Whatever happened to the Miners' Welfare?
by Grace Shaw
For many, the miners' welfare clubs were at the heart of the community's political, social and sporting activities. But what has happened to the welfares since the decline of the coal indsutry in the 1980s and 90s?
Rachel at Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare Club
Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare near Conisbrough was once a thriving social and sports club with football and cricket pitches, a swimming bath and library as well as the social and entertainment rooms indoors.
It's a large and impressive red brick building complete with stone crest and pillars.
There's a large asphalt car park to the front and back of the building, and illuminated signs above the entrance advertise Stones Bitter and Carling Black Label.
Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare
But in 2009 it's looking a bit decrepit and faded.
The building has been given a few modern additions - a new porch and front steps, pebble-dashing, uPVC windows and a corrugated lean-to shelter over what used to be the front door, presumably built since the smoking ban in July 2007... But still there doesn't seem to be much going on, and it's not surprising given the decline of the industry which defined this area.
'Pit Baby' by Rachel Horne
Rachel Horne and Pin the Pits
Rachel Horne was born in Conisbrough during the Miners Strike of 1984.
Now an artist living in north London, she has spent a lot of time campaigning to Pin the Pits; she wants Ordnance Survey to mark regenerated pit sites with a half pit wheel symbol on their detailed reference maps.
The half pit wheel symbol will appear under the classification of historical features, alongside roman forts, battle sites and other antiquities.
Rachel's whole family live in Denaby and Conisbrough, and mining in her family can be traced directly back to her great-great grandfather in the 1850s.
Fireplace at Rachel's nan's in Denaby
By Pinning the Pits Rachel wants to give recognition to former coal mining sites, indicating their historical interest and importance. She also wants future generations to have a sense of pride and heritage in their community, unlike her generation whose experience of mining was, literally and metaphorically, a wasteland.
Read more about the Pin the Pits project by clicking on the link below.
The Miners' Welfare
In the past the Miners' Welfare at Denaby was heavily used not only as a political and social club but also for leisure activities. It wasn't simply a place where unemployed men came to drink as some do nowadays. Instead the emphasis was on welfare.
Rachel has come to Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare since she was 17.
"Outside to the left is a football pitch which would have been home to Denaby United Football Club. There's a cricket field to the right and behind would have been the swimming pool.
"My nan told me that in the 1930s it had a library here, so it was all very much welfare-orientated."
Inside the Welfare
Inside are two rooms downstairs; the games room with pool and snooker tables and the what was known as the best room, both with bars.
In the foyer of the Welfare a brass plaque announces the opening of Cadeby Main Colliery Pithead Baths: 'These baths erected by the Miners' Welfare Committee in pursuance of the Miners Industry Act 1926 were opened and handed over to the trustees on 20th February 1932.'
Embroidery for the Cadeby pit disaster (1912)
A carefully embroidered tapestry shows Cadeby pithead and a list of over 70 names - all men who died in a mine explosion at the colliery in July 1912.
Upstairs is the main show room with a large stage at one end and a long wooden bar down one side of the room. Wooden tables with red and royal blue velvet chairs are stacked around the edge; the entire flooring is made up of geometric lino in red, cream, beige, brown and blue.
"This is where the parties would have taken place," says Rachel. "There would have always been a 'turn.' There was a real band scene back in the day, my dad often tells me about it.
Bar at Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare
"All the miners' welfare clubs would have different bands and comedians that toured around. I think a lot of big bands emerged from that scene - touring in the Working Men's Clubs and working their way up.
"My mum and dad were a teddy boy couple - they can jive and do all that sort of stuff. They would have probably done that here at times and also gone to different Working Men's Clubs in different pit villages."
Lost their way
Sadly since the decline of the industry that defined these pit villages, the miners' welfares have lost their way a bit.
The stage at Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare
Denaby & Cadeby Miners' Welfare is still functioning but while in the past the big building would have been a hive of sporting activity in the daytime and buzzing with social events in the evening, it now sees a handful of regulars day and night and the size of the clientele doesn't do justice to the size of the building.
There is still a strong element of pride in the mining heritage at the Denaby & Cadeby Welfare Club though. Banners, tapestries and other memorabilia line the walls. The Welfare also became Patron for Rachel's artwork and objects in July 2009.
On the far wall of the room is a large fabric banner in royal blue and gold, painted with a pit scene and 'Unity is the key for our future' in a scroll across the bottom. Rachel explains how each pit had its own banner, all under the umbrella of the NUM.
"I used to go to the Miners' Welfare when I was 17, I always felt so inspired by the history of the building and the banners, knowing my grandfathers and family would have marched behind them.
"Industrial strikes were part of your culture especially in a mining community. My family have marched under banners since the 1850s - that's a cultural activity," says Rachel.
"With those sort of things not happening here because there's no industry, no jobs, no collective community spirit any more, the welfare has kind of lost its purpose."
Cadeby branch banner
On the end wall is a beautiful royal blue and gold banner with a painting of Cadeby colliery in the centre. "This is the banner for Cadeby Main branch where my dad and grandfather both worked," explains Rachel. "One of the emblems at the bottom is the Latin motto for Cadeby, 'Out of darkness, light' which I think is a beautiful saying."
Cadeby Pit banner
In fact in 2005 when she was 21, Rachel co-ordinated the Out of Darkness Light project backed by Arts Council England. 410 lights were placed on the old pit tip of her home village and a river boat tour of the area took guests to view the light sculpture in memory of all the workers who had died on the site of the old Cadeby pit.
Above the painting of Cadeby is the All Seeing Eye which Rachel says symbolises the Union's protection of the workers and the shift away from the privately-owned coal mines to the union-led mines pioneering progression and safety.
"No one from my generation would have understood an industrial scene like that painting of Cadeby," says Rachel. "We understood a wasteland, that was something very common for us: grey, slagheap plains of nothing - bleakness.
"But my father's generation had these iconic industrial buildings, things to aspire to. There were architectural officers, engineering officers - you were brought into a community that had that sort of dynamic.
"Ours was much more about, 'well there's nothing here, there's nothing for us'."
Read about Rachel's campaign to 'Pin the Pits' by clicking on the link below.
An impressive red and gold banner from Cadeby's sister pit Denaby Main has a scroll across the bottom which reads, "6 Hour Day For All Miners."
Denaby colliery banner
"Denaby was the pit where my other grandfather worked," says Rachel. "The reference to the 6 Hour Day is about a campaign for the option to work less. Obviously there was an overtime policy so that people could work more if they wanted to, but 6 Hour Days meant that more people could have a job.
"Eight hours leisure, eight hours rest, eight hours work - I think it's a really good philosophy. People deserve time to be able to pursue their leisure activities. The miners had a lot of leisure activities that they were able to do.
"It was also about spending time with family - that's quite a contemporary issue, but it was something they were really pushing 40 or 50 years ago when that banner was made."
On the far wall of the show room ticks a beautiful wooden cased clock which came from the main offices at the colliery.
"When it was closed in 1986, Cadeby colliery was left abandoned for a while. The demolition happened within about three or four years so the miners went and salvaged as much as they could.
Clock from Cadeby colliery offices
"As well as saving things like this clock they also saved bricks and timber. They used that to build the Miners Chapel of Rest a couple of minutes down the road. There's a real spiritual connection there: creating a Chapel of Rest from the industry."
Cadeby Colliery closed in 1986 and later became The Earth Centre (now closed). Denaby Main Colliery drew its last coal in the late 1960s and now the site is home to Dearne Valley Leisure Centre.
:: Rachel Horne was speaking to BBC Sheffield's Grace Shaw in 2009 ::
last updated: 09/03/2010 at 14:30