Wednesday 12 June 2019

My Day at the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East Event

By Mick Watson

Martin Baker asked if I would like to share my impressions of the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event held in Durham on the 5th June, 2019. I enjoyed the day and was happy to oblige.

I am 52.

This disclosure regards my age may seem irrelevant. However, I feel it’s very relevant to understand my viewpoint regards the fascinating & well-organised Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event by people considerably younger than I. I have to point out that by & large my age group were the last to experience working mines that were still producing coal. My children never saw a working pit.


With critical thinking at the foremost, my first unspoken surprised reaction to the title of the event is why do the young people feel that the North East’s history regarding mining is actually hidden? Do they mean hidden from them? Hidden from my age group & culture? Surely not hidden from my age group & culture? Surely not hidden from local young people? Or is it? It got me thinking which is exactly what the event was all about & linking this to the knowledge pertaining to young people whether local or not, town or gown.

What seems possibly alien regarding mining history to young people from Durham University who are mainly from out of the area is actually not to my age group or maybe even to many local young people. There isn’t anything hidden about it.

The mining heritage is all around my culture, it was all around my life as I grew up & still is I suppose. Some examples being the thousands & thousands of historic mine workings such as drift mines, deep capped mines, coal tub ways, waggon ways & old abandoned railways that are all over the North East of England. Have a walk in Kepier Woods, from Durham to Belmont Viaduct, then keep walking 10 minutes more past the Viaduct & see an old drift mine, The Grange Drift mine belching water stained orange from Iron Oxide. Beamish Museum near Durham springs to mind which has a drift mine in situ, Shildon Railway Museum has many examples of the mining heritage.

Many old pit villages have old coal tubs with memorial plaques dedicated to the men & boys who died at their local pit, many villages have old mining winding gear wheels located as lasting memorials & some local schools & community centres have fibre glass made pit ponies pulling old coal tubs. Visit Tanfield Railway to see old coal mining history. Visit Washington F pit museum.

The Redhills Miners Welfare Hall located in Durham was a symbol of the Mine Unions power, still worth a visit today to experience coal mining history. Visit Durham Mining Museum located in Spennymoor, County Durham that has a huge archive with photographs and documents that are all mining related and/or social history. Our mining heritage is taught in local schools at Primary school level & verbally by parents & grandparents. Look to the statue of Lord Londonderry sitting on his horse in Durham Market Place, still lording it over the peasants, a man who evicted his own miners & families when they formed their Union, he made them homeless, he made some of the miners & their families live in caves in Blackhall. That was the class system at its worst. Penshaw Monument located on a hill that overlooks Sunderland & can be seen from parts of County Durham is an enormous beacon of the British Empirical way of life & to its coal mine owning family. Look at the open cast mining sites still ongoing in County Durham & Northumberland. The songs, the poetry & the paintings, it’s all there!

The list is almost endless of examples of County Durham’s mining heritage.

I am not really sure our Mining History is hidden at all. The student should look for the history.

What I learned: Linking the past to the present. Nothing is new under the sun.

I heard the interesting Beamish Museum speaker allude to poor working conditions & miners suffering from down time & no wages at certain times when coal was cheap & wasn’t worth selling. We touched on the miners strikes. I pointed out how this occurred during the 1990s at Nissan car plant & is still ongoing regarding standing the factory down when car sales are poor & improving hours when car sales go up. I heard the Union speaker voicing concerns regarding zero hours & poor working conditions nowadays & hope my message got across that despite Unions nothing is new. Nothing has changed & never will regarding the working man & woman unfortunately. The owner wins every time.


a debate I noticed only a few of us older people voted for a return of the mines if it were at all possible. The younger generation almost all said no to the return of the mining industry. Interesting as coal can be produced to burn cleaner nowadays. I agree we have to fight to save the planet regards the climate but wonder if the older generation voted for the return of coal mining were influenced actually as they shoulder the socio economic burden of families, mortgages etc. etc. when the students don’t have that burden? The socio-economic regeneration of the North East would be immense with a return of the coal mining industry in juxtaposition to the desolation once wreaked by Margaret Thatcher on this region. The North East has never recovered.

My age being relevant (once again).

I learned that young people are not afraid to speak publicly about their own mental health issues, I am proud of them. My generation don’t like opening up like this generally.

I learned that some young people generally seem to be acutely aware of social class division. The word elite was uttered many, many times out loud during the event. I know in some people’s minds class is an issue but maybe this is just my opinion but the older you get that class division disappears, you realise, yes some people have more money, but we are all equal, the Queen still has to go for a poo, just the same as you or me ha-ha!

My advice is to be yourself, find your inner voice & be you.


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