Mines dominated the lower Dearne River Valley in South Yorkshire until the Tories shut them down. It is not a place that makes it into travel books.
Its principal town, Goldthorpe, made the news in 2013, when former miners burned Margaret Thatcher’s effigy.
Richard Benson’s The Valley is a biography of his mother’s family’s life in the Dearne Valley from when his great grandfather came to work in one of the new pits.
It’s a story of an ordinary working class family confronted with the sort of frustrations and joys that we all have.
Yet with a novelist’s knack for developing character, he gives his family an epic quality that made me want to read on to discover their fates.
Not all of the men were miners. His mother’s parents Winnie and Harry Hollingworth are central to the story, but Harry left the industry in 1947.
So there’s nothing about the unofficial miners’ strikes of 1969 and 1970 and disappointingly little about the great victories of 1972 and 1974.
But it is different for the 1984 strike and its aftermath.
Four of the family were on strike throughout. Through their experiences we read stories of picketing and police violence—including the police rampage through Goldthorpe in November 1984.
Benson’s aunt Lynda, a striking National Coal Board (NCB) clerical worker, sums up this heroic resilience.
She’s hospitalised and put in the next bed to a working under manager.
She argues ferociously with him, finally winning when she plasters his wheelchair with “Coal Not Dole” stickers.
After the strike finishes the book charts the decline and death of both Harry and Winnie, and the mining industry.
But there is hope, too, as the miners in the family make new lives for themselves.
I urge you to read it—and realise that all our families have similar inspiring histories.
The Valley: a hundred years in the life of a yorkshire family by Richard Benson. £9.99 Bloomsbury