Growing up I was lucky enough to have lived in an area that made claim to one of the most famous battles to take place in England before the Norman invasion of William the Bastard, I always loved the local history but little did I know that on the year of my 18 birthday there would be another battle in that area. A battle that would change the relationship with the people and the establishment for generations to come.
The Battle of Hatfield Chase. The battle was said to have taken place near Slay Pit Lane at Hatfield in 633, it was considered one of the most decisive in Saxon England. It pitted the local Northumbrians against an alliance of Gwynedd and Mercia. The Northumbrians were led by Edwin, later sainted and known as Saint Edwin of Northumbria.
The Gwynedd-Mercian, alliance led by Cadwallon ap Cadfan and Penda headed the largest army of its time. It was a decisive victory for Gwynedd and the Mercians: Edwin was killed and his army defeated, leading to the temporary collapse of the largest kingdom on the British isles, Northumbria, a kingdom that took generations to rebuild.
The Battle of Hatfield main at the Pit lane
The other battle was much more recent than the more famous of the two but just as devesting in many respects. I was there as a young seventeen year old and witnessed The Battle of Hatfield main’ on the Pit Lane took place during the miners’ strike of 1984, a mile or two from the original battleground of Hatfield chase, it may not have been quite as furious with thousands slain, or nearly as famous but the devastating effects on the population and the working class have lasted a generation and that area has never recovered.
The battle took place during the biggest and longest mass strike in British history it ended 36 years ago this week. Around 165,000 miners struck for a year from March 1984. They were fighting Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to close pits, sack tens of thousands of workers and smash one of the most militant sections of the working class.
On 5 March 1985, thousands of miners lined up behind their pit lodge banners and marched defiantly back to work. Their heroic strike was over. But the battles and struggles should never be forgotten.
Today, the legacy of the Great Miners’ Strike is bitterly contested. Some say that the miners were destined for defeat from the start.
Others argue that Thatcher’s assault destroyed any power that the unions had and any hope of working class struggle.
But we have not forgotten these struggles and like the battles before we are rebuilding and more so learning.
Never forgive, never forget
In 2015 the streets of Dunscroft & Stainforth watched a banner parade, led by Sheffield City Pipe Band, march from the Broadway Hotel on a route that passed Hatfield Colliery, to the top of the old ‘pit lane’, which led to the entrance of the colliery at the time of the strike. The crossroads at the ‘pit lane’ a former battleground where the state used its power and machinery to try and smash the resistance of the people fighting to keep their jobs and community together.
Ray Rising – a News Line photographer and partisan recalls the events that took place at the battle of Hatfield main.
Stainforth is a small mining village situated near Doncaster and Barnsley, Yorkshire, showed to me in a series of episodes, the ‘civil war’ nature of the miner’s strike of 1984. The working people around Stainforth, Armthorpe and Woolley certainly could testify to the ruthless nature of ‘the enemy within’ the capitalist state.
That the miners suffered a defeat that took almost a full year to play out demonstrated the creative combativity of their struggle. Capitalist grandees of business cheered on the assaults led by the police but the whole spectrum of society knew from daily visions on the TV and in the media that this was a war, albeit oftentimes edited or ignored to lessen the impact.
The cynical but consistent failure of the ‘responsible left’ i.e. Labour Party and Communist Party leaders have, ever since left a legacy within the working class that will never be forgotten. Thirty-six years have passed since those eventful days but still, the memories have not dulled the clarity to those involved. This was a social mugging by the state that left many lessons ingrained.
My recall goes back to Stainforth/Hatfield 7 miles north-east of Doncaster. In itself not dissimilar in design and aspect to the housing familiar to me around the Ford factory in Dagenham, Essex. However, Stainforth, and its adjacent coal mine of Hatfield Main, was to witness some extraordinary sights during one sultry day in the August of ’84.
The strike had been going for five months and not a single strike-breaker had dared to challenge the village population by attempting to go to work. But on the 21 st of August that changed. Three scabs, we were told, had broken the strike and had ‘gone in’ to the accompaniment of many flying missiles and protection from the armed attendance of the Greater Manchester Constabulary soon after dawn.
Myself and reporter Simon Veevers* had been at Armthorpe, three miles away, another strongly supported strike village, when we were passed a message from one of Simon’s innumerable contacts in the area about the earlier goings on’ at Hatfield Main. We hightailed there to find not a stand-off but a sit-off. The police lines had meanwhile been reinforced by another detachment from London’s Met, whilst the whole village, older men, women and children were behind their side – miners sat across the end of the pit lane in a blockade.
The time was approaching when the police would move to bring out the vehicle containing the scabs through the only exit from the pit. The strike-breakers hadn’t gotten their hands dirty for pay that day. Their purpose was purely to create a psychological wedge in the remote countryside village and facilitate the use of the big city forces mobilised by the Association of Chief Police Officers to do their worst.
There were no token attempts at negotiation or notification with the miners and villagers on the part of senior police officers. They knew why they were there. It mattered not to them that one of the scabs had been gently persuaded to rejoin the strike and had left the ferrying wagon with now, just two aboard for the gauntlet run through the Stainforth’s defiant line. In fact, if a scab was limbless with a bad back and total memory loss he would still have been told: “the force is with you”. The mercury was rising and we could sense the fidgety impatience throughout the ranks of the closely packed, overdressed lines of blue.
On a simple signal, both left and right wings of police charged forward – punching, kicking and truncheoning all before them. Of course, the majority of the miners climbed to their feet and scattered to avoid the blows. Others sat their ground and were overwhelmed with hardwood sticks, steel toe-capped boots and shields. Men women and children ran. There were subsequently many days like this at Stainforth with divisions of police-horses and dog-handlers rampaging through the little alleyways that crisscrossed the miners housing.
Some months after the 21 st of August I was asked to print four sets of photos for a forthcoming court case in Doncaster. A miner who had been collared immediately after the police charge had started was now, we learned, being charged with assaulting the police! The fact that he had stopped breathing after his beating and had been resuscitated in the emergency room altered not the state’s victimisation at all.
The pictures clearly showed his distinctive tee-shirt being enveloped by a sea of blue. He obviously had neither time nor weapons for assault as against the police ….. I’ll not name the miner for I write this story without his permission. On the day in court, the files of photographs were passed to the solitary circuit (miners strike) Judge, the prosecution counsel, the defence counsel and myself.
After affirming, to tell the truth with my hand raised and left foot on the bible the prosecution questioned me, not on what I had seen as a witness, but on how my exhibits could be trusted – being that I worked for a revolutionary newspaper! The judge interjected, countering the prosecutor with, “ the witness is here to confirm the validity of the photographs – do you question their truth?” The police prosecutor bowed his head and said, “No your honour.” Had the prosecution embarrassed the judge with their witch-hunt of objective truth? Surely not a conspiracy to validate the objectivity of the Big-Wig? No matter the judge duly found him guilty on the verbal from several of Manchester’s law enforcers. Photo evidence is obviously inferior to police testimony.
The judge vindicated his ‘profession’ without a jury. The officers did their job. I and the miner had been the only unpaid attendees. He did three months. These court cases were repeated with monotonous and banging-up regularity over the ensuing months of miners’ appearances.
Justice is class justice, always was, always will be – better be the day when the ‘rules of court’ and judgements are passed down by the working class themselves.
The convoys of police marauding around Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire has left many indelible memories for me, but standing out in starkest relief on reflection is the recall of those seemingly little but obstinate organisms that grew in town and village around the pit. This is the way of social being. It will be again. Perhaps not for us. But it will be I’m sure. * Comrade Simon Veevers was with me in court that day too, but sadly he is no longer with us. He died at the start of winter last year. He was a class fighter who did everything he thought he could do and more to advance miners strike in 84-85. His stories and interviews were often the only breath of truth to reach mining areas amid a sea of putrid and toxic lies from well-paid scribblers and editors.
Republished from the original article by Ray Rising – a News Line photographer and partisan
Photographs taken by Ray and colleagues at the Hatfield picket line: August 21st ’84
This story was also my story, as a young seventeen-year-old I joined the Army in the April of 1984, just a few weeks earlier my father had entered into what would turn out to be a year-long strike, now commonly known as the miners’ strike.
It was on my first leave from the British Army after my passing out parade at Woolwich Arsenal I first witnessed the state’s “Iron Heel” pressing down on the working class. The journey home by car with my family opened my eyes. We were harassed at every roundabout and junction from Nottingham to Yorkshire. in what was supposed to be the police’s attempt to stop ‘flying pickets.’ but in reality, this was pure intimidation. I was still dressed in full parade uniform, the Police didn’t show a touch of comradery for a member of the armed forces. We were subject to as I witnessed first-hand, state oppression, solely because my father was a miner and the car registration flagged up.
We were aggressively questioned, asked constantly ‘who we were, where we were going and where we had been. checkpoints were placed at roundabouts, anyone who drove the A1 at that time would know the roundabouts at some points were within a few hundred yards of each other, each checkpoint clearly visible to each other. When you’re the only car to be stopped you understand you are being targeted.
They were the very same tactics I learnt later in my military career, the tactics I used myself on suspected IRA members in Northern Ireland but back in 1984, I was a young recruit fresh out of training, there was me in full dress uniform, proud as punch at passing out, angry as hell at being stopped and questioned like I was a dissident by Thatcher’s boot boys.
When the picket was called to stop the scabs at the ‘Pit lane’ I used the occasion to stand in solidarity with my striking family and community, I remember vividly that day. My brother and a few others had asked me to walk the line of police officers to see if I could tell if any were serving soldiers, I could not, noticeable a few wore the trademark DMS military issue boots, however, the officers wearing them were far too old to be serving soldiers.
It was only a few minutes after I had crossed the road back to the corner of Emerson Ave. when the line of police opened and the Met boys in full riot gear charged to batter helpless miners sat on the floor. That was the moment I understood the power of the oppressor and the working-class struggle will never end, The tales I grow up with of us against them all made sense, it’s definitely us against them, always will be, always has been. -Paul Knaggs editor Labour Heartlands.
The miners of Hatfield Main played a major part in the strikes of ’69, ’72, ’74 and finally in ’84, where Tory trickery was used to fool those of lesser gumption into crossing picket lines for the first time at Hatfield.
After the ’84 strike, the strength of the NUM at Hatfield declined.
By the ’90s, after the pit had been bought by the previous management, the Union had been relocated to the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade building on Emerson Avenue.