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Thursday 12th
posted by Morning Star in Features

PETER LAZENBY marvels at the recently discovered work of the late Peter Price, who documented the 1984-5 miners strike

A REMARKABLE set of drawings from the miners’ strike against pit closures of 1984-5 is being exhibited at the headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers in Barnsley in South Yorkshire.

The 20 drawings depict scenes from the strike, and were discovered by accident in a basement at the offices. They are the work of the late Peter Price, an artist from Maltby, a South Yorkshire mining community. They were among a huge collection of items removed from the NUM’s national headquarters in Sheffield, which was shut down after the Tory government’s final savage swathe of pit closures in 1994, prior to privatisation of what remained of Britain’s once-mighty coalmining industry.

The collection was eventually transferred to Yorkshire NUM headquarters in Barnsley. Yorkshire area NUM chairman Chris Skidmore said: “Things had to get pushed into wherever we had space. We had to bring all the stuff here. There was no labelling or anything like that.”

Some of the material went into chests in a basement, including the drawings, and there they stayed for years. They were found when Mr Skidmore was looking for 1970s copies of The Miner newspaper for an exhibition.

Mr Skidmore said: “I was getting them out gingerly when I saw the drawings. Nobody knew they were there. Nobody had ever asked about them. But that’s how we came to find them.”

Price, died of cancer in the 1990s. It is believed he served in the British army in Kenya in the 1950s, which affected him deeply.

The NUM has transformed the historic Council Chamber at the Barnsley headquarters into a showcase of the union’s proud history, which is where Price’s moving depictions are displayed.

The chamber, dating from 1912, once seated more than 200 delegates — one from every Yorkshire colliery. Decisions made there had national ramifications. Delegates in the chamber voted for the miners’ strike which led to the General Strike of 1926. It was the scene of votes for the 1972, 1974 and 1984-5 strikes.

Today school parties and others are given guided educational tours, and the drawings play their part. “Whether it’s a house with ‘scab’ written on it, or a woman with a full shopping bag — you get to know what it was like,” said Mr Skidmore.

“And when youngsters ask what they mean, we can tell them.”

The drawings will be temporarily transferred to Unity Works in Wakefield for the third annual With Banners Held High event on Saturday March 4.

Organisers said: “The pits are all closed, but the impulse to celebrate the heritage and to record the impact of coalmining — whether with banners and memorials or in film, drama, painting, poetry and music — continues unabated.”

The event will include all those activities, plus the exhibition of Price’s work, debates, lead speaker Dennis Skinner, and a tribute to Durham miners’ leader Davey Hopper, who died last year.