Towards Closure

The last years were tense, from the very first days back at work. There was victimisation of activists. One man who stayed out was put on a team developing roadways with men who had gone back early in the strike – he refused to talk to them and worked in silence. He was made redundant in 1985 and never once returned to the pit site until he came down on a visit to see the project after an oral history interview a few months ago. Those who had gone back in were subjected to significant pressures and a locker remains in the pithead baths with graffiti written across it: ‘We will never forget.’

Significant changes in the coal industry transformed what it was like to work at the pit. Other collieries were closing and in the years following the strike men from other pits were brought to work here. Any remaining sense of Kiveton as a ‘local’ pit, which it still seems to have had before the strike, despite those who bemoan the influx of men from the North in the 1950s and 1960s, was certainly now lost. There were incidents that would have been unheard of in previous generations. There were even cases of deliberate sabotage and damage done to safety equipment. Listening to men who worked through these years, there was a real sense of despondency about them.

It has been said the pit suffered from a lack of investment and new or young blood coming to work here: both the workforce and its equipment grew older. However, this should be coupled with a recognition of large amounts of focused investment that were made, including the development of the Axle area of the Clown Seam. The Coal Preparation Plant was transformed too, prior to the joining up with High Moor in December 1989. This was heralded as providing new opportunities for Kiveton and its future, but it also meant rationalisation of staff. A senior figure at Kiveton remembers working closely with his counterpart at High Moor, both knew that one or other of them was bound to lose their job as soon as the merger took place. Such was the climate in the coal industry in these years.

Working at the pit became a battle to up production levels, to cut costs, to try and meet the targets set out on a yellow scoreboard or on the front of staff bulletins. These bulletins, which you can read here, encouraged men to keep on working, to make the pit into a viable concern. New methods were tried to up production – safety was not put at risk but corners were cut in production methods to try and drive up efficiency.

The problem was that the targets kept on going higher, higher and higher, no matter what the achievements of the pit, its management and workforce. Yet, amongst key management, several of whom seem to have felt a real affinity with both the pit and the men who worked here, there was a never-say-die attitude. One member of the management team we’ve spoken to wanted to put a rescue plan together in order to save the pit and felt it was a viable concern.

Several have said that the pit became a ‘miserable’ place to work. Many men got out. Some took redundancy, to the disgruntlement of those who had just retired on only a pension after decades in the pit. The amounts the men taking redundancy received has often been exaggerated, but it is certainly true, and some men have told us themselves, that redundancy payments were sometimes treated like an unexpected windfall that was quickly spent. Few realised that they were beginning a period of either long-term unemployment or transfer to industries and jobs that paid far less than working underground.

The last shift worked in September 1994. A skeleton workforce and contractors from far and wide were brought in to close the colliery, to demolish it after almost 130 years of production. In 1995, local people gathered to watch the headgear being pulled down. One took a video, which can be seen here. This was a very sad occasion for many of those present, whose fathers, grandfathers and ancestors before them had worked at the pit. It’s typical of how local people have grown to remember bad times around the pit that a humorous anecdote about the felling of the headgear is frequently attached to their accounts of the pit’s demise: a BBC camera crew were amongst those who stood on the bridge at Hard Lane to watch the final moments of the pit. However, they became either bored or distracted. As their heads and cameras were turned, down came the headgear with a crash – they’d missed it.