Gathering at the Broadway Hotel prior to the commencement of proceedings.
The Broadway Hotel stands on the left, amid the long highway of uniform grey former pit houses. Broadway itself is a main thoroughfare through this mining village where I grew up. Many streets run off to the right and one of them is where my nana once lived. Two streets away, I meet my friend of many years, Liz, who will join me at the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the year long miners strike of 1984 and 85.
The early March sun greets us from a deep blue cloudless sky as we approach and glints off the silver polished brass instruments of the colliery band tuning up on the wide concrete forecourt. Families, old and young, throng in front of the Broadway. More swell their numbers from inside; it seems that proceedings are about to begin. Doncaster MP Caroline Flint is the first to address us. It’s difficult to hear at the back as we are not far from the intermittently busy road and the microphone is, at times, overwhelmed. I did grasp that Labour, and she in particular, intend to support the call for a public inquiry into police tactics during the strike; a very popular sentiment with all.
As she finishes speaking Liz spots Dave beckoning through the crowd. We make our way towards him but suddenly, the expected meeting turns into a wonderful surprise! It’s Maureen, who I haven’t seen in these thirty years since I, and then she, moved away. We have corresponded since then every Christmas. We exchange hugs and news; it’s been a long time! Among her many other roles in the community, Maureen was central to the Hatfield Main Women’s Support Group during the strike. Years previous, we had been members of the rather radical Goole Constituency Labour Party Young Socialists, as well as being part of other perhaps more inspiring ventures. Those were the days!
The maroon and gold splendour of Hatfield Main branch NUM banner stands to one side of the Broadway’s entrance, its silken portraits a fitting backdrop to this celebration of our traditions. The dark curly tousle of Chris Skidmore, the NUM president, is just visible through the crowd as he stands before it to deliver a short speech of welcome and remembrance. “Good to see so many here…..” He speaks of the year long struggle; of the bravery, the hardship, of victory and of defeat. On this glorious day, the warm applause from those assembled seems more in tune with a victory somehow.
Speaking of tunes, Hatfield Main Colliery band now takes up the anthem and rousing music stirs the balmy air. Children are bouncing, feet are tapping, voices humming and hands clapping as brass and percussion rise and fall between melody and crescendo. After a short programme, we reconvene inside.
The Broadway is a traditional wood and upholstery pub of two long rooms around a central bar, with a ‘quiet’ room off to the left. People file in, this way and that. We go into the ‘best’ room, where on the stage, the band is setting up. Drinks are being ordered, seats taken and standing room claimed. We manage to find seats between a young dad and his kids and a family in ‘Justice for Orgreave’ tee-shirts. The children make us smile with their chatter. There is laughter, greeting and meeting as the room fills up.
Pete Thompson is a local businessman from a mining family. He has always supported the strikes, and with other locals was instrumental in organising this event, along of course, with Dave, now living at distance in South Shields. It’s good to see it all come together. Pete it is who now introduces Dave Douglass to a warm welcome. Dave, miner for forty years, author and graduate of Strathclyde University, Hatfield NUM branch official for twenty-five years and member of the Yorkshire Executive Committee at the time of the strike, speaks. He is offered a microphone but his articulate Geordie voice carries to all in the room unaided from the stage.
Dave speaks of the strike as a crossroads, a clash of ideologies and a divergence of different ways of life; “Our traditions of comradeship and support for one another in the communities against theirs of dog-eat-dog and the rich getting richer. Coal, steel, shipbuilding, manufacturing, our communities, our futures, in fact our society, all at stake”. He pays tribute to the brave fight of the miners and the Women’s Support Groups. “We were fighting for our children’s futures, they to break us and send all the jobs and the wealth down to the south-east. The closure programme! It was what they were going to do all along and the lies of Thatcher and McGregor were to draw us in. 220,000 miners, 170 pits, almost all gone. Only three pits left; and by hook or by crook, Hatfield, one of the most militant, is one of them”.
He nails the slander of Scargill concerning the ballot. “In the crucial vote Scargill sat in the chair, his position being neither for nor against. But having been instructed by the membership: – ‘What do we need a ballot for – we’re already on strike!’ he had to put that position forward. Scargill did not call the strike; it was a spontaneous reaction to the threatened closure of Cortonwood Colliery and quickly spread through the Yorkshire and then national coalfields”.
“Thatcher wanted a power struggle. She got one! Joe Green and Dave Jones killed, suicides and other deaths, 20,000 miners hospitalised, thousands arrested, thousands victimised, many who have not been able to gain any employment since…..we learned how to love and hate, we learned the spirit of friendship, hardship, comradeship; and we encountered brutality, victimisation, discrimination and corruption on a scale never seen before in our movement…..”
“And for what! And for what!” Dave emphasises. “So they could rob us of our jobs, our communities, our aspirations; destroy our industries and our traditions. So they could leave the north and west derelict and the south-east affluent and prosperous, changing the social and political landscape in their favour……….. So they could invest in dangerous and expensive technologies such as nuclear power and fracking……. Never mind the many trillions of cubic tons of workable coal and clean carbon capture technology which could have provided cheap energy for the future and saved our jobs and communities ………….”
“The strike was hard and bitter; but comrades, we should be extremely proud that we did it. The only other option would have been to roll over and die at the feet of the Tory government. It was a fight worth having and we shouldn’t have lost it!”
There has been applause at points throughout the speech; now it is thunderous. Calls of appreciation reverberate around the room.
Now Dave introduces Rachel Horne. I remember seeing her at previous events. She is young and pretty and has an infectious enthusiasm. She tells us that her dad worked at Cadeby colliery and that she was proud to be a strike baby born in 1984. She raises a laugh, telling us her parents had said that there was nothing much else to do in the strike! She tells of her mum and dad’s stories of the strike and how she was part of it, going to meetings, demonstrations and pickets in her pushchair. Rachel has used these experiences in her artwork and music to gain her arts degree and in her work as a carer and teacher, keeping our traditions alive for future generations. “I just want to thank the mining communities for the opportunity to be your strike baby” she ends. The room erupts into heartfelt appreciation.
As this subsides, Dave welcomes Hatfield Main Colliery Band, applauding their outstanding performance in the championship. The conductor stands before a full stage of drum and brass. So many young players amongst the musicians who now grace us with their talents! The band sets off at an effervescent pace with the classic ‘There’s no Business like Show Business’, appropriately buoyant and optimistic for our celebration. There are lots of ‘I know the tune’ moments, as they harmonise through a programme of the quiet and thoughtful interspersed with the stirring and joyful. The poignant rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is moving, as voices sing and hearts swell, filling the room with the pride and emotion of our struggle. The programme is drawing to a close; the conductor turns towards us and the band rises to an appreciative audience. Then, a final bright and breezy number is played before the musicians lay aside their instruments to more applause.
The only player I know personally is Margaret. She still occupies the house next door to the one my parents lived in, when they were alive, and where I spent my childhood. The best of families and good neighbours! .......I manage to catch her eye as we join the crowd passing through the other bar to the exhibition housed in the ‘quiet’ room. Just time for a quick word and a thumbs up of appreciation for the music before we’re swept along with the flow.
My dad was retired at the time of the strike but I remember his working life. He worked on the pit top at Brodsworth before moving to Hatfield when he married my mam. He started as a shunter, then became a locomotive driver; but he had been a member of St John’s Ambulance Brigade since his youth, and when the chance came to work in the colliery medical centre, he passed his exams and got the job. Many’s the time he’d arrive home from work white and drawn after an incident at the pit; perhaps he’d had to go down the mine with the rescue team. After a while he’d say: “There was a bad’n today” and mam and me would get the bare outline of the tragedy. Injury or illness was an almost daily, and nightly, occurrence. Miners who were seriously injured would be taken to Doncaster Royal Infirmary in the mine’s ambulance. Some of the ‘bad’ns’ were fatal.
So, I learned what dangers the miners faced every day in their working lives, were willing to face; for their livelihoods, their families and their communities, and for the coal itself. Such a bereavement to have it all swept away by the political ambitions of a Tory government.
But today is about celebrating our spirit. And there is plenty of that as I look around the exhibition. The ‘quiet’ room is an oblong entered mid-way through one of its longest sides. Usually its small high windows look down on a comfortable bench running along the back wall with a neat row of tables and chairs in front. Today it is transformed. On every side of the room, splendid NUM area and lodge banners proclaim our heritage: the North East Area banner, Tursdale North East Area and North Selby and Stillingfleet for Yorkshire. A red and white banner from the Women Against Pit Closures completes the backdrop to the many hundreds of black and white photographs mounted on boards around the room and laid upon a raft of tables down the centre.
The grim urgency of this life and death struggle; the purposeful movement of many hundreds, thousands of pickets, whole communities, women, families. Besieged streets, as rows of linked arm bobbies, mounted police or heavily armoured riot police face them. At Hatfield Main colliery, police in riot gear charge. The melee of battle with miners being beaten, truncheoned, handcuffed, arrested. At Orgreave, men run while a line of mounted police the full width of the street charge after. A coal wagon stands idle as police and pickets argue the toss at a coal depot.
A photographer holds up an arm in defence; a charging horse bears down, its helmeted rider wielding a baton. A miner lies prone with a blood smeared face as others look grimly on. A rare coloured image shows bright red streams running down another’s head as he sits in the road. Many hundreds more photographs of protest, confrontation, arrest and injury on picket lines and throughout the mining communities as miners were pursued and beaten. Women organise on the streets. Hatfield Main Women’s Support Group; Women Against Pit Closures: Banners, marches, communal kitchens, confrontations with police. Miners picket parliament and march down Fleet Street. All these images a living history of the tearing apart of the mining industry and its communities, and their brave defence. A police riot helmet stands in a place of its own among the photographs. It seems an appropriate trophy.
I feel humbled at the enormity of the struggle. Living in rural North Nottinghamshire and having my own first child in 1984, my support of the strike was mainly confined to fund-raising. We did raise several hundred pounds at concerts and poetry events which went to the women’s movement. I hope that in a small way we helped to sustain the strike, and along with other’s efforts, ensured support for the communities. However, it’s so hard to imagine the gravity of a situation where your own village becomes a battleground and life is a daily struggle for survival. I’m left with this feeling of great regard; of love, inspiration and awe.
Dave is signing copies of his autobiographical trilogy ‘Stardust and Coaldust’ and a book of photographs from the strike, many displayed here, is also on sale. It’s difficult to have a word as Dave gets into deep discussion with several people. At last I give my thanks and goodbyes and ask if he’s got any facts and figures for the write-up. “Not off hand” he says typically! Oh well, good old memory will have to serve then I think!
Liz and I head out into the lovely day and talk about our mining heritage. Liz’s dad and granddad worked in the mine, her dad being at one time under-manager at Hatfield. I also discover that our grandparent’s families both came from Barnsley. Granddad on my mam’s side moved here to work at Hatfield but had to come out for his health.
As we walk down Broadway I remember the bustling, thriving community of my childhood and youth. Sad that it is now fragmented and beset by many of the problems faced by the decimated coal communities, despite the small number of local men employed at Hatfield….. Apparently, much of the work force is imported from other areas, but at least it still has a functioning NUM branch. It’s been a good day and as I say goodbye to Liz, I’m thankful for my roots in this courageous and spirited community.
Kellingley and Thoresby to go. Hatfield the last. Yet coal continues to be imported. A tragedy and a travesty! Good luck to the NUM in its fight to keep them open.
I think Dave also mentioned that there were about 100,000 people at last year’s Durham Miners Gala. At least our culture and traditions may live on. The commemoration was certainly a very memorable tribute to the strike.
My thanks go to the wonderful people in this narrative who I am lucky enough to know or have made the acquaintance of; and to the people I met at the planning meetings in the Broadway. I am glad to have been even a very small part of your struggle.
Thanks Dave for prompts from ‘Ghost Dancers’ and corrections.