Surrounded by open country, the planned mining village in 1900 included everything a community could want. By the time it was established it included: a school, mission church and village hall, methodist chapel, cooperative store, cobblers, allotments, a doctor’s surgery, cricket pavilion and pitch and a public house/hotel
With the Pithead just behind these houses were built following the above village plan. The majority (Deputies had slightly better houses with small front gardens) were 3 up, 2 down terraces with front doors that led from the living room directly onto the street and back doors leading to a yard.
Until they were modified in the 1950’s they had outdoor toilet blocks with pans that had to be emptied and families carried a tin bath into the kitchen to bathe. The kitchen had a coal fired range with oven, updated to one not dissimilar to the one I remembered from my early childhood in a 1950’s NCB rented semi,.
Outside the Industry Nottinghamshire miners were viewed as eminently reasonable and level headed during the 1984 dispute. The truth was more likely that they saw themselves as independent factions driven by self- interest, the only common denominator being what they did for a living.
In the Nottinghamshire I knew, the pits stood for community supporting generations of families often living and working in less than ideal circumstances. They also supported introverted class snobbery. My earliest recollection of my future mother in law, apart from being viewed with deep suspicion because I wasn’t local, was her reaction to the news that I was going to college.
“What gives you the right to think you are better than the rest of us? Why aren’t you getting a job as a cleaner?”
Educating the daughter of a coal miner generally seemed to be viewed as largely unnecessary beyond learning to read a payslip and work out if you’d been swizzed. Coal miner’s daughters married coal miner’s sons and produced coal miners and coal miner’s wives. The blind optimism of 1905 had produced any number communities all living under the assumption that the pits would always have a place for their sons and every son was owed a place. Nobody it seemed, took account of a changing world and would have scoffed at the idea of a woman prime minister, until it actually happened.
Margaret Thatcher wasn’t even a Southern softie with a privileged background. She was a grocer’s daughter from Grantham, not a million miles from the Nottinghamshire pitheads. The average miner I knew was very much a man’s man who hadn’t quite given up on the concept of a woman being a chattel. The Margaret Thatcher government was all about a free economy, the law of supply and demand and creating herself as the new Elizabeth 1, the woman with the heart and stomach of a man determined to end the strangle hold of the unions and the mining Industry.
Did it grate a tad? – I know it did.
This inverted snobbery fuelled, ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality, was simply unsustainable in a strife ridden economy that had not long since seen spiralling unemployment, high inflation and fallen into recession. Even ignoring the reports of cheap European coal imports and the Select Committee report that pits were uneconomic, I couldn’t avoid the feeling that keeping the pits open ‘just because’, was a recipe for disaster.
By the early 1980’s I was very much aware of what was going on. I was a fully paid up married member of the mining community and had strategically placed myself in a terrace house between the family and the in laws so as not to cause friction. For the most part, I’d kept my opinions under my hat and devoted myself to becoming an Accountant and fighting the good fight for coal miner’s daughters who didn’t want to be cleaners. My husband worked 12 hour shifts and weekends and viewed spending some of them sleeping on a transformer as ‘all part of the game’. There were rest days and sick days for him to fill as well as the annual holiday allowance, and whole communities boarded coaches once a year and relocated en masse to the Derbyshire Miners holiday complex in Skegness.
Don’t get me wrong, the mines weren’t call pits without good reason. In my courting days I once sat in the pit yard reading a book waiting for my intended to finish his shift and found myself unable to distinguish one sweat streaked blackened face from another. Coal mining is dirty, hard and dangerous. There were no toilets or washing facilities underground and, working up to 1000 feet below ground, it’s hot and dark. Sandwiches (snap) were eaten by gripping one corner and eating up to your fingers and no more, especially if you’d just dug a hole to have a poo. The only time comfort and cleanliness were ever considered was when visiting Royalty decided to take a look underground, then the coal was washed so as not to offend them. My father worked down the pit where his father was killed in an accident; it was not uncommon. The Coal Mining History Resource Centre http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/ has a database of over 164,000 accidents and deaths in UK coal mines, almost one for every striking miner at the height of the 1984 dispute.