The untold story of Britain’s Black miners

The memories of African Caribbeans who worked in Nottinghamshire’s coal mines will form part of a new lottery funded project. The Voice spoke to Norma Gregory to find out what inspired it.

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By voice-online.co.uk

THE SAYING, ‘You are only a handshake or two away from a coal miner’, seems to resonate now more than ever before, in Britain’s social, political and industrial landscape.

However, little is known about the experiences of miners of African Caribbean heritage in the UK until now.

Nottingham News Centre, a community interest company that aims to improve the sourcing, collating and sharing of diverse local history and community news has been awarded a special grant to launch a special project looking at the history of African Caribbbean miners.

Coal Miners of African Heritage: Narratives from Nottinghamshire, will document the memories of former African-Caribbean coal miners in Nottinghamshire.

The project will cover the nationalisation of British coal in 1947, the miners’ strikes of the 1970s and 1984/1985 and to the demise of British coal mining in recent years.

The project, which is funded by a £9,600 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands and will involve supporting organisation Communities Inc., will work with volunteers from the local community to focus on captur¬ing, preserving and recording the memories of black minority ethnic (BAME) ex-miners of Nottinghamshire’s coalfields.

And according to Norma Gregory, historian and founder of Nottingham News Centre, the project is a hugely important one.

HISTORY: Miners with families and friends visit a former colliery in Nottinghamshire. Their experiences will form part of a new Heritage Lottery funded project
HISTORY: Miners with families and friends visit a former colliery in Nottinghamshire. Their experiences will form part of a new Heritage Lottery funded project

She says: “By making a start unearthing hidden histories of ex-coal miners of African Caribbean heritage, along with the valuable support from miners, volunteers and community organisations, we aim to interpret a more realistic African inclusive, historical discourse as well as challenging misinterpretations around the merits of diverse manpower during and after Britain’s Industrial Revolution. The black miner in the UK should and must be acknowledged.

“From producing around 177 million tonnes of UK coal in the 1960s to zero output in 2016, my research aims to ‘dig deeper’ to discover and share the untold narratives of resilience and commitment of black British coal miners, currently an under-studied aspect of industrial and social history.”

She continues: “Due to accessibility, relevance and my personal memories and experiences as a teenager in Nottingham, living through the notorious 1984-1985 miners’ strike period, with Nottinghamshire being the hub of civil disturbance and social as well as economic devastation in its aftermath, I know this will be an important subject for future generations to learn about.”

The former secondary school teacher and journalist, is also working with the BBC to produce a programme about the history of black miners. It is due to be broadcast later this year.

“I have met many wonderful people around the country and found newly discovered links to coal mining and black miners. Since I started to collate and record the work experiences of former Nottinghamshire black miners, I found all the ex-miners were willing to share their memories and mining memorabilia. They believe that sharing their experiences, somehow keeps coal mining alive.”
Research for the project began in October 2015.

STORIES

The findings aim to highlight the significance and value of their personal stories, around the themes of migration, training, inclusion, accidents, and strikes, which are absent from the permanent exhibition and archives of the National Mining Museum in Wakefield, Yorkshire. With the support of the community, Norma hopes to address this imbalance in the near future.

“To get their experiences included in the full history of the British coal industry is paramount to education and equality,” says Gregory.

“My research book titled, Jamaicans in Nottingham: Narratives and Reflections was the initial starting point for publishing some of the oral histories of black miners and prominent individuals of Jamaican heritage with stories to tell.”

Born in 1969 to Jamaican parents in Nottingham, Gregory recalls growing up seeing many black miners in her close knit community.

“My parents grew weary of living in the crowded and notorious Hyson Green Flats in Radford and wanted to own their home” she says. “When I was seven, the family moved to the leafy suburbs of Nottinghamshire, and I grew up very near Gedling Colliery, one of the few coal mines that employed hundreds of West Indian men, particularly Jamaican men, from the early 1950s until its closure in 1991. I used to walk to school and wonder what was happening over the hill tops where machines were tipping coal waste from the mine. Now I know.”

The nationalisation of the British coal industry in 1947, saw the demise and total eradication of deep coal mining from around 950 coal mines across Britain, plus the loss of employment for millions of skilled coal miners and thousands of surface workers.

The closure of Thoresby Colliery, the last working deep mine in Nottinghamshire on July 10 2015 and then Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, the last working mine in the UK on December 15 2015, marked what many believe to be a ‘curtain call’ for coal communities.

RESEARCH

Academic research is slowly starting to awaken to the previously hidden histories of black miners throughout the UK and its importance to the wider story of British coal mining.

Many coal mine personnel records were disposed of in the late 1980s following the rapid closure of pits across the country.

Since then, oral history as a qualitative research tool, has played an increasing role in the collection and preservation of interview data.

“Hundreds, if not thousands, of ex-miners of African Caribbean heritage contributed to the economic and industrial development of Britain, during their relatively short period in coal mining history dating back to Roman times” says Gregory. “But why is that their voices have yet to be heard? Giving a sense of recognition to the contributions made by these forgotten ‘industrial pioneers’ is what I aim for and what I stand for. British history has failed to notice the economic, social or political effects on many black communities across the UK since the burial of the British coal mining industry.”

Read more at http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/untold-story-britains-black-miners

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