The Bell Man

by Brian J Andrews, OAM - Coalfields Heritage Group

In Kurri Kurri, in the days when very few people possessed a wireless (radio), it was often necessary to call a miners' lodge meeting over some industrial matter.

To urgently inform the men that a special miners' meeting was to be held, where, and at what time, it could not be delayed until announced in the newspapers - so how was this done?

The miners' lodge paid a man to inform the residents, somewhat similar to a 'town crier.'

The person approached to act as the crier had to be willing to act the part, but more particularly, he had to possess a loud voice that could take the repeated strain of shouting over and over again.

He had to have a voice that could be heard, as they used to say, in a saw-mill at full production.

A hand bell was provided by the miners' lodge. It was a large, heavy brass bell, similar to those used at railway stations when a train left the terminus.

The crier, known as the bell man, had to be able to ride a bicycle, whilst at the same time ringing the bell to attract the attention of people in their homes.

One person to have the job at one time was David Whilrwind Grant, who, incidentally, once received a medal for an act of bravery during naval service for the Royal Navy during WWI.

An example of the method used to announce the news item went something like this ... After ringing the bell there was a pause, then ...

A MEETING (pause)
IN THE ROYAL THEATRE .(another pause)..
TONIGHT (pause)...

A further pause, then further ringing of the bell and another ride of 100 meters.

Perhaps a group of men were employed at the same time to cover the entire town, as no one person could have possibly repeated the information all around the town.

Laurie Grills, I was told, said he often went around Abermain with the bell, for which he received two shillings and six pence (25 cents). Another colleague informs me that it was also a similar practice in Cessnock, and those who missed out hearing the Bell Man would receive the news from a neighbour.

How much simpler it is to to receive urgent messages today with modern technology.

Brian J. Andrews, "The Bellman"  in Pioneering Days of the Coalfields - No.16 - February, 1901. pp. 4-5

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