By Toby Neal
February 7, 2019 - In England, a coal mining heritage day marking the 50th anniversary of the closure of one of Shropshire's last coal mines was a great success, attended by over 200 people and with a queue forming outside before opening time.
The free family-friendly event at the Severn Centre in Highley was organized by the Alveley Mining Heritage Group, which since being formed in 2016 has been involved in various activities to remember Alveley Colliery, which mined its last coal on January 31, 1969.
George Poyner, 91, from Highley, who was a carpenter at the mine, and 82-year-old Ray Matthews from Much Wenlock, former mechanical engineer at the mine.
Andrea Edwards, the chairman and secretary of the group, said: "It was fabulous. It could not have been better. It's been a slow boil for the last three years and it all peaked at the right time.
"The response from contributors to support this open event was amazing, only surpassed by the outstanding response from over 200 visitors from near and far battling the winter weather conditions to play a part in this landmark occasion.
"Everyone commented how much they had enjoyed the day with informative stands about the history of mining in the area, photographs and artifacts sparking memories of a time and some people now passed, experts to talk to, hands-on activities and handling objects, interspersed with the group's film footage of past events, a tour of what remains of Alveley Colliery and publications of memories to read and share.
"There was a queue to enter at the ten o'clock opening time and people just kept coming throughout the day.
"It was a really lovely atmosphere with opportunities to chat and recollect with former colleagues, family, friends and acquaintances and take photographs to add to scrap albums and history archives of the future, amid resounding tones of Highley Colliery Band while savouring refreshments. What wasn't there to like?"
Among those at the event were George Poyner of Highley, now aged 91, who worked as a pit carpenter at the colliery and gave a presentation on his time there, as well as Ray Matthews, who was an assistant mechanical engineer at the mine.
The event, which was supported by Halo Leisure, featured various displays, including from the group itself, Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Granville Miners, Kidderminster Carpet Museum, Severn Valley Country Park, David Poyner, Ray Matthews, and Stuart Scott.
The mining group has also collated memories of the colliery at Alveley – which was also often referred to as Highley Colliery despite being on the Alveley side of the river – and the fourth volume of "Memories of Alveley Colliery" was launched at Highley Working Men's Club on January 31, the exact 50th anniversary of the closure, in an occasion attended by former miners, ex-workers, family and guests.
Andrea said the mining group's management committee was now taking a few weeks off to recharge its batteries before continuing with its programme for the anniversary year.
"The anniversary events have rekindled this history, heritage and archaeology work of others in the past and ignited living memories to pass on to the younger generation, some of whom will pick up the heritage baton in the future and run with it for sure."
The Highley Mining Company already had a colliery at Highley when it sunk a new shaft at Alveley in the 1930s, where production started in 1938. The Highley mine subsequently closed. The old mine was linked underground to the new colliery at Alveley, which despite its Alveley location was routinely known as Highley Colliery.
At its peak the mine employed 1,000 men and produced 300,000 tonnes of coal a year.
After the closure in 1969 the colliery site at Alveley lay derelict until 1986 when a project was launched to create Severn Valley Country Park which saw the reclamation of the land. The park opened in 1992.
The last Shropshire coal mine of all was Granville Colliery on the edge of Telford, which closed in 1979.