A once-mighty industry fades to black as Britain's last coal pit closes

LONDON -- Coal once fuelled the British Empire, employed armies of men and shook the power of governments.

On Friday, workers at Britain's last operating deep coal mine finished their final shift, emerging -- soot-blackened and live on television news channels -- to cheers, applause and tears.

See Full Article

Some of the men carried lumps of coal as mementoes from the Kellingley Colliery, 200 miles (320 kilometres) north of London. The last haul of coal from the pit is destined for a mining museum as a once-mighty industry fades into history.

"There's a few lads shedding tears, just getting all emotional," said miner Neil Townend, 51.

Defiant to the end, the Kellingley miners sang a hit by Tom Jones -- the son of a Welsh coal miner -- as they headed underground for the last time.

"This is what makes us very special, the mining community," said Nigel Kemp, who worked at the mine for more than 30 years. "The men have gone down today singing 'My, my, my, Delilah.' Every single man on the cage, you could hear them 400 feet down singing."

At its peak in the 1920s, Britain's mining industry employed more than 1 million people, as coal powered trains, fuelled factories and heated homes. After World War II, the country still had 750,000 underground miners at almost 1,000 coal pits, but the industry's days were already numbered.

With gas and nuclear power on the rise, hundreds of coal mines had closed by 1984, when a showdown between the British government and the miners cemented the industry's central -- and contested -- place in Britain's national mythology.

Thousands of miners went on strike hoping to scuttle then-Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's plan to shut down 20 pits and lose 20,000 jobs in an effort to destroy the powerful mining unions, which for years had used their economic clout to extract concessions from British governments.

The bitter, yearlong struggle brought violent picket-line clashes and ended in victory for the government. Since then, changing economic demands and cheap imported coal have all but wiped out Britain's mining industry.

Britain still gets a fifth of its electricity from coal, although that is giving way to cleaner alternatives. Almost half the country's power now comes from nuclear or renewable sources like wind and solar, and Britain has agreed to sharply cut its greenhouse gas emissions under an international deal to limit climate change signed in Paris last week.

And it's not just Britain -- the world as a whole agreed to move away from using fossil fuels, including coal, that are blamed for global warming.

With coal prices lower than they have been for years, it's cheaper to import coal from countries including Russia, Colombia and the United States than to dig it out of British soil. Critics say some of those countries have lower wages and worse safety records than Britain.

Britain still has several open-cast mines as well as a handful of idle pits that could be reopened if needed, but Kellingley was the last deep mine producing coal on a large scale. Its closure marks the end of an industry that was dirty and dangerous but brought pride and purpose to close-knit communities.

"Everything spread from the pit," said Andy Smith, acting director of the National Coal Mining Museum, which plans to put the last ton of coal from Kellingley on display.

"Community spirit came from working in the pit. If you didn't work in the pit, you were involved in making mine machinery, or supplying the mine canteen with bread or pork pies. (There were) sports and social clubs," he said. "Every pit that has shut over the last 50 years, the community has suffered."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Legal limbo: Massive backlog leaves asylum seekers in for a long wait

    Canada News CTV News
    The U.S. travel ban could mean more asylum seekers claiming refugee status in Canada but new figures show they’d be in for a long wait; the Immigration and Refugee Board says a massive backlog has left tens of thousands in legal limbo. Source
  • Syria denies U.S. allegations of coming chemical attack

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- The Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed White House allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners. Source
  • 'Now jump' or 'no jump'? Poor English may have caused bungee-jumping death

    World News CTV News
    MADRID -- A Spanish court says a bungee jumping instructor's poor English may have led a 17-year-old Dutch woman to jump to her death without being connected by rope to a viaduct in northern Spain two years ago. Source
  • Appeals Court upholds ruling that Dutch peacekeepers partly liable in Srebrenica

    World News CBC News
    A Dutch Appeals Court on Tuesday has confirmed the Netherlands was partly liable for the deaths of some 300 Muslim men who were expelled from a Dutch UN base after the surrounding area was overrun by Bosnian Serb troops. Source
  • Names of man, 2 children, killed in Mississauga crash released

    Canada News CTV News
    MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Peel Region police have released the names of a man and two boys who died in a head-on crash late Sunday night in Mississauga. Police say the crash occurred when the driver of a southbound Mazda on Winston Churchill Blvd. Source
  • EU fines Google billions for breaching antitrust rules

    World News CBC News
    The European Union's competition watchdog has slapped a record 2.42 billion euro fine — roughly $3.6 billion Cdn — on internet giant Google for breaching antitrust rules with its online shopping service. European regulators said Tuesday that "Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service. Source
  • Trudeau government shelves part of anti-spam law that would allow private lawsuits

    Canada News CBC News
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is being accused of caving to big business lobbying after it decided to indefinitely freeze application of part of Canada's anti-spam law that would have allowed ordinary Canadians to sue for spam. Source
  • Foonie? As loonie turns 30, it's time to think of a name for a $5 coin: Don Pittis

    Canada News CBC News
    Foonie doesn't really work, so Canadians will have to put on their thinking caps to figure out a name for the $5 coin. As the loonie turns 30 this week, painful though it may be, we must inevitably begin to prepare ourselves to say goodbye to our blue Wilfrids. Source
  • Rare 'bright nights' mystery solved by Canadian scientists

    Canada News CBC News
    It's a phenomenon that's been noted throughout history: bright nights when you could read even though there was no illumination from the moon, candles or any other form of light. Now, Canadian scientists believe they've unravelled the mystery — and there's even a possibility we could see more such nights because of our changing climate. Source
  • Seeing the light: Mining companies look to solar power, wind for fresh revenue

    Canada News CBC News
    After a century of pulling lead and zinc from the Sullivan mine in southeast British Columbia, the energy company Teck recently shut down the operation and began years of restoration work. Some of the land outside the city of Kimberley became a meadow with grass and trees, but it remained tainted after decades of mining activity. Source