The news today announced the closure of the Tower Colliery, the last deep mine in  Wales.  It had been closed in 1994, but the miners used their redundancy money to buy the pit, convinced there was sufficient coal to make it worthwhile. In the first year of workers’ ownership turnover was £30m. Now, 13 years later it truly is worked out.

Part of me is sad to see the continued decline of major industry in the UK; there are now only 7 deep mines left in England. Another part of me is glad that few men continue to work in such a dangerous industry and that boys will not grow up with a future limited to following their fathers down the pit. 

I could be melodramatic and say that “coal is in my blood” , actually it’s under my skin. I have a couple of blue scars on my knees from falling over as a child on paths made from the spoil from the local pit. The village, like many in County Durham, only existed because of the mine, but the mine closed before I was two years old and we played on spoil heaps gradually being overgrown by nature.

Five generations of my family worked in the coalfields of Northern England; my brother, my father and his two brothers, my grandfather, my great grandfather and his brothers and my great great grandfather. My great grandmother considered herself well off with a husband and four sons bringing in  miners’ wages as the 19th century turned into the 20th. 

It was and remains a dangerous job, despite the mechanisation. I was shocked to hear that a friend’s Dad had lost a leg in a roof-fall in a mine in the North-east of England as late as 1983. My family seem to have got off lightly from mining; no serious injuries, no deaths down the pit, although lung disease from the dust  probably shortened a few lives. Nevertheless my Dad always said he never wanted his son to go down the pit, having got out himself after 15 years or so. My brother ended up as an electrician underground, was made redundant after the disastrous miners’ strike of 1984-85, and now has a “clean” job in the motor industry.

Although some of the miners from the Tower Colliery are going on to jobs in local drift and opencast mines the future of their children is dependent  on the development of the old mine land. Let’s hope that it provides proper jobs not Mac-jobs.

Update: Thanks to 

[info]miketroll   

for reminding me of George Orwell’s essay on mining. I only knew the piece from “The Road to Wigan Pier” but it was published prior to 1937 as an essay, “Down the Mine”, which can be found here on an excellent website dedicated to Orwell.

 

 

 

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