25 years ago... the mo­ment they killed King Coal

Grim an­niver­sary of Bri­tain’s big­gest ever lay-off, and a day that spelled be­gin­ning of the end for the pits

Yorkshire Post - - NEWS - DAVID BEHRENS COUNTY COR­RE­SPON­DENT ■ Email: david.behrens@ypn.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @york­shire­post

ACKTON HALL, Whel­dale, Led­ston Luck... the roll-call of names reads like a list of old aban­doned rail­way sta­tions.

They were among the 28 pits in York­shire that had al­ready been swept away when, 25 years ago to­day, the govern­ment passed what was to be a death sen­tence on the rest.

It fell to Michael He­sel­tine, pres­i­dent of the Board of Trade in John Ma­jor’s Cabi­net, to swing the axe. Some 31 out of 50 re­main­ing deep mines would close, he an­nounced. 31,000 jobs would go at a stroke.

It was the big­gest re­dun­dancy ever an­nounced in Bri­tain.

Af­ter years of de­cline, the news was not a sur­prise but it was a shock.

“Po­lit­i­cally there was no ap­petite for coal. Not af­ter the strikes,” said Shaun McLaughlin, who heard the news, with the rest of his shift, at Still­ingfleet pit in Selby.

At his Na­tional Union of Minework­ers head­quar­ters in Sh­effield, Arthur Scargill called for a mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion in de­fi­ance. But Bri­tish Coal was one step ahead.

In a se­ries of deals in the weeks lead­ing up to his Oc­to­ber 13 an­nounce­ment to the Com­mons, Mr He­sel­tine had agreed with the com­pany’s chair­man, Neil Clarke, a de­tailed pack­age of en­hanced re­dun­dancy pay­ments for the 31,000 – tem­pered with the threat to with­hold them from any miner who walked out.

Mr Scargill had al­ways main­tained that the Govern­ment had a se­cret hit-list of pits it wanted to close, but Mr He­sel­tine’s an­nounce­ment went much fur­ther than even he had pre­dicted.

“They didn’t ac­tu­ally say on the day which pits were go­ing to go,” said Mr McLaughlin, who is now the head of en­gage­ment and col­lec­tions at the Na­tional Coal Min­ing Mu­seum in Wake­field.

“I was what we called a mod­ern miner – I worked in a mod­ern pit, so I hoped I would be OK. But peo­ple at the small pits were very wor­ried.”

Sharl­ston, between Wake­field and Pon­te­fract, would be one of the first on the hit-list when the de­tails of it fi­nally emerged.

It had been started in the 19th cen­tury at the cen­tre of a model vil­lage, with 150 back-to­back houses in neat rows, and Mr McLaughlin had worked there dur­ing his 39-year ca­reer. By 1992, how­ever, it was an anachro­nism. “It was like go­ing back 100 years,” he said.

The big­gest shock, 25 years ago, was not the an­nounce­ment it­self but the scale of it, he added. “It was a very som­bre day. Ev­ery­one feared for their liveli­hood. A lot re­tired but they went far too early. They got their re­dun­dancy terms but five or 10 years later they re­alised the money wouldn’t last long enough and they had to start look­ing for other jobs. By then they had been out of the mar­ket for years.”

The pro­duc­tive Kelling­ley pit near Selby, which had only opened in 1965, held out some hope for the in­dus­try.

“It sup­ported the com­mu­ni­ties of Pon­te­fract and Knot­tin­g­ley,” Mr McLaughlin said. “But Castle­ford bore the main brunt here.”

The Selby coal­field, the so­called “su­per­pit” which in­cluded Still­ingfleet, Wis­tow, Ric­call, White­moor and Gas­coigne Wood, was also ex­pected to sur­vive well beyond its even­tual clo­sure in 2004.

“I thought Selby would last a lot longer than it did,” said Mr McLaughlin. “Pri­vati­sa­tion was the death knell be­cause there weren’t enough mines left to take the peaks and troughs in pro­duc­tion.

“There were lots of hous­ing es­tates built around the mines – those were all dev­as­tated. And with the loss of the coal power sta­tion at Fer­ry­bridge an­other source of liveli­hood went.”

Po­lit­i­cally there was no ap­petite for coal. Not af­ter the strikes. Shaun McLaughlin, who worked at Still­ingfleet pit in Selby.

PIC­TURES: GARY LONGBOTTOM/BRUCE ROLLINSON.

END OF AN ERA: Main pic­ture, Shaun McLaughlin, of the Na­tional Coal Min­ing Mu­seum near Wake­field in the lamp room; min­ers af­ter their last shift at Kelling­ley Col­liery in 2015; driver Alan Se­nior takes the shearer on one of its last runs at Still­ingfleet.

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