Rise and fall of Britain's coal mining industry

[LONDON] Britain's historic coal mines fuelled the Industrial Revolution and helped build the British Empire, as well as being at the origins of the trade union movement and helping to inspire Marxist principles.

Once Britain's most important industry, coal traces its modern origins to northern England in the late 18th century and became a symbol of socialist resistance when former prime minister Margaret Thatcher began closing many mines in the 1980s.

As Britain's last deep coal mine shuts down on Friday, here are some key facts and figures on the sector that has been in decline for decades: - Geography: Britain's coal seams ran from Scotland to Wales, with pockets in Cornwall and Kent and a long mining history concentrated in the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northumberland and Durham in northern England.

- Employment: Coal mines employed 1.2 million people in Britain at their peak in 1920. This workforce had dwindled to just 4,000 people by 2014 as consumption of coal fell to an all-time low. Renewables outstripped coal as an energy source for the first time this year.

- Production: The highest production of coal was 292 million tonnes in 1913. In the 1950s there were over 1,330 deep coal mines in operation, now down to zero.

- Turmoil: The industry was nationalised after World War II. The year-long 1984 miners' strike and the closure of many mines under then prime minister Margaret Thatcher were a momentous blow to the industry.

Deep-mined coal production fell by 65 per cent between 1983 and 1984. The industry recovered from the plunge but continued its long-term decline, which left many former coal mining districts with chronic unemployment.

- Culture: Playwright Lee Hall, whose hit musical "Billy Elliot" is set against the backdrop of the miners' strike, called the year-long standoff "a battle over not only the future but the soul of Britain".

Coal mining, which features in television shows such as Poldarkand films such as Brassed Off, remains iconic to the political left-wing in Britain. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was mocked over reports he wanted to re-open the mines.

- History: Coal fed the new steam engines that drove trains and ships in the Industrial Revolution. British innovations in mining technology spread around the world.

Children as young as five were employed to work in the mines during the Industrial Revolution, hauling coal through narrow underground passages in danger of gases, explosions and tunnel collapses.

After a disaster killed 26 children in a coal mine in Yorkshire in northern England in 1838, Queen Victoria commissioned an inquiry into working conditions.

Its shocking findings spurred 1842 legislation that banned women, and boys aged under 10, from working in coal mines - an early piece of labour legislation.

Conditions in the English coal mines and factories at the time also inspired the writings of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, who founded Marxist theory.


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