Coal was the fuel for the industrial revolution. Steam was coal’s power. Steam powered the railways and the ships and enabled cotton to put Britain at the centre of empire and world trade. Coal made Britain a super power, a country of huge wealth, ingenuity and invention and Ashington was one of the big producers of the black diamond.
In the Victorian era, Britain was the biggest producer of coal in the world. As the demand for coal increased during this period, shafts were sunk deeper and deeper so the best coal seams could be worked. Miners could be working 3,000 feet (~915 metres) underground and faced a walk of over a mile from the bottom of the shaft to the coal face – and they were not paid until they got there.
Miners were paid by the tonne. Their filled tubs were brought to the surface, weighed and the miners’ pay calculated. The beast of burden for hauling the heavy tubs was the pit pony. At the height of their use, there were about 70,000 of them working underground in Britain. They lived down the mine for 50 weeks of the year and only saw daylight when they were brought to the surface during the miners’ August holidays and allowed their own break running free across the nearby fields.
For those who owned the mines or the land above the coalfields, great wealth was available.
Links to stately homes, landownership etc
Miners faced huge dangers as they swung a pick axe at a rock hard coal face in cramped conditions. Roof falls, gases, a sudden in rush of water and flooding were common hazards and the human cost was enormous. As many as 60,000 miners lost their lives between 1850 and 1900. In the history of Ashington Colliery, xxxxxx lost their lives.
It was because of these dangers that miners looked after each other and formed close relationships between families which in turn led to strong sense of community and pride.
Hard work and a fight for a better life over several generations bred character and togetherness. From the start of the industrial revolution, workers became involved in an almost constant struggle for better conditions and a living wage. They faced long hours, low wages and many dangers. Working people found their voice by coming together. This was the foundation for the trade union movement. With Britain facing increasing competition from overseas in the early 20th Century, workers were increasingly required to work longer hours for less money. This led to unions growing in strength and strikes became more common in the early 20th Century.
Ten years after the general strike in 19xx, Britain found itself in the midst of the great depression and at the mercy of world events and the industries which sparked the industrial revolution went into decline which was worsened by the country’s almost bankrupt state as it emerged from the second world war.
Lack of investment in coal mining, a history of strikes and competition from abroad continued the decline which continued until the strike of 1984-85 which was to become a water shed moment for the coal industry nationally and the North East in particular. Within xx years of the strike, only one colliery was left in south east Northumberland with the once great Ashington Colliery being one of the casualties.