|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|