Coal Fields Exhibition

06 September 2014

Region: Yorkshire

COAL FIELDS: A LEGACY OF THE MINERS' STRIKE

BACKGROUND:

Fuelled by a clash of political ideologies, the 1984-85 Miners' Strike was the biggest single episode of British social upheaval since World War II

The conflict, between the National Union of Mineworkers and Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government, signalled a fundamental change in industrial relations that still resonates today. It also highlighted a shift in the UK's employment base, defining the transition from manufacturing-driven economy, to one reliant on service industries.

Today, housing estates, industrial units, public spaces, derelict wasteland and community facilities all occupy former colliery land. Traces of an area's mining heritage are often reduced to concrete shaft-caps and ventilation pipes.

Of 44 collieries in the Barnsley, Doncaster and South Yorkshire Coal Fields, open at the start of the conflict, only one is still functioning. Due to its unquestionable significance in the strike's historical context, an image from the former Orgreave Coking Plant is included.

PERSONAL VIEW:
I have an affinity with the subject. My grandfather spent all his working life underground and I have always lived in a mining community, close to where the strike started. I remain constantly aware of how evidence of Britain's heavy industry has steadily diminished, to the point where once-thriving workplaces now offer little acknowledgement of their past.

I started the project in 2007 and some of the areas have changed again in that time. The pictures are quiet. But so are the locations they came from. I was struck by the contrast between the current docile nature of these places and the hives of activity they once were. The concrete shaft-caps are like tombstones, a memorial to the spot where Britain's energy was hauled from the earth.

For some of the sites, I knew where the pit had been. Others were more difficult to locate, especially when new road layouts and buildings had dramatically changed the topography. But if I stood and waited, I would often be passed by a middle-aged man, usually walking a dog, who could tell me exactly where the pit had been.

If he hadn't worked there, his father had, or his brother, or his uncle. These meetings emphasised the social importance of the mining industry at that time. Life revolved around the pits. That structure was swept away very quickly and hasn't been replaced. In less than 30 years, evidence from more than a century of coal production has virtually gone.

FACTS:
282 Collieries across the UK in 1984
35 Collieries across the UK in 2013

195,500 Workers employed by the UK coal industry in 1984
4,500 Workers employed by the UK coal industry in 2013

105 Million tonnes of coal produced by the UK in 1984
15 Million tonnes of coal produced by the UK in 2013

44 Collieries in the Barnsley, Doncaster and South Yorkshire Coal Fields in 1984
1 Colliery in the Barnsley, Doncaster and South Yorkshire Coal Fields in 2013

40,500 Workers employed in the Barnsley, Doncaster and South Yorkshire Coal Fields in 1984
600 Workers employed in the Barnsley, Doncaster and South Yorkshire Coal Fields in 2013

BIOGRAPHY:
Andrew Foley has been a photographer since 1990. His images have appeared in national and international exhibitions. His work has also been published in photographic magazines, yearbooks and various newspapers. He is a former chairman of GAMMA Photoforum and an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. He has lectured to photographic organisations throughout the country.

Other exhibitions include First Sight (1993-94), Life In A Goldfish Bowl (1998), Pop (2003) and S-21: Cambodia's Lost Souls (2005-2007).

 

The exhibition which finished on November 23, 2014 was entitled: 

Coal Fields: A Legacy of the Miners' Strike - Photographs by Andrew Foley.
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