Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Still A Colliery And Not A Town

The Daily Telegraph's Web Site are running a story to say that John Darwin (on the left) who is known as the "Canoe Man" has been released from prison after three years under the condition that he does not talk to the media. They also indicate that he is living at Easington Colliery in County Durham.

I was born at Easington Colliery and was brought up there in what were probably its best days, although it also suffered its worst experience at the same time due to a massive pit disaster in 1951 when 79 local miners and three rescue workers were killed.

Yet it was an era of full employment, a highly productive local pit, a newly established and functioning health service, a wider welfare state and a nationalised coal industry. All of which provided hope for the future. Easington Colliery itself was a closely knit community.There were jobs in all parts for young people such as myself without qualifications. Coal was first drawn there in 1910 and its communal spirit had been forged out of the experiences of two world wars, the major mining strikes of 1912, 1921 and 1926 and the years of the inter-war economic depression. Especially from the mid-40s to the mid-50s its life seemed to me to have a tight social bond and to offer security for the future. No doubt much of what I felt was due to the feelings and hopes of youth. But there were also sound reasons for optimism about the future.

The start of the Daily Telegraph article now paints a starkly different picture for today. It reads -

"Easington Colliery is an obsolete town with an obsolete name. The coalmine that gave it its purpose is long shut but the place remains, lines of drab terraces marching down to the grey North Sea.

Desolation is its chief asset. When the makers of Billy Elliot wanted the perfect 'It’s Grim Up North’ setting, they settled on Easington. The town figures prominently in tables of deprivation, and lays claim to the most obese population in the country. Pound shops rub shoulders with pubs protected by steel window shutters, the standard furniture of broken Britain. No paradise, then. Certainly not the paradise envisaged by John Darwin when he was dreaming of wealth and sunshine"

The judgement of the writer is partly journalistic but it also makes use of uncomfortable truths. Strickly speaking it is wrong to call Easington Colliery an obsolete town with an obsolete name. It was and still is a colliery and not a town. It did not exist before its pit was sunk, although it lost its main purpose when the pit was closed in 1993. But it grew up as a colliery in the days when the pit, the miners' lodge, the local labour party, the workingmen's clubs, the miners' welfare, the co-op, local cinemas, chapels, allotments, the miners' own welfare park with its local football team, a long row of shops on the northern side of Seaside Lane , and almost a thousand colliery houses plus council housing and other rented accommodation and aged miners' homes all flourished. Its population peaked at 10,000 in the 1930s. Much has changed and much has gone, but it rightly refuses to be robbed of the word "Colliery" in its name. Also much of what remains makes use of and is embedded within its past.

And even though the Daily Telegraph's writer is correct to say that the Easington Colliery is no paradise, he is obviously unaware that the area in which I lived (containing mainly council houses) was known as Paradise - as a young boy my mates and I formed a football team which we grandly called Easington Colliery Paradise Rovers and beat Richie's Rockets 20-10. Perhaps it is that paradise that John Darwin now lives in.

1 comment:

jailhouselawyer said...

This is the second case recently where I have seen it said: "has been released from prison after three years under the condition that he does not talk to the media".

I highlighted the first case here...

Eddie Guilfoyle: What a load of old bollocks from the Parole Board!

What a shame that the freedom of speech lobby are silent on this worrying development. Especially, as the MoJ is retrospectively trying to gag me from speaking to the media!