One of my favourite poems by the late Blantyre historian, James Cornfield is a rather well written poem called “The Rapper up Man”. Written in 2003, it goes as follows:
In days gone by in the Miners Rows, there lived a man who always rose
At an early hour from slumber deep, to waken miners from their sleep.
By rapping on the window pane, no matter the weather, wind or rain,
Be it Wullie, Mick or Dan, he was always known as the Rapper up Man.
Now Dixons Rows had such a man, but never called him the rapper up man.
Not for them this common name, they had someone of greater fame,
The Sheriff was by reputation, their choice to waken up the nation.
To this grand title, he had the honour, of being the biggest polic informer.
‘Tis said that when he was but eleven, went down the pit to earn a living.
Into the darkness of the mine, in the cage he was heard to whine,
Father dear, please take me hame, I don’t want tae go doon again.
Its nae fit place fur beast nor man, ah’d rather be a rapper up man.
Dressed like the collier he longed to be, moleskin trousers tied at the knee,
Eight pieced bunnet, old tweed coat, muffler tied in a hot pea knot.
In tackety boots, he would stray, the light from his lantern showing the way.
Round all the colliers houses, where he knew the names of all the spouses.
Rapping at the window, you’d hear him cry, “Wake up wifie, the time is nigh!”
Tae wake yer men up now, if they want to catch the very first tow.
Fur if they don’t, ahm no tae blame, if they ur late an sent back hame.
Ah dae ma joab , the best ah can, fur ahm the Sherrif, the Rapper up man.
Then one dark October morn, Blantyre and the Sheriff heard the pit horn.
Blasting out loud time after time, the signal of trouble down the mine.
Leaping out of bed, into his clothes, he made his way down though the rows,
With hundreds of others ran to the pithead, to hear that 240 colliers were dead.
With tears in his eyes, he heard the roll call, and uttered a silent prayer for all.
To any God who would listen to him, who could be heard above the din,
Of wailing voices of the mining folk, crying because their hearts were broke.
They’re pain and suffering he’d remember, etched in his heart forever and ever.
The shout went up for volunteers, and the Sheriff seemed to have lost his fears.
His hand went up as fast as the others, amidst this band of collier brothers.
They’re a funny breed this collier breed, who risk their lives for others in need.
With this thought in mind, every man tae a man volunteered to go down the mine.
That day changed Blantyre for evermore, when it brought trouble to every door.
In every house that you passed by, you were sure to hear the woeful cry.
Of women folk in their but and ben, mourning for their poor men.
These men and boys who would never come hame, back in the Raws ever again.
That day the Sheriff became a man, with his fathers pick and shovels in hand.
He toiled hard beside the others, to try and save their collier brothers.
‘not fit for beast nor man’ he said, true colliers are born, they cannot be made.
This day would last in the hearts of all, for those who go down and dig for coal.”
James Cornfield, 2003.