Vol 4 – No. 39 – May 1887 – Cutty Soams

Probably the most dismal place in the universal world is the “goaf,” the sooty, cavernous void left in a coal mine after the removal of the coal. The actual terrors of this gloomy cavity, with its sinking, cracked roof and upheaving or ” creeping ” floor, huge fragments of shale or “following stone” overhead, quivering ready to fall, and “blind passages that lead to nothing “and nowhere, save death to the hapless being who chances to stray into them in the dark and loses his way, as in the Catacombs. These terrors formerly had superadded to them others of a yet more appalling nature, in the shape of grim goblins that haunted the wastes deserted by busy men, and either lured the unwary wanderer into them to certain destruction, or issued from them to play mischievous pranks in the workings, tampering with the brattices so as to divert or stop the air-currents, hiding the men’s gear, blunting the hewers’ picks, frightening the putters with dismal groans and growls, exhibiting deceptive blue lights, and every now and then choking scores of men and boys with deadly gases.

One of the spectres of the mine now, like all his brethren, only a traditionary as well as a shadowy being used to be known by the name of Cutty Soams. Belonging, of course, to the genus boggle, he partook of the special nature of the brownie. His disposition was purely mischievous, yet he condescended sometimes to do good in an indirect way. Thus he would occasionally pounce upon and thrash soundly some unpopular overman or deputy-viewer, and would often gratify his petty malignity at the expense of shabby owners, causing them vexatious outlay for which there would otherwise have been no need; but his special business and delight was to cut the ropes, or “soams,” by which the poor little assistant putters (sometimes girls) used then to be yoked to the wooden trams for drawing the corves of coal from the face of the workings out to the cranes. It was no uncommon thing in the mornings, when the men went down to work, for them to find that Cutty Soams had been busy during the night, and that every pair of rope traces in the colliery had been cut to pieces. But no one ever, by any chance, saw the foul fiend. By many he was supposed to be the ghost of some of the poor fellows who had been killed in the pit at one time or other, and who came to warn his old marrows of some misfortune that was going to happen, so that they might put on their clothes and go home. Pits were laid idle many a day in the olden times through this cause alone. Cool-headed sceptics, who maintained that the cutting of the soams, instead of being the work of an evil spirit whom nobody had ever seen or could see, was that of some designing scoundrel.

As these mysterious soam-cuttines, at a particular pit in Northumberland, in the neighbourhood of Callington, never occurred when the men were on the day shift, suspicion fell on one of the deputies, named Nelson, whose turn to be on the night shift it always happened to be when there was any prank played of the kind. It was his duty to visit the cranes before the lads went down, and see that all things were in proper order, and it was he who usually made the discovery that the ropes had been cut. Having been openly accused of the deed by another man, his rival for the hand of a daughter of the overman of the pit, Nelson, it would appear, resolved to compass his competitor’s death by secretly cutting, all but a single strand, the rope by which his intended victim was about to descend to the bottom. Owing to some cause or other the person whose destruction was thus designed was not the first to go down the pit that morning, but other two men, the under viewer and overman, went first. The consequence was that the rope broke with their weight the moment they swung themselves upon it, and they were precipitated down the shaft and dashed to pieces.

As a climax to this horrid catastrophe, the pit fired a few days afterwards, and tradition has it that Nelson was killed by the afte damp. Cutty Soams Colliery, as it had come to be nicknamed, never worked another day. To be sure, it was well-nigh exhausted of workable coal; but whether that had been so or not, not a man could have been induced to enter it, or wield a pick in it, owing to its evil repute.

So the owners, to make the best of a bad job, engaged some hardy fellows to bring the rails, trams, rolleys, and other valuable plant out of the doomed pit, a task which occupied them several weeks, and then its mouth was filled up. The men removed to other collieries, and the deserted pit row soon fell into ruins. Even the bare walls have long since disappeared. There is nothing left now to mark the site of the village, if we may believe our authority, Mr. W. P. Shield, ” but a huge heap of rubbish overgrown with rank weeds and fern bushes.”

As for old Cutty Soams, he now finds no one to believe in his ever having existed, far less in his still existing or haunting any pit from Scremerston to West Auckland.

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