AUTOBAGGING was obviously quite a thing in the 1960s.

On December 29, we carried a photograph of various National Coal Board autobagging lorries strategically positioned beneath the Bearpark pithead to the west of Durham – with hindsight, it looks as if this was a promotional picture taken in August 1966 as part of an autobagging campaign.

To begin the story, Stan Dack takes us back to the pre-autobagging days in the 1940s and 1950s, when miners received a coal allowance as part of their wages.

“It was delivered by Davisons of Coundon using small Bedford tipping lorries, the back of which had 4 divisions meaning they could tip four separate deliveries of coal each trip,” he says. “The coal was tipped in a heap outside the coalhouse and there was a wooden window, through which the local deaf and dumb man would shovel the coal into the coalhouses for them.”

Paying customers received their coal by the sackful with the flat-back delivery lorries loaded two-sacks high with pre-bagged coal. The coalman had to manhandle the sacks off the lorry – very labour intensive.

Autobagging changed all that. The autobagging lorry carried the loose coal to the customer’s house.

“NCB autobagging wagons were fitted with a U-shaped body with a moving belt floor,” says John Weighell, of Neasham. “The operator stood at the back of the wagon with an empty sack, pressed a button and coal was delivered into the sack or bag standing on scales on a platform.”

John Smart of Croxdale continues: “When the bag was filled, it was lowered on a jib to a height suitable for the coal man to accept on his back to be carried to the householder's coal bunker or coal house.

“It was still a very demanding task but at least semi-automated which reduced the amount of physical handling.

“My father tended to arrange our coal delivery on school holidays. My task was to watch from the kitchen window and count the number of bags to make sure we weren't diddled, although the autobagger had a counter for the benefit of the handler.

“My final task was to scoop up the coal which the coal man dropped in the yard, place the wooden shuttering in the doorway slot and then close the coal house door!

“All very hard work, but I still miss the pleasure of a real open fire.”

With thanks also to Ian Gray, John Middlemiss and Barry Tray – among their additional information was that the autobagger automatically bagged bags at one hundredweight.