Mine and Yours
A mining and twinning project
In my ‘a psychogeography of where I grew up’ piece (on particulations.blogspot.co.uk), I remembered and rediscovered mines. All those mine that were closed down, most
noticeably in the 1980s, where I grew up beyond the outside (of Britain), and, well of course, in this country! So there’s a parallel history there, a mining history that’s mine and yours! By remembering this, I had, too, become a miner of my subconscious, and so developed this tracing story about mines, ‘twin mines’ across countries, three in this country and three in Germany.
The ‘three mines each’ that I am focusing on were/are on both sides, i.e. in both countries, the last mines of an era. All the others have been closed down, an era had been shut down, the end has come or the end is nigh, as in Germany where the two last mines will close down next year, in 2018. And so I write this around the end of an era: either just after or just before.
It’s funny, how things go further and deeper: first I became interested in symbolic archaeology, then geology, and now mining! There’s a clear thread here. Each stage overlaps, could be the same, and has a personal reference. I started using the word ‘archeology’ when looking in my flat for old documents, embarking on sorting through interesting ‘stuff’ I had collected in and from the past. Then I moved on to saying ‘geology’, to focus not necessarily on finding things, but on finding how the layering of documents of my past was organised in my flat (in West London)/room (afterwards, shared houses). With each step, the past, the ground with its underlying features, became more obvious. I called my collected items ‘self-extensions’. As the picture of me and my ‘landscape’ expanded, it all seemed more obviously psychogeographical as well, and so I moved from the symbolic to the ‘real’ (super symbolic?) and so rediscovered the mines that had existed around me. And as my surroundings, since I grew up, have changed, I grew closer to the mines, that would have existed around me here, too.
So from ‘here’ to ‘there’, and then back again, and across, and over again: I grew up on the edge of the area where mines existed in high concentration: namely the Ruhr area in Northrhine-Westphalia. Here I was on the edge of an area, not yet the end of an era – though it was an edge of an era as well, as my growing-up fell into the 1970s and 1980s, when mines were shut down in large numbers, and the Miner’s Strike was on in Britain. I remember vividly, how news came in on a regular basis of mines shutting down somewhere near me. I felt it to be odd: I knew that when I grew up, I had to find a job, so when you have a job, and then they take your job away, isn’t that theft? Meanwhile, in Britain, the Miner’s strike was on: we all got to know what was going on back then, there was more public communication.
Remembering against the silence
So all these mines around me in my childhood now came back to me. I wanted to know what happened meanwhile. So I looked for those mines online, and found that they had all disappeared, the last of them in 2015, in Britain. In Germany, two mines are still standing, only just, until next year. In Britain, in 2015, only two years ago, the end of an era took place, but most of us didn’t seem to know about that end. There was a silence in the end: no strike, but a striking silence!
Who would have thought that an era can go missing with very little sound or voice! Published lists of mine closures reveal that throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s mines closed too, and all these years their closure has been much less public, much more hidden, marginal, apparently considered unimportant to the general public. What a general lack of concern this caused! The silence seemed to have been rising on both sides: the miners and the others, i.e. those of us doing other jobs. In Germany, things developed just the same, mine-closures didn’t make headlines anymore, even when nothing will be left in the end, which is nigh.
Miner’s strike while the iron was hot
When mines were closed in the 1980s, we knew about it: we knew more about each other! The iron was hot, the strike was important, miner’s welfare under threat, all eyes were on the cause.
Only ten years down the line, from the 1990s onwards the picture had totally changed: silence had taken over action and solidarity. Mines were closed, but emotionally, there’s not been closure – so it’s been one sort of closure against another. What’s the impact? Certainly much less communication has taken place since.
It’s also as if we expect others not to know about ourselves, or understand us. When I, a foreigner-in-residence (i.e. not just a visitor), mention the old mines and the strike, people in this country are surprised, if positively: as if they had not expected that I know. I then say that when I grew up, mines in Germany shut down as well, and how it stayed with me – and then, upon hearing it, that causes surprise once again! As if it is unexpected that our histories could be similar. But how could it not be, am I not industry’s child too? How different do we think we are, where we should really think that we are similar?
How the twinning comes in
There’s a twin history there. It’s more than just a twin history of course, as many other countries share this mining history – as well as its decline – too, and so, many of us are shaped by the same forces. For me, who has in-depth experience, though, of these two countries, Britain and Germany, I am attracted by the idea of mine-twinning, in order to highlight the similarities that I have most experience of.
My idea of mine-twinning is maybe a bit like town-twinning, and the application of this in some way an extension of Graeme Murrell’s psychogeographic town-twinning walk between Leeds –Huddersfield and Dortmund – Unna (see “Over here over there” article in the Guardian, 15 Oct 2010). This was a ‘psychogeographic exploration of the territory between twin towns in West Yorkshire and the Ruhr Valley (ibid).
So I thought twinning is a great idea to mark the last mines “over here and over there”, and as a homage to the miners, with a view to the idea of ‘miners of all countries unite!’
Now my three-times-two list:
The last three mines closed in 2015 in Britain are:
Hatfield Colliery, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire;
Kellingley Colliery, near Knottingly in North Yorkshire, and
Thoresby Colliery near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.
And the last three mines in Germany are:
Auguste-Victoria mine, near Marl (Ruhr Valley), closed in 2015;
Ostfeld mine, near Ibbenbueren (near Osnabrueck), to close 2018
Prosper-Haniel mine, near Bottrop (Ruhr Valley), to close in 2018
Now how to twin those three mines on ‘either side’? I first had gathered the three mines in Britain that all closed in 2015, and the two still-open mines in Germany, but I wanted to have a partner for each mine, i.e. I needed another mine in Germany, to have a twin for each of the three last British mines. I decided to look for the most recently closed mine in Germany, and found that it was the notably female- and victory-named Auguste-Victora mine, which incidentally shut down on the very same day as the last mine in Britain, Kellingley Colliery. These two mines both closed on the 18th December 2015 – that means the second anniversary of their closure is fast-approaching from now, the time of writing. So that’s the ideal mine-twin, with a shared end-day!
As for the other two, respectively four, who should be twinned with whom here? This is more arbitrary, I decided to go by familiarity of location: Hatfield Colliery is near a train line I am familiar with, and Ostfeld, the one near Osnabrueck, is on another train line I am familiar with. Familiarity for me here is, as usual, determined by train lines, but this is my practice of connecting and visiting locations, so trains play a major role for me – as they do too, for mines themselves, in order for the coal to be transported.
The third mine-pair then is Thoresby Colliery in Notts and Prosper-Haniel Colliery in the Ruhr Valley, another great pair.
In order to start marking my twinning-idea, I decided to visit Hatfield Colliery in South Yorkshire, as it is within easy train-access, on the mainline to Doncaster, and then two more stops across. All the photos in this article are from this trip.
Coincidentally I am visiting the mine on a significant day: this day turned out to be the centenary of the Russian Revolution! The Russian Revolution is a hundred years old, and the mine I am visiting lived up to 99 years –but outlasted the Russian Revolution of course!
When taking my to Doncaster, I realised I was going with Hull Trains, i.e. this year’s City of Culture – a reminder of where I still have to go before the year runs out, as well as a hint that I am on a culture trail in itself, with my old mine-visit!
The train-line runs differently from what I am used to. Trains to Doncaster, as far as I am used to it from my trips to the north, go via Peterborough; this line, however, goes via Grantham! How odd, I am passing by the hometown of Thatcher, who antagonised the miners!
My next train, from Doncaster, interestingly leads to Hull as well, so today I could have gone to Hull twice!
As I get off at Hatfield and Stainforth – a station that previously was named ‘Stainforth and Hatfield’! – I see the mine from the platform on my left. There it was, in the not-too-far distance, surrounded by a vast area of land, just lying there now, empty.
As I leave for the main road, with one Hatfield on one side, and Stainforth on the other, I end up in Hatfield first, and stop in a café which advertises a Miner’s Welfare night with
fireworks. Then I go to the other side, the Stainforth side, which is actually closer to the colliery. I stop in a charity shop, then make my way to the mine-field! I walk up to the mine as close as is allowed, which is still some distance away, for there is some after-mine-life work still going on. To get here you walk beyond the village, pass what feels
like a threshold , the left-over rubble, and then come into mine-view. This is the recently, reluctantly abandoned sight of work!
Behind the pitheads I can see wind-turbines: great signs of alternative energy production in progress. The wind is significant here, a strange situation between past, present and future arises. The alternative energy production is a good sign, but what happened to the workers of the mine? It’s about honouring the era, the work, the workers, the labour, the part(y) of industrialisation. It can mean alienation as well, but there has to a choice, and there has to be respect, and mutual awareness.
Going back from the mine-field to the village I notice an N.U.M memorial, to an outstanding activist and supporter of miner’s welfare during the strike, and then to the great Strike itself. It’s a (striking) irony that in the year of the 30th anniversary of that great Strike, mining ended altogether in this country. An end which appears to have become a minor event, whereas it really is of major significance!
I wonder how Hatfield and Stainforth still yearns for its heart that stopped beating not long ago: the ending is still fresh, and a shop’s Halloween ghost becomes a symbol for the ghost of the recent past, the fresh absence encountered.
Back in Doncaster, arriving again at the station with its massive ‘hinterland’ – i.e. trains parked on spare lines, resting -, this felt like the ideal ‘intermediate’ location between the mining village on the one hand, and London on the other. I couldn’t have gone straight back to London now, there was too much of this area’s history in the air, to just leave it behind so soon and sudden. The Doncaster Time Line, which I discovered engraved on a street in the city centre, tells of the mining history too, and so does the excellent poet’s corner in the shopping centre, where poems have been printed on the walls.
Our mutual mines
I think I understood silence here, once again and again from another angle: the shame that it might conceal, and the indifference that it might regret. How can society at large be indifferent to this, and what could the response be but a ‘silence of the oppressed’. Or it might be seen as a virtue to be silent, or hoped to be considered a privilege Is there shame in talking? If so, opportunities to remember get lost, and it becomes ever more difficult for us to meet in spirit. I may have understood a dimension of silence here, but silence will not help us to understand one another, or get to know each other. We may not meet, and we may not know that our (labour) histories have met already.
Or is to pretend we don’t know one another, is knowing (the ‘other’, considered) an intrusion? However remember, united we stand, divided we are isolated. This is a cultural translation too, but then miners too have been a multicultural bunch, across countries and within countries.
Therefore, for our mutual understanding and conversation, I have twinned these last mines in these two countries, here and there.
To be continued – this is only part one (of this project).