North East Oral History Project

Miners Wives '84

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Brenda MacDonald

You didn’t have the coal for your fire, nearly everyone had a coal fire and you had nothing to put on it so you ended up burning anything which was made of wood. If you had wood fence you took it down and you burnt it .We made a block from newspapers and paper and soaked it in paraffin and burned them on the fire  . Brenda MacDonald                                                                                                                            . IMG_0032

Juliana Heron

I’ll never forget the day they went back .We went up to the pit with the men; we kept the kids off school. We started the strike as a family and we ended the strike as a family and everybody did the same. There was men women and children and we marched through Hetton with the banners and the band and everything. It was a slow walk up to the pit everyone was out clapping their hands, the place came to a standstill just came to a standstill. People who had supported us during the strike, shop keepers came out even one of the head teachers brought his children up from the school to see the men going back to work. It wasn’t singing and dancing, it was very sombre but then the men seen the support they had and that stirred them on. Juliana Heron.


Florence Anderson

IMG_0088On behalf of the women I would like to pay at tribute to our menfolk .To the miners of this country who have stood up and been counted in the fight not just to defend their jobs, their communities and their unions but they have stood up and defended the dignity of the working class .Can I say publicly that I salute the pickets, I salute the men and women who have demonstrated in the time honoured tradition of the British Trade Union movement and said to the scabs “You shall not pass unhindered”
And you hear the Tory’s scream about the Mass picket lines and in the same breath talk about all these miners sitting at home waiting to go back to work. Well you can’t have it both ways, because I think the truth of the matter is that the sight of the working class standing together frightens the hell out of them. Florence Anderson.

Heather Wood


I remember saying to our local vicar .I hate Margret Thatcher you know and a shouldn’t am a Christian. He said “Special dispensation Heather, special dispensation “.Heather Wood.


Pat Melvin

I use to go down to the picket line every day and stand and shout as hard as I could. When I came back into me street they were all just me neighbors and nothing changed but when I was on thatPicket line (Laugh) I use to throw stones as well.When we went to picket Philly Yard out loads of women went down .I took Graham up in his buggy .The police were there with their dogs calling us scum. I turned around and said I’m not afraid of you and am not afraid of  your dogs ,Id rather eat grass than give into your lot .   Pat Melvin                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  .IMG_0066

Irene Tonkinson


I was brought up in the Southwick area; me dad worked in the shipyards until he had an accident and he ended up being unable to work. So we were brought up on benefits. Because we couldn’t get a pit house when we first got married we moved in with me in-laws .It was a very close-knit community and, a think we’ve lost that, it doesn’t exist now. Irene Tonkinson.


Ellington :The Lights Go Out.



Our steps falter as we reach the cage,

The last shift, the end of an era .No more descending into the dark with your marras at your side. Man and boy toiling, helmet light shining, picks attacking rock finding the black gold inside.

Bait box closes forever more into the canvas satchel it goes as does the flask standing on the floor. Memories, evocative of this mine employ generation after generation .Our hands no longer working are still, what will we do now. Idle days, heavy hearts chocking back our sorrows. No longer going down the hole they shut our existence. Our livelihood! No more digging for coal .All our yesterdays, no tomorrows.

Christine Hogg.



Cobbled webs of my thoughts
hang around your lanes.
A brass band nestles in my head,
cosy as a bed bug.
I’m reading from a balcony
poems of Revolution.
It’s Gala Day and the words are lost
in the coal dust of your lungs.

Your dark satanic brooding Gaol
throws a blanket over blankness:
a grim era of second hand visions
aches like a scab in a cell.
And rowing a punt up your Bishop’s arse
a shaft of sunlight on the river
strikes me only as true,
shining into the eyes of all the prisoners
swinging from Cathedral bells.

Old Durham Town, you imprison me
like a scream in a Salvation Army song,
release me soon: someone

get ready to hug me.


Robert Nichols @ Church Of Ascension, Easington – 14/10/14

It is 30 years now since the Miners Strike but in a church hall in Easington Colliery the struggles, the camaraderie and the bitter feuds and divisions were remembered as if it was yesterday.
Community Arts theatre Company One For All Productions told the story of that fateful strike from the perspective of the women that were the glue in the north east coalfield community. The four members of the acting cast and one singer drew on stories and anecdotes from the women that fed and sustained the society and stood side by side with men on the picket lines. What made it all the more poignant for me was that many of the women whose stories were being voiced were sitting in the audience reliving it all again.

Interspersed with snapshots of lives from 1984 were the often heart wrenching testimonials from young girls that worked down the pits before the 1842 Royal Commission sent them back to the surface. With poems from Keith Armstrong, Christine Hogg and Florence Anderson and songs by Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg this play took you back into the sitting rooms and soup kitchens of 1984.

It was inspiring to hear of how the pit villages initially banded together and it was almost wartime like community spirit. But we heard shocking evidence of the attacks from without and within. There was extreme police harassment on the main streets of Easington as the coalfields became the frontline in a political battle field against an enemy within.

One For All were not seeking to re fan the flames of the blame game but were laying out the record from both sides and exposing the impact on the lives of the real women and their families. There was compassion but also hatred and real suffering for their cause. Food was scarce. Bills went unpaid. Stress and depression stalked the streets at night. There should have been no Christmas in Easington that year and yet they all rallied round to make it a special time.

Sad to think that the end of the strike was all too soon after followed by the end for the pits and with it a way of life and community. But in amongst the sadness there was a final defiant message that the women of that community were still there and fighting back.

Some of the words expertly voiced by the women on stage were from Heather Wood seated in the front row of the audience. After 30 years she is regaining her confidence to organise and rally the community to a cause, this time for the church whose fabric is in perilous condition. In a moving final scene the cast joined together to sing the stirring strike anthem, Women of the Working Classes. At the onset of the strike they were normal housewives, mothers, sisters and daughters yet many found a strength and a voice in a very dark hour when their community was being wrenched apart.

I felt very privileged to part of this special evening when the story of the women from the striking coalfields as told again. It was more memorable still that many of those women were seated in the audience and 30 years on their tales of heroism and defiance were given a platform and accorded deserved recognition. An inspiring story.

A Postcript

Afterwards in the Miners Welfare Hall, Heather Wood told us of her fears about a kind of fracking that is being eyed up in East Durham. The coal seams closed off at the end of mining at Easington are still there extending far beneath the sea. They are now talking of extracting gas by burning the coal. Heather worries about the dangers and lack of safeguards to control an inferno that could potentially blaze for miles underground east and west. She points to lessons from history, etched into the coal here in Easington where 83 were killed by an explosion underground in a disaster in 1951. The Inquiry was actually held in the very building we were sitting in.

Robert Nichols