Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
Once the ice was broken we started picketing every night. Our lives became very busy. We'd be up every morning at 3.30 to make tea for the Derbyshire pickets. Occasionally we'd go up to the morning picket with them but mostly we'd stay at home getting ready for work. When the Derbyshire lads came back from the picket we'd make another cup of tea, chat to them about what had gone off that morning and then leave for work at about half seven.
We were getting lots of overtime at work so we used to stay until tea-time, then come home, have tea, bed the kids down and then go up to the picket line. Betty brought loads of pairs of frilly knickers and all the women would wave them at the scabs and shout.
‘Come and get these, you might as well wear them, they're more suitable for you.’
We used to think that would make the scabs feel ashamed that they were less than men for crossing the picket line, we never realised then that we were putting ourselves down by doing it. I suppose we should have known something was wrong because the police used to laugh. When I think about those early pickets a lot of the things people shouted were to do with women and it makes me feel a bit ashamed now but at the time it never occurred to us we were doing ourselves an injustice. The men used to shout:
‘Who’s knocking off your missus while you scab?’ Everybody would laugh. But we also shouted lots of other things that weren’t sexist. In a way one of the exciting things about it was trying to think up new things to shout. One of the favourites was,
‘Where’s ya backbone, left it at home then?’
‘Come over here where the backbone is.’
‘You might find a spare one at the cemetery if you look hard enough.’
‘You're lower than lino, you are.’
‘Lower than snake’s shit.’
One night a man crossed the picket line who used to go to church with me and Doreen.
Doreen yelled out to him, ‘Judas. You're selling your soul for thirty pieces of silver.’
He turned around and looked at us, and Doreen said, ‘Yes, its Pauline and Doreen here, we can see what you're doing.’
We used to talk to each other a lot on the picket line, we were all starting to get to know each other and there was an excitement in that. The strike was in its fifth week so in normal terms it was already quite a long strike. The hardship was really starting to tell and we women started to talk about the need to organize some way of feeding everybody. We decided to have a meeting of the women who'd been coming up to the picket line.
The meeting was arranged for Sunday morning at Pauline Howarth’s house. Mal, Pauline’s husband, had been the Union Branch Secretary before the strike and we all sort of looked up to Pauline as knowing more about things than we did. I can remember getting up that Sunday. It seemed so exciting. The idea of holding a meeting to really get things organized and the responsibility of being involved in that was thrilling. I'd never been involved in anything like it before. It seemed the sort of thing that other people did, people who were somehow different from me, people who had a lot of education. I'm not sure what it was I thought they had but it had never seemed to me that I was that sort of person, or even that anyone I knew was that sort of person. I felt awakened. It was as if I'd woken up in the morning and it had rained and everything seemed fresh and new. Knowing that we were going to set up a committee seemed a definite thing and I liked the idea that I was going to be part of the fight, that it was my fight as well as Alan’s and that I was going to be a part of that. In some ways I suppose I must have sensed that things in my life were going to change, I felt the same as I did just before I started my first job. Knowing that I was taking something on that was an important thing, a responsible thing and something completely different in my life.
Through picketing together a group of about six of us had formed a sort of nucleus. Doreen and my neighbour from the other side, Annette, Betty, who brought the frilly knickers up to the picket line and Pauline Howarth, Sylv Browne and Margaret Groves whose husbands were all Union Officials and we thought that made them quite important compared to us.
At the meeting we talked about how we could arrange some food distribution. We had a bit of an argument about whether to give out food parcels or whether to set up a soup kitchen. We'd talked to some of the pickets from Yorkshire and the ones from Derbyshire and they were already getting organized distributing food parcels. I thought that if we could we should set up a soup kitchen. I could remember the kitchen in ’72 and how much I'd enjoyed going there.
It also seemed to me to be more economical to serve hot meals than to distribute food in parcels. You can make things go a lot further if you cook it up in bulk than if you have to divide it all up into so many parcels. More of us seemed to favour a soup kitchen and we knew that in ’72 they'd run it at the Youth Club. It seemed the perfect place, it is situated well back off the road, has excellent cooking facilities and is normally only used at nights. At that stage we had no money, nor really any idea how we could get any. At first we talked about writing to companies like Tesco and the Co-op to see if we could make some sort of credit arrangement with them, then charge a small amount for the food to cover our costs as we went along. People remembered the food that had been donated by local shop-keepers in ’72 and since we all got on well with them we thought they'd probably do the same again.
We left the meeting feeling very positive about everything and as we walked home we chatted excitedly about the organization and our part in it. We were all very enthusiastic and determined. In that one week we had learnt so much about the situation and our will to fight and win had become very strong, we almost felt as if we could do anything.
The next few days Doreen and I worked very long hours, when we'd get up to the picket line each night the other women were always full of news about what had happened each day. Annette and Pauline Howarth had approached the Chairman of the Youth Club Committee. He told them that they would probably have trouble getting the Youth Club because the Committee was half NUM and half NCB. He advised that the NCB half would probably raise objections.
A schoolteacher from Nottingham, Paul Thompson had been up to the picket line and talked to Annette and Betty about raising funds. He'd suggested writing a leaflet for distribution in Nottingham to launch an appeal. He'd also talked about the need for organizing a proper committee with a Secretary, Treasurer and Chairperson.
Betty had talked to one of the young miners who'd heard we were looking for premises to set up a soup kitchen and offered his house. He'd bought it just before the strike had started and now he couldn’t afford to move in, so he was happy for us to use it. Annette and Betty went down to the house to see if it would be alright. There was nothing there but they cleaned it up and everybody pitched in with camping stoves and a camp table and we all brought plates and cutlery from home.
Once the house was set up some of the women used to go down and open it up in time to give the visiting pickets a cup of tea and slice of toast before the morning picket and afterwards serve breakfast, which was usually beans on toast.
Doreen and I started to get despondent about going to work, we seemed to be missing out on everything that the others were doing and we used to talk all day to each other and wonder what was going off back in Blidworth. Sometimes they'd serve stew or soup that someone had made at home. I remember going there one day after work and spreading butter on the bread for the kids’ teas. The very first effort at actually cooking a meal for everyone was in that house. We didn’t have much food and I remember they made a stew. It had baked beans and rice pudding in it. I couldn’t believe that anybody would put rice pudding in a stew, but people ate it up and in a way it was a very significant thing and quite an achievement to actually attempt to cook a meal for everyone. But right from the start it was clear that the house wasn’t big enough and the facilities weren’t adequate so we kept on with the idea of getting the Youth Club.
Bits and pieces of food and money started coming in, people around the place were learning of our plight and sending help. The first shipment of food I remember arriving was very soon after we started using the house. A van pulled up outside the front door and everybody started unloading things. There was a box of bread, about twelve loaves, cans of beans and soups and peas, loads of dried milk and tea-bags. All kinds of things and a few little luxuries as well, some beer and a few tins of ham. We thought it was great. I remember kneeling on the concrete floor and sorting all the cans out. It was the beginning of our understanding about what support we'd got outside.
It was then that we started to get impatient about being able to use the Youth Club. We'd got food, we'd got donations, we'd got support from outside and we wanted somewhere bigger to serve the food up. We'd become so aware of the need to feed the men and children that we couldn’t believe that anyone would try to stop us. At one stage we discussed using the three houses in Thorny Abbey Road, ours, Doreen’s and Annette’s because they were all next to each other. At the time I was quite in favour of it. I enjoyed having the Derbyshire pickets in the mornings and I thought it would be nice to extend that experience throughout the day. We decided that we should have a meeting with the union men to discuss various problems. We hadn’t really talked to them officially about what we were doing, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss everything and get their ideas on it. Doreen rang around and everybody came here.
There were fourteen of us, Dennis Browne, the picket manager and his wife Sylv, Yorkie and Margaret Groves, Annette and John from next door, Betty and Peter Savage, Mal and Pauline Howarth, Doreen and Pip and me and Alan. We talked about raising funds and about whether we would go ahead and try for the Youth Club or not. Everyone was in favour of doing that. We all believed that we had a right to use it and that no-one had a right to stop us. It was decided that Annette and Pauline Howarth would continue to try to get permission. It was suggested that they go to Berry Hill, the Notts Area Union Office, and find out exactly what the situation was.
The men were all very enthusiastic about what we were doing. We talked about holding a demonstration the following night and distributing the leaflets that Annette was working on with Paul Thompson. The leaflet was to let all the strikers in the village know about the house and food, but it was also a call for unity. Annette had rung the radio stations and the newspapers and they'd told her that they'd come out to cover it. Yorkie said he'd get us the big union banner. So we were going to march through the streets and demonstrate outside the meeting. Pip was against the idea. He said, ‘You'll look daft, there'll only be half a dozen of you, there’s not enough time to organize it.’
Doreen, Pip, Alan and I decided to go to Skegness for Easter, we'd done it the year before and had a great time. Doreen and I had brought home a good wage packet and Pip and Alan had got some holiday pay from the pit. We were fairly sure we wouldn’t get another holiday that year so we thought we might as well take the kids away and all have a bloody good time while we could. We broke up on Thursday at dinner time and went out drinking with Pat from work and another couple of women. The husband of one had been made redundant and another used to talk to Doreen all the time about her problems. On the way home we were moaning about having to pack up to get away, but when we got there the men had done most of it. We were very surprised and very pleased. It was the first sign that while they were home and we were out at work they were really taking some responsibility for things.
The National Committee of the NUM had met that day and Pip’s lad, Paul, had been up to Sheffield to the meeting with Pip’s mate Howard. When we got back they came in just after us and were really full of it.
‘Watch it on telly, Arthur Scargill’s declared the strike official. All of Notts. will have to come out now.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Well, they've got to, don’t they, if strike’s official?’
‘Well that'll be it then, once all of Notts. scabby bastards come out, we'll win, it’s only Notts. holding us back now.’
‘I think it'll take a while, the NCB won’t back down straight away. Depends on what coal stocks they've got I suppose,’ Howard said.
Howard always seemed more politically aware than the rest of us and we always listened to him. We were all quite excited because we assumed that this would mean that all of Blidworth would come out again like they'd done at the beginning and the village would be united again.
That night we all togged up and met to march up to the union meeting. Pip had been right, there were exactly six of us, we hadn’t got the banner and none of the press turned up. But we did have the leaflets so we went up to the Welfare, where the meeting was being held and gave them out as the men went in. Then we had a drink and walked up to the picket line buying chips on the way and eating them as we walked up.
Most of the men went into the pit through the main door which was next to the canteen. Only six pickets, known as the official pickets, were allowed to stand by the door. There were a couple of other entrances and there were usually two pickets on either one of them as well. Across the road from the main entrance there was a small green and the rest of us had to stand over there while picketing. There were usually seventy or eighty pickets altogether and about the same number of police in front of the pit, although they always had at least double their number in reinforcements around the back of the pit. The police spread themselves around the entrances and the rest formed a shoulder to shoulder cordon around the pickets standing by the green. The police used to march out like soldiers to take their positions up once a picket started.
When we arrived at the pit after eating our chips, we were the only ones there because the men were all still at their meeting.
We stood where the official pickets normally stood. None of us had ever stood there before, the men were quite protective of the position and competitive among each other to see who would stand there.
The police said, ‘Oh, women’s night is it, giving the men a break eh?’
‘Yeah,’ we said as sharply as we could. Whenever the police tried to make conversation with us we'd answer sharply and with as few words as possible, because we resented them being there.
It wasn’t long before the men started to come back from their meeting and we left the official picket post and moved across to the other side of the road. The police were very heavy handed that night, in fact they were quite nasty. They wouldn’t let the men go into the pit canteen to buy smokes or go to the toilet like they'd been doing. They were pushing us and bossing us about more harshly than normal. We were all quite surprised, up until now they'd always been quite polite.
Luis Smith, one of the young lads was walking across the road, coming back from the union meeting. He was standing in the road looking to see if all six official pickets’ positions were taken. A copper made a grab for him, saying, ‘You've had it, you can’t go over there.’ Luis moved his arm to try and get the policeman off him and about four or five more police jumped in and pulled him down. We all surged forward, shouting, ‘Leave him alone, leave him alone.’
Everybody’s emotions flared. One of our men had been attacked for nothing and we were all furious and indignant. The surge forward was very strong, everybody pushing and trying to see. As the front row of pickets were forced onto the cordon of police, scuffles broke out, I noticed a few police helmets flying about but I don’t think any of us really knew what to do.
I was terrified at the same time as being angry, I was shaking in my boots and my heart was banging. I was clinging onto Alan, I was terrified they were going to get him, I kept saying to him.
‘Don’t go too far forward.’
Looking over the heads in front of me I could just make out that they were dragging Luis off. Suddenly, almost as quickly as it had started it was over. We discovered that they'd taken some more but nobody seemed to know how many. I couldn’t understand why they'd acted that way, they're supposed to be the upholders of the peace and there wasn’t any peace being broken, just a young lad crossing the road. We weren’t breaking any laws, we've got every right to cross a road.
I started realizing that things weren’t as I'd always believed them to be, the coppers, it seemed, could just take any of us if they wanted to, they didn’t have to have a reason, they could always make one. They could make a perfectly peaceful picket into a violent one. There had never been any violence on our picket line before and if the police hadn’t been there, there wouldn’t have been any trouble that night either. Later, when I saw the media showing violence on picket lines and blaming pickets for it, I knew they were lying, because I'd seen what had happened that night. And that made me rethink the truth of all that the media said.
Eventually the picket broke up and everybody started dispersing. There were women working in the pit canteen and a few of us decided that as women we should go in and talk to them about the strike and ask them to join it. We thought that since the men stood every day trying to bring the rest of the men out, we should go into the canteen to bring the women out. We came across Annette who was looking for her husband John. She was worried he had been arrested. We dismissed that as a possibility and persuaded her to come into the canteen with us.
As we walked past a group of cops on our way to the door of the canteen, Annette asked one of them, ‘Has my husband been arrested?’
‘No, me dear. What does he look like? Is ’e short and dark with a moustache?’
‘Yeah, that’s ’im.’
‘No, we ’aven’t lifted anyone that looks like that.’
We all ignored that, there was a lot going on, the men were telling us not to go into the canteen, not to cause any trouble.
‘Come on, you'll get arrested.’
‘Leave it for now, come on home.’
But we ignored them too. Then the police tried to stop us getting into the canteen. ‘You can’t go in there.’
‘We're only going to talk to the canteen women.’ We pushed straight past them.
When we were actually going into the canteen I was very frightened, my stomach was like a knot, I thought, anything might happen, but I just didn’t care. We were fed up and angry and were prepared to take risks we wouldn’t have taken before for what we believed in.
When we first got into the canteen there was only one young woman there and we started to talk to her and tell her about the strike, and why she shouldn’t be crossing the picket line to come into work. We talked about what we were fighting for, that it was our community that would go if this pit was closed and that it was everyone’s fight. Then another woman, an old battleaxe came out from the back yelling and swearing at us.
‘Fuck off, you've got no business being in here. You lot ought to tell your bloody idle husbands to get back to work instead of coming in here causing trouble.’
We started arguing with her, calling her stupid and all sorts of things because this fight was as much hers as it was the men’s. We said, ‘You'll have no job if they close this pit.’ About then the union officials, Dennis, Mal and Yorkie came into the canteen to try and fetch us out. We paid them no attention but kept on with our arguing. When the men saw what we were doing, they shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Oh, leave them to it.’
When they walked out it made us feel really good that they could see we were responsible and determined, it made us feel accepted by them and it was an acknowledgment that we could fight too for what we all believed in. Our pride in ourselves deepened when we walked out a little later with the young woman who had agreed to support the strike.
All the way home Annette was worrying about John. She kept saying, ‘I'm sure he’s been arrested.’
I said, ‘Oh don’t be so silly, I bet he’s at home now with his feet stuck up, watching telly and you're wasting your time whittling about ’im.’
‘That cop knew what he looked like, didn’t you hear him?’
‘Come on Annette, don’t be so dramatic, what do you think they'd want to arrest John for?’
Anyway, we all went back to Annette’s with her and John wasn’t there. We rang Dennis Browne, the picket manager. He didn’t know anything but suggested Annette ring Mansfield Police Station.
To my absolute amazement, when she got through to Mansfield they said they had him. He'd been charged with assaulting a Police Officer.
‘John! Assaulting a Police Officer, never!’
‘That’s what they said.’
I could only laugh, somehow the idea of John assaulting a copper seemed so out of character that it became comical. Both Doreen and I were splitting our sides saying, ‘Oh no, we were saying he'd be home with his feet up, and all the time he really had been arrested.’ It still didn’t ring true, but we were just beginning to get a taste of what the police were like and we had no idea that this was just the beginning.
They kept John in overnight and Annette kept ringing up to see if he was alright. The next day we were going away, so we started to pack up the cars and hook the caravan up. I was just sitting down to have a cup of tea and I looked up and saw my Mum walk by the window. She was coming to our house. I was quite pleased because I hadn’t seen her since Michael had come home from hospital, but also a little apprehensive because I knew that my father was working. I felt a sudden leap of joy thinking that she must be visiting to tell me that he'd decided to join the strike, but as soon as she banged on the back door I felt it turn into disappointment.
‘Come on in.’
She walked in and said, ‘Hope you're bloody satisfied.’
‘What are you talking about?’
We had a big row about my dad working and Alan striking. She told me that I shouldn’t be going to work to keep Alan. In the end she walked out slamming the door behind her.
Doreen came in just after she'd left, my mother had been shouting that loud that she'd heard all the commotion. I told her what had gone off, then we walked up to the dinner picket with the kids while Alan hooked the caravan up to the car. He was going to meet us up at the picket line and we were going to leave from there.
It was a beautiful red hot day. We sat up on the picket in the sunshine. John arrived back from Mansfield, they'd charged him and we were shocked all over again. They had taken four lads the night before and charged them all, one of them went back to work a few weeks later and his charges were dropped immediately.
We asked John what had happened and how he'd been arrested. He said that he'd seen all the coppers on top of Luis and had gone to help him. They'd nabbed him before he got anywhere near Luis and chucked him straight into the van. He had a black eye with a cut over it and he told us that he'd been given some fist by the police. That worried me a lot. I'd seen films on telly where the police beat people up in the cells, but I'd never believed it. I'd always thought that they must have been causing trouble and that the police were just restraining them, but when I saw John’s eye, I was quite upset. The more I was finding out about the police the less I was liking it.
After the picket we left straight away for Skeggy. We asked Annette if she'd keep an eye on our houses for us, we were worried in case someone put our windows through. We had a lovely few days. It was very relaxing and we did it all without spending that much money. But we couldn’t leave the strike behind. We took a portable telly with us so we could watch the news every day. We saw Henry Richardson, the Notts. Area Secretary come on and say that the strike was official and that Notts. miners shouldn’t cross picket lines. We were overjoyed. But our hopes were short lived. The television immediately showed interviews with Notts. miners who said that they were still going to keep working, they wanted a national ballot and until one was held they'd continue to work.
We came back from Skeggy on Tuesday night. On Wednesday when we came back from work and Doreen was in the middle of unpacking everything, Annette went down to her house in a flap because she was supposed to be going into Nottingham with Betty Savage to raise support and Betty couldn’t go at the last minute. Annette wanted to know if Doreen would go with her. Since they'd first met the Nottingham school teacher, Paul Thompson on the picket line, he'd been back several times and was proving to be a great help. He was a member of the Labour Party and seemed to know how to go about organizing things. He had a lot of contacts in Nottingham and he'd arranged for Annette and Betty to go and see several people that day.
He was coming out to Blidworth to pick them up. Paul had also had a second leaflet printed that we'd worked on. The second one was to call on people for support. It was quite small, on buff coloured paper with red writing on it. It looked very professional. At the top in big letters it said, ‘Support Us in Our Struggle to Save Our Mining Communities from Destruction.’ Then in smaller print it continued saying that the wives and children were suffering to save jobs from being lost, that our struggle was important to the nation. We called for urgent help and asked for food, money, clothing and advice on welfare rights. At the bottom it said, ‘If the miners are beaten, so are we all.’ Then it was signed by five of us as miners’ wives and gave Annette and Betty’s phone numbers.
When Doreen and Annette went into Nottingham with Paul they took the leaflets and distributed them everywhere they went. At first they went into a health food shop because Paul wanted to buy some sprouts. He introduced Doreen and Annette and said they were miners’ wives. The people in the shop were very sympathetic and offered to give them some potatoes and food. Then Paul drove them around Nottingham introducing them to a whole load of people he thought might be sympathetic and helpful. They went to Radio Trent to see if they would put an interview on the air. Radio Trent said that the Miners’ Strike was too political for them but contacted Radio Nottingham who agreed to do an interview the next day. An appointment was made for the next afternoon, the interview was to be prerecorded and put on air first thing the following morning. That night Paul had arranged for the two women to speak at the Nottingham Trades Council meeting. Annette was going to talk, but when the Chairperson asked who was going to speak for the Miners’ Wives, Annette said, ‘Doreen.’
So Doreen made her first speech.
The next day she was very chuffed with herself. She told me all about it on our way to work the next day. ‘Oh Pauline, you'd ’ave been proud of me. Annette were supposed to be doing it, but when the Chairwoman, this woman called Noreen Baker, she’s fantastic, she gave us fifty quid of her own money, she asked if one us could tell the meeting what we were doing and Annette just said, ‘Yes, Doreen will.’
‘I didn’t know what I were doing. I didn’t have any warning at all. I just stood up and said we were collecting for striking miners’ children and that we'd been on strike all this time and we were dead hungry and wanted all the support we could get. I said we had a Centre set up and that we needed money and food. You should have seen the support they gave us. They want to set up a collection centre in Nottingham for things, and altogether we brought back seventy-eight quid. You know when I was speaking I was ever so nervous, but after I finished it felt quite good, in fact it felt exhilarating. I was fair pleased with myself.’
When we got home from work that day we discovered that Annette couldn’t go into Radio Nottingham for the interview because she had to go to Berry Hill with Pauline Howarth to sort out about the Youth Club. Doreen asked me if I'd go with her, so I agreed. As we drove into Nottingham I was absolutely terrified. I just couldn’t imagine myself talking on the radio, I was sure that I'd just seize up and have nothing to say. Doreen was nervous too but more confident than me because she'd spoken at the meeting the night before. She said, ‘It'll be all right, once you start talking it all just comes out. We have got a lot to say, haven’t we?’ When we arrived, the people at the station were very nice to us, they showed us into the little studio and started setting up the microphones and getting us to test our voice on them. The interviewer told us not to worry, that the interview was on tape and so if we made a mess of anything it could be changed later. Then he started asking questions.
‘Is there anything really essential that you're having to go without?’
Doreen told him that we were working, but that many miners’ wives in Nottinghamshire weren’t able to work because they had young children and that they were going without all the essentials, there was nothing coming in and so we were trying to set up a Centre to provide all the help we could. Then he asked what sort of services we were providing from the Centre.
Doreen said, ‘We're giving all the children hot meals and clothes and shoes that people have donated will be shared around.’
Suddenly I found myself talking, I said, ‘There’s going to be games organized for the children and all sorts of amenities like that.’
As the interview continued we got more confident and I found it easier to talk. The interviewer asked how much hardship there was and we both told him different stories that we'd heard about people in very serious plights. I talked about one man who'd rung a few days before, he was in quite a state because his wife had a heart complaint and it cost four pound every time he had to have a prescription made up. He didn’t know where to turn and was thinking that his only alternative was to go back to work.
‘That’s the sort of people we want to help ‘ I said. ‘Those that are desperate.’
The interviewer kept asking why the strike was so strong in Blidworth as if it shouldn’t be and then he said,
‘Obviously this long strike is causing a good deal of hardship, but shouldn’t the miners’ have foreseen it when they went into it?’
Doreen said, ‘Well, nobody likes a strike, let’s face it, nobody wants to be on the dole either. What choice do we have, we either fight and try to keep our men in work for the next ten years or we give up, that’s our choice.’
The interviewer said, ‘Seeing this dispute from the point of view of the miners’ wives with families and homes to run are you hoping the whole thing will be settled very quickly?’
‘Definitely hoping.’ Doreen said, ‘I mean, we don’t want to see people on the poverty line do we? We want to be able to go out to work, to work and have what we're used to, we want a good wage, a good living so we can bring our children up properly.’
I added, ‘And jobs for your children at the end of it as well. I mean we don’t want to bring our children up to a life on the dole. We want some future for them.’ Doreen talked a bit about her teenage lads all facing unemployment, then the interviewer cut her off. We got the feeling that he really only wanted to know about the hardship, he didn’t want to hear about the importance of what we were fighting for.
That night when we got up to the picket line we told everyone about the interview, it was to be put on air at seven the next morning. Annette and Pauline had been to Berry Hill, they'd been told that it was the local union representatives who were against us using the Youth Club. They'd also said that as far as they were concerned we had every right to use it. Annette and Pauline had come back and tried to see the Chairman of the Committee to tell him that Berry Hill were in favour of us using the Youth Club. At first he tried to avoid them, pretending he wasn’t home, but eventually they did get to see him and they had quite an argument with him. In the end he promised that the Committee would meet the following Monday night to discuss it and make a definite decision.
Next morning I got up and taped the radio interview. As I listened to it I was quite upset at the end. The interviewer said,
‘We checked Doreen Humber’s claim that 95% of men are out at Blidworth Pit. The NCB have a different story, they are claiming that more than three quarters of the men are working.’
It just went to show how ridiculous the Coal Board figures were, Doreen’s 95% might have been a little hopeful, but it was certainly much closer to the truth than the Coal Board’s figures. I felt cheated by the interviewer, he'd been so nice while we were there, but he'd checked those figures after we left and while we were there he didn’t even challenge them. Still it seemed amazing listening to myself and Doreen on the radio. So much was happening to us so quickly, we were going from one new experience to another. In a way we couldn’t really believe it all but there was no time to stop and think. Things kept cropping up and had to be dealt with there and then and each thing taught us something new. And each new piece of knowledge made us stronger in our resolve to keep fighting.
Doreen came in just after the interview. As soon as it had finished she'd had a phone call from a very posh sounding woman who said, ‘Do you seriously believe that we are going to support the Miners’ Strike? You must be out of your head.’
Doreen told her to get stuffed. But that was the first phone call of many, and it was the only nasty one, all of the others offered support. Support had started to come in from the leaflets. They had been distributed all over Nottingham and Paul had put one in a local newspaper. Letters and cheques started arriving in the mail and packages of food arrived more frequently. Altogether quite a lot was coming in, we still thought it was just our fight, we didn’t realize how much other trade unionists in the country could see that it affected them too.
We were to have a meeting the next Sunday morning with Paul Thompson to set up an acting committee. It was to be at Annette’s. We asked some other women to come who hadn’t really been involved before but who were striking miners’ wives and had said that they wanted to help. When Paul arrived at the meeting he had brought three other people with him. One of them knew a great deal about welfare rights, which was very helpful. Paul and the others introduced themselves at the beginning of the meeting telling us why they had come.
I remember Paul said, ‘I'm very involved in the Labour Party and I recently went to a meeting where I became aware of the need to raise support outside the mining communities to get enough food and money to keep the strike going. I've come here to help in that because although I'm not a miner, I'm a school teacher, I'm a member of the National Union of Teachers and I understand that if the NUM is defeated in this struggle then I am defeated as well. In that sense there is no difference between me and you, we are exactly the same. Therefore your fight is my fight. You shouldn’t regard me as putting myself out for you, I am merely acting in my own interests by coming here because I know that the mining union is the strongest union in the world and the oldest union and if they're defeated then we're all defeated and that creates the conditions for fascism and there is no way I want to live in a fascist country.’
It started to make sense then, why everybody was so supportive, I started to realise it was everyone’s fight, and that made me feel very responsible. I was becoming aware of how much responsibility we had to make sure that we won this fight.
Paul said that he had prepared an agenda. Most of us didn’t know what that was, so he explained that it was a list of things that we needed to discuss. He taught us to go through the Chair every time we wanted to speak, we had to put our hand up. I thought that was very funny, I felt like I was back at school again. But it was very exciting too. Then Paul said that we needed to elect an acting committee, that we all needed to have different jobs so everything could run efficiently. He said we also needed to keep an account of all the money and food we received so people could see where it was all going. ,He explained that that was the job of the Treasurer and that we needed a Secretary to send out letters to people and Chairperson to chair the meetings and be a spokesperson for the group. It was decided for the time being that Doreen would be the Chairperson and Annette would be the Treasurer and Secretary. We didn’t seem to need a separate Secretary, we couldn’t imagine that we had that many letters to write.
Tony Rose talked a lot about welfare rights and what we were entitled to from Social Security. He suggested that someone in the village should get to know all the details so she could help everybody. He suggested putting out a leaflet to let people know what their rights were. Margaret said that she was interested in that and so it was decided that she should find out all about it and work with Tony to get a leaflet out.
We also discussed the Youth Club premises again. By then we were quite angry with the Committee in Blidworth and all felt that they had no right to stop us from using it. Pauline and Annette reported that they'd been told at Berry Hill that it was the Blidworth Committee’s responsibility to let us have the premises and that the Chairman of the Committee had agreed to call a special meeting the following night to discuss whether they were going to let us have it or not.
After some discussion we decided that if the meeting that night didn’t amount to anything we'd occupy the Youth Club after the young ones had finished that night. We felt that we'd been given the run around about it. The Chairman of the Committee had continually put obstacles in our way, he was a miner and a Labour County Councillor and we couldn’t understand why he was being so uncooperative. We were convinced that our need was perfectly reasonable and just and any opposition to our request seemed unbelievable and made us very angry. We decided to keep our plan to ourselves and didn’t even tell our husbands. We had taken on the responsibility to find somewhere to feed the men and children, we felt that this was our fight and we would do it our way and on our own.
The Committee meeting was planned for seven-thirty that night. We all met at Doreen’s, dressed up in layers of warm clothes in case we had to go ahead with our sit-in. Our plan if the meeting wasn’t successful was to sneak into the ladies toilets until the Youth Club had finished, and then when they'd all gone home, to come out and stay there overnight and serve breakfast there the next morning. One of the strikers who was on the Committee agreed to let us know at Doreen’s straight away what the meeting decided.
We hadn’t been at Doreen’s very long when our messenger arrived.
He said, ‘They've called the meeting off again.’
‘Why?’ we all asked, not altogether surprised but very annoyed, this seemed like the last straw, they were still refusing to discuss it.
‘When Les Jones arrived at the Welfare for the meeting, he saw two of the lads there having a drink. He said they had come to put pressure on the meeting. He said they were a picket line and that he wasn’t going to be pressured into making a decision so he cancelled the meeting.’
It was just another feeble excuse. The men we found out later were simply having a drink at the Welfare waiting to hear the outcome of the meeting. It was outrageous, the Welfare was theirs, they could drink there anytime they liked, it was just another obstacle but we were ready to take it further and our resolve hardened.
We were all prepared and we set off. We marched up the street, about eight of us. Margaret had made some banners for the occasion and she raced back to her house to get them. The rest of us strode along the street, walking at a fast and determined pace. Underneath we were all quite nervous but none of us had any second thoughts, our nervousness became a sort of excited energy which fuelled our determination.
We walked down Thorny Abbey Road, down into the valley which is the centre of the village and then began to walk up again to the Youth Club which is on the other side of the valley. As we approached the Youth Club we saw one of the working miners, rushing towards the door.
‘Quick, he’s gonna lock the doors,’ someone yelled and we all started to run as fast as we could. Annette got there first. She said, ‘We want to talk to you about setting the support group up.’
He grabbed hold of her and dragged her inside the double doors and started hitting her on the back of the neck. She was struggling and fighting back. Doreen got there next and she was shouting, ‘Leave her alone, you bastard.’
He seemed to be getting angrier and angrier and really started laying into Annette. I didn’t know what to do, we were all so shocked that he'd done such a thing, I don’t really think any of us believed it was happening. I rushed into the Ladies like we'd planned and locked myself in one of the toilets. A few minutes later I heard voices in the washroom I recognised as the rest of the women and so I stuck my head out to check. Everyone else was there. Annette was very shaken, she had a nasty cut on her neck where he'd pulled on a chain she'd been wearing and she had a black eye.
In the meantime the woman that runs the Youth Club came to the door of the Ladies and screamed and swore at us, ‘What the fuckin’ hell do you think you're doing, coming in here when the Youth Club’s on, disturbing the youth. These kids don’t want to see this going on.’
‘Look, all we wanted to do was to come in and stay in the toilets till the Youth Club had finished. That working miner caused all the trouble, there was no need for him to lay into Annette and give her some fist like he did.’
She kept arguing with us and abusing us and then the men came bursting in. We were very surprised to see them, we didn’t even know that they knew we were there. Apparently as the man was laying into Annette a couple of the kids that were at Youth Club had rushed over to tell the men drinking at the Welfare what was going off. Word got around like wildfire and men were appearing from all over the place.
When the men arrived the man who had attacked Annette tried to scuttle out of the way. We moved out into the main room where the kids were all playing table tennis and things and just as we did the police arrived. They told us that we'd got to get out or they'd arrest us. We all expected to be arrested and were quite prepared to be, we believed so strongly that we had a right to be there. We told the police.
‘Well, you'll have to arrest us then, because we're not moving.’
Everybody told them about Annette and they interviewed her and interviewed some of the men and we edged our way into the television room and locked ourselves in there. By this time about fifty lads and men had come to support us. A copper came to the door of the television room and said he wanted to talk to someone about what we were doing. Doreen went out to see him.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘all we're trying to do is to get a place together for a soup kitchen. This place belongs to us, we pay for the running of it and we're taking it over.’
To our surprise, he said, ‘All right, if you promise me there'll be no trouble we'll let you alone.’ The kids from the Youth Club started to leave, they'd never seen so much excitement, first the women barging in, then the men and then the police. The police were hanging around taking statements. Annette said she was going to press charges. The man responsible had slipped in his rush to get out of the way of the men and hit his head on the table.
We sent the men off to fetch sleeping bags and things for the night. Someone went out to get fish ’n chips for us all. The police were letting people out but then not letting them back in and so we were letting them in through the window. There were sleeping bags and food and flasks of tea and coffee and all sorts coming in through the windows and men climbing in and out. A lot of the men decided that they'd stay the night as well in case any more trouble broke out. Alan had arrived with some of the other men and I asked him to go home and get some sleeping bags. When he came back he wanted me to go home and stay with the kids.
He said, ‘Look, this isn’t a place for you, I think you should be going home, I'll stop and do the lie-in.’
I was quite indignant, I said, ‘No Alan, this is our job, we're fighting for the Youth Club, we've come this far, you're not gonna kick me out now, I'm stopping. You go home with the kids.’
He could see that I was very determined so he left. I was frightened but I was very determined that we were going to get this place. We'd got to get it, there wasn’t any choice, we couldn’t do the meals at the house. These silly people weren’t going to stop us from getting some decent facilities to serve food.
The women claimed the television room, we locked the door so none of the men could get in, watched telly for a bit and then all tried to settle down for the night. We made beds out of the tables and the chairs, I was laid on a coffee table and it was so uncomfortable that I got onto the floor. But the floor was made of stone and it was so cold that I couldn’t get to sleep.
Somebody peeked out to see what the men were doing, there was no sign of them in the big room so we went into the kitchen and there were the men with the cooker on and the oven door open for warmth. They were quite snug so we went in and joined them. Everybody was still excited and we talked and joked all night, nobody got much sleep. By four o'clock the next morning we were up and cooking breakfast. Someone went up to the house in Grange Road to get some of the food and we had beans on toast and hot-dog sausages for breakfast.
The early morning activities were full of bustling energy. People started arriving, mostly people who hadn’t stayed in overnight but wanted to make sure we were all right. We all passed the time cooking, eating and chatting endlessly about what we could do with the premises now that we had won them. We all felt quite confident that we had won. At about eight o'clock, someone came over from the Welfare to say that the Committee had met and wanted to talk to us about their decision. Doreen made it clear that she didn’t want to talk to them alone, she wanted someone else with her, so she and Annette left us to talk to the Youth Club Committee.