23 March 2014

Background

Another view of "The Duckmanton Hotel"
To the south east of Sheffield, there are many reminders of what was once the North East Derbyshire coalfield. There were many profitable pits and around them hard-working communities clustered. Humble rows of cottages were built for mining families and there were churches, corner shops and pubs. About them grew slag heaps - waste material drawn from the bowels of the earth in the quest for coal.

Margaret Thatcher and her merry men decimated Britain's coal industry in the mid nineteen eighties. They were determined, at all costs, to crush the country's most powerful trade union - the National Union of Mineworkers headed by Arthur Scargill. Where once there were bustling mining villages there are now memorials, country parks, industrial estates or landscaped hillocks which cleverly disguise the black waste beneath. Sometimes you see methane vents which continue to release poisonous gases from old coal workings.

On my mother's side of the family, my grandfather and great grandfather were both coal miners - not in North East Derbyshire but in the South Yorkshire coalfield a few miles further north. Mum would often wash my great-grandfather's back when he returned from work to sit exhausted in an old tin bath by the fireplace. Consequently, I feel an allegiance to coal mining communities and shared the anger they felt when Thatcher wielded her vengeful axe. Afterwards, Britain imported coal from Poland or further afield to keep our power stations producing the energy that has created  and sustains our modern world.

On Friday, after planning another long walk, I drove to  a place I had never been before - Duckmanton in the heart of North East Derbyshire and there I noticed the monumental "Duckmanton Hotel" in the very heart of the village. Once it would have served whole shifts of thirsty miners. It would have been the very epicentre of community life with associated sports clubs and showbiz "turns" on Saturday nights. Now its very future as a pub is hanging by a thread and if I return in a year or two I bet it will have either been demolished or turned into apartments - something like that.

From Duckmanton I set off northwards to Poolsbrook, thence to Staveley and Inkersall and on to Arkwright Town before taking the path eastwards to Long Duckmanton. Visitors from faraway could now so easily tramp these same paths and have no idea that they were walking in coal mining country. My poem "Freehouse" was inspired by this walk - dedicated to those lost communities and the tough lives generations of miners endured. Their story with its tragic end threatens to become submerged with the passage of years and it is not a story that the London-based literati are much enthused to investigate.

"Duckmanton Hotel" is a "freehouse" - not chained to a particular brewery but as Adrian from "Adrian's Images" astutely observed - "Nothing is ever a freehouse" as Thatcher and the British establishment aided by the police and the army confirmed so vindictively back in 1985. 
Pools Brook Country Park - once the site of Ireland Colliery
Entrance to Pools Brook Country Park
An old pithead building north of Arkwright Town
Danger sign on the old pithead building
Methane vent north of Arkwright Town

14 comments:

  1. Yes and she got a State Funeral. I hope she rusts in hell. Miners were paid a pittance for years. Our current minister for transport, the dribbling drooling McLaughing was a scab miner. He didn't cut coal but worked the wages out or something equally dangerous.

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    1. Thanks for the Patrick Allen McLoughlin information. Some trade unionists just don't seem to get what being in a union is all about. United we stand - divided we fall.

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  2. Thank you YP. Brilliant background and poem.

    Adrian, don't worry, we will take up a collection and give you a Bloggers funeral.

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    1. I am obliged milady. Regarding our blogging friend Comrade Adrian - he shall never die. It is a little known fact that he is already 163 years old having been born in the same year as The Great Exhibition in London's Crystal Palace.

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  3. Particularly in collieries in derbys there is still hundreds of years of coal that Thatcher ordered concrete to be poured into the pit head to make them unuseable shows that this was as much of a social and political decision based on neo liberal policies and not an economic one. Secondly derbys miners held fast and hate being labelled with their scab cousins from notts.

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    1. I had forgotten about the concrete. Even if there had been a full strike ballot, Thatcher would have still done her damnedest to crush the miners. It was all planned like a military campaign with no expense spared.

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  4. I guess I don't have a clue what you're talking about, will have to go look it up on the Internet. It sounds like a complex issue with an unplanned ending. Isn't that what usually happens? The gods battle and the people pay.

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    1. Sorry for confusing you Jan but I know if you had been English you would have been on the side of the miners and their people. Thirty years have passed but the pain and the anger remain.

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  5. It was a hellish time that split families as well as communities, it was and still is a disgrace..... and she ruined the health service!

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    1. Yes she did try her best to ruin the health service and this awful Jeremy Hunt fellow is doing his best to keep up the Tory tradition of denigrating the NHS - putting out negative after negative when there are so many positives to acknowledge.

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  6. I know what little I know about this ear from movies like 'Brassed Off' and 'The Full Monty". THanks for enlarging me knowledge.

    Something that I do like, is that you keep on going to new places you haven't been before (and taking US there too), and I presume you're not driving for hours and hours to get there. That's what I like about merrie olde England. It's so FULL of places.

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    1. Thank you for calling by Kate. I appreciate your encouragement. I see so much more when walking - rather than driving. In England we have a wonderful network of ancient paths that are now officially public rights of way.

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  7. I wish we had them in NZ. But we aren't ancient enough.
    You do know I'm KdeC, don't you? I've 'come out'.

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  8. PS I have no idea why I wrote 'ear' and 'me' when I meant something else (Which at the moment eludes me) and 'my'. I think iPads and blogger comments are not compatible.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.