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Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain

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I thought this a fascinating telling of the business that was so needed at one point, has in all likelihood done irreversible damage (and is still doing around the world) to our planet and is closing down in the western world. Perhaps, as readers of Beynon and Hudson might conclude, it is because the Left once seemed so much more united, even when its leaders did not, in fact, serve the interests of miners very well. It came to loom large in the collective imagination of the Left, and I suspect that the number of historians working on this single event is now greater than the number working on all other aspects of the history of British mining. Whilst this was an interesting read, which aimed to provide a balanced view of the history of coal in Britain, I was left thinking that there were too few voices of the miners in the narrative. The person who really defined Tory policy was not Ridley or Thatcher but Arthur Scargill, who became leader of the NUM in 1982.

But they would have been closed more slowly if it had not been for the strike, which also had an odd effect on the way in which the history of mining is seen. Jeremy Paxman tells the story of coal mining in England, Scotland and Wales from Roman times, through the birth of steam power to war, nationalisation, pea-souper smogs, industrial strife and the picket lines of the Miner’s Strike. Sure, “steam made it possible to mechanise almost anything, from spinning and weaving, through the manufacture of wire, ships and needles, to the threshing of corn, the tanning of leather and the folding of envelopes. Still, the whole history of what it meant to be a miner, or to be in a mining community, comes across well here. It was a "place where you slept and ate, visited the doctor, fell in love, had your children and entertained yourself".

I interpret literary form and genre as signals for habits of mind and ways of thinking about the world that have material causes as well as long-term effects” (2-3).

Senghenydd happened in 1913 which marked the pinnacle of UK coal production, after which the industry went into a steady decline to effectively be closed down completely now, at least as far as deep mining is concerned. He is critical of Arthur Scargill while acknowledging that his claim that the government planned to close a great many pits - derided and disbelieved at the time including by Paxman- turned out to be completely true. This becomes a particular problem when they deal with what became, in many ways, the defining event for the NUM: the strike of 1984–5.

Paxman attempts to be balanced and fair (except when it comes to lawyers whom he refers to as the parasite's parasite, which on the whole is unfair except in the context of the example he gives), but he shows no real insights into the characters of the people involved and who made decisions which saved or decimated the industry. and that “at the front lines of extractive imperialism, anthroturbation becomes cultural practice” (136). This suited the Department of Health and Social Security, since men defined as suffering from long-term illnesses were removed from the unemployment statistics. This power was of course the legacy of imperialism — the Persian imperialism that conquered South Asia before the British.

It symbolised a hope for a brighter, cleaner future, making after-dark streets available to respectable people and allowing everyone to see where they were going.Black Gold is much more than the story of an industry: it is a history of Britain from an unusual angle, vividly told, that throws new light on familiar features of our national landscape . During one strike, George V was more disturbed by the possibility that pit ponies might be left untended than he was by the plight of the miners. The long, slow decline in the British coal industry covered the union/owners/government interactions in great detail, but how the out-of-work miners coped was explored only superficially.

They exercised a powerful influence on the labour movement even, and perhaps especially, after they had left the mines. What could be more reassuringly familiar than the dense, smoky fogs of Sherlock Holmes’s London or the fact that the detective keeps his cigars in the coal scuttle?When I was a child it was how we heated our home, but, hidden from view it also powered the British economy. Worst of all, in many ways, was the Aberfan tragedy of 1966, when 116 schoolchildren lost their lives. These include the Senghenydd explosion of 1913 (440 dead) and the Gresford one of 1934 (266 dead), with bodies ravaged by shock waves, fire or asphyxiation – or all three.

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