Peter Tuffrey with this wonderful book has filled a noticeable gap in the library of illustrated histories of the coalfields. 128 pages of vivid dramatic black and white scenes from the dawn of the mighty coalfield at the end of the nineteenth century through its peaks and then premature slaughter largely in the 1990’s closure programme of John Major, this book in pictures marks our rise, our triumphs , or tragedies and our fall. This is not ‘a strike book’ or a book about the last decade between Thatcher and Major’ when virtually the entire British coalfield was ruthlessly butchered. However in featuring with such a wealth of image an industry so vast, productive and deeply entrenched among generations of the population we are struck by how much we have lost and just how deeply that loss is felt. There is something of the crippled giant corpse of the once mighty Titanic laying beneath miles of ocean, in these scenes of mighty industry, proud and secure, firm as granite, now swept from sight and banished from the pages of history leaving tens of thousands in anomie.
The once thriving communities confident in the hard work and skill shown in the faces of black faced colliers, women in comradeship through evictions, strikes ,disasters ,demonstrations and gala’s, now wiped clean, as if it was some age long dream. In this sense the book is heartbreaking, like many a memorial before it, though it is too a monument to a mighty breed of people and massive human endeavor.
Peter has worked wonders gathering such an extensive collection of photo’s skillfully selecting a balanced portrayal of the birth, life and death of each of the featured collieries. I know that he struggled for days of which to include and which to reject and this was far from an easy task.
Peter’s life has been steeped in the culture and vision of the Doncaster coalfield although never a pitman himself .His definition of ‘the Doncaster Collieries’ is not one we would be familiar with in the industry, having used the DMBC Council boundaries to select which are included and which not. The DMBC boundaries do not however coincide with the old NCB/NUM Doncaster Area, and for that reason pits we would include as “Doncaster Pits” like Goldthorpe, Highgate, and Frickley are excluded while Barnburgh and Cadeby from the South Yorkshire NCB/NUM area are included. The book looses nothing for that it must be said.
I think the most tragic scenes in this book are those of the bringing down of the characteristic colliery head gear, like mighty giraffe their legs are blasted from under them and they fall without dignity into the dust of their history. The families gathered round like so many earlier scenes in which it is the miners who have been killed, this time witnessing the severing of untold chains of generations of happiness, death, injury and passion with the death of the pit itself. I finished this book with tears in my eyes, and anger still in my heart, the one consoling factor that Hatfield at the edge of the coalfield is still alive and working with hundreds of millions of tones untapped before it. Truth is of course so many of the slaughtered Doncaster pits could have said indeed had said the same thing but nobody was listening. At a time of ever rising energy costs, escalating gas prices, plans to build a forest of environmentally destructive wind estates and deadly nuclear plants, with a whole generation now on the unemployed scrap heap and millions joining them, this book will remind us, that none of this, none of it was necessary.
Peter illustrates in his book the futuristic plan for the redevelopment of Thorne Colliery, a massive restructured colliery with three shafts and coal from Moorends to Cleethorpes. Reports at the time (1979) talked of mining 140 million tones of coal within a five miles radius of the shaft, that alone being the provision of work for a 1000 men for 70 years before longer term plans of a giant ventilation shaft at Goole and high speed underground trains working 50 miles east and north east.
The book records the brand new futuristic headgear being blown up, the shafts filled in. The Doncaster collieries could and should be open now, employing tens of thousands in a high paid industry, with vibrant communities strong in their solidarity and internal disciplines. This book reminds us of who we were, for the new generation of young Donie folk who have never seen a lump of coal or a wage packet and search for some sign of a future perhaps it can at least illustrate their past.