Doncaster pit village plans miners' statue tribute

Brian Hayes, Janet Mitchell and Dennis Nowell at the site where the Armthorpe miners statue would be built.
Brian Hayes, Janet Mitchell and Dennis Nowell at the site where the Armthorpe miners statue would be built.

Brian Hayes has every reason to want to remember the mining industry in his home village of Armthorpe.

His story is not unusual in a place which until 21 years ago was the pit village that was built up around Markham Main Colliery.

Brian himself was a worker at the pit for 26 years, as was his dad Bill, before him, and his grandfather before that.

But the colliery was not just a livelihood for his family. It was also the industry which cost his uncle, Eric Smith, his life.

Eric died in a roof fall at the pit which buried him. For the rest of the family, this is a big reason never to forget the industry in the village.

It is one of the reasons why he and others in the village are currently fundraising for a statue in the village as another permanent memorial to the mine, and to those who carried out the dangerous work of digging the coal that powered the nation.

It is not the only mining memorial in the pipeline - there are plans for something similar in Doncaster town centre to serve as a borough-wide memorial, and consultation with residents is ongoing for that project.

But the Armthorpe plans are further advanced, with the sculptor having already created a miniature model of the statue.

Brian, aged 73, become a miner aged 16, going underground with his dad, a roper, to learn the trade. He worked at the colliery until he was 42.

He recalls how hard a taskmaster his dad was, and how he on occasions received a clip round the ear from his old man if he did not did not do the right thing undergound.

He said: "When you were born in the village, there was one direction, and that was into Markham Main.. Everyone worked with their fathers.

"For me, part of putting up a statue in the village is to remember Uncle Eric, and people like him.

"Armthorpe has changed such a lot since the mine closed. There have been thousands more houses built and the population is much higher than those days. Back then, everyone knew everyone, and it was a real community."

"I think it's important that we all remember those who worked at the mine."

Brian is one of many in the village who have got involved in the work to build a statue, in a memorial garden opposite Armthorpe Community Centre on Church Street in the village.

Another former miner, Dennis Nowell, who was a pit blacksmith, is among those driving the project forwards, along with Armthorpe Coun Tony Corden.

The 73-year-old has been working alongside the sculptor Ian Randall, from Selby, who has created the design.

It was the sculptor who came up with a plan to raise the money to pay for the construction.

That plan is seeing supporters of the project paying £5 to have their names stamped onto pieces of metal, which will be fixed to the sculpture.

The circular plates, about two-and-a-half inches in diameter, will be called 'checks'. They are named after the items which miners took underground with them when they went to the coal face, and then handed in again when they returned to the surface, to show that they were back safely.

There will be around 1,000 of these 'checks' on the statue, and demand has been high. Dennis said he had been inundated with people asking for them.

The statue will be placed on a 16ft wide circular plinth, and will be around 9ft tall, depicting two miners, and standing, and one kneeling. It is expected to he built next year.

Miners daughter Janet Mitchell, aged 63 is another member of the village's former mining community who has got involved with the project, and she too is keen to see the statue put in place.

Her dad, Dennis Watson, and her uncle, Donald Watson, both worked at the colliery.

He dad died in 1992. He had suffered from the miners lung disease, emphysema.

She said: "Dad would have been really pleased about this project. He was proud of his job and proud of being a miner. I just wish dad had lived to see it."

Any former Markham Main miners or their relative wanting to buy a check can contact Dennis on 01302 832203.

School's musical boost for statue plan

Youngsters from a village primary school are set to do their bit to support the Armthorpe statue plan.

A group of youngsters from Tranmoor Primary School are due to sing on a planned song recording to raise money for the scheme.

The song is already written and will be called Miners Unite.

Much of the Armthorpe community has rallied round to back the planned statute.

Big supporters have included falcon breeder Bryn Close, and the local builder Steve Mosby.

And the Coronation Club in the village has also backed the project with donations, after raising money with events including raffles and concerts.