My story, all about me ...............
This page in a way, is a story of part of my life, and it includes a few personal anecdotes which I hope the site visitor will find interesting.
I live in Walsall, West Midlands, which is pretty central to the motorway system. This is convenient for travelling about the country in pursuit of my mining interest, which started while I was still in my teens
My first encounter with a disused metal mine was while I was still young, about 8 or 10. I was out for day in the car with my parents and we were travelling through Cwmystwyth. I can remember a brief glimpse of Kingside Adit being open with the rails coming out, and I implored my father to stop the car. He didn’t want to know. I learned later that he worked down a coal mine for a short time when he was young and hated it. He once told me a story about a pit pony that he was fond of. For some reason it refused to go down this particular roadway, shortly afterwards a section of the roof came down. I bet this is an often repeated story in a lot of areas, but this is what my father told me.
I never had any brothers or sisters, but far from being the spoilt child my parents were rather strict. I soon developed a habit of thinking for myself rather than being guided by others, also my father taught me to stand up for myself. If I came home from school with a bruise on my face he would want to know how I got it. If I said that Johnny whatever had done it, he would want to know what I had done about it. If he didn’t get the answer he expected I would get worse off him.
Also when I was at school, it was a regular thing for my parents to be sent for by the headmaster because he was worried about me.
One occasion is was for kissing the girls. My old man went up the wall.
“Is this what you sent for me for” he raged at the head.“If he starts kissing the boys, then I will want to know”
Even now I can remember the face of the headmaster, he was rather pale.
Another occasion there was this big kid who used to take anything he wanted off the other kids.
I had a rather fancy toffee tin that had been given me by a girl I was rather sweet on named Sheila. After leaving school she married and was later divorced. I dated her a few years ago; she is still a nice person. Anyway, we used these tins to keep our pencils, pens etc in.
The big kid saw this and picked it up, tipped all of my stuff out of it and said
“I’ll take that” and walked off with it.
I went after him and tried to get it back, he pushed me away.
I went after him again, and this time I hit him right on the nose as hard as I could, the blood ran everywhere, he dropped the tin and ran off crying.
I expected to be summoned to heads study for a dose of the ‘tawse’, a sort of leather strap used in Black Country schools in those days for administration of corporal punishment. However, this never happened. The head maybe thought about it and considered it unwise. Instead he sent for my father again.
This time my father stood and listened to what the head has to say, he saying virtually nothing. When we got home I didn’t know what to expect, maybe a thrashing off my father?
Instead of that he stuck his hand in his pocket and gave me half a crown
My mothers side of the family were the Arrowsmith’s, and they had a bit of history. The main street of Walsall is Park St, going north it divided in the shape of a “Y” and on the apex is now a Woolworths. A while ago the planners and developers successfully destroyed what left of the soul of Walsall town centre. Before Woolworths there was the ABC cinema, formally the Savoy. There was a really posh cinema down in the town centre, the was the Odeon, formally the Gaumont. The manager there in the 1950s was Euan Lloyd who later became a motion picture producer. He made the film “Who Dares Wins” about the SAS and staring Lewis Collins, and also The Wild Geese films and Shalako amongst others.
Before the ABC cinema, there was Her Majesties Theatre, demolished in the 1920s. People used to come from far and wide to the place, and my grandparents Arrowsmith worked there, my grandfather as a stage hand, my grandmother as a dresser. She used to regularly dress Gracie Fields.
My Grandfather was a small man with a shock of white hair, his nickname was ‘Snowball’ and he was a notable bare knuckle/street fighter. One day about the turn of the century they were walking down Park St when they came upon a fight, basically it was three of the out of town toughs that the Theatre used to attract, picking on one local chap. Straight away, Snowballs coat came off and he was in. Within about 3 minutes all three bullies were flat on their backs.
On another occasion, a big heavy guy was determined to sort Snowball out, and cornered him back stage at the theatre. Encouraged by his mates hovering in the background he flew at Snowball aiming a punch at his head that would have knocked his block off. My Grandfather happened to be standing right up against the heavy steel fire door, he simply moved slightly and his antagonist’s fist crashed into the door. That mans fighting days were over.
was older, late teens, I had my first car, an old Austin A40 Somerset, a
right load of crap. Go into a bend and there was no way of knowing what it
would do. Later I got rid of it and bought a Sunbeam Talbot 90, I had
these for a few years. There was a gang of us who used to meet in the
downstairs bar of the George Hotel (now a Sainsbury’s) on Saturday nights,
this was in Walsall town centre.. We used to decide what to do later. This
was about 1964 or 65, Walsall centre has changed a lot. Anyway, sometimes
there would be a party on somewhere, we were all party mad. Basically, it
was a sort of boozy 'love in' usually at the home of some rich bird whose
parents were away. Use your imagination.
After leaving school I had started a job that I hated, and seized the opportunity to take on some interesting well paid work abroad. When I returned to England I had money, and this was to change my life. I started a job cleaning second hand cars at a local garage, I needed time to think and decide what to do with my life
Since the 1960s when it was the ‘deadly new fighting art’ one of my passions in life has been karate. One of the crowds that I knocked about with on the bridge where the same wild bunch that I used to go up to Bryeglwys with; we had converted the compressor house into a bunkhouse. See the Brynegwys page. Their type of car was the Mark2 Zephyrs and Zodiacs with the big bench front seats and column change gears. Of course there was a lot of piss taking about my karate, “Let’s see you karate the back of this seat” was a favourite ploy. They were a hard lot, always game for fight, and they were probably genuinely curious. Well I used to train on the makiwara, a sort of padded post that sprung back at you. I developed quite a punch, and a ‘shuto’ the well known side of the hand. Getting fed up with their taunting I agreed to go for it, and gave it my best, yell and all. Not surprisingly, to me anyway, the seat promptly collapsed.
“There you are” I exclaimed. “What did I tell you?”
You could have heard a pin drop.
“Lets have a look at your hand” Nothing
One of the chaps looked at me a bit nervously. “The thing is” he explained. “There is a metal bar across the back of that seat. You must have broke the welds”
The word was getting about and I was attracting some extreme characters.
One of them was a chap I will call "Sam". I was talking to him on The Bridge” one night when a Mini drove past and caught his leg. He shouted abuse at the driver, who very unwisely stopped and started to get out.
Sam promptly strode up to the car, caught hold of the door, wrenched it out of the bodywork and bent it over the poor guys head.
It was like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, but I expect the car was a bit rotten, you know the old Minis.
My favourite style was Shotokan, and the best club in my area was the Wolverhampton Shotokan Karate Club. We trained in premises at Hilton Road, nowadays it’s probably a Tesco, but that’s life.
The club was run by Mick Wragg and Harry Halford who we called “H” who was an ex boxer. I also remember Ken Cambridge who I used to partner with regularly, I contacted him a few years ago and went over old times.
It was about that time that I married Rita Chadwick who I met in on the bridge one Saturday night. She had a car of her own, an A40, dressed smart and looked the business. There was some competition for her but I saw them off. We were happily married right up to 1998 when she died.
My job at the garage was turning out well. I was buying up most of their second hand trade ins and paying people to work on them after hours in the basement, and then reselling them in the local papers. A new general manager put paid to this, after which I left and went on my own.
By now I was into decent cars. I had a Jaguar XK150 and several Jaguar Mk2s, then a Mercedes and later a 1965 Iso Rivolta that was built with a souped up Stingray engine, 350 b.h.p., there was only the AC Cobra that would beat it. I went up to Scotland with Rita for a holiday, drove to Oban in three and a half hours. The police came after me on the M6 in a Ford Zephyr but didn’t stand a chance.
Young wife, sporty car. Where where you in '62?
Iso Rivolta IR340. 350 B.H.P. Acceleration Half hour in ten minutes. Found this photo in a house clear out, faded and computer restored as best I can.
Rita had her own car, not small mini thingy but a Ventora, this was a Vauhall Victor with the 3 litre Cresta engine.
Just like a Dept S agent ready for action, if anyone is old enough to remember the TV series.
St Ives in the background, year about 1973.
By the second half of the 1970s I was making serious money and driving a Roller with the ROY 35 number plate. My marriage was still good, but we had developed what could be called a ‘casual’ attitude to our marriage vows, I mean the “forsaking all others bit”, at one time I was dating an ex girlfriend of Rod Stewarts.
As far as mining went, these were my years of absence, but I was into quite a lot of other things.
By the 1980s my personal life had settled into what could be described as a friendly triangle with my wife and a new permanent female friendship, it was working out OK and we were all friends together. Another of my lifelong interests was shooting. Not the killing animal’s thing, basically rifle and pistol shooting, especially what was known as ‘practical’ shooting, being simulated combat, the civilian equivalent of CQB, (Close Quarters Battle). I once shot a long range sniper course at the famous Bisley ranges when I was with the Sports And Social club. There is a saying that self praise is not a recommendation, but I can tell you this as a fact. In my own estimation I was never really good at karate/unarmed combat, although others thought different. With guns, well. My personal rifle was a Parker Hale M82 7.65 mm NATO, 1 in 16 twist, modified with the removal of all iron sights and fitted with Wetherby 10X scope. At 100 metres I could put 5 shots into the same hole using special hand loaded ammo. (165 grain Sierra HPBTM for the benefit of others) It was a single shot rifle, the one was all you needed. Read Sean MacStiofain's "Memoirs of a Revolutionary", the one shot sniper. One learns from ones enemies. I could draw either my own Modified Colt .45 Automatic or standard issue Browning from an open front Bianchi shoulder holster worn under a jacket and double tap 3 figure 11 targets in under 2 seconds, all shots into the "K" zone.
My lady friend (Maureen) used to like to have an occasional shoot as well; the sexiest thing I have ever seen was Maureen in a tight skirt and high heels with an Uzi on full chat, but there was myself and two others just behind her to make sure the muzzle stayed pointing down range! We used to travel quite a lot to different clubs including Devizes Shooting Centre. Maureen used to talk to a chap there named Michael Ryan who was always there with his mother, however I never spoke to him much. Little did we realise that he would be responsible for 16 dead and 15 injured and the beginning of the end for civilian gun ownership in the United Kingdom. Following the Hungerford massacre all semi automatic rifles were banned, and following the second outrage involving licensed firearms at Dunblane, all handguns followed. At that point my attitude changed and I decided to finish altogether with guns including shotguns, I disposed of all I had left and handed in both my Firearms and Shotgun certificates.
Devizes Shooting Centre about 1985, Maureen in background talking to one of the owners.
Another of our activities was to take days out in the countryside. One Sunday saw a "nostalgia trip" back to the old Bryeglwys Slate Quarry, this was 1985. I actually managed to take a (then) late model Daimler Sovereign Automatic up the old track as far as the ford bridge. You should have seen the faces of some walkers, they were a picture! The track had been rough in the 1960s, I had managed to do the underside of one of my Talbot 90s a serious mischief, but this is the bad bit through the gate after the ford bridge. From then on one thing led to another and we were soon purchasing proper underground gear. Soon we were travelling all over the country looking at old mining areas. Over the years my techniques became more advanced as I gained personal experience. The magic key is modern S.R.T. which didn’t come in until the 1970s, but I had learned abseiling with a Sports And Social club that I had belonged to.
In Sept 1998 Rita died of cancer, and I now live on my own. In recent years I have taken to the idea of engaging in serious projects, mainly in the attempt to gain access to ground not previously entered by modern explorers. I am very pleased to be able to say that this has acted as an incentive for other groups. I feel that all of the projects that I have engaged in are very worthwhile. Besides giving the pleasure of achievement to me, the result of my labours also gives pleasure to others. I hope that my work will provide a legacy for the future. What I find disappointing is the losses. In my mind I have a mental balance; this weighs what we are gaining against what we are loosing. To me, the preservation of underground access is as important as surface preservation. There is one thing that both have in common, once they become lost, generally it’s lost for good. We ALL have to make the effort to preserve what we have, otherwise what will there be in the future for anyone who is interested in this important part of our industrial heritage.
Taking the bull by the horns I founded the Cambrian Mines Trust in 2012 as a charitable company, in 2013 it acquired the Cwmystwyth Mines from the Crown Estate. In 2015 I registered Natural Amenities Ltd an associated company for the purpose of acquiring various mineral rights.
My personal life changed as well.......
It has been said that everything goes round in circles, and indeed that seems to be the story of my life.
At the end of 2011 the realisation that I was getting older and increasing problems with my legs were causing me some concern. I looked back at the days of my karate with a wistfulness born from the realisation that I would never see those days again..........
and then, the miracle
(see my 'karate' page)