Monday, July 06, 2009

In Memory Of My Father


It is 100 years ago today since my father Joseph Barnes (known as Joe) was born. He died in 1996.

The above photograph says a great deal about him. He is the young man in the centre of the back row. He is part of a locally organised football team of coal miners from Easington Colliery in County Durham. He was the goalkeeper and will be in his mid-teens when the photo was taken. Directly in front of him is his brother Bobby who was five years his senior and to your far right in the back row is his brother Arthur who was almost 2 years his junior. (Click onto the photo to enlarge it).

The team is sitting at the edge of an open field with a row of terraced colliery-owned houses in the background. This is Boston Street. Behind it is Baldwin Street which my father, mother and myself moved into some quarter of a century later.

Seven rows of streets further back is Bolam Street, where my father and Uncles lived with my grandparents John and "Polly" Barnes. These houses were part of a complex of almost 50 rows of terraced houses for miners which were clustered around the local pit.

The team are in their best suits, waistcoats and cloth caps. The man in the trilby is probably in charge of the team.

The photo explains the comradeship, spirit, commitment, family links, team competitiveness and football fanaticism of those times. It is likely to have been taken around the time of the aftermath of the General Strike of 1926.

No-one belonged more to Easington as a mining colliery than my father. He arrived there in 1912 before his third birthday as part of John and Polly's fully established family of seven children. Coal had only first been drawn at the local pit in 1910 and a community was rapidly being established on what had been farm and open land.

When my father died after 84 years at Easington, the pit had shut down just 3 years earlier. It was the final pit in County Durham to close.

My father's life, therefore, covered a distinctive era within a single tightly knit mining community. Not many people could have fitted Easington's mining existence so precisely.

In his 80s my father continued his daily walk down Easington's main road called Seaside Lane. He stopped to speak to friends and family. When my mother was moved into a nursing home (on the far side of the field shown in the above photo) he just walked further past long familiar territory to spend much of the day with her. The nursing home was the house of the former Colliery Manager.

Although Easington went through some tough pioneering years, by the time the 1931 economic depression broke and my father was 22 the population (of Easington Colliery and adjoining Easington Village combined) had reached 12,000. This meant that even with relative impoverishment it established a range of shops, cinemas, clubs, pubs, churches, chapels, schools and Miners' Welfare facilities. The Miners' Federation was committed to building Aged Miners' Homes and providing medical facilities. Whilst the Labour Council embarked upon Council House building.

It meant that although my father did not have an easy life, he had a full life. These fulfilments need to be appreciated if we are to put the harsh aspects of his life in perspective.

Tom and Polly had six sons and a daughter. The boys all became Miners on leaving school at 14 and Aunt Ada invariably went on to marry a Miner. Only Uncle Arthur finally deviated from this pattern when he moved out of the area to join the RAF in 1937.

( 3 of the 7 Barnes siblings who arrived in Easington Colliery in 1912. Uncle Arthur (left) was the only one of six brothers to move away from links with the local pit, when he joined the RAF in 1937 and then eventually retired to Eastbourne. Yet he often visited "home". Aunt Ada was the only girl and raised her own family living in the same Council House for over 60 years before moving into sheltered accommodation. They are with my father.)

The family went through tough times. In 1918 they were in the midst of a serious influenza epidemic, in 1921 the pit was subject to a 13 week strike, in 1926 the pit was at standstill for 30 weeks following the collapse of the General Strike, then the inter-war depression hit coal production at the local pit. In the midst of such developments John and Polly's children married and set up homes of their own. Even when post-war prosperity, full-employment and the welfare state helped to transform life; Easington experienced the terrible cost of coal when a mining disaster at its pit took the lives of 79 Miners and 2 rescue workers.My father was in the pit at the time, but in a different seam from the explosion. He later assisted with the salvage work. The extended Barnes family were lucky to avoid deaths in both the 1951 disaster and the earlier 1918 influenza epidemic.

My father then managed to engage in flying picket duties in the 1973 Miners' Strike before retiring the following year. He was then to share in the communal traumas of the 1984/5 Miners' Strike before witnessing the communal loss which came with the final closure of the pit in 1993.

He married in 1933 in difficult times (see here for my tribute to my mother). They spent several years in differing rented "rooms", essentially a bedroom with shared kitchen and toilet facilities. In 1936 I was born in "rooms" to add to the complexities.

Around this time my father was off work for almost two years with kidney trouble and could only return to "light work" for a period before he returned to the coal face.

A war-time move into a semi-detached Council house with a front and back-garden helped to improve life. As time moved on his luxuries became visits to the workingmen's club, meeting his mates, his continuing family links, betting (at one time the bookie sent him Christmas presents) and the visits from his grandchildren. And always there was football.

He had an extensive career as a local amateur goalkeeper playing for a variety of teams throughout the Durham coalfield. At 21 he had a successful season with Easington Village Rovers who acquired two trophies. He then moved to play for Stanley United in the Northern League. This led to him playing in a practice match for Hartlepool Reserves against the first team. They won 2-1. As a result he signed amateur forms with them, but when they sort to sign him as a professional Stanley United (who held his prior registration) insisted on a transfer fee of £25. Hartlepool either wouldn't or couldn't meet the fee!

He continued to play football until he was 40, disrupted by his spell of kidney trouble and the vagaries of war-time football.

I went with him to home and away games after the 2nd World War when he returned to play for Easington Village Rovers.

When I was 10, I walked with my mates to the neighbouring colliery of Horden to see Easington Colliery Welfare play our rivals Horden Colliery Welfare in the FA Cup Preliminary Round. Imagine my shock and predicament when my father turned out in goal for Horden. He had gone to the game to support Easington, but when Horden's goalkeeper didn't turn up he was signed up to fill the vacancy. It is the only time I saw him play other than for Easington Village Rovers.

Despite his 84 years in Easington, he was born in a terraced house close to Roker Park the then home of Sunderland AFC and became a lifelong supporter. At 10 his father first took him to see them play. The team he saw included the great Charlie Buchan. I was the same age when my father first took me to see Sunderland play. As we approached the ground my father showed me the house where he had been born. It was next door to a pawnbrokers.

But Easington was my father's home and the only time the two of us went to Roker Park to support the opposition was when Easington Colliery Welfare got to the final of the Shipowners Cup and played Sunderland Reserves on its hallowed turf. We lost, but only just.

In retirement my parents eventually moved into sheltered accommodation and enjoyed life as part of its elderly community. Pride of place in their flat was given to my father's football cups and to the photos of their two grandchildren which now look down on me as I type this.

(Enjoying retirement. My Mother and Father on your right, with neighbours.)

UPDATE 1st AUGUST, 2009. This is worth veiwing about what happened to my father's Easington Colliery. And although there are a couple of factual errors, this brief history of the pit community he belonged to is impressive.

5 comments:

The Plump said...

post-war prosperity, full-employment and the welfare state helped to transform life


And we should never forget it - nor how their removal would wreak havoc. Really touching post.

Harry Barnes said...

The Plump : My first memory of Easington Colliery is when I was 4 in 1940. The impact of the second world war on the community was to create a demand for coal and there was fair shares under the rationing system. This was then extended and developed in the immediate post war years. Little wonder that my political heritage became that shaped by Bevanism. Although the pit at Easington was of a more cosmipolitan nature by it closed in 1993, the community afterwards went into a serious decline in its size and living standards. As my father died only three years later he never saw the full impact of this. We don't plan for economic and social change to nurture and develop what past generations struggled to build. It is one of our great failures. Easington was next door to Tony Blair's constituency and I was part of that Labour landslide victory a year after my father's death. By then I could find nowhere else in parliament to seek to argue for the ideas drawn from my past except the Socialist Campaign Group. Yet I continued to claim that I came out of the Bevanite and not the Bennite tradition. My father wasn't politically active, but he helped in building a community that we should and could have nurtured.

Darren said...

Nice post, Harry. I enjoyed reading that.

Harry Barnes said...

Hello Darren: for a bit of socialism that remains in the Labour Party see -
http://dronfieldblather.blogspot.com/

Lily said...
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