6 March 2024


The last British miners' strike began on this day in 1984. Forty years ago. My heart was with those miners and their communities then and so it remains. We will not forget.

My mother was born in a South Yorkshire coal mining village in 1921.  Her father was a coal miner before World War One and her maternal grandfather was a coal miner all his working life, like his father before him.

You might say that it was  on the backs of British coal miners that The British Empire was built. They dug the coal that powered industry, the railways and the steamships that fanned out across the globe - servicing the greatest empire that the world has ever seen. It was not the landed gentry or  the descendants of Norman invaders  who did it but hard-working men who sweated in darkness and risked their lives for coal. King Coal as they called it.

My first teaching job after leaving university was at Dinnington, a coal mining village here in South Yorkshire. Back then the local pit was in full operation. I could see the slag heap from my classroom window and I could hear the hooters that marked the beginning or the end of shifts.

I introduced a poem called "The Gresford Disaster" to two of my classes and we made a play about it which was performed in the youth centre. I even put the poem to music which some of the cast sang with me. Even though the village of Gresford is in North Wales, the anonymously written poem seemed very close to home for them:-

You've heard of the Gresford disaster,
The terrible price that was paid,
Two hundred and forty-two colliers were lost
And three men of a rescue brigade.

As 1982 began, the polls suggested that Margaret Thatcher, our then Conservative prime minister was about to lose the next general election but then Argentina invaded The Falkland Islands and British military forces fought back to defeat them. This utterly transformed Thatcher's electoral prospects and indeed she won the election of 1983 quite handsomely on the back of that patriotic fervour.
Statue of a coal miner in South Kirkby

Thatcher is still despised in former coal mining communities up and down the kingdom. She called coal miners "The Enemy Within" but the miners were fighting for their communities and for jobs. It was not about wage rises. She was determined to crush them and close the pits.

She paid for planeloads of police officers and soldiers dressed as policemen from the south of England to fly up to Yorkshire to crush the strike. Though much has been written about the lack of a national ballot, most of us who were on the side of the miners believe that she would have stopped at nothing  to  defeat them. Like Conservatives through the ages, she had little respect for trade unionism or indeed the working class as a whole. 
At Orgreave 18th June 1984
Lesley Boulton (Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures) is about to 
be clouted by a policeman on horseback - fortunately he 
missed as she was quickly pulled back by a striking miner.

With hindsight, you can see how reliance upon coal was becoming uneconomic and it had always been dirty and dangerous. Something had to change but not in the way that Thatcher and her gang cruelly devised it. Those brave men and their communities  deserved negotiation, persuasion and time for redevelopment and change. For generations, they had gone down into the bowels of the earth on behalf of our country and this was how the state treated them.

The mines are gone now. In their place there are retail parks or wastelands where ragged plastic bags are caught in thistles or rusty barbed wire. But listen carefully and from the years that have passed by you may still hear a plaintive echo from the bitter 1984-85 strike... "The Miners United Will Never Be Defeated!"

Back in December 2015, I wrote this poem about the
closure of the very last working  pit in Yorkshire:-


December 18th 2015

All is quiet now
Only darkness remains
Thick black velvet darkness
As black as coal
Pressed into eye sockets
Like thumbs.
All is quiet now
Yet somewhere
Deep in this awful labyrinth
Voices chant distantly
Please cup your ears
To hear them
Sweet like forgotten birdsong
Resounding in some
Primeval forest long ago:
"The miners united
Will never be defeated!"
Melting into the darkness
"will never be..."
It's all over now
Nothing left to say.
All is silent.


  1. As I understand it, peak coal production in the UK was around the time of the first world war, and Harold Wilson's governments closed more coal mines than Thatcher's government did. And I can remember miners interviewed in the 1960s saying that they didn't want their sons going down the mines, they wanted better, cleaner jobs for them. As with all things, the miner's strike in 1984 is more nuanced than a black and white good/bad dichotomy.

    1. No mining families EVER wanted their sons to go underground but if you were born into a mining community there was usually no escape. Have you ever listened to "Which Side Are You On?" by Billy Bragg? Sometimes things are not nuanced at all - in my humble opinion.

  2. We will never know all the hardships the miners went through. Just seeing photos here tells a story of how terrible conditions were in the mines. It's good that you bring this topic up to remind people of this terrible part of our history.

    1. Forty years ago but it seems like yesterday.

  3. I am pleased the miners haven't been forgotten. Thatcher's actions and lack of empathy made me sick and angry at the time and still does now. You are correct in that she would have stopped at nothing. The police 'just doing their job' must still make people have bitter feelings against them too, 'though clearly things have changed in policing since then.

    1. Have things really changed? They waved their bonus cheques in miners' faces.

  4. I knew about yesterday being the 40th anniversary of the start of the strike; it was on wikipedia's starting page (a useful and interesting summary of "on this day" and some lesser known facts that don't make the main news in my country). Also, Steve explained to me a lot about that time, and I broadened my understanding when I read "Northerners - A History" not so long ago.
    Steve's family comes from Thurnscoe (well, originally, from Ireland, as our surname suggests). His maternal granddad left school at 14 on a Friday, and went down the pit on the Monday. One of his aunts and other relatives still live in the area.
    The slack heaps on the outskirts of Thurnscoe have been turned into a park-like landscape where people walk their dogs and go jogging.

    1. They have grassed the slag heaps but they cannot obliterate what happened in 84-85.

  5. Great post YP I am sure if they found lithium deposits the mines would be open. Where are the statues in Westminster for the miners?

    1. They should erect a statue of Arthur Scargill in Parliament Square - right next to Churchill.

  6. Governments everywhere are good at bulldozing their way to get what they want, instead of listening to the people and helping them adjust at a slower pace.

    1. They always seem to think they are right which is most unhealthy.

  7. Quiet viciousness by the then government, a complete disregard or respect for the miners. It lies under the surface, see the Post Office debacle now. Luckily now it will be inspected by reviews, but I also remember at the time of the Poll Tax, the coaches of policemen parked in Bath park waiting for trouble.

  8. You beat me to it. I'm still writing my post. There are still those today who cling to their prejudices about the miners, because of regional and class snobbery, and because it fits with their right-wing views. At the time, reporting was heavily censored and doctored to show the miners in an unfavourable light, such as altering the Orgreave tv news film sequence to make it look as if the police were defending themselves, whereas actually they set up a trap, enclosed the miners, and then deliberately hacked them down from horseback. It was brutal and ruthless. And we think this is a one-off episode that could not happen again.

    1. The failure to properly investigate government and police wrongdoing at Orgreave remains a grave injustice - as Thelma suggested - on a par with the Post Office "Horizon" scandal.

  9. My paternal, maternal, great grandfather, started as an underground coal miner in England, moved onto digging water and subway tunnels, and that work brought him and his family to North America, over 100 years ago. My roots are in the English mines, and a brickmaker and his family in Swansea. (I have been there). I still need to visit the house my grandmother was born in, near Greenwich.

  10. I enjoyed reading this post as it gave insight into the plight of mining communities. I grew up in a working class community and I understand the struggles of being tied to the only occupations that existed. Did you teach your whole working life? I am guessing you were an English teacher as your are a really good writer.

  11. Way back in 1972 (I was 16 going on 17) I spent a month with an English family in Wadworth near Doncaster. I also went to school with the daughter in the family, who was around my age. (A bit on-and-off as it was June and they also had exams etc). Anyway I also got to meet her friends and classmates, and one memory that has stayed with me over the years is talking to a guy about what he was going to do after he left school, and he just shrugged and said he expected to "go down the pit" (as his dad and perhaps generations before had done as well). (I have no idea whether that's also what he actually did, but your post now made me think of it.)

  12. My father's family were miners, back more than a few generations. I don't know what most mining familes were like but it seems there was a lot of poverty, violence, alcohol abuse and early deaths. As you say, Britian was built on the backs of miners and the mining industry seemed quite content to chew them up and spit them out, with no regards for the miners as people. It seems that Margaret Thatcher felt the same way.

    You might find this interesting and sad.


  13. A defenceless woman about to be clubbed on the head by a thug on horseback.
    Sorry. A soldier dressed up as a mounted policeman.
    Britain in the 1980s.
    All thanks to Margaret Hilda Thatcher.
    With the support of Rupert Murdoch's The Sun.

  14. I vividly remember miners collecting donations at Brixton tube station when I lived in London. I always supported those noble men


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