HERITAGE: The proud history of the coal mining industry
In the summer of 1963 my father directed me to the gates of Yorkshire Main Colliery, to follow my older brothers down the mine, little did I know at the time what an incredible journey this would lead to.
He did explain that it was a job for life, no doubt repeating the words said to my brothers, i did dawn on me one morning walking down the road to the mine that I only had just short of 50 years to go. It did not help it being 4.30 in the morning.
You soon got used to the pecking order giving respect to your seniors looking up to people who had learnt the craft the hard way and they all knew your dad.
The blackened eyes, my granddaughters would have been jealous of my eyeliners, the throat full of coal dust, drinking water from a Dudley, the taste of rust, there’s little doubt that if they bottled that today it would be a bestselling fad drink.
The mine extended into the community and you soon got immersed in local culture where there’s coal there’s brass, and pigeons, and whippets, the Welfare and Working Men’s Club, the community centres of the day the Union Branches Banner, the workers’ coat of arms.
It was universally accepted that the horrendous conditions in the mine was counter balanced by a unique camaraderie not found even in other heavy industries.
The next 22 years in the mine was to shape my life and gave me a great insight in to how the communities collective spirit established its values.
My final year at Yorkshire Main Colliery, was the 1984/85 Miners Strike, the epic struggle to defend our proud community and protect our jobs.
The outcome of the strike is very well documented and it set my destiny for the rest of my life.
I eventually made my way to the NHS working in mental health, which had quite a few similarities, the one that stood out was the extremely hard working dedicated staff, unfortunately undervalued, overworked and underpaid. These principles seem to have epitomised my working career.
With retirement beckoning and during a pint and a pie moment with former mining colleagues we all realised that there was a danger that our proud history could soon be forgotten, sentiments no doubt shared in many former mining communities.
Soon after we entered the world of fundraising/grants with a view of placing a piece of civic art in the middle of the village and creating a memorial garden. Over four years later it became a reality. Researching the project opened up new aspects of our history, the young Irish men escaping famine back home, employed to sink the shafts working in hazardous conditions and housed in atrocious conditions without basic sanitation. The first recorded fatality a young man from County Mayo, buried in an unmarked grave.
Many fatalities followed, each with a story to tell.
The village was to witness an exodus of brave young miners in 1914, 1,200 in total heading off to war, many never to return.
Your mind wanders back to your own family history the poignant moment the call to hospital, along with the family, you watch your father sadly pass away with his lungs collapsing, the price of coal.
The colliery was the economic powerhouse of the village a provider for all it gave and it took.
The project was about protecting the mining community’s proud history, culture and heritage for future generations. The solid virtues that identified our past, the recognition that a culture that transcended a dirty, dangerous and, at times, heartbreaking industry and one that also put bread on our tables.
Looking back, I was fortune to live in a community that grew stronger because the residents engaged regularly and did a variety of simple things together, building trusting relationships that gave us the collective sprit that cemented the community’s values.
Following the demise of the coal industry, employment opportunities moved away from the mining communities to out of town retail parks and call centres.
I was soon to face other changes, communication was to move on from the pigeon post to a new world driven by technology, a new language to learn email, and social media interrupting my life balance. Everywhere you go people staring at small screens.
Life’s great challenge, will I achieve 100 likes?
Quite a journey from walking down the main road for my first shift at the mine.