A New Glossary of Scotch Mining Terms

New poetry by James Barrowman takes inspiration from his namesake’s excavation of mining words.

Lately I have been thinking about names. The ongoing PPE scandal centred on Michelle Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, have brought my surname into further disrepute. I have often felt the burden of sharing it with he of Doctor Who companion and dubious accent fame, even before allegations emerged of creepy behaviour on set. A few months ago while reading Frank Kuppner’s A Very Quiet Street, I learned that a Barrowman bore false witness inthe Oscar Slater trial and contributed to twenty years of hard labour for an innocent man. It was during a search for more respectableprecursors that I came across James Barrowman’s 1886 Glossary of Scotch Mining Terms, a fascinating document, and endeavoured to write some poems inspired by its contents.


Money given in former times to the colliers at the baptism of their children, as a token of the children being attached like their parents to the coal-work.

In front of the marsh, or by the marsh.
Wishing to see a different light. Armed
with Tartarin de Tarascon and Germinal.

Sufficient to embark a coffin and francs
for burial, on the Rhône at Alyscamps,
where Christ himself attended the conversion.

These old Elysian leas, a meagre remnant
of pagan sepulture. Established near at hand,
horror conditioned on tall chimneys unworkable.

Overgrown in part by curious laburnum.
No architecture. No general physiognomy.
Paved with villainous little stones insertional.

The rugosities of its dirty lanes assault the feet
like knife blades, making all exercise penitential.
Given over to shabby cafes; it tends to puddle.

Two ramshackle inns meet at a right angle.
One watches with ill-concealed disapproval.
The other glares from windows, invidiously.

Behind haystacks, an old weapon in a field
Oh, ploughmen, take arles from the devil,
In the marsh, or at its terminal.


An underground road or passage along which the bearers carried their burdens.

Through terror’s throng they will not heed
the opal-bearer’s way;
she carries no javelin in her hands,
emblems of warfare, sinewy the arms.
Fearing much of the bearer’s way-going.

Trotting is indeed the cruising speed 
of the portage bearer;
under branches and through shrubs,
over the irregularities of the terrain.
Momentum acquired paves the bearer’s way.

For most what kills the seed of freedom
 is bearing in mind survival;
careers, time-passing amusements,
freaky, spontaneous conformity.
Revolution manifests in its bearer’s way.

A promise which has nothing to concede
 silent coming bearer’s feet;
wherefore this quiet face so proudly
set, naught to forget alas for grief.
The stiff leg still protruding in the bearer’s way.


To strike; to knock; to signal. Miners chap the roof to find if it is safe. When two rooms are nearly met the miners chap on the face to ascertain the thickness of the intervening coal. The bottomer when signalling to the pit-head, where the signalling apparatus consists of a hammer falling on an iron plate, is said to chap.

Chap door, run away, agitationally.
In spite of the unemployment,
all we do is sleep these days.
Gone are visions of barricades,
in spent perspiring minutes.
Years later, some poor proletarian
with red-chapped lips, stammering,
Makes you turn your eyes, feel sick.

Knock knock, ginger beer, full of fear.
Some had to strip their coats for heat.
Shirts and shifts were wet with sweat.
They crammed their guts for want of meat.
Baccy and beer will be so cheap,
wives sit up when they should sleep,
and we’ll float in hell at our pay week.
God’s agitator, if twenty years we pamphleteer.

Ding dong, dash or ditch, fever pitch.
Burning up in blind fires of investiture.
Vomiting a Vesuvius in every gesture.
There’s a swally and then a hitch,
marching in buried Denmark’s vesture.
How that awful hitch all dread!
Poverty plying her needle and thread
Whispers a dolorous – stitch, stitch, stitch.

Knicky knicky, nine doors, on the first floor,
unknown to night-lifers at Cocoanut Grove.
A match to find a socket, a bulb to replace.
Some, swatting at the low blue glare, a phantom
turned fireball on the chimney-stairs, noticed,
it is an error to suppose man will be a vapour,
like wind, or Aether, or something floating in the air.
Rather Newsprint, Barkcloth, Sgraffito or Coalface.

James Barrowman is a poet, a barista, and is working towards a PhD on Dundonian literary history.