Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
As we walked across to the Welfare to meet the Committee, Annette and I felt victorious but also very tired. We'd had our lie-in, they'd called an emergency meeting and now we expected to reap the rewards. When we got there we discovered that we were to have a meeting with Les Jones and the woman who runs the Youth Club, not the whole Committee. The two of them were sitting in one of the committee rooms and we were shown in. As we walked in Les Jones smiled and tried to be friendly, but we were not feeling friendly, we were only interested in the decision that had been reached by the meeting.
‘What have you decided?’ I said.
Les looked a little uncomfortable and said, ‘We've decided to let you have the Youth Club to feed women and children.’ ‘What?’ I said, ‘just women and children. What about the men?’
‘No, no men. Only the women and children.’
‘You stink Les and so does this whole situation, you're supposed to be a Labour County Councillor and look what you're doing, people in the Labour Party all over the place are helping us and you're putting obstacles in our way.
He said, ‘Just tell me what you're going to do.’
‘I can’t, I'm going back over there to tell them what you've said, then I'll let you know what we're going to do.’
He started to look panicky, ‘Oh no, don’t do that, you know what'll happen don’t ya.’
I said, ‘Yeah.’ I knew what he was getting at, but as far as I was concerned if the men were being singled out and denied food they must be part of the decision as to whether we accepted these terms.
Les’s voice had become quite shaky, he said, ‘They'll smash it up.’
‘More than likely,’ I said as we walked out the door.
When we got back to the Youth Club we reported on our meeting. Everybody was very resentful especially the women, but the men insisted that if we had somewhere to feed the women and kids we should accept that, for the present anyway. But as soon as that decision was made, we received a message from the Manager of the pit. We were to go and see one of the Personnel Officers to discuss using the Village Hall as a Centre. Annette and Pauline Howarth went straight up and came back half an hour later with the keys. We were able to use the Village Hall every day till five at night and on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons we had to make room for the Old-age Pensioners who used it regularly on those afternoons.
The Village Hall was not as well suited to our needs as the Youth Club, but it was more than adequate. It had an ample kitchen, joined to a large hall by a serving hatch. There was a small supper room at the back of the main hall with another connecting hatch and there was a large pantry. It was called the Glasshouse because the upper half of nearly all the outside walls was glass. That was a mixed blessing. It meant that the hall was light and airy, that any sunshine warmed the inside and it meant that we could see out at all times so we always knew who was coming and going. But it also meant that people outside could see in. Being so close to the pit meant that the scabs had to walk past it to get to work. It overlooked the pit itself, which was a constant reminder that the friction of the dispute was never far away. The power supply and heating were all connected up to the mains at the pit, and the hall was cleaned each night by the pit cleaners. It served our purposes very well. It lacked entertainment facilities which the Youth Club offered and we thought would be a good idea to help encourage everyone to be involved. While we'd been making breakfast at the Youth Club that morning we'd discussed what we wanted for our Centre. We had talked about wanting a Community Centre that served three hot meals a day, where we could all meet to discuss and plan events. We knew we wanted a Strike Centre not just a soup kitchen.
Now we had our own Strike Centre we were elated, although we never understood the irony of being offered an NCB property while the Youth Club, which we felt belonged to us, had been denied us.
Some of us had to attend a fund raising meeting in Nottingham that night. We were very tired and so decided to go home and sleep. Some of the other women who hadn’t been at the Youth Club the night before immediately started to move all our things up to the Centre.
As I walked through the gates of our front yard, desperate for sleep, I noticed the New Testament I'd given my next door neighbour, who was working, as a present, lying on the grass. I picked it up. It had slanderous things written all over it. I didn’t actually read them. I recognised them vaguely but felt too disgusted to bother. Apparently Pip did read it and he told me that it accused me of being the devil.
At last I lay down in my own comfortable bed to sleep, but next door started up a terrible racket, banging and knocking. I was sure they were doing it on purpose, but my mind was too busy to dwell on it. I was thinking about the events of the night before. I was amazed at what we had done, and that we had done it on our own without calling on the men to help us. In the end they had come of course, but it was us, the women, who had organized it and carried it off. There was a great feeling of strength and pride in that. The first time I had felt that sense of pride was when we'd gone into the canteen to bring the women working there out. That night, when the men came in to get us, and ended up just leaving us to it, it was like a confirmation that they realised that we were just as strong, determined and able as them. It was confirmation to ourselves as well. None of us had ever done anything like this before and yet, we hadn’t hesitated, there had been no second thoughts, we knew what we wanted and went to get it.
Paul Thompson had arranged a meeting that night at Snenton Labour Party at which I was going to speak. My confidence in public speaking had received quite a boost the Friday before. Paul had told us there was a public meeting being held in Nottingham about the Miners’ Strike. He suggested that we should go to it. Quite a few of us went, men as well as women. When we walked in Noreen Baker who'd chaired the Trades Council meeting I'd spoken at was sitting up on the platform and she called out to me.
‘Doreen,’ she said when I got to the platform, ‘would you like to sit up here and speak?’
‘Oh, I don’t know.’
‘You've done it before and I think it would be good if you spoke. You could talk about the same things you talked about at the Trades Council. There’s supposed to be a woman coming from Yorkshire but she’s not here yet so we need a woman and even if she does come I think it would be good to hear what you've got to say.’
Pip had come to the meeting too, I'm sure he'd only come because he thought I wasn’t going to speak, he was very nervous about my speaking and when he found out that I was going to speak he was frightened to death. He trembled at the knees.
Mick Carter, from Cortonwood was the first speaker. He talked about the beginning of the strike in Cortonwood, the policies of the Government to attack not just the coalmining industry but the NUM as well because it was the strongest union in the country.
‘This Government,’ he said, ‘is determined to break the back of the Union Movement. It will try to do it by smashing the NUM, but it'll have a fight on its hands, the miners are not prepared to stand by and watch their industry, their union and their communities disappear without a fight, we are determined to fight to the end, and the end will be victory.’
Then it was my turn. Paul had been quite critical of my previous speeches. I always sort of stare into space, thinking about what I'm going to say next. Paul used to say, ‘Doreen, you don’t stare at the back of the room, you look at the people you're talking to.’ So as I stood up I was determined to look into the audience and as I did I caught Pip’s eyes. He looked petrified, his face was pale and his lips were sort of tight like they get when he’s nervous. I started off by thanking the people there for letting me speak and then I said, ‘We're a group of Miners’ Wives that are starting up a Strike Centre. We've been on the picket lines and we've got a kitchen together to feed the kids. What we've seen has really made us determined to stand with our men in this fight all the way ’
Then I talked about what we'd done and how we were starting to organise. I looked at Pip again, he wasn’t under his chair yet so I continued.
‘We've never been politically minded people but we have seen over the last few years the unemployment rising, when there was two million unemployed there was a big outcry and now there’s three million, and if we don’t fight for what we believe in, fight for our jobs and communities the unemployment number is going to double and treble because there aren’t enough pits for us to go to and it’s obvious that a lot of us are going to finish up on the dole. It isn’t just Cortonwood and it isn’t just Yorkshire, it’s everywhere.
‘Our pit at Blidworth was threatened with closure last July and it was only the union that saved it. The Coal Board said it was uneconomical, that it was losing twenty pound on every ton of coal produced and you know why? Because they opened two new faces and they spent a lot of money on new machinery.
‘It took fourteen months to open one of those faces and that was the biggest joke in Nottinghamshire, that it took fourteen months to open a new face. The reason it took so long was because the Manager insisted that the men work the way he told them. A lot of them complained and said that it was a very long way to go about it. They all knew that if they had been able to open that face the way they usually opened new faces it would only have taken three or four months, but management insisted on the new method. So for fourteen months a lot of men were working without producing and that should have only been three or four months. Of course a lot of money was lost, and then on top of that the money for the new machinery had to be taken off the price of the coal that was produced.
‘The union argued that once the two new faces were open and working the pit wouldn’t be uneconomical and they got the Coal Board to agree to give them six months to get those new faces working, and then the pit would be holding its head above water. But they had everything against them. First the overtime ban and then the strike. We've heard now that it is still on a list of three Nottinghamshire pits which are marked for closure. The other thing about Blidworth pit is that it produces the best quality coal in Notts., you can’t sell other coal without mixing it with Blidworth coal and there’s at least another fifty years good quality coal there. Yet the Coal Board want to close it down. That’s an example of their judgement on what is an uneconomical pit. And so that’s what we're fighting against.’
I stopped for a moment and looked around the room, everybody seemed to be listening and really wanted to hear more so I started to talk about the police.
‘Before this strike, we were just a small village with one village policeman. He never bothered us and we never bothered him, he just did his few hours surgery every day. Then suddenly we wake up one morning and the whole village is crawling with coppers. We can’t go about our normal business any more without being hassled by police. One of our women, Margaret, who is sitting just there, was stopped four times in an hour the other morning. She was just going about her own business and walking in the streets of her own village, doing such dangerous things as buying milk for her kids’ breakfasts. Coppers kept stopping her and asking her where she was going and what she was doing and telling her that she couldn’t go anywhere near the pit. That happens to us all the time. We walk along the street and suddenly we're being followed by a pair of Maggie’s blue bobbies. The other morning my husband was going up to the early morning picket, it was still dark and he walked the quickest way up there which is through the allotments, two coppers jumped out from behind a tree at him and asked him if he was going to work. We don’t feel at home in our own village any more, we feel like criminals but we've done nothing.
‘On the picket lines men are arrested for nothing at all, if the police feel in a nasty mood, they just arrest someone. We don’t know what’s hit us, but we do know that we've got to keep fighting. It’s in everybody’s interest that we back Cortonwood and back Yorkshire and work as the National Union of Mineworkers and not be scabby as Notts. is known for being. If we go down, everybody goes down. We've seen her attack industry after industry, she brought McGregor in to butcher the steel works and now she’s trying to get him to butcher the miners, if we go down, who will she attack next. So it’s very important that we keep on fighting until we've won and that everybody in this country helps us to do that.’
I sat down, everybody clapped and a few stood up. I got very embarrassed, I still do when people clap after I've spoken, I don’t know where to put my face. There was a miner from Ollerton sitting next to me who was going to speak as well and he said to me, ‘That were great lass. But I thought you were going to lose your rings.’
All the time I'd been speaking my hands were behind my back and I was fiddling with my rings. The funny thing about that was that he had never spoken before and he was as nervous as I was. When he stood up to speak he took his watch off and put it on the table, then he picked it up and put it back on his wrist, then back onto the table and so on all the way through his speech. So when he sat down I told him about it and it’s been a standing joke between the two of us ever since, that I fiddled with my rings and then he fiddled with his watch, because we were both so nervous speaking at those early meetings.
When we got home after that meeting we all went to Pauline’s for a cup of coffee. Yorkie had been at the meeting and he said to me, ‘The way you talk Doreen, you sound like a socialist.’
That really frightened me because I knew that socialists were like communists and I thought communists were something bad. You always heard people say, ‘He’s a bloody communist’ as if it was a bad thing, and then there was Russia and police states and all those things that somehow frightened me and were against what I thought I believed in.
I said , ‘Is a socialist like a communist, ’cause I'm not a communist. Anyway what do you mean, I thought it was horrible to be a communist.’
Howard was there as well, he and his wife Marilyn were very close friends of ours and Howard and Pip and me used to talk a lot about religion and politics, because we were all believers.
Howard said, ‘If Jesus Christ came back on this earth today, he'd be a communist because he believed in equality and that’s what communism’s all about.’
That made a lot of sense to me and from then on I started going into the whole question and every chance I'd get I'd talk to the men that were political about it. I knew some of the men were Communists and I began to realise that I nearly always agreed with them and respected the way they were organizing the strike. I started asking questions about what different things meant and about things that had happened in the past.
Somehow all the things that I'd seen before but tried to ignore fitted in and everything began to make sense. I'd seen unemployment rising and I knew that sooner or later it was going to affect everyone. I can remember when they had one of the ballots to strike a year before and I'd been against it because we couldn’t afford to strike, but at the same time I can remember watching television and thinking, ‘That bitch, she’s out to get us all in the same boat.’ So in a way, I was thinking politically, and suddenly all of those things fitted into place with what was happening to us and I started to talk about them. At first I didn’t think I was talking politics, I was just concerned for our own welfare but I started to realise that everything the Government did was against us.
I used to think that anybody that was political and made political speeches must have read a lot and must know a lot, then I started to realise that I knew a lot too. It’s just that it all suddenly seemed to make sense and I realised that things I'd been hearing for ages and trying to ignore were still there in my memory and now they all fitted together and made some sense. It was like a lot of scrambled bits of information suddenly became sorted out and when that happened I started to realise that I was a political person. I remembered watching the Brixton riots on television. At the time I believed what the television said, that the police had to stop these race riots. Then when I saw what the police did to us on the picket line, and when I could see what the Government was doing to us I started to wonder what they'd done to those black people to make them riot like that. I was beginning to have some confidence in my knowledge, not just about the strike but about other things as well. We'd discussed the best ways of raising support with Paul and he'd suggested that each Notts. pit should twin with a community in Nottinghamshire and get support from that community. I don’t know where he got the idea from, I don’t think anybody else was doing it then, but it sounded like a good idea. So we were going to ask the Snenton Labour Party if they'd twin with us. Pauline, Annette, Margaret and Pauline Howarth all came to the meeting too and after I'd finished my speech Margaret suggested that we sit around in the circle so that everyone could have a discussion. Paul had forms that he'd had printed for people to fill in if they wanted to pledge a levy, so he handed them out and the meeting discussed how they could raise food and money for us. They agreed with our idea of twinning and agreed that their branch of the Labour Party would twin with us. There was a man there from another branch and we asked him if they would twin with Rainworth, our neighbouring village. Our idea was that there were enough communities in Notts to support all the pits in the county. The support we'd got had been overwhelming and so we thought there would be enough. But as it turned out there wasn’t that much support in Notts, but twinning did work out nationally.
The next day Pauline and I stayed home from work again. There was so much to do. Everything from the house in Grange Road had been moved up to the Centre. All the food that had been donated and that we'd collected was sorted out and put away in the pantry. We all took knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups and cooking equipment up from our houses to make sure we had enough. I stayed at home in the morning to phone big stores to see if they'd give us a discount on food. I didn’t have much joy but the Co-op head office said we could have something like a 5% discount. Then I got in the car and went to see a milkman whose wife I knew and asked if he'd deliver to the Centre every day. I went up to the Village Hall. It was ,the first time I went to the Centre. As soon as I walked in I sensed the excitement.
People everywhere were shouting to each other and bustling about busily getting things organized. The Centre was from the outset, just ,as we had imagined it, not only a place where we could provide food but a place we could all be a part of, a place which belonged to everybody which would help to unite us and help us to get to know each other. It was like our big communal home and we became like a big communal family.
Some women from Rainworth had come up to see us and to see if we could help them to get set up. I told them about the twinning we'd arranged for them and gave them half of the money that we had and some bread, potatoes, eggs and milk to help them get started. Just then the phone rang and someone asked to speak to me. It was Central Television and they wanted to come out and film the Centre. I told them that I'd have to check with everybody else and when I asked around nobody objected so I told them they could come up the next day.
Over the next two days, Pauline and I had to work very hard to make up all the time we'd missed, so we missed out on a lot of the activity at the Village Hall. Central Television came and made a feature about the Centre, they showed the women cooking and serving and everybody eating the first hot meal we served there. Annette and Betty Savage were interviewed and excited kids ran all over the place in the background. Our Centre was the first opened in Nottinghamshire and one of the first in the country, so it was quite a big deal and lots of people were really interested in it.
Pauline and I felt left out of it during the day while we were at work and work started to become a real drag. We were so much more interested in what was going on at home than we were in the endless seams we had to sew at work. They had rush orders on as well and were starting to get quite annoyed about the amount of time we were taking off. But there was so much to do to keep things going at the Centre that we had no choice.
Every evening there were meetings we had to attend. It was a very busy time. We were just setting up, so we had our own committee meetings, the Centre was just setting up and there was endless work to be done up there, then there were fund raising meetings to attend as well as meetings about the strike and meetings which helped us to learn what to do. As well as all that there were hundreds of informal meetings in someone’s house or up at the Centre, just to discuss all the other meetings and what we thought about them. We weren’t just going to meetings and saying our piece, we were learning all the way along, we were breaking new ground, not just for ourselves but for the whole labour movement.
Increasingly numbers of people started dropping into the Centre, people came to see how we'd set up, to follow our example or just out of curiosity, others came to offer support. We started to meet so many people and make new friends.
On May Day bank holiday there were two rallies, one in Mansfield and one in Nottingham. Our group decided that the men would go to Mansfield and the women and kids would go to Nottingham. To get us there we hired a mini-bus and paid for it out of the funds. We were quite surprised, it was a big rally and because of the one in Mansfield as well we'd not expected so many people to be there. We had a banner by now that Margaret had made and we set that up and all marched in our own little group. The kids took the leaflets that we'd produced and they had collecting tins. They dished hundred of leaflets out and collected seventy-six pound. They had a smashing time, dashing about handing out leaflets and collecting money. They kept running up to us and shaking their tins saying,
‘Look how much I've got.’
‘Hey, Mum, someone put a fiver in my tin.’
‘So what, I got a ten pound note before.’
They made it into a competition between themselves to see who could get the most, some of them even knocked on the doors of houses we were passing. They were ever so good, we marched a long way and they never complained at all. They caught the mood of excitement and loved the singing and chanting. We were all learning the songs that were sung on rallies and we enjoyed singing them, it was a way of saying what we were there for; a really alive way. After the march we walked all around Nottingham looking for the Market Square where we'd arranged to meet the bus, eventually we found it but we were a couple of hours early. We all sat on the steps of County Hall eating sandwiches that we'd brought. The kids were running about trying to catch pigeons and one of the older lads caught one, necked it, put it in a plastic bag and presented it to us.
‘Here, you can make pigeon pie up at the Centre.’
There were pigeon feathers everywhere and we were all panicking because the place was crawling with police from the rally.
‘Andrew, don’t do that again, the cops'll ’ave us.’
‘You can just imagine the newspapers — Striking miner’s son necks pigeon in Market Square.’ He was a bit disappointed, he'd thought it was a good idea and would actually be a help to us. After that he continued to catch pigeons but he'd stick a ‘Coal Not Dole’ sticker on their breasts and let them go. We thought that was a much better idea and thought it quite novel that all these pigeons were flying around Nottingham with ‘Coal Not Dole’ stickers on their breasts.
It seemed hours that we waited. Some men who were selling newspapers came up and started to talk to us, saying that we were doing a good job and to keep it up. Then some young lads came up and started to say the opposite but the men said to them.
‘They're fighting for your jobs too, you know. You're on the dole, how do you like it?’
One of the youths was very cocky and he said, ‘Get off, it’s great on dole, getting paid for doing nought.’ But the rest of them shut up and went away.
That night, Snenton Labour Party had organized a social to raise money for us. We all went into Nottingham. There was a bit of a buffet and we were all given a free drink when we got there. They raised money on the door and at the end of the night they gave us and another village seventeen pound each. I got up and thanked them very much for their support and then we all sang, ‘Arthur Scargill’ and chanted ‘the miners, united, will never be defeated’ over and over again.
When Pip and me got home, there were vegetable peelings and bread crusts all over our front yard. As we walked in the door we saw a letter that was pushed through. It said, ‘To all the vegetables.’ Inside, it said, we were using Arthur Scargill as our God and were supposed to be followers of Jesus. We were starting to get used to such childish abuse, but even so it was a very unpleasant feeling knowing that your next door neighbours were so hostile towards you. Still we knew we were in the right and they had sold their principles and would never be able to hold their heads up again. More than that, we knew that we were learning so much and experiencing so many new things, but they were still tied in the same rut and not able to see further ahead than pay day.
The next night a meeting had been called in Nottingham by the Strike Committee, it was to discuss fund raising in the county. There were mostly men there and they were saying that everything raised must go to a central fund and then be distributed equally among every village. Somebody stood up and said, ‘I've heard that some groups are beginning to twin, I'd like to know what the pro’s and con’s of it are.’
So I stood up and talked about our twinning and about how well it worked. I said, ‘As far as we're concerned it’s the best way to raise support in Notts., we haven’t got a central organisation to make sure that everything is distributed because we haven’t got the NUM here. I think that it’s different in Notts. than it is in other places. We also support twinning because when you get to know the people in a personal way that are raising the money for you they feel more involved and work harder to raise more. In the Labour Party Branch that we're twinned with there are two old ladies. They go around Nottingham, knocking on doors and get lots of abuse. When they come out to our Centre to see us they tell us about it, but they also see our kids and they're getting to know them. And I know that the only thing that keeps those two women going, is knowing our kids and not wanting to see them go without.’ But no-one else seemed to support me, they were all dead against it. I came away feeling that it was a disastrous meeting.
Later I talked to Paul Thompson about it. He said, ‘What do you say about us setting a meeting up, to discuss twinning?’ I thought that was a good idea and took it to our Committee, everybody agreed and we arranged a meeting in the Village Hall for the 20th May and printed some leaflets to advertise it. The leaflets put the argument in favour of twinning, they were headed ‘Blidworth Community Council. Twinning of Communities.’ They said:
We are in the process of twinning each mining community in Notts with a city community. There are many community organisations and political groups in the city communities who want to help support the struggle of the mining communities. They realize that we are fighting for them as well as for ourselves. They want to support us to make sure that we are not starved back to work. If we are beaten, they are beaten. Let us all get together as miners’ wives and communities to work together in Nottingham shire to win this strike. We are having a meeting next Sunday, May 20th at 2.00pm at the Blidworth Village Hall, Belle Vue Lane, Blidworth to organize the twinning of communities. At Blidworth we are feeding all striking miners and families three nourishing meals a day and have regular funds and food parcels coming in because we are basing our struggle on communities and not just on a central strike fund. Anybody who needs financial advice or help of any other kind can get it from out Welfare Rights Department. The Community Council gives leadership to the Community and keeps people together. No-one stands alone!!!
Although trades unions should make regular donations to the Notts. Miners’ Forum, we also know from our own experience that much more support will come if we go out ourselves to fight for it in the communities. That is why we are organizing this meeting — to show other communities what we have done and the success that we have had. Please come to this meeting if you need help or if you want to help.
Paul distributed the leaflets throughout Nottingham and we contacted everybody we knew who was starting to get organized. The trouble was that not all the groups were prepared to go out and speak at meetings and make twinnings work. A meeting had been arranged at the Radford Labour Party for Rainworth to attend, but the women there were too nervous to speak, so I ended up going and speaking on their behalf. Hucknall/Linby, another Notts pit wanted to start organising and they asked us to go to their first meeting and talk about what we'd done. We did that and invited them to come to a meeting that had been organised in Nottingham at which I was speaking. They came and when the collection was done at the end of the meeting I asked if the group would like to twin with Hucknall. They agreed, so Hucknall got the collection money and went on from there.
For some time there'd been talk about pickets coming down from Yorkshire. We all thought it was a great idea and the few contacts we had in Yorkshire let us know that it would be possible. In Yorkshire the strike was solid and we all looked up to the Yorkshire miners and their strength was evident. They perhaps faced greater economic hardship because there were so many of them, but their spirits were higher than ours because they weren’t always surrounded by police and scabs like we were.
Relations between working miners and strikers had broken down completely and hostility was breaking out all over the place. One night, just after we'd talked about arranging for some Yorkshire pickets to come down, Pip and I went down the road to the Jolly Friar for a drink. A couple who we sometimes used to sit with were there. We'd stopped sitting with them because he was scabbing. Just for a bit of fun I said in a loud voice,
‘Yorkshire pickets are coming so we can have mass pickets in Blidworth. We've had all Derbyshire, now we're going to get all Yorkshire and I'm going to go to the Notts. border in relays and bring them back here in the car.’
The Notts. border was cut off to try and stop anyone from outside getting in. I was only joking but these two took me seriously. Before long it was all around the village that I was going to bring relays of Yorkshire pickets into Blidworth. The next day this bloke saw Pip and said he was going to smash our car up.
‘You do,’ said Pip ‘and I know who'll come off worse, ours is an old banger and yours is a W reg.’
A few days later, Dennis Browne came up and asked Pip if we would put up some Yorkshire pickets. It had been organised, about forty of them were coming down for a few days. When I got back Pip told me that they were coming.
‘Where are they going to sleep?’
‘I thought we could put the tent up and they could sleep in that.’ They were due to arrive the following Monday evening after they'd been to a big rally that had been organised in Mansfield.
The next day we all went to the Barnsley Women’s Rally. Some women in Barnsley had organised the rally, Arthur Scargill was speaking and his secretary had asked if Annette and I would speak as well. They were expecting about 300 women and got about 10,000. Lots of men came as well but they all marched at the back. The women were divided up into areas. There was a sort of feeling that all Notts. were scabs and so when we arrived we made sure we were noticed, we all marched along in our own group singing, ‘Notts. are here, Notts. are here,’ and everybody in the street cheered us and shouted support. There were women everywhere, carrying banners and chanting and singing, it was a great feeling of strength just to be there, especially because it was largely all the women who were involved in the strike. We saw the strength of women that day and that was very inspiring and encouraging.
After the march there was to be a meeting in a hall, but there were too many people and they overflowed onto the street outside. Loudspeakers were set up so that everybody outside could hear the speakers. Me and Annette couldn’t get to the front of the hall, it was so packed. Somebody shouted our names over the loud speaker and we pushed ourselves through the crowd. I was the first speaker.
I said, ‘I don’t know what sort of reception we're going to get, coming from Nottinghamshire.’
Everybody cheered and yelled to let us know that we were appreciated. I talked about the strike and about Blidworth Pit being threatened with closure and I talked about the scabs. Then I said, ‘The working class is like a sleeping lion. It’s been sleeping for some time, but now it’s been prodded and woken up and it’s waking up with its claws out, its coming out fighting and it will fight and it will never be defeated.’
It was Annette’s birthday that day and I asked Arthur to present her with a card, he did and he thanked us both for coming and speaking. After that a woman came up to me and said she was a journalist from the London Guardian. She said, ‘I just heard your speech and I'd like to do an interview with you.’
I said that would be all right and she interviewed me for three quarters of an hour, she asked all about how we'd got set up, who was supporting us and things like that. Later we found out that she was a cop. At the time, I wasn’t suspicious at all, but that made me a bit careful about who I talked to.
The Barnsley Rally was on Saturday the 12th of May and on the Monday after that was the Mansfield Rally. The Mansfield Rally became for the men what the Barnsley Rally had been for the women. It was really enormous, miners came from all over the country. We thought the Barnsley Rally was big, but at Mansfield there were 35,000. The march was so long that when the head of it had walked four or five miles around the city of Mansfield and returned to the place they had started the end of the march hadn’t even started to move off.
In a car park after the rally, the police started a fight and arrested many of the men. We'd noticed a change in the attitude of the police in our village. When they first arrived they had tried to be very friendly, especially with the children. Of course the kids thought that was great. The police used to let them sit in their vans and play with the handcuffs, helmets and even the riot gear, they used to give them any spare snap they had and swap badges with them. Sometimes one of them would give a uniform button for an NUM badge. At first it was just puzzling to us why the police would want to collect badges, but it was such a strong craze among the miners that we thought the police must just have caught it. Then one day a couple of the men saw a man who'd been on a picket line with them and was dressed like a miner, with a denim jacket sporting a decent number of badges. After the picket, as our men were getting in their cars to come home, they saw this bloke talking to two uniformed cops in the corner of the car park, they realised then that he was an undercover cop. After that more stories started to spread and the NUM Newspaper, ‘The Miner,’ published some photos of undercover police on the picket line. We realised why the police were so keen to trade badges and buttons with the kids. We told the kids to stop swapping badges with them, at first that didn’t do much good, the kids just seemed to think that we adults were trying to spoil their fun.
Then the attitude of the police suddenly changed. They victimised the kids whose Dads were on strike. One day they stopped some kids going to school and asked them if their Dads were on strike. When the kids answered, yes, the cops said:
‘Well you tell your Dad to get back to work or we'll arrest him.’ This sort of victimisation became common place and so the kids themselves became frightened of the police and began to hate them as much as we did. They were everywhere, it was like having an invading army in our own village.
Up at the Strike Centre after the Mansfield Rally about eighty Yorkshire lads were waiting to have their billets sorted out. One of the conditions of having the Village Hall was that we didn’t feed visiting pickets so I said, ‘Well lads, we can’t feed you here, follow c and we'll get you some snap.’
Pauline and I came back to my house with a load of them and started cooking them chips. Pip came up and after they'd had something to eat he drove them around to the different houses they were stay in. One group were staying with one of the single lads and when y got to his house he wasn’t there. They went looking for him and then found out that he had been arrested in Mansfield.
About twenty of them stayed in the three houses in Thorny Abbey Road, ours, Pauline’s and Annette’s. Here and next door they were on the back garden in tents and Pauline and Alan’s caravan. I didn’t really spend that much time with them I was so busy, but Pip did and he became friendly with them. They used to play cards in the caravan and Pip used to love joining them even though he’s not normally a great card player.
By then Pip was taking on most of the cleaning up in the house and as he’s very houseproud, he was almost fanatical about it. No-one could leave a cup, plate, a stray piece of clothing or a letter out of place but Pip would have it snapped up and out of the way, moaning all the while at the culprit. After he'd hoovered, any crumb or bit of fluff that appeared on the floor seemed to cause him great distress. It became a sort of family joke, but underneath the joking, Pip was quite serious about it. While the Yorkshire lads were here, Pip even ignored his housework, he seemed to enjoy talking and joking with them so much. I remember one of them was very short and they used to call him Garden Gnome, another one was called Mother because he seemed to be the one that cleaned up the caravan and made cups of coffee and things.
They couldn’t get over us having a scab living next door, they were fascinated by our attitude to it. They found it hard to believe that we seemed to ignore him. They were always asking about him.
On one occasion, some of them who were staying in another house came to borrow some washing powder. I had a plastic bag with some instant potato powder in it. I wasn’t here, and the pickets looked in the pantry and thought this potato was soap powder. They went back and put it in the washing machine. We ribbed them about that the whole time they were here. The first morning they were here a lot of them were arrested on the picket line. I didn’t go up but Pip came back and told me that some of the Yorkshire lads had been lifted. It was just a normal picket and the police suddenly moved in and took a few, then of course there was a bit of scuffle with people trying to pull them back from the police and one of our lads was arrested as well. Then another two of ours were arrested that morning going home from the picket. One of them was walking up the street on his way home and he passed two scabs and shouted at them, ‘It’s a bit of a bugger when you've got to get Yorkshire lads down to get you lot out.’ Then another one was arrested for shouting to scabs after the police had told him to go home. The next few days were fairly trouble free, we enjoyed having the Yorkshire lads here and we enjoyed the sense of solidarity that came from getting to know each other.