Whilst out and about, I’ve noticed the remarkable proliferation of new monuments to former mines and their workers. I’ve commented on the subject in several posts to this blog, in particular to what I see as the wastage on the sculpture binge in Walsall Wood. It’s not that I believe this industry is unworthy of remembrance – quite the reverse, in fact. I believe that the best way to commemorate such a deadly, harsh industry is to continue to improve society and working conditions throughout industry, a cause the miners fought passionately for. In no other industry was the belief in cradle to grave more fierce.
There is a veritable multiplicity of these sculptures, and the speed of their erection throughout former coalfields has been startling, and I must say, somewhat puzzling to me. It’s almost as if it has become a municipally fashionable thing to do, and that no former pit community is complete without at least one such tribute. It’s with this in mind that I recently noted the similarity between the ones at Hednesford, near Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, and Piccadilly, near Kingsbury in Warwickshire.
I don’t know much of the history or origins of either installation, but they’re clearly by the same designer, very probably from the same factory. There are slight design differences – four bulbs and a shorter lens in the Warwickshire variant as well as vent holes under the cap. The Hednesford edition appears to be more slender, but it may just be an optical illusion. Both memorials consist of brick feature walls constructed from bricks bearing the names of former miners from the area. The Piccadilly monument bears the name ‘CAM Engineering, South Wales’, but I can’t find a web presence for the company. They have a similar construction at Trehafod, Rhondda Valley, South Wales, dating from the year 2000. I understand that communities often work hard to raise the funds required to realise these things, and I in no way belittle that. I just don’t understand it.
Am I alone in finding it a bit strange that there seems to be a company turning out near-identical structures to fulfil this civic need? Has the gesture of erecting mining monuments now become so trite that any organisation wanting to engage in this fad can pick up an off-the-peg solution? What does it say about our society, and how we feel about this very nearly moribund industry that we increasingly need to demonstrate our regard for it in this way? Is it a sense of collective guilt generated by the hastened destruction of a very British concern? How many of those in political circles publicly eulogising at unveiling ceremonies for the bygone years of black gold and salt of the earth pitmen were quite happy to condemn entire coal communities to a living death not two decades before? Why are we not engaging in this practice for other lost industries?
I find the whole phenomena very perplexing. I have immense regard for those men of the dark, dangerous underground. I’ve known a few former miners, now mostly passed on, for whom I have great respect. I wonder what they would have made of the almost Stalinist obsession with municipal statuary to the working class?
I’d be intrigued to read your views.