Page last updated at 03:25 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

Pit strike's legacy of bitterness

Whitwell Colliery site
Little remains of the once-proud pit which employed 850 men Whitworth

Twenty-five years ago, an accelerated programme of pit closures triggered the miners' strike, which divided friends and families and ended with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Bob Walker revisits his childhood community - one of many left with a permanent legacy of bitterness.

There's nothing left of Whitwell Colliery.

For almost 100 years they dug coal in this corner of north-east Derbyshire.

Now the headstocks have gone, leaving a concrete wasteland of rubble.

As a schoolboy, I delivered the morning newspapers to the pit canteen and would eat huge miners-sized lunches there during the school holidays.

Silver birch trees now grow where they used to cook those meals.

Steve Whyles
The cost [of the strike] to me was the family break-up which, by and large, is still prevalent today
Steve Whyles

They announced the closure of Whitwell a year after the strike ended.

A few hundred men were transferred to other rapidly shrinking coalfields. Others took redundancy.

Outwardly at least, Whitwell seems to have escaped the social problems that have blighted other former mining communities.

In nearby Worksop, for example, pockets of unemployment led to a terrible drug problem in the Manton area.

Even so, little regeneration work has been done on the old pit site. And the Miners' Welfare hall - a key part of the community, where I celebrated my 21st birthday - is now an abandoned, dilapidated wreck.

Steve Whyles was one of the 850 miners who used to work at the colliery. He was 21 when the strike began and had just bought his first house.

He wanted a say in strike action through a ballot, but although that opportunity was denied him - the NUM never held a national vote - he stayed off work for six months before taking the biggest decision of his life.

Family rift

Steve crossed the picket line. His father, Ian, was a union stalwart who remained on strike and it created a rift between them that remains to this day.

"The cost to me was the family break-up which, by and large, is still prevalent today," said Steve.

Supermarket at former entrance to the Ollerton mine
Ollerton's former pit site now houses a supermarket and offices

"It is the only regret I've got. If I was to be in the village and walking past him, it'd be a quick nod and hello but there'd be no stopping and talking, we'd just carry on our way."

He said he would settle his differences with his father if he could.

"At the end of the day, blood is thicker than water."

For his part, Ian acknowledges that the relationship with his son is a distant one, but he says that is mainly because they live a long way apart and their paths rarely cross.

Although he is still a strongly committed socialist, he says he does not hold grudges after 25 years.

But he admits he was deeply saddened and angry when Steve joined the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers and he still believes the dispute could have been won if the strike had remained solid.

The main reason that it didn't lies just over the county border in Nottinghamshire, where most of the miners defied the strike and continued to work.

Flying pickets

Just 10 miles from Whitwell lies the former mining village of Ollerton.

FROM BBC RADIO 5 LIVE

Early in the strike, hundreds of flying pickets would arrive here in an attempt to enforce the strike.

And it was here that a Yorkshire miner, David Jones, died from unexplained chest injuries he received while on the picket line.

The old pit site is unrecognisable.

Unlike Whitwell, the area has been transformed. There is a Tesco near the entrance.

Further on there is a call centre, the headquarters of the holiday firm Center Parcs, a posh bistro and a retirement home.

It is also home to the Sherwood Energy Village, a mixture of impressive looking offices and planned housing, all designed to be eco-friendly.

Many of those jobs probably could not match the old mining wages. But they are jobs nevertheless.

Plaque
David Jones' memorial serves as a permanent reminder of the conflict

Even in Ollerton, where most miners broke the strike, there are people from both sides who no longer talk to one another.

So, a quarter of a century after the strike caused so much pain and bitterness, the mining communities have changed.

Some have coped better than others. The physical scars on the pit-head landscape may have gone, but the emotional scars, in some cases, still run deep.

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