Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Deep Coal – Deep Community

‘Deep Coal Deep Community – 30 years on from the Miners’ Strike’

Memories of the Miners’ Strike of 30 years ago were brought to life with words and song at the opening of an exhibition at St Thomas the Martyr Church in Newcastle.

And the event combined with the opening of the Herman Schier Vestry by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.

This is a newly renovated and very attractive meeting room in the church named in memory of 25-year-old Herman Schier who died during the 1882 Trimdon Grange Colliery disaster which claimed 74 lives.

He is commemorated in the church on a brass plaque which has been hidden from view for many years and presumed to have been given by his parents who lived and worked in Newcastle. Mr Schier was overcome with gas as he led a rescue party from a neighbouring pit.

Running underneath the church is the Victoria Tunnel which used to carry coal from a pit at Spital Tongues to the River Tyne.

Jonathan Adams of St Thomas’ Church said: “Coal is part of our history and we’ve only recently discovered a memorial to Herman Schier here in one of our two church vestries, which is also used as a meeting room, and thought this would be a fitting tribute.”

‘Deep Coal Deep Community – 30 years on from the Miners’ Strike’ is an exhibition using photos, miners’ banners and words to remember the bitter miners’ strike of 1984/85.

It followed an announcement by the National Coal Board to close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs and Arthur Scargill’s call for a national strike.

The dispute brought pickets and police into dispute, with violent confrontations including the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ in June 1984.

While the strike divided opinion and communities it did bring support, particularly from the women in the affected communities.

When the strike came to an end, a year after it started, the miners returned to work behind colliery bands and lodge banners and alongside the women and children who had given them great support.

The event at the well known Newcastle church in Newcastle’s Haymarket was opened by the Dunston Silver Band and featured music and films about Orgreave.

Other guest speakers included Ian Lavery MP and Durham Miners’ Association General Secretary Dave Hopper.

Mr Lavery said: “The significance of the miners’ strike of 1984/85 is now firmly etched into the industrial and political history of Britain and, of course, our great region.

“Only now the real truth is coming to the fore. Recently released Government cabinet papers now clearly show that the dispute was unmistakably political and not industrial but based on an ideology to attack the trade union movement beginning with the mining communities.

“Coal will continue to fuel the world’s economies yet despite our substantial indigenous reserves we have only three working collieries left in the UK and none in the north east. What an absolute disgrace it is that globally coal consumption and production continues to rise and we as a nation import more coal than we produce.”

Mr Hopper said: “The Durham Miners’ Association is pleased to be associated with this event which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the historic miners strike to protect our jobs, industry and communities.

“The event has tremendous significance for us as it recognises the sacrifice of Herman Schier who led a rescue party in an attempt to save lives following the explosion at Trimdon Grange Colliery in 1882, a disaster made famous in the Tommy Armstrong folk classic ‘The Trimdon Grange Explosion’ which was sung at the event.

“The coalfields were all too familiar with death and explosions and this year also sees the centenary of the Great War where thousands of coal miners paid the ultimate price. Miners were far from ‘The Enemy Within’.”

“We welcome events of this nature as we still today, some 30 years on, campaign for the truth and justice which was taken away in 1984/85.”

Commissioner Vera Baird, who researched the Schier connection to the church and is a congregation member at St Thomas’, added: “I was delighted to take part in this event.

“Not only is this church very close to my heart but I was closely involved in the miner’s strike of 1984/85 representing many miners for over a year of court cases during the strike and acting for three of the 15 pickets who were put on trial following the mass arrests at Orgreave.

“I know from first hand experience the impact this year-long dispute had on individuals and communities and this exhibition helps provide a snapshot of this time and the affect it had, even now 30 years on.”

The exhibition includes mining banners together with photos and text looking at the call to strike; the closures and loss of jobs, the bitter disputes; the mass meetings; the women’s support groups and the return of the miners – beaten but still with their pride.

The free exhibition, which is sponsored by the Durham Miners’ Association, will run from 17 November to 13 December, Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 4pm each day.