In doing some online research for my blog articles I stumbled across a series of books by Steve Grudgings. Two of these cover the last days of the South Wales coalfield, and the other one was this one on Yorkshire.
Regrettably, I never got round to photographing the few collieries that remained in Yorkshire until this year when I visited the last extant mine, but derelict, Hatfield. So this book makes a great substitute.
In some respects the body of work produced by Steve Grudgings is similar to my own documenting the admittedly more numerous textile mills of the north. He has no connection to coal mining in terms of his job or family connections, indeed he is from Hampshire, but like me, he has a fascination with the artefacts and landscape of an extinct industry.
His journey began in 1977, initially focussing on the railway aspects, but after a gap during th early and mid 80’s, he resumed in the late 80’s and early 90’s photographing what remained. But what remained was rapidly closing, however despite this, his efforts took him to over 50 mines and pumping pits across Yorkshire (as well as elsewhere in the country). It’s interesting that as he did not live in the area, and the internet hadn’t been invented, he found mines by going off the Colliery Gaurdian mines list but as this wasn’t necessarily up today, he would just drive round Yorkshire and when he found a mine asking if he could come in site and have a look. He acknowledges that the latter point was easier as most of the mines had closed by then, but it’s interesting that he was allowed escorted access to operational mines before the gradual encroachment of litigation fearing health and safety rules. It’s also interesting to consider his speculative approach to finding collieries, but given the relative abundance of mines it’s maybe not as hard as it sounds. It makes me grateful for the online tools I have that make finding sites easier especially the number of sites of interest in 2020 is orders of magnitude less than in the 80’s.
The photographs are well composed record photographs and they provide a satisfying level of coverage of the collieries and the environment. They perhaps don’t cover the collieries place in the environment in the same way that John Cornwells did, but every photographers eye is different. On the subject of coverage, some mines have dozens of photographs, while others have only have one or two due to being closed or access being limited, but this doesn’t detract from the book – you’d need to have access to official NCB photographic records to produce a comprehensive book, and that would be a completely different book. Many mines have several pages of photographs and give a real flavour of the surface infrastructure and landscape around the collieries. There is also plenty of railway interest as well if you are into the railway side of things.
My only niggle – and it’s a tiny one – is around the printing and paper. For the most part it’s great, but there is a bow in the book block that means it doesn’t close flat. Maybe it’s the amount of ink put down on a slightly thin paper – I’m no expert on these things, and it doesn’t detract from an excellent book. I’m sure it will flatten out once it is squeezed between other books on my shelf, and would not prevent me from recommending the book.
What is nice is that the photographs have the feel of those taken by a competent amateur with a real interest in the subject rather than the typical polished, posed photographs of a commissioned but maybe indifferent professional. I don’t mean that in a condescending way – I too am an amateur and appreciate the challenges of turning up to places on spec in weather that isn’t ideal and having a limited amount of time to photograph. That he did so without any audience for his work and with no objective other than to just photograph the mines for the record is a fantastic thing, and I’m glad their time has come to see the light of day.
Although the majority of photographs are of the surface infrastructure, the author also managed to get underground at 4 pits. Having been looking at the colliery photographs of John Cornwall recently, it’s interesting to compare those taken of mines in action and those of mines that suffering from inaction!
Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is well put together with a good balance of text and some very good photographs. As mentioned above, Steve Grudgings has produced two other books on the last days of the South Wales collieries and I will be adding these to my library soon! There is a video preview of volume 2 of the South Wales book on Folly Books website here and it gives you a flavour of the layout and style of the Yorkshire book.
The Last Years of Coal Mining in Yorkshire is available on Amazon, or ideally order it from your local bookshop or direct from the publisher Folly Books.