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Revisiting the Miners Strike

By Barbara Jackson
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire contributor

Barbara picketed her offices at the National Coal Board for the whole year
Barbara picketed her offices at the National Coal Board for the whole year

Barbara Drabble made a film about Sheffield buildings which played a significant part in the 1984-5 Miners Strike, including the old National Coal Board offices on Queen Street which she picketed every day:

I spotted a poster in Sheffield Central Library in 2008 asking for anyone who was involved in the 1984/5 Miners Strike to contact Leeds University.

Leeds University Institute of Communication Studies was working with the BBC to make archive material from the strike available to the public in the 25th anniversary year.

I was keen to be involved because along with a handful of colleagues I'd picketed my offices at the National Coal Board on Queen Street every day throughout the year-long strike.

At the start of the project I met with other strike protestors and supporters. We discussed the BBC archive material, how it would be viewed decades after the strike, and how people with no knowledge of the strike could be helped to make sense of the vast store of material.

We also talked about how to re-release footage from the Battle of Orgreave in June 1984 which had originally been edited so it appeared that the miners were chasing police, when actually it was the other way round.

We were given the chance to make a short film about the Miners Strike from any angle we chose. The films will be hosted on the BBC and Leeds University websites in 2010.

Sheffield buildings

A long day's filming in Sheffield
Sheffield City Hall was the site of a mass protest during the Miners Strike

Sheffield is my home city and it played a pivotal role in the strike. So I decided my film would be about buildings which had been places of great energy, focus and commitment during the strike - either for me personally, or for the National Union of Mineworkers and their supporters.

Visiting some of the buildings was going to be an emotional experience for me so my husband and nine-year-old granddaughter came along.

I used old photographs to show the role these buildings played during the strike - and then looked at them in 2009 as ordinary, anonymous buildings which people pass every day without knowing what a focal point they had been.

They had no plaques or commemoration and I wanted to point out how quickly we forget our industrial and trade union history.

Queen Street and St James House

Myself, a cameraman and a soundman spent a day in May 2009 making the film.

Picketing NCB staff had a Christmas party outside their office in 1984
Picketing NCB staff had a Christmas party outside their office in 1984

We started off on Queen Street where the offices for the National Coal Board had been. I worked there at the time and picketed the offices every day so it was the building which visiting again would cause me most emotional turmoil.

The company who now work there were very keen that their name should not appear in the film. I explained I worked in the building 25 years ago and we were making a film about the building during the Miners Strike.

I showed them old photographs and The Star article about our 1984 Christmas Party on the picket line, and eventually they were satisfied that we weren't interested in using their company in our film.

The second building was St James House on Vicar Lane near Sheffield Cathedral. This was the temporary NUM headquarters during the strike while a new HQ was being built next to the City Hall. A major rally was held at St James House early on in the strike, and I used old photographs from a book by Newsline.

West Street, NUM HQ, City Hall and Fargate

The NUM HQ near Sheffield City Hall, and Barbara with her daughter on Fargate
The NUM HQ near Sheffield City Hall, and Barbara with her daughter on Fargate

Next was a building on West Street used by Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures as a weekly meeting place during the strike and for several years afterwards.

Then we filmed the building which became the permanent headquarters of the NUM, opposite Sheffield City Hall. This was really poignant; the building has been empty for years and looks really bleak and desolate.

Our last location was the top of Fargate. Sheffield Trades Council held a collecting table there, and my daughter Louise and I supported them there throughout Spring 1985.

Next stage was to create the short film for the British Film Institute series King Coal which was shown in London and Sheffield in Autumn 2009 for the 25th anniversary of the Miners Strike.

Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures

Leeds University wanted the role of women in the strike to be remembered so I met with my chums from Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures for a separate film. We talked about our experiences and the lasting impact that the strike and Women Against Pit Closures had had on our lives.

I knew people were still interested in the strike and its aftermath among pits and communities, but we still didn't know whether anyone would come and watch our films in the King Coal showings.

But the cinema was full, the film was followed by a lively Q&A session, and lots of people said my film about the buildings as Miners Strike icons was an unusual and interesting angle to use. It was so good to see many old friends and acquaintances again.

Members of Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures reunited in 2009 to talk about their experiences of the Miners Strike in 1984-5
Members of Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures reunited in 2009 to talk about their experiences of the Miners Strike in 1984-5




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