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A Poem by Valerie Gillies

In January 2008, RCAHMS commissioned Valerie Gillies, the Edinburgh Makar, to write a poem to celebrate the winning image.

The Lady Victoria Colliery

The Lady is the last of all her kind.
Headframe in the clouds, these pulley-whorls
Change with the light, a beacon to remind
Who fuelled Scotland, lit us, kept us warm.

The shaft was sunk to reach the deepest seams:
The Jewel, clear shining, the Splint, hard glinting,
The Parrot crackling with its bright papingo flame,
All the extent and take of the colliery workings

For miles underground below the valley of the Esk.
Where a face opened, they cut the coal out
With pick and shovel. Deep mining mechanised
With ear-splitting shearers, self-advancing supports.

The miner was always listening to make sure
If he could hear the earth shift, the creak of props
Before roof-fall, the squeal of chocks under pressure.
Working underground gave him an edge.

Men and hutches shot up and down the shaft
In double-decker cages with a balance rope,
With brakes, jacketed cylinders, drop valves,
Steam-powered by winding-engine, lion rampant.

Steel-framed, arcaded, with sheet-metal roofs,
The red-brick buildings are fit for purpose.
The endless rope, tub circuit, tipplers moved
Into the estuary of railway yards and sidings.

At washers and hoppers, at the jigger screens,
The shades that leant across the picking-tables
Never stopped the chutes of coal in a torrent,
Their teamwork controlling drum and cable.

Keep her headgear. The Lady burns our minds.
Without her wheels we could never know
How, in the miner's eye, a coal glows.
The Lady is the last of all her kind.

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