By Lindsay Pantry
December 3, 2018 - It will be a permanent reminder of the hard work and bravery of thousands of men and women who worked in Doncaster, England's pits, with 40 of their faces forged in bronze - and a poignant reflection on something once so intrinsic to a community that is now gone forever.
There is less than two weeks’ to go in a crowdfunding campaign to raise the £130,000 needed to fund the “world class piece of art” celebrating the borough’s mining heritage.
Former miner Keith Marshall who worked at Brodsworth colliery'with his head which will feature on a proposed statue dedicated to miners in the centre of Doncaster.
Picture by Tony Johnson
And with around £80,000 already raised, Doncaster Council, which is behind the project, is calling on the public, business and local groups to help it make its vision a reality.
The project dates back well over a year, when Suffolk-based sculptor Laurence Edwards, who has since spent many trips to South Yorkshire spending time with former miners at miners welfare clubs and community buildings, hearing their stories of life underground and what working in a mining village or town meant to them, was picked to make the piece of public art.
More than 20 miners have already been immortalized in clay, ready for the final bronzes, and while he makes their portraits, Edwards hears their stories, which are filmed by students at Doncaster Council.
These stories, Edwards says, have shaped the project, and now each will be used in the final sculpture, which see the bronze heads of 50 local people cut into rock, and a 6ft bronze miner, listening to their stories.
A maquette in bronze which will feature on a statue dedicated to miners in the centre of Doncaster.
Picture by Tony Johnson
He told the Yorkshire Post: “The idea evolved beautifully, and grew out of what people were telling me.
“Learning that these communities still exist, and the bond between these people, has been extraordinary. I’d often find myself driving down the A1 after spending a few days up in Doncaster, almost feeling a bit sad, that I was returning to somewhere that didn’t have this shared past and passion.
“Each story will be available on a website, and you will be able to scan the sculpture to watch each person’s story. It will be an incredible digital archive, with the sculpture being the key to it.”
For Keith Marshall, who began work at Brodsworth Colliery at the age of 15, being part of the project is a chance for his heritage to be remembered by future generations.
“Back then, everything moved around coal. There was a pit in every village,” he said. “Now, my grandchildren have never seen a piece of it. There’s no obvious sign of what once was.
“This will be something that my grandchildren can take their grandchildren to, and learn our history.”
Marshall, 74, of Mexborough, worked at Brodsworth for 30 years until in closed in 1990, at one point, getting up at 4.30am to work at the newsagents he bought with his wife during the miner’s strike of 1984 and then clocking on for the 11am shift at the pit.
“It was hard, dangerous work, but the mates that you had, the camaraderie, made it,” he said.
Along with his six brothers, Stephen Hamilton followed his father into the mining industry, working at Cadeby Main in the 1960s and 1970s. He too has fond memories of the bonds forged with fellow miners underground, but it was a tragic accident that forced him to leave the industry, when a seam collapsed, killing one of his friends and seriously injured another.
Hamilton, 67, also of Mexborough, said: “Nobody told me he’d been killed, and said ‘he’s coming up’. That’s when I saw him covered up, and then his arm fell to one side. I woke up ill the next morning with pleurisy, and even missed his funeral. A year later, my heart was no longer in it, and I left to work at a factory.
“But I’ll never forget the camaraderie between the men, we stuck up for each other.”
He has since been involved in a project to commemorate the 1912 Cadeby pit disaster, when 91 people were killed, and was moved to take part in the sculpture project.
“There were so many good times,” he said. “The miners’ gala, the trips… it was a big part of my life and it’s gone. If I can help by recollecting my memories, I think it’s fabulous.”
Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones urged people to get behind the campaign to create “a world class piece of art” that would be a permanent reminder of the men and women “who did so much to build our town”.
She said: “As with many others, it is a subject close to my heart. My Dad was a miner, and I grew up as part of a mining community, an extended family that looked out for each other, no matter what.”
The crowdfunding website at www.doncastersminingstatue.org.uk closes on December 10, and you can pledge as little as £2, with no money taken until the end of the campaign.