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13 November 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > Faith > Features > Pits and Pulpits

St Edward the Confessor, Barnsley

St Edward the Confessor, Barnsley

Pits and Pulpits

When pit villages sprung up around mines at the start of the 20th century, churches were built for miners to worship and pray in. BBC Radio Sheffield's Kate Linderholm takes a look at the role the Church played in the 1984-5 Miners Strike.

When the government announced in March 1984 that Cortonwood Colliery in South Yorkshire would close, it sparked a year long bitter industrial dispute by miners in Yorkshire and the rest of the country..

When the Strike began in 1984, it was natural for communities facing hardship to look to their clergy for support, especially since many of the churches had been built for miners in the early 20th century.

Pithead and miners silhouetted against a blue sky

Miners at a UK pit in 1984

BBC Radio Sheffield is producing four special reports which will be played over the next few weeks, followed by an hour-long documentary. You can listen to the first of these by clicking on the link below.

:: Pits and Pulpits - Part I: Soup kitchens

Many South Yorkshire churches were involved in raising money and running soup kitchens during the Miners Strike.

A church in Maltby was turned over to strikers for use as a canteen. 200 dinners every weekday were prepared by the miners' wives. Rector Alan Davis from the Church of the Ascension remembers the persistent cooking smells: "On Sunday when I took services I couldn't get away from that very strong smell of boiled cabbage!"

 Kate Linderholm reports...

:: Pits and Pulpits - Part II: Pastoral care

Women didn't know where they'd get their next meal from. Many families with young children had their electricity supplies cut off and were visited by social services to be told that if they didn't have any form of heating or anything to cook on they could have their children taken away from them.

Families turned to their vicar in times of uncertainty and hardship - in particular men who weren't used to talking about their emotions and feelings. Reverend Michael Keane, industrial chaplain in the South Yorkshire Coalfield, remembers an increase in visits from his parishoners. "Sometimes it would show itself in tensions between husband and wife. There was certainly an increase in people coming to talk to me about marital and family problems."

 Kate Linderholm reports...

Rev. David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham (1984)

Rev. David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham (1984)

:: Pits and Pulpits - Part III: Senior clergy

The third part of Pits and Pulpits looks at the row over whether senior clergymen should even talk about the strike, after the then-Bishop of Durham David Jenkins came under fire for saying that the miners mustn't be defeated.

We also look into the relationship of two churchgoers - a striking miner and a Coal Board official - and the way they felt bound in a solidarity that no strike could fracture. Despite being on opposite sides of the struggle, the men didn't feel bitterness towards each other.

:: Pits and Pulpits - Part IV: The aftermath

In the fourth part of Pits and Pulpits we examine the aftermath of the miners strike. The church protested against the defeats and closures, which caused lasting damage to the communities.

St Luke's, Grimethorpe was built by the miners, for the miners in 1904. They tell us of a new altar which will contain the last coal from Grimethorpe Colliery, to ensure that the sacrifices made by the miners are never forgotten...

:: Documentary: The church and the miners strike

From Easter Sunday (12th April) you'll be able to listen to our hour-long documentary about the part the church played in the Miners Strike.

The documentary reveals just how much churches were involved in supporting communities affected by the miners strike.

They raised funds for striker's families facing hardship, and they helped run soup kitchens. In one case a church itself was used to provide hundreds of daily meals and the team rector remembers the smell of cabbage lingering through to the Sunday service.

Clergy often counselled families facing emotional turmoil. The documentary has unearthed archive footage of some strikers in Hatfield trying to convince a man who'd gone back to come back out on strike.

The violence at picket lines was regularly condemned by church leaders, while Bishops and Archbishops who gave support to the strike from the pulpit were condemned for doing so by the conservative government.

But the work done by churches and the links it created with communities was in some cases very important for rebuilding and regenerating communities in the years that followed.

last updated: 25/08/2009 at 12:01
created: 06/03/2009

You are in: South Yorkshire > Faith > Features > Pits and Pulpits

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Diane Louise Jordan


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