It was a tough job done by tough men. Coal mining – as synonymous with our region as flat caps and underachieving football teams – could be dirty, dark and dangerous. It was a job almost certain to bring you into contact with death, disaster and industrial disputes.
But this was an industry which, for more than a century, was the beating heart of many South Yorkshire communities. It impacted on everything from the region’s economy to the way men and women spent their leisure time.
Now, a new book by The Star’s Retro writer Peter Tuffrey draws together previously unpublished pictures of this behemoth.
South Yorkshire People And Coal captures life in the pits down the decades - and offers a snapshot of communities those collieries built. A selection are published for the first time in Midweek Retro today. “Why is this important?” muses the 60-year-old, of Doncaster. “Because it’s a part of our history and it’s important we don’t forget.
“I’m not here to romanticise the mines. They were fraught with danger - many of the pictures taken from the book show disaster or disputes. But the pits were a way of life for entire communities. It wasn’t just a job. Miners would socialise at the WMC and go on holiday together with trips organised by the union.
“Some of our communities still haven’t recovered from the pits shutting. They still haven’t regenerated. So it’s important to say that these were great areas and they can be great again.”
The book follows on from Peter’s wider volume, Yorkshire People And Coal, which was released last year. This new tome, published by Fonthill, includes some 200 pictures dating from the late 1800s right up to this summer when the death of Maggie Thatcher - who shut many of the mines - was controversially celebrated in areas like Goldthorpe. Among the images are pictures of specific mining moments such as the 1984 Battle of Orgreave when striking miners brawled with police. But most simply capture everyday scenes. Several feature miners celebrating record production. Others show wives on a support rally.
“It’s vital we remember,” says Peter, author of 50 other books on local history. “We should celebrate our past.”
* Available in bookshops now, £12.99.
History of mining
1367: Permission is granted by Sir John Fitzwilliam for mining to take place on his estate near Elsecar. This is the first documentary evidence of a small scale practice which is thought to stretch back to Roman times.
1750: Elsecar Colliery - one of the area’s largest pits - opens.
1840: The creation of Britain’s rail network during the next decade leads to a boom in demand for coal. Over the next 30 years, several new pits are opened including at Orgreave, Cortonwood and Denaby
1866: The worst mining disaster in English history happens at Oaks Colliery near Stairfoot when more than 360 miners are killed in a series of explosions.
1929: A still-standing record amount of coal - 33. 5 million tonnes - is produced in South Yorkshire. That’s 13 per cent of Britain’s entire output.
1984: A massive strike fails to halt Margaret Thatcher’s closure of the mines.
2013: One pit - Hatfield Main Colliery - remains in South Yorkshire.