Friday, December 18, 2015

Thoughts on the end of Deep Mining in Britain

Today workers at Kellingly Pit have finished their final shifts and with those shifts centuries of continuous deep coal mining have come to an end.

I have very mixed feelings about this: as a member of Copeland Borough Council for Bransty ward from 2007 to 2011, I was a fairly rare thing: a Tory representing a Northern ex-mining community.

Within days of my election I was invited to attend a rally commemorating the William Pit disaster sixty years before in which 104 people had lost their lives (the site of the pit being located in my ward).

Having, of course, accepted the invitation, I was stunned on arrival to see perhaps four thousand people had come to commemorate that event. It was an incredibly powerful demonstration of how strong and positive a thing the community spirit of mining communities can be.

And it is for that reason that I cannot bring myself to celebrate the end of deep mining in Britain, because the spirit of those mining communities was something very powerful and valuable.

But there is another aspect to that. Throughout its' existence the William Pit claimed lives, as did Haig and Wellington Pits, and the William Pit disaster which killed 104 people in 1947 was not even the worst mining disaster in Whitehaven's history. That dubious honour goes to the Wellington Pit disaster of 1910 which killed 134 men and boys, leaving  85 women widowed and 260 children who had lost their fathers.

1,300 people are known to have died in the coal mines in the Whitehaven area but this may well be an underestimate of the total number of casualties. According to the Haig Pit mining museum, "It has been estimated that over 1700 men, women, and children have lost their lives while mining coal in the Whitehaven collieries."

Perhaps the most poignant of the memorials to those killed in mining accidents in Whitehaven stands in St Nicholas's Gardens, and it commemorates the children who died in the town's mines.

I can understand why many people are sad at the economic impact which the end of deep mining has had and will have on mining communities and why many people will regret the loss of something which was very special about those communities.

But I absolutely do not regret that no more people will die in mining accidents.

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