Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Shadow Of Easington's Pit.

The Shadow of the Mine by Ray Hudson and Huw Beynon

The Shadow of the Mine by Huw Beynon and Ray Hudson tells the story of the British Coal Industry in its development and heyday, plus what then happened to mining communities when the last pits were closed under the impact of Thatcherism. Whilst the book covers the general pattern of major events across the country, it pays particular attention to developments in the key mining areas of South Wales and County Durham. Their coal in the past having been especially important to the British Economy in powering its factories and railways.

  As I originate from Easington Colliery which was the last pit to close in the Durham Coalfield, I found this work to be of particular interest. Especially as Easington's pit and community are refered to more than any others. It makes six of the book's photos, maps and tables. Then its pit is also refered to more than any others - according to the index 19 times.  The neigbouring Horden Colliery coming next, with references on 9 pages. Yet out of the 67 such mines referred to, 29 only reeeive a single mention.

   When account is also taken of Easington as a community, it is mentioned on no less than 30 pages. Then it is additionally covered via references to Easington in its wider capacity as a District Council area and eventually as a Parliamentary Constituency. Below I give what I see as the main reasons why Easington itself was likely to be given so much attention by Beynon and Hudson.

   (1) Easington Colliery's slow creation and eventual growth rested fully on coal mining. For before coal mining back in the 1891 Census what is now its current area was then populated by only 61 people. These included farmers, a single agricultural labourer, brickyard workers, coast guards, quarrymen, children and housewives. And even some of these then travelled in to work from what became known as nearbye Easington Village. It was to be the pit alone that created a full Easington Colliery community; essentially for its workers, their families and those who provided them with services. Only as time went on did limited numbers of the miners children and wives find work nearbye in places such as Sunderland, Hartlepool and finally the later establised Peterlee.

   (2)  The Easington Colliery Pit Disaster of 1951 (according to the official report) "arose from an explosion in a specific seam when a coal cutting machine operating on a retreating longwall face struck pyrites. The explosion spread through 16,000 yards and caused the deaths of 81 persons. Two persons died in the ensuing rescue operations." My own father was in the pit at the time, but was working in a different seam from the explosion. He later helped with salvage work.

  (3)  During the miners strike of 1984-85 the depth of the struggle at Easington Colliery gained a great deal of attention, including mass turn outs against a single miner who sort to return to work. Local activists and their supporters were also often highly articulate about what was takng place.

  (4)  Easington was the final pit to be closed in County Durham, so it marked the end of a massively significant era.

  (5) Easington later attracted attention when the popular fictional film "Billy Elliot" was made there in 2002, involving locals in the background.

  Readers of Benyon and Hudson's book who have Easington connections may be find it odd to have its authors calling it "Easington Colliery village." For Easington Village which is next to Easington Colliery has a much longer non-mining history than the Colliery. Although it eventually came to have a Council Housing Estate which accomodated numbers of local miners and their families, plus retirement homes for ex-miners. But the authors are merely following a pattern where communites dominated by coal mining are often termed by them as being "mining villages".

  Many people with connections to Easington will also find this books wider coverage of "Coal And The End Of Industrial Britain" to be of interest.  For it deals with many similar backgrounds and events which first developed and then uncoupled key aspects of a wide range of coal mining communities.



Unknown said...

Haven't read it yet but am looking forward to doing so. Huw has very close links with county Durham mining communities and the Durham miners association from his time as a professor at Durham university. He was a strong supporter of the support groups in the 84 strike . His book masters and servants which covers the early years of the union in Durham is superb.

Harry Barnes said...

I will certainly look out for Huw's book on Durham Mining Communities.