Mining a Rich Seam of History; Gone but Not Forgotten - the North East Mining Industry Is No More but the Region Has More Memorials to Mark Its History Than Perhaps Anywhere Else in the Country, as a New Book Reveals. MIKE KELLY Spoke to One of Its Authors
Byline: MIKE KELLY
WHILE the last of the deep coal mines in the North East closed nearly a decade ago, the people are determined the industry's place in the region's history is never forgotten.
Drive a few miles, particularly in the County Durham and Northumberland areas, and chances are you will come across one of scores of memorials dedicated to miners and the mining community.
They take all forms and shapes and sizes, from pit-head winding wheels to coal tubs and sculptures of miners themselves, with colleagues or family, preparing to do a day's graft. Some are more abstract, but they all have one thing in common ... the respect of the community.
So without doubt it's about time someone set about researching these memorials for a book about the subject and that is just what Ken Smith has done with photographer Tom Yellowley.
Ken, a former sub editor for The Journal and now a respected local historian, knows his subject.
Among his most recent books, written with wife Jean, are The Great Northern Miners and Splendour of the Gala.
He said: "There didn't seem to be many books featuring these memorials at all, so we decided to bring together those in Northumberland and Durham.
"There are few areas in the country that have got so many memorials to the miners. The North East has an unusual amount of them. Actually it's not unusual, it's because coal has played such an important vital role in the history of the North East."
And not just the North East. Ken added: "It was vital to Britain too, of course. The great northern coalfield of Northumberland and Durham was the first to develop in the industrial revolution. And they've existed for centuries."
While Britain was the first country to exploit its coal reserves, Northumberland and Durham were the first areas where the work began. As early as 1236 the monks of Newminster Abbey near Morpeth received a grant of land on the sea shore near Blyth to gather sea-coal.
Then three years later Henry III granted a charter to the people of Newcastle giving them the right to dig in the Castle-Field and Frith areas, today known as the Town Moor.
By 1269 the monks of Tynemouth were involved in the coal trade and there were reports in 1325 of a ship from Pontoise in France bringing a cargo of corn and returning home laden with sea-coal.
By the time of the industrial revolution which turned Britain into the richest country in the world, the region's mines formed an integral part of its engine room. However, its proud 800-year tradition was laid to rest in indecent haste in the 20 years after the Great Miners' Strike of 1984/85. One of the more recent memorials was unveiled in 2009 at Ellington, Northumberland. It shows the bronze figure of a miner with his hand on a pit head wheel, and was created by sculptor Tom Maley and commissioned by the Ellington Memorial Group which included representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers, UK Coal and Ellington Parish Council.
Ellington Colliery was the last deep mine to close in the Northumberland coalfield - some open cast sites remain - in 2005. Monkwearmouth Colliery in Sunderland was the last deep mine in the Durham coalfield to close, in 1993. Sunderland AFC's Stadium of Light is now built on the site, a memorial of sorts in itself, but there is a more traditional one in the form of a giant miner's safety lamp there, its light perpetually burning, as well as a winding wheel. While these memorials are hard to miss, it took Ken and Tom around two years to research the not-so-obvious ones as well. …