Park Bench Tales and other writings

Thoughts and writings reflecting the poet within and the activist

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Grimes Graves

Grimes Graves

Descending the long wooden ladder into the pit

A musty smell in the darkness that was broken and lit

Only by shafts of sunlight but today there were none

The pits had long been left, most filled and covered

With backfill as chambers were excavated underground

The prize nodules of hard flint to be knapped and traded

Wondering to himself was this the atmosphere

That harbours the trapped souls from the past

Neolithic spirits now held within a grave

Take care how you tread ghosts may not behave

Hark, are those the ghosts coming from above

Footsteps trampling through the darkened wood

Voices from a strange tongue

There is still beauty in the song being sung

Wooden ladders held by leather from skin

Barefoot they descend the rungs

Now the air feels stale in the lungs

I crawl into a narrow gallery

Between the backfill and the pit

Figures clothed in the skins

Of deer and other animals that I do not recognize

Small picks forming antlers shovels from shoulder blades

Their daily toil for the flint

Nodules to be knapped and shaped

To heads for arrows knives and for axe

I watched as they toiled and sweated in the cramped

Dark dingy galleries leading off the pit

Using those shoulder blades as shovels

Antler horns for picks

Seemingly an endless effort for the prize

A stumble on the ladder and one of them is down

Head split by rock he has breathed his last

But who was this skin-robed figure

Why do they gather all around

Why all the wailing and the shouting

This was clearly not some labourer

Smoke began to fill the chambers from the fire

A cremation although the smoke got into my eyes

A ritual performed for a leader who dies

A side chamber to be his resting place

Among those nodules that they all prize

Beside the small urn of ashes they place a pick

Was this a belief in an Otherworld

Did he believe in some deity

Was his death about to set his spirit free

Minutes later and they had gone

Leaving the pit to silence and a soul to rest

I climbed the ladder from such emptiness

Sunlight nearly blinding as I emerged

A hut nearby told their story in pictures on a wall

But deep beneath I had witnessed so much more

A vision that I could not put to rest

Thoughts in which I must invest

A tale is told but is a truth undressed

Copyright: David Hopcroft July 2020

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The miner of lead: Jasper’s Story


(Not really poetry. Part of a series. When I visit a place I like to imagine and place characters in settings, not just read a guide book)


They say mining is in the blood

My father was a slime washer

Grandfather took the horses along the carrier way

Mother looked after horses for the whim

Ran our small farm as well


I started as a lad

After I left board school

Working on the knockstone as a washerboy

Putting the muscle on my arms


Then they gave me work in the buddle house

But I wanted to work fer meself

More to be made, see


I were first in family to go underground

Take me chances with me mates

There were an old shaft

About twenty fathoms deep

Posh guy from London

Swore there were more to be had


So we formed the partnership

Struck the bargain

Hard going at first with dead work

Alf and I made the shot holes

With jumper and hammer

George were with the pricker

Knew just how to set the fuse


Three months later we found a vein

Struck a new bargain stoping

Figuring we could be rich

We were getting four bings to the shift

The ore was good but air was bad

There being no windy billy

George were already showing the Black Spit


Six months along and we are still doing good

Rained heavy last night and missus wants to garden

Get the plot done for some vegetables

The young ‘un he needs fresh food

If it keeps like this

Be another young ‘un on way


We’ll walk in on the horse level today

Share a few jokes. Now….

Got some tubs to move then we do shots

Mountain feels like she’s talking today

Never sure of what might happen next

That sound now

I have a nasty feeling …………


Copyright: David Hopcroft May 2017


knockstone = stone bench where bouse was broken up

board school = run by mining company

bargain =the contract between miners and owners

black spit = lung disease

buddle house =where ore is separated in tubs or jigs

bing = a unit to measure weight (about 400 kilos)

jumper = chisel for making hole for blasting powder

pricker = used to make hole for fuse

stoping = mining bouse from the vein

slime washer = man who separated slime ore

whimsey or whim = horse powered windlass

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The miner’s wife

The hills are greener on a spring morning

Glistening dew like a new coat of paint

She was hacking at the heavy sodden soil

Moving the larger stones to create a bed

Where beans and potatoes might hope to survive

Just another part of daily toil

With washing and baking bread

Thankful she could keep them both alive

She would say so in her prayers

At chapel on Sunday


From the deep belly of the mountain

They heard the roar

Felt the earth tremble under their feet

Fell on their knees and prayed

But in their hearts they knew

The day they feared had come


Jasper had been moving bouse

Pushing a truck through the cross cut

The bargain was going well

This was the third bing

And not yet time to stop for snap

He thought of his wife and newborn son

Perhaps he would rent another acre next year


He heard the sound but then

The mountain often spoke this way

Suddenly the rock was upon him

Leaving him trapped beneath the rubble

His candle lost there was only dark

Then silence


With other wives she hurried to the pithead

Watching teams go into the tunnel

Praying they would be brought out alive

The horse level was still free

Tubs of rock were being hauled out

Then hope

Ebenezer hauled out in the tub

One leg crushed but alive


The day passed with hope fading

Inside the mine there was no sense of time

Jasper tried drinking foul water seeping from rocks

His wife waiting

Trying to believe he was still alive


Five days later they brought out his body

Her world shattered

Dreams washed away

Like waste from the ores he had mined


For weeks she would still

Find herself preparing his wallet for the week

Wondering where his clothes were

As she filled the tub

Waiting for him to return on a Friday night


Life moved slowly

She took in washing

Added sheep to the few acres she still had

In the evenings would spin and weave

To sell at the market


They said her boy could attend the board school

She accepted with sorrow in her heart

Knowing that

He too would then end up in the mines

David Hopcroft May 2019



board school = school run by mining company

bing = a unit to measure weight (about 400 kilos)

cross cut = tunnel through rock leading to a vein

bouse = the mixture of lead ore and unwanted rock

bargain =the contract between miners and owners

snap = food taken into the mine

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The Mine Boy


‘I’m home mother!’

Ragged cloth shirt, well-worn boots, jacket with holes

Dad’s old cap perched upon head of tussled hair

Face covered in dust and dirt from the last shift

Standing proud upon the doorstep

Of the small stone cottage that nestles in the valley

Where mountains hold life in their veins


Last night in the stone lodging house

He shared a bed with Alf and George

Burly fellows who hewed the ore

He had lain by their feet at the bottom

Happy not to be sleeping on the floor

He would not tell of Alf’s black spit

Coughing mucus laced with granite grit

Choking into the dark night

Knowing he was losing his fight


He had started on the washing rake

Then to hauling up kibbles with the jack roll

Hands chaffed and blistered

Bleeding through the cloth he’d bound

To reduce the pain

They had built a whimsey

Now his job was gone

He hoped for work in the buddle house

Maybe work barrowing chatts

But that week had been his first below


Into the belly of the mountain

Feeling his way

Saving the candle he bought from the company store

With his lent money

Watching George with the jumper

He had put the pricker in the shot hole

Then the fuse

Praying he would not

Fire a shot in the hand


His lungs gasped at the bad air

There was no windy billy to help ease this pain

They walked back

Waited for the blast

His ears seemed to burst

Mouth filled with the dust

As the air seemed to clear

The candle was lit

The men gave a cheer

A vein had been struck


He had related the tale with pride

His mother listened

Not knowing how to react

Soon he might be striking a bargain

Bringing back money to support them both

There were also tears she had to hide

She needed to tell him

How his father had died

How could she?

When he talked with such pride


She put an arm around his shoulder

Pulled him close

‘Well done, now you are a man’

His chest swelled

Then came the first cough


Copyright: David Hopcroft May 2019



black spit = lung disease

jumper = chisel for making hole for blasting powder

kibble = bucket attached to a rope

pricker = used to make hole for fuse

washing rake = area where washerboys separated ore and waste

whimsey = horse powered windlass

windy billy = ventilation fan

jack roll = hand wound windlass

bargain =the contract between miners and owners

buddle = separation of gravel sized ore

chatts = mixture of ore and waste