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Digging Up The Pitmen

John Swain

Digging up the pitmen

I’m not usually one myself for fiction, I generally can’t see the point given how exciting and utterly unpredictable real life is. This book is an exception, I couldn’t put it down, it is so full of places so well known to the miners and mining communities of Doncaster, names, locations, work, dialect, attitudes, peoples, culture and history, our history. Not that this is simply fiction, the book sets a moving illustrated background which is rich in real living events. The real lives of miners and their family’s generation on generation. Time and again the story runs back to work, life and death which have touched and shaped the lives of generations of coalminers. The ethnicity of the book is also well observed, the crossover of Northumbrian and Durham pit families intersecting the Doncaster coalfield back and forth, reflects the lives of countless mining families in the coalfield. The story is largely based at Brodsworth pit and the Woodlands community, but touches Bentley and many other villages as the story unfolds and reflects on tragedy and union struggles across coalfields and generations.

The story itself sets away as a kind of mystery, out of the blue, Nigel North who had only vague knowledge of his family’s coalfield connections and the ‘other family’ down in Donie lands a large sum of money the result of a will. He is mystified as to this side of his family, how the money was accrued and why he had landed the bonanza being as far as he knew the stranger, even the black sheep as he came to discover of the tight family relationships. John knows the joys and trials of families, who was it said ‘where there’s a Will there’s relations?’ and not everyone in his family is ready at first glance to welcome home the prodigal son, or wish him congratulations on the windfall. Pit families can, he discovered sometimes be queer, even nasty, buggers, it’s not all back slapping, sweetness and light. Family relations are like much else in the book very well observed.

The story reflects the epoch year of the great strike in 84/85 the huge impact on tight community and internalised values, the veritable occupation by outside and alien forces which oddly tightened further the knit of the community and at the same time opened it up to outside, challenging influences, threats and opportunities.

I heartily recommend the book, it will be particularly appreciated by the South Yorkshire coalfield communities as well as their northern cousins, but I am also certain non-mining punters down south and elsewhere will enjoy this journey into a far distant time and place. It presents a realistic non-rustic image of the coalfields and some of the factors which went to shape them.

Paperback, 316 Pages.

ISBN 9781326804749

Publisher Lodge Books

Published 10 November 2016

David John Douglass