By Mark McConville
THE BACKBREAKING labour Britain’s miners had to endure has been recalled in a series of historical photographs from the turn of the twentieth century.
The striking pictures, as revealed by website Retronaut, show a miner chipping away at the roof of a thick coal seam in 1910, two young pit boys coming off their shift in 1906 and miners with a wagon of tin stuff in the shaft in 1900.
Other incredible images show miners working with the trucks in 412 fathom level at Dolcoath, Cornwall in 1900, a miner scrubbing up in front of a kitchen fire after a shift in 1920 and the North Wales Mines Rescue Team from the Westminster, Wrexham and Acton Collieries in 1914.
The history of coal mining goes back thousands of years. It became important in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, when it was primarily used to power steam engines, heat buildings and generate electricity.
Britain developed the main techniques of underground coal mining from the late 18th century onward, with further progress being driven by 19th century and early 20th century progress. However, oil and gas were increasingly used as alternatives from the 1860s onward.
UK coal production peaked in 1913 at 287 million tonnes. Until the late 1960s, coal was the main source of energy produced in the UK, peaking at 228 million tonnes in 1952. Ninety-five per cent of this came from roughly 1,334 deep-mines that were operational at the time, with the rest from around 92 surface mines.
After modernisation of underground mining, a deep shaft mine could produce 700 million tonnes annually. In 1986, Kellingley colliery achieved 404,000 tonnes in a single shift.
Britain’s miners led a mass strike in protest at the closure of collieries. The miners’ strike of 1984–85 was a major industrial action to shut down the British coal industry in an attempt to prevent colliery closures.
It was led by Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) against the National Coal Board (NCB), a government agency. Opposition to the strike was led by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who called the strikers and organisers “the enemy within”.
Violent confrontations between flying pickets and police characterised the year-long strike, which ended in a decisive victory for the Conservative government and allowed the closure of most of Britain’s collieries. It was “the most bitter industrial dispute in British history”. At its height, the strike involved 142,000 mineworkers. The number of person-days of work lost to the strike was over 26,000,000, making it the largest since the 1926 general strike.