Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the British Midlands make up one of the largest former coalfield areas in the UK. The consecutive closure of coal mines throughout the 1980’s and 90’s profoundly changed Britain’s industrial landscape forever and left an industry responsible for driving Britain’s industrial revolution a shadow of its former self. Coal communities were hit hard economically and socially, while the deregulation of financial markets caused an economic revolution in other parts of the country. I began photographing the people and places of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields to capture culture and social life in the region three decades on from the bitter 1984-85 miners’ strike. When then prime minister Margaret Thatcher—Maggie, to the British public—closed the mines, workers protested her attempts to diminish the industry at large and deplete the union that represented it. The strike splintered the workforce, with disputes over its legality creating divisions that the government grasped on. After a yearlong struggle, the strike was lost, spelling the beginning of the end for British coal mining. In the years that followed, coal-mine closures became rampant, and unemployment in the coalfields skyrocketed.
Thanks Maggie is a deeply personal project that speaks of my own roots and identity. My Father worked in the mines for decades until he was made redundant by the closures; my Grandfather was a deputy at Sutton, a local colliery during his time. The work draws on the artistry and musicality of the coalfields. Music and dance were a major component of mining culture, remnants of which still exist in the miners’ welfare clubs and colliery brass bands. Rock ‘n’ Roll culture was embraced by British working class communities in the 1950’s—today, the ex-mining generation has many Rock ‘n’ Roll fans and various tribute acts who perform in the Miner’s Welfare Clubs.
Thoresby Colliery, the last coal mine in Nottinghamshire closed in 2015, bringing to an end 900 years of mining in the county. In some communities, the effects of industrial decline are still being felt as the employment opportunities the collieries offered have either not been replaced or in some cases replaced by undependable, poor quality work of the zero hour contract variety. Brightly painted colliery winding wheels mark the end of one village or the beginning of another—they serve as monuments to a thriving industrial past. Despite this, many young people growing up in the region today would not know what coal is or more lamentably, how the legacy of the colliery closures could affect their opportunity in life.
Thanks Maggie includes work created for the First Art PORTRAIT commission. First Art is an arts partnership bringing together communities within the former coalfields of North Nottinghamshire and North-East Derbyshire via a three year programme of arts projects funded by Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places fund.