The Society Left Behind by the Death of Britain's Mining Industry
Photos that capture resilience in the former industrial heartland of the UK.
Photographs By David Severn
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the British Midlands make up one of the country's largest former coalfield areas. The closure of the collieries throughout the 1980s and 90s profoundly changed Britain's economic landscape, leaving the very industry that had been responsible for driving the nation's Industrial Revolution a shadow of itself. Communities were hit hard economically and socially, while the deregulation of financial markets caused an economic revolution in other parts of Britain. I began photographing the people and places of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields in an effort to capture social life in the region 30 years after the bitter, and at times violent, 1984–85 miners' strike. When then prime minister Margaret Thatcher—Maggie, to the British public—closed the mines, workers protested her attempts to diminish the industry at large and deplete the union that represented it. The strike splintered the workforce, with disputes over its legality creating divisions that the government grasped on. After a yearlong struggle, the strike was lost, spelling the beginning of the end for British coal mining. In the years that followed, coal-mine closures became rampant, and unemployment in the coalfields skyrocketed.
"Thanks, Maggie" draws on the music and culture of the coalfields. Music and dance were a major component of mining heritage, remnants of which still exist in the working men's clubs and brass bands. The working-class communities in the 1950s embraced rock 'n' roll culture—today, the ex-mining generation has many rock 'n' roll fans and various tribute singers who perform in the working men's clubs. My father, who worked in the mines for decades, is an Elvis Presley tribute act on the club circuit, and I am fascinated by the long lineage of variety entertainment from industrial towns and cities. Variety entertainment has its origins in the music halls of Victorian Britain and flourished in the working men's clubs of the 20th century, as workers' leisure time increased. The series continues to evolve to include parts of the UK farther afield from my native Nottinghamshire. A new chapter titled "Workers' Playtime"—named after a World War II–era BBC radio program that attempted to raise the spirits of Britain's industrial laborers—celebrates the passion for showmanship among the performers and enthusiasts keeping alive the legacy of working-class entertainment.
You can see more of David Severn's photography on his website.
- VICE Magazine
- David Severn
- Thanks, Maggie