Watching the recent TV programme about the closure of Kellingley Colliery (the UK’s last deep mine) which ceased cutting coal in December 2015 was a odd moment for me as I come from a coal mining family.
Two of my uncles were miners; one long dead (Henry Wright was a winding man at Bentinck Colliery in Kirkby In Ashfield) but the other only passed on in the last couple of weeks. That was my Uncle Doug Depledge* who was a Banksman at Sherwood Colliery in Mansfield until he took what was in effect early retirement as the pits were being run down in the 1980’s.
To see the miners facing the closure of their colliery on TV was sobering. They were losing what generations living in their community had worked for and indeed why their community existed. Of course this closure process has gone on in mining communities across the UK’s coalfields for 30+ years now and as a consequence those communities have had to try to reinvent themselves. It is probably fair to say that few if any of the former mining communities have really prospered since their pits were closed, indeed many have clearly struggled greatly.
UK coal production was effectively ended/replaced by the importation of cheap foreign coal but of course we also now know that burning fossil fuels like coal is very bad for our environment and a contributor to global warming problems.
I moved away from the Nottinghamshire coalfield when I was 6 in the mid 1960’s but recall only too well how the demise of the industry was discussed when we went back home to visit family.
As a trade unionist I remember only too well the miners strike and the hugely divisive political differences between the NUM and UDM which was particularly the case in Nottinghamshire. I honestly don’t know whether my uncles were NUM or UDM, I never asked.
But the other aspect of the closure of the pits that struck me from watching the programme about the closure of Kellingley was what a hugely challenging job it must have been to have spent your working life 800 feet underground. I know I would not want to do it and I suspect that goes for many people these days. But when it’s pretty much all you know about working it must be gut wrenching to loose what is clearly a most dangerous of employments.
* It was Doug’s funeral I failed to get to last Thursday because of a huge traffic jam on the M6