Page last updated at 00:18 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 01:18 UK

All change for miners' strike battlefield

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A quarter of a century after the "battle of Orgreave", the most violent clash during the miners' strike, the area is being redeveloped in a multi-million pound project. Will the past simply be forgotten?

'BATTLE OF ORGREAVE'
Police and pickets square up outside Orgreave in 1984
The Orgreave coking plant became a key point during the miners' strike, which lasted from March 1984 to March 1985
The clashes reached their heights in June 1984 when pickets tried to shut the plant
About 5,000 pickets faced up to nearly 6,000 police on 18 June 1984. Police arrested 93 miners - all charges were dropped
The coking plant shut down in 1990 and an opencast coal mine nearby closed in 2005
The 741-acre site is due to be turned into mixed housing, commercial and manufacturing use. There will also be three man-made lakes

Orgreave in South Yorkshire is one of only a handful of places around the country that merits a place in the annals of British industrial history.

Others, such as Tolpuddle in Dorset, home of the "martyrs" who were transported to Australia in the 18th Century for having the temerity to set up a trade union, have plaques or museums to commemorate their significance.

The Orgreave "battlefield" is about to be erased as part of a multi-million pound redevelopment, which will take up to 20 years to realise.

But there are plans afoot to commemorate the events of June 1984, when thousands of striking miners picketed the Orgreave coking works, just outside Rotherham, in an attempt to shut it down.

They were thwarted by nearly 6,000 police officers - many of them drafted in from London and the South East - after several days of running battles.

More than 90 miners were charged with offences of violence, but none was ever convicted after doubts arose about the evidence against them.

Ultimately the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) lost the strike and dozens of pits around the country were later closed down just as miners' leader Arthur Scargill had predicted.

Click here to view the Orgreave site

The coking works itself closed down in 1990 and an opencast coal mine nearby stopped production in 2005.

That left a 700-acre site with plenty of development potential because of its easy access to the M1 and other motorways.

Part of the site is already being developed as a hi-tech advanced manufacturing park, in association with Boeing and Sheffield University.

But last week a planning application was submitted for the other 600 acres, known as Waverley, by Harworth Estates, the property development wing of UK Coal, which owns the site.

The proposals include 4,000 new homes, two primary schools, bars, restaurants and three artificial lakes with a "stunning waterside frontage".

A separate application for a massive office development, which could house two government departments relocated from London, is due to be submitted later this year.

A lot of the younger generation don't know anything about the miners' strike or what happened at Orgreave. History is written by the victors
Paul Darlow
Former miner

Harworth Estates development director Tim Love said its aim was to "transform this area with a mainly industrial past to a modern 21st Century development that will benefit thousands of local people in terms of providing new affordable housing, employment opportunities, schools and leisure facilities".

Many former miners would like to see a monument, or at least a plaque, to recognise the "battle of Orgreave" and the miners' strike.

Paul Darlow, who was 19 at the time, was one of the first pickets at Orgreave and he thinks it is in danger of becoming "forgotten history".

"A lot of the younger generation don't know anything about the miners' strike or what happened at Orgreave. History is written by the victors," said Mr Darlow, who left the pits to become a special-needs teacher.

He said he had been shocked by the police brutality and said he had seen officers smash car windows, swear at old men and beat people without provocation.

Rolls Royce's new factory
Rolls Royce's "factory of the future" is being built on part of the site

The idea of some sort of memorial has won the support of the local Labour MP, Kevin Barron, a former miner who trained at the Orgreave pit in 1962.

He said: "It's part of our history and I would not be averse to the idea of some sort of plaque. While it's now known as Waverley everybody knows it as Orgreave."

But NUM spokesman Ken Capstick said any such commemoration would have to have grassroots support and not be imposed from above.

He pointed out that in 1993 a small monument was built in west Yorkshire to mark the 100th anniversary of the so-called "Featherstone massacre", when soldiers shot dead two miners and injured eight others during a dispute with the owners of the pit.

As for a memorial at Orgreave, Mr Capstick said: "We want to leave it to local people to decide. It may be something they don't want. They have moved on and have new lives and they may say, 'It's 25 years ago. Let it go.'"

Arthur Scargill, pictured in 1993
Many miners feel their leader, Arthur Scargill, has been vindicated

Local Labour councillor Fred Wright feels there is little appetite for a memorial: "The miners' strike took a lot of forgetting. They were not good days and a lot of miners never worked again. What we really need to do is forget it."

But a spokesman for the developers said: "The Coke Works was the backdrop to the stand-off between Margaret Thatcher and the National Union of Miners, led by Arthur Scargill in 1984, known as the Battle of Orgreave.

"This important part of the site's history will be reflected through sensitive reminders, so that the community that is created is rooted, but not stuck, in its past."

Many former coalfields have been redeveloped in recent years. Last week planning permission was granted for 900 homes and a business park on the site of the former Prince of Wales colliery in Pontefract, West Yorkshire.


A selection of your comments:

The miners strike should NEVER be forgotten. My husband is an ex miner and the hardship suffered by miners was unbelievable. I don't think there is a miner still alive who can forget the systematic demolition of the mining industry by Margaret Thatcher and her band of loony Tories. You had to experience it to have an understanding of what life was like at the time. Especially in the South Yorkshire mining area. Feelings still run hard now for "scabs". The Miners will never forget.
Rouska, Maltby, Rotherham South Yorks

My father-in-law, an ex-miner, was at Orgreave because he was too scared not to go. History isn't just written by the victors as the nastiest parts of Scargill's campaigns - like concrete blocks being thrown off bridges onto coaches carrying miners who did want to work have been quietly forgotten. Scargill never went hungry but my wife and her sisters did. I see very little point in reviving memories of the miners strike. No-one comes out of it very well.
P, Notts

At the time of the miner's strike, I lived in my hometown of Rotherham and travelled daily to RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire. From March to December 1984, I had to navigate through up to six roadblocks a day to get out of South Yorkshire. Although in naval uniform I was mistreated by police on a few occasions, but found the miners to be generally good natured, even when I had to navigate through a march in Maltby at six in the morning. The whole nine months for me was surreal to say the least and I have many memories of the events, some good, some very bad. I would say on the whole the situation was bad for the whole country, but it did bring to an end the British endemic attitude to strike all the time. As for a monument, I would say forget about it and move on, as nobody came out of it with their reputations intact.
Alan Jones, Lee on the Solent, UK

I was at the battle of Orgreave, as a police officer. I didn't smash any car windows, beat anyone up or swear at old people. The miners, of course, were all sweetness and light and didn't do anything to merit any violent police behaviour. If you don't believe me watch any video news item of the event. When you are fighting in the gutter you use gutter tactics.

It was an ugly incident in an ugly strike and was something akin to a low level civil war. I personally would want the Orgreave incident to be forgotten because it reminds me of how several thousand working men who desperately wanted to keep their jobs were led astray by a man who only wanted to use them to further his own political ends.
T K Jackson, Preston, England




SEE ALSO
The Battle of Orgreave
16 Oct 02 |  Review
Orgreave opencast mine to close
13 Dec 05 |  South Yorkshire
The miners' darkest year
04 Mar 04 |  UK
Coal firm may reopen 'super pit'
18 Apr 08 |  Nottinghamshire

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