Meic Birtwistle witnesses the final day of deep coal mining in Britain. He reflects on how the industry has shaped his own life, and the lives of so many in Wales, and talks to the Welsh miners in Yorkshire working their final shift.More excerpts from Planet 221
When a pit closed you could in the past find another hole to go to. But you can’t now.
I’ll write it down to make it somehow real that on the 18th of December 2015 for the last time men cut coal in the United Kingdom deep below ground. And to that purpose on that day pit wheels ran back and forth, cages went down and came up, lamps were lit and extinguished, and shifts clocked on and then clocked off as had happened countless times before. But those familiar activities are now history. I have to stop and think because it is almost too much for my mind to take in that an industry which once employed over a million men on these islands is now no more.
I was skirting Manchester when it first really struck me. The end of coalmining... I was on the way to Kellingley Colliery, Yorkshire to speak to the last Welsh miners for a TV programme last summer. For colliers had by now become industrial gypsies.
When I started in my first mine I never thought I’d end up in Yorkshire. There were so many mines... I never thought I’d see the end of mining.
Really the programme was about the end of a British industry – the last deep mine in the UK. Former mining country hurtled past on all sides on my journey from Ceredigion to Yorkshire. Impossible that it was almost over, this tale from across the centuries which it seemed had filled my life – and that of generations of my family. But of course this was the story of many of the people of these islands.
There in the distance Crawshawbooth, Lancashire passed by, surrounded by the Rossendale Forest, on the outlying hills of the Pennines. Richard Birtwistle my forebear had been a miner there back in the 18th century. My father and uncle had described a pit in their father’s village, remembered from their visits as children... They had pointed out the exact site of a drift mine to me.
We were the industrial revolution.Buy the issue or subscribe here
Meic Birtwistle is a freelance journalist and TV producer.
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