During the Miners’ Strike in 1984-85, Library founders Ruth and Eddie Frow used to stand in Stretford Precinct to collect for striking miners. They would have been pleased to see over two hundred people gathered on Saturday 27 July at the site of the former Agecroft colliery to unveil a monument to the men, women and children who worked and died at the colliery over its 128-year history.
For the last 20 years, former miner Paul Kelly has been placing flowers at the entrance to the colliery in Salford.
“I did it as a memorial to those people who worked and died in the pit. In 1990 the pit closed and was replaced by an industrial centre and 128 years of coalmining history was wiped out.”
Kelly hasn’t just left flowers. Together with other local people he has been involved in a project to remind other generations, including local children, about the importance that coal once played in their history and can have in their future.
Kelly is chairman of the Irwell Valley Mining Project, which is being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was one of the first groups in the country to receive funding for the All Our Stories project.
For a small community project, it is undertaking a vast amount of work. As well as the memorial at the site of Agecroft colliery, there will be a book, a film, a leaflet, an exhibition, a website and an educational pack.
Central to the project is a book written by Kelly called The Last Pit In The Valley, which is semi-autobiographical as it tells the story of several generations of his family and their lives working in the mining industry.
“It is about commemorating our lives but is also an introduction to the coalmining industry with a map showing the location of pits. It will also show how it was a political decision to wipe out the industry.”
Former teacher Alice Searle, who is the secretary of the project, emphasises how important it has been to get local children involved in the work.
“Children do not know the history of this industry and the importance it played in the community. We have got a local school, St Augustine’s, involved in helping make tiles for the monument and the students from Salford College have built the monument.”
Local children planted flowers on the monument bringing together past and present generations of the community in a poignant reminder of their collective past.
Members of the project have been going out collecting interviews from ex-miners and have uncovered unpublished photographs of Agecroft colliery to use in the exhibition. At the unveiling ceremony, editor of the Salford Star, Stephen Kingston was recording ex-miners who had turned up to be part of the ceremony.
Together with the priest at St Augustine’s church, which was called “The Miners’ Cathedral”, they have sought to remind people of a mining disaster in 1885 when 178 men and boys were killed in a local pit and were buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard.
The exhibition will be launched in the church on 27 September as a commemoration of the dead and a reminder of the price paid by working class people in the mining of coal.
Kelly has been going out filming the sites of long-gone pits in order to produce a visual history of where the pits were and what has happened to the sites.
The films have been uploaded to YouTube to allow people to track the development of the project.
Searle and Kelly met when they were both involved with the Stop the War Campaign and their project has a political edge, as Kelly comments: “Coal is important. We don’t need to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for resources. It’s all there under out feet. Young local men should not have to put on a uniform and fight for fuel when they could be working down the pits and producing our own energy.”