chapter  7
13 Pages

Images, icons and artefacts: maintaining an industrial culture in a post-industrial environment: David Wray

ByDAVID WRAY

Following the failure of the 1984-85 British miners’ strike, and subsequent closure of the remaining mines in Co. Durham (in the North East of England), the mining communities of what was once the largest coalfield in the world were left without the industry that had created and defined them. As well as producing the coal that fuelled British industry for centuries, those mines also produced a clearly defined and socially embedded industrial culture, a culture created within the intersections of community, occupation and trade union; and it is one that has survived beyond the industry itself into the now post-industrial reality of the twenty-first century. While formal representations of that industry, and the heritage it left behind, can still be seen in museums across the region, particularly at the Beamish Open Air Museum, the artefacts, exhibitions and displays are primarily representations of how others interpret the residual fabric of that industry and culture. For one group of community-based activists in Co. Durham, the New

Herrington Miners Banner Partnership, (hereafter the Partnership) this type of historical and cultural representation is neither owned nor presented by miners, and is therefore divorced from what they see as their own cultural identity. In an attempt to present their understandings of their cultural heritage, they have embarked upon a series of projects that culminated in the creation of their own museum, located within their own community, and made freely available to all. Within the museum, physical and representational artefacts portray their understandings of the reality within which mining life in Co. Durham was grounded. Images of mines; of miners; and of mining hang alongside iconic trade union banners; banners that proudly state within their imagery the class identities and allegiances of those that carried them. All of these are surrounded by artefacts, both industrial and social, that collectively articulate an industry and a culture. The museum,

located in a large space provided for them in the community by the YMCA, has been self-funded by the Partnership, and is their attempt to define themselves within the context of their own history, and to provide a resource available to their community, particularly the local schools. I will critically locate the efforts and aspirations of the Partnership within

the contexts of their community, and in doing so will define the term ‘community’ as an amalgam of place; occupation; class; and culture; and not simply a geographically specific area of living space. The data on which the chapter is based comes from focus group discussions, individual interviews, observation of Partnership meetings, and general discussions with Partnership members, as well as participant observation of school and community group presentations.