Eric Rymer was a “ripper” at Water Haigh and a player in the pit’s rugby league team until an accident underground brought an early end to his mining career. After struggling to return to his old job he retrained as an electrician. He lived in the same house in Oulton he and his wife moved into in the 1950s until his death in July 2020.
Born in 1935, Eric was the first in his family to work in the coal industry. He grew up in the Meanwood area of Leeds where his father, Arthur Rymer, was a cutter in the tailoring trade.
In the mid 19th century the Rymers lived in Selby where they worked as carpenters in a shipyard building the boats which carried freight along the River Ouse and the Aire and Calder Navigation. However, Eric’s great grandfather, William Rymer, decided not to follow his father and brothers into the family business and trained as a hair dresser. In 1865 he married a widow and a few years later moved to Leeds where his hair dressing saloon was on West Street at the bottom of Kirkstall Road not far from the city centre.
Eric’s grandfather, Walter William Rymer, worked first as an office errand boy but then became a driller in a mechanic’s shop ending up as a dresser in an iron foundry.
When he left school in about 1950 Eric went into an engineering factory on Meanwood Road moving from there to become a driver delivering Guinness for a bottling company. He gave that up at the age of 17 after a disagreement with his brother who was his foreman but because he was due to be called up for National Service found it difficult to get another job.
At the time though, in the early 1950s, there was a shortage of miners and he was taken on at Waterloo Main colliery to the east of Leeds.
In 1954 Eric married Yvonne Monnoyer, the daughter of a refugee from Belgium who came to Yorkshire shortly after the start of the First World War. After living in Leeds Eric and Yvonne were given a house on the Coal Board estate in Oulton where they brought up 6 children.
Initially Eric travelled to Waterloo Main by motorbike avoiding a journey which would have taken an hour and a half by bus and “paddy” train. Then, in 1960, he was able to transfer to Water Haigh.
As a “ripper” he was part of a team of 4 or 5 men responsible for advancing the three tunnels or “gates” on a longwall face of coal. The faces could be over 200 metres wide. Each had a main or loader gate in the middle with smaller “tail” gates at either end for the circulation of air and sending in supplies of pit props.
Each day as the face advanced the roof was allowed to fall down into the gap or “gob” where the coal had been extracted. On afternoon or night shifts it was the rippers’ task to lift tons of rock which had been blasted out to create the tunnels and pack it to form a wall which temporarily supported the roof. They also brought in and installed steel arches to support the gates as they went forward.
Right up until the 1960s at Water Haigh the rippers and miners were still using timber pit props and horizontal split logs, or bars, to support the roof whilst they worked, although on many faces hydraulic props and steel bars had been introduced.
It was whilst packing rock on a main gate in the Yard seam one night in 1967 that Eric had his accident. A wooden split bar gave way and he was buried by rock falling from the roof. Luckily he was able to drag himself part of the way out but some rock fell on his back and damaged his spine.
He was taken by the pit ambulance to Pinderfield’s hospital in Wakefield where it was discovered he had two broken vertebrae. After months off work he attempted to return as a ripper and was given lighter work than other men but constant pain meant that in the end he had to leave the coal industry altogether.
After a time on the dole he eventually took a correspondence course and qualified as an electrician although his back pain limited the the type of work he could do.
Click on the links below to hear Eric Rymer talk about his time as a miner and the accident which cut short his career.
They were still using picks and shovels