Film ID:
NEFA 12750

COAL GATHERERS

1971

Visitor Tabs

Description

This sponsored film by Turners Film Productions documents the various stages in the mining, processing of coal, and environmental restoration of the land for agricultural and leisure activities at the 2,000 acre Radar North opencast mine site, at Widdrington, near Morpeth, in Northumberland County. The mine operated under a National Coal Board contract between 1957 and 1972. The film records the operation of the UK’s largest dragline system at the time, known as 'Big Geordie,' which worked at Radar North from 1969 to 1976 for Derek Crouch Mining Limited. It also shows how production, restoration and conservation work together in this method of mining.

Filmed on the Northumberland coast, probably at Druridge Bay, the opening scenes are various views of two local men gathering coal from a sea-level beach, using primitive rakes and horse and cart transport. When the cart is full they haul away the load through an area of sand dunes. An overhead view of the landscape shows the two men moving along a rural dirt track towards the Radar North mine works. Next, the massive dragline excavator 'Big Geordie' is seen in operation at the surface mine.

Shot of the dragline machine, with its double cabin, loading material into a dump truck. The dump truck drives away through the mine with a large coal load.

Another shot shows the large dragline bucket digging into the coalface, followed by a view of 'Big Geordie,' working away at mountains of soil and coal.

Title: The Coal Gatherers (over picture of the mine operation.)

There is an aerial view of the opencast mine and the coastline. The excavated furrows are visible.

The film cuts to a brief shot of the cabin of a plane, looking towards the pilot’s back. The mine is seen through the windows of the two-man plane. The plane lands at a landing strip with coastline visible in the background. An executive gets out of the plane and is greeted by the site contractor in a suit.

A close-up reveals a large paper document held down with a toy dump truck. The two managers consult the plans of the Radar North excavation in the site executive’s office. There are various shots of the two men consulting and examining the mine’s operational plans.

An elevated view follows of the landscape prior to excavation at Radar North. Equipment for a geological survey is scattered across the land.

There are various shots of a boring machine. Samples, extracted by the boring machine, show the thickness and depth of the coal seams. A large machine strips the topsoil from the Radar North mine works. The machines take away the soil, to be restored once mining is complete. A general view of the site shows areas of land where topsoil has been removed.

Next, a bucket weaver excavates clay to dig a mine face of up to 40 feet high. A man walks towards the machine, illustrating its immense size. The clay is fed onto a system of conveyors a mile long. Various shots record the conveyor system in operation over a wide area of the landscape. The clay is discharged onto a spoil bank. There is a shot from the interior of a bucket weaver of a conveyor. The operator sits at the controls in the bucket weaver cabin. Clay soil pours from one of the dischargers. A man stands on a tractor that pulls one of the mechanical side boom attachments, which periodically moves the conveyor belt along.

An excavator with a six cubic yard shovel removes mudstones, shale and sandstones. There is an elevated shot of the excavator in operation within a large area of the site.

A dump truck leaves for the spoil heaps. The large-scale mining operation is seen through the windscreen. Dump trucks drive to the spoil heaps. A truck dumps its load. There is a view of the mountainous spoil heaps. Several shots record the grey, barren landscape created at the spoil heaps.

Next, a large vertical drill vehicle crawls over the surface of the landscape. A man looks down from the cabin of the vertical drill machine. The drill begins to bore down into the ground. There are shots of the drill in operation, and of the material extracted, which looks like powder cement.

Overhead shot of the large area of the excavated mine. A dramatic explosion occurs and the sides of the mine collapse.

Two men insert explosive charges into the borings. One of the men nods. A man semaphores from the top of a high bank at the mine. A man winds the handle of a control box for the detonation of explosives. A series of staggered explosions take place at the mine.

'Big Geordie' moves in to lift the material away, once the explosions break up the rock. An overhead view shows the dragline excavator working in the vast area of the mine. There are half-mile cuts into the land, which dwarf the machine. There are various close-ups of 'Big Geordie' in action. Shot of the control cabins at the front and side of the walking dragline machine, and of the controller as he sits in the cabin at the controls. Giant heaps of coal are visible through the cabin windows. Inside the machine room, a number of wire hoist and drag ropes and chains control the lifting and lowering of the boom and shovel.

The following footage illustrates the 'walking' movement of 'Big Geordie' using feet or 'pontoons.' The feet are operated from the driver’s cab and powered from the motor room. There is a brief shot inside the motor room, as the cogs and wheels turn to move the feet of the machine. The next shots show the slow process of movement by 'Big Geordie,' a maximum of a few hundred feet per hour as the feet are repositioned for each step. A variety of shots show 'Big Geordie' in action, some with sun glare into the lens of the camera. Two men look out from a platform at the front of the machine, their figures contrasting with the immense size of the machine. The sequence romanticises the monumental machine.

High angle view of the mine, dumper trucks and small excavators loading up coal. A miner sits in the cabin of one of the excavators. There is a close-up on the mechanical shovel lifting the coal, followed by a general view over the work area, where there are mechanical shovels and two men in white helmets digging the coal.

The next sequence illustrates the streamlined organisation of haulage from the coalmine. A truck drives past camera. There is a view of the road from the cabin of the truck. One of the trucks climbs the dirt road up the sides of the opencast mine. Next, a grader is at work to maintain the gradient of the roads. A truck sprays the roads with water to damp down dust. Coalmine traffic uses its own specially built road from the mine to the screening plant. A continuous stream of trucks pass each other along the mine’s roads.

Next, there is a shot of the screening and blending plant. A truck drives into the plant to unload coal from the shallow reserves around the northeast rim of the Northumberland coalfield, as another truck drives out. There is a close-up of different sizes of the coal that are unloaded. Coal is carried by conveyor belt from the underground hoppers for screening. Trains transport graded coal to different destinations for both domestic and power station use, and for the export market.

General views of old mining pits that used underground shafts to extract coal. Old buildings and mining apparatus litter the site when the mine closes. Another shot shows the sparse vegetation that grows on old sites, as land remains sterile long after the mine closes.

Several aerial views of an opencast mine in the landscape illustrate the process of restoration in one area, using saved subsoil whilst another area is mined. Motorised scraper vehicles spread back the subsoil and topsoil to a mined area, one layer at a time.

Next, there is an overview of land at Radar North that is being restored for better farming. A tractor pulls an aerating machine through the area. Another tractor is dragging a large wooden contraption for grading the soils and removing small boulders. Next, a plough turns the soil for agriculture. The soil is harrowed. The soil is fertilised. The soil is seeded with a temporary clover and rye grass mixture.

There are views of the new flat agricultural land created from the mine works. Fields show new green growth and farms are seen in the background. An opencast mine stands on the horizon with a green fielding the froreground. Several more views of fields show the progress of new growth.

Field drains are laid. A machine ploughs a furrow and men lay the pipes in the furrow. A bulldozer fills in the furrows. Permanent grass is growing in the fields where drains have been laid.

Two men install a gate in newly built fences. A man plants a new tree. There is a close-up of a man’s face as he plants a new sapling. General view of rows of saplings planted in restored land. Cows graze in the fields. A farmer harvests crops into bails. An aerial view of the Northumberland coastline shows the land returned to unspoilt countryside. A combine harvester harvests a field of wheat.

The film closes with night shots of 'Big Geordie' operating at the Radar North mines, with sunset in the background.

End credit: Produced for Derek Crouch (contractors) Ltd.

End credit: By Turners Film Productions. Newcastle Upon Tyne. England.

End credit: Photography by David Cox

End credit: Sound. David Middleton

End Credit: Written by John Grant

End Credit: Spoken by Patrick Allen

End credit: Editor. Peter Brown

End credit: In charge of production. Bryan Coppleston

End credit: Production Consultant. Bill Farrar

End credit: Acknowledgements. National Coalboard Opencast Executive

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