THE NATIONAL Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield is welcoming the first ever exhibition in the UK to focus on migrants’ contribution to the mining industry with the opening of Digging Deep: Miners of African Caribbean Heritage at the Museum.
The brand-new exhibition, which is the result of six years research and curator by historian Norma Gregory (M.A), presents and the reminiscences and narratives of former black British miners to enrich available heritage.
During the Industrial revolution, coal was a big industry in the UK and, like many industries, was heavily affected by a labour shortage, post World War I & II.
When Britain made an appeal for additional labour, members of the commonwealth heeded the call, with many young people coming across looking for new opportunities. Amongst them were men from the Caribbean who had no mining experience but soon found jobs at the colliery, settling into mining communities and ultimately becoming a part of mining history and British social, culture and political culture.
In the following decades, African Caribbean coal miners stood shoulder to shoulder with white British, European and Asian miners, toiling underground to help fuel the UK economy. Some even died in the process. And yet, their role in Britain’s industrial past has never been told, until now.
Norma Gregory explained: “I grew up in a coal mining community less than a mile from Gedling Colliery. Everyone I knew had links to the mine and a relative of mine worked in the mine too. As my curiosity and understanding of the industry grew, I noticed that most of the stories were about the local miners and no one was talking about those immigrant miners I knew from my childhood.
“Hundreds of men, of African Caribbean heritage, worked in many deep coalmines across the UK with concentrations of black miners in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Kent, Durham and South Wales. Gedling Colliery Nottinghamshire became known as ‘The Pit of Nations’, as it was thought that black miners made up at least a quarter of the workforce (between the 1950s-1980s). The Durham Chapter Lodge banner, which is on display at the exhibition, Gedling Colliery among others, feature images of African Caribbean/ black miners.
“The project has helped to ensure miners stories are heard and shared. We have over 240 known names of black miners and their collieries, we interviewed over 60 surviving former miners (including family members and colleagues) and we have displayed 27 different accounts of life in the mine. Visitors, including young people, can read or listen to extracts of their stories using mobile phone QR codes readers, with unique QR codes embedded in the exhibition panels.
“This project is so much bigger than I had initially anticipated and I am so grateful for the valuable support and input from many former miners and their families, Nottingham News Centre volunteers, project partners and supporting organisations marks a fresh contribution to understanding and hearing unheard, diverse voices from UK coalfields.”
Visitors to the exhibition will get an understanding of the miners’ home lives, seeing the kind of clothes the immigrants wore and the ornaments and keepsakes to remind them of their history.
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Midlands & East and the Lottery Players, the exhibition continues it’s tour nationally after the exhibition closes at the National Coal Mining Museum in 2020.