neil kept thinking maybe he was brown bread. Next, we set the scaffold up and battens as they were high ceilings then we put our cheap dust masks on and proceeded to pull down the ceiling around the guy in the bed.

We did have all the windows open and both doors but the guy never shifted once he just had the covers over his head. We did one side of the room then moved the bed and did the other, we then cleared up the mess. We had our dinner then returned and boarded the ceiling. We skimmed the ceiling the next day.

Sing When Your Skimming
Sing When Your Skimming

The guy was alive because we saw him have a cup of tea. When Neil was skimming the ceiling finish plaster was landing on the guy and everything but he did not give a flying fish. We cleaned everything up at the end and the guy was still laid down.


This was a house where the occupants who were renting from the council were not going to break from their routine and we came across these every day. It’s like it was the work men’s fault that the subsidence happened. The work had to be done as the coal board were on the case of the builders. lastly, the old people were made of sterner stuff back then, this guy would have been in the war and had harsher times than a bit of dust debris, and finish falling on him.

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