For the last twenty years former miner Paul Kelly has been placing flowers at the entrance to what was Agecroft 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
Paul 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.
Paul is Chair of Irwell Valley Mining Project, which is being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. They were 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, including a memorial at the site of Agecroft colliery, 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.
Alice Searle, who is the Secretary of the project, and an ex-teacher 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 are actually going to build the monument.
Searle was involved with the project to get a monument to the Chartists at Kersal Moor in Salford and she wrote a book about the Chartist movement:
I have sold over 1000 copies of what is a small local story but it showed how people are interested in their history.
Members of the project have been going out collecting interviews from ex-miners and have uncovered unpublished photographs of Agecroft colliery to use in the exhibition.
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 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. See
Searle and Kelly met when they were both involved with the Stop the War Campaign and their project does have a political edge as Kelly comments:
Coal is important. We don’t need to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for resources, its 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.
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