I OFTEN wonder how much of our local history would have been lost if it hadn’t been for the dedicated research of local historians who give of their time, and often their money, to search out and safeguard our social history.
A fascinating new book published this week by postcard collectors Christine Leveridge and Dave Fordham – “The Yorkshire Coalfield”, is a perfect example of this.
This well researched and beautifully presented book is brimming from cover to cover with stunning postcards and ephemera of the pits and mining communities which once flourished in Yorkshire.
It is a fascinating piece of social history presenting us with a graphic but often harrowing insight into the lives of hundreds of thousands of men who once earned a living working underground.
In the early days, coal mining was perhaps the most hazardous industry in the world and there was great loss of life in many pits.
This book recounts many tragic accidents and disaster which occurred.
It also depicts the long drawn out industrial disputes, one lasting over a year, and the stoppages and strikes which often left many mining families on the breadline.
Photographs of pitiful soup kitchens where children assembled to be fed tug at the heart strings, and equally distressing are the pictures of mining families being evicted from their homes.
Also recorded are the major disasters which occurred in the early days of coal mining, the worst being at Barnsley Oaks Colliery in 1866 in which 361, men, women, children and rescue workers perished.
A similar disaster occurred in 1893 at Combs Colliery in Thornhill, Dewsbury, with the loss of 139 lives including young boys of 12.
There are photographs of happier times, the camaraderie which existed in the mining communities, the sports activities arranged by miners, football and cricket being very popular.
It was said that any good cricketer could be assured of a job in any pit in the country.
But there were also other activities they enjoyed, like pigeon fancying, dog racing and brass band concerts, all captured by the camera and included in the book which contains not only pictures but also a large collection of ephemera relating to nearly every pit in Yorkshire,
Many of these were from this district, including Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield, Liversedge, Cleckheaton and Spen Valley area. But there are pictures of pits from further afield whose names will have a familiar ring for those of us whose ancestors once worked in them. I grew up knowing the names of most of these because my maternal granddad from Horbury, and two of his sons, worked in them, pits like Criggleston, Lofthouse, Denaby Main, Fryston.
Today, all these mighty collieries, not only those in Yorkshire but throughout Great Britain, no longer exist. Once there were 2,600 of them throughout the country employing well over a million men and producing a staggering 300 million tons a year..
The last operational coal mine in the country, Kellingley Colliery, near Pontefract, closed down, in 2015, thus ending the history of deep coal mining in Great Britain.
In the Yorkshire coalfield alone, there were 141,000 miners working in 398 pits, who produced nearly four million tons a year. By 1920 the number had risen to 200,000, making it the largest coalfield in the country.
This period of prosperity coincided with the dramatic rise in the use of picture postcards which rapidly became an instant form of communication. Millions of them were posted daily.
It was postcards produced at this time which form the collection which appear in Christine and John’s book.
Earlier this year, Christine from Dewsbury, and Dave from Doncaster, both postcard collectors of long standing, decided to combine their collection of mining postcards and ephemera to produce this book.
Dave said: “We decided to pool our material which we’d collected over the last 20 years so we could cover the whole of Yorkshire.
“With Christine’s knowledge of West Yorkshire and my strength with South Yorkshire Collieries, we decided to self publish a book together.”
They have dedicated the book to the memory of one of the area’s most prodigious postcard collectors, the late Norman Ellis, of Ossett, and to all the Yorkshire miners and their families.
This book is not one to be just flicked through to look at the pictures, even though each one tells its own story, it is a book to be studied and read from cover to cover.
The social history it contains is immense, and to my mind every home in Yorkshire should have one, and if that is asking too much, then perhaps one in every school library.
I am certain that pupils who have never even seen a lump of coal in their lives, would be fascinated.
“The Yorkshire Coalfield” is a spectacular piece of our industrial history. It was coal which fired the furnaces of industry, the textile mills, steel works, iron foundries, factories and gas works.
It powered the nation’s railways and its shipping fleet, and was transported all over the world, and don’t forget it heated all our homes. Remember those glorious blazing coal fires we sat in front of on cold winter nights?
We are indebted to postcard collectors like Christine and Dave for reminding us of these things and publishing this book at their own expense. It costs £12.50 but is worth much more.
It will be available at various local outlets or can be ordered by email, and in this district there will be book signings at Dewsbury Library on Saturday. June 9 from 11am to 1pm, and on Sunday June 10 at the National Mining Museum from 11am to 2pm, and at R Karoo Books, Horbury.
For those more technically minded, try www.fdgbooks.co.uk, or mail order (£15 postage and package), fedj-el-Adoum@outlook.com.
If you have problems email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.