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In 1974 the mining industry in general, and North Staffordshire in particular, was to be given a boost.
Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret of Snowdon was to visit the Stoke-on-Trent super pit Hem Heath.
Many different agencies both at local and national level were to be involved in the arrangements for the royal visit. But as far as Hem Heath colliery was concerned, the method study engineer Mr Maurice Deakin coordinated the efforts of the whole management team.
The papers and photographs loaned to us by Maurice give a unique insight into the complex nature of arranging a royal visit.
For many months prior to the great day, Maurice was involved in pulling together all the various strands to ensure the day was as seamless as possible.
An example of his meticulous approach can be seen in the brief he prepared for the general manager, Mr Gordon Beard. It covers the three-hour period of the visit and runs to some 13 pages.
At a glance it is possible to know not only where the Princess will be throughout the visit, but where all those involved will be, relative to her.
The scene was set, when on the 5th of December 1974 the royal entourage drove into the colliery and stopped outside reception. There to greet the princess was Professor Stewart, Vice Chancellor of Keele University, who introduced Mr Ray Hunter, Director National Coal Board Western Area, and the Colliery General Manager, Mr Gordon Beard.
A bouquet of flowers was presented by the twelve-years-old Patricia Colgan, daughter of Hem Heath's N.U.M. secretary Mr Jim Colgan.
What happened then on is best seen from the picture painted by the reporter on local paper The Evening Sentinel. The heading read
"Pitmen Praise Princess"
"Visiting a new coal face at Hem Heath Colliery, Trentham, some 650 yards below the surface the Princess bent and squeezed her way through a maze of hydraulic props to watch a giant shearer take a further slice of coal from a 4ft. 3in. high longwall advancing face.
When the shearer finished its run, Princess Margaret was only six feet from the cutting edge, while just behind her at the main rip workmen prepared boreholes, ready for firing, to further advance the roadway as soon as the visitors had cleared the district.
Among all the noise, the dust and the machinery the Princess plied her questions with an urgency matching the operations of the rippers as they prepared to drive ahead.
Mr Ray Hunter, the Coal Board's Western Area Director, and Mr Gordon Beard Colliery General Manager who led the main party, said afterwards that the Princess was very impressed and interested throughout the 90 minutes tour.
She often made comparison with the last time she visited a mine about 20 years ago, in the days of under-cutting machines, picks and shovels.
The number six Cannel Row face, which is 180 yards long visited by the Princess, like the other four at the colliery, is fully mechanised. It is equipped with two 125 h.p. power loaders. These shear the seam in two-foot strips at 12 feet per minute, to produce at the rate of four tons a minute. The face is supported throughout by self-advancing hydraulically-operated power supports.
At one stage while Mr Harold Preston, 36 years in the mines and 21 years at Hem Heath, was operating the shearer, Princess Margaret, from a confined vantage point, beckoned to her Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Aird to come forward and get a closer look at things.
Mr Wilf Entwhistle of Bucknall, Safety Officer, who with Mr Roy James, Training Officer, of Meir, led a small follow up Press party to the face, summed up: " Everything has gone like clockwork. Most of the time the Princess was at the coal face the machinery was in operation, and she really saw coal as it produced, with men and machines playing their inter-relating roles,"
Earlier as the cage dropped down the No 2 shaft to the 612 yards horizon, Princess Margaret considered it a "very smooth descent."
Travelling to the face involved - in two separate stints - several hundred yards of trudging along high, steel arched roadways, well carpeted with stone dust.
A 1.5-mile drive on the man riding train, pulled by an electric locomotive, brought the Royal party to the Cannel Row 6's district.
A lone figure in the person of Polish-born Mr Boris Moncur, of Silverdale, under-manager for the area, met the Princess and led the party "up hill, and down hill and up hill again," to the face.
Shortly after passing steel drop-derricks, used to check runaway tubs on a gradient, Princess Margaret shed her white duffel coat before tackling the incline to the face. Soon she had disappeared into the gloom to become one of a series of bobbing lights at the approach to the coalface.
Altogether there were about 15 men at the face and at the main rip, including several trainees. One of the latter was Tom Frisby, who upon turning around was confronted by a smiling Princess. She said "Hello," and I said "Hello," said Tom beaming all over his face.
Others who responded to a cheerful greeting from the Princess were charge-hand ripper Mr Harold Storey, of Blurton Rd, Fenton, and Mr. Alf Aisbitt of Berry Hill. The first they knew of the arrival of the Princess was when "the boss" asked them to stop drilling temporarily. "We were just boring those holes up there in the rip," said Harold, "you know ready for firing, and there she was - all in white."
Harold and Alf both originate from Durham - and from the same street - so it was fitting that they should receive a Royal greeting in unison, from across the other side of a conveyor.
Mr Bill Hulme, Senior Overman, and Mr Reg Adams, District Overman, said the Princess seem to thoroughly enjoy her experience at the face, while agreeing it had been no picnic for her: "She did ask if we still used picks and shovels and I said now and again." He added:" we don't get a princess down these parts every day, so the lads are naturally thrilled."
Some of the admiration felt for the first underground Royal visitor to the North Staffordshire coalfield was in the presentation to the Princess by Mr Beard, of a suitably inscribed miner's safety lamp, on behalf of the official's and workmen at Hem Heath.
The presentation took place at a reception on the surface, at which Princess Margaret chatted informally to colliery and union officials and others before leaving for her next engagement at Keele University. And so the visit was over. As the Princess was driven away you feel all those involved in the arrangements must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. A coal mine is a very dangerous place, even for those well versed in its moods. We can only admire the courage and cheerfulness shown by her Royal Highness.
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