Video: The last pit - closed for business, as final shift at Kellingley consigns deep coal mining to history
IT was the hour the last remaining coal miners in England knew was coming for the last few months.
And when the last shift at the coal face finally drew to a close at Kellingley Colliery the emotion felt by all clocking off was painful and all to vivid for those assembled.
As 1pm approached, a steady stream of workers clocked out for a final time.
Poignantly their last steps in an industry which many have worked in for decades took them past a poster simply reading ‘the last pit: closed for business’.
Some shook hands with their fellow workers in what the men described as “the final handshake”.
One, alone, simply said “done”.
For 50-year-old locomotive driver Paul Hine, it was an end to three generations of mining.
Mr Hine has worked in the industry for 34 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
He started in Woolley Colliery before moving to Kellingley 28 years ago.
Mr Hine said: “It’s been an emotional day for all of us, shaking hands with colleagues and friends that we will probably never see again.
“I never thought I would see this day in my working career. I knew one day it would end but I didn’t think I’d see it.
“If the government announced that they wouldn’t be burning coal any more, I think we could take it better.
“But knowing they will be burning imported coal just down the road for up to 10 years is a real kick in the teeth.”
Sadness was the expression on his face as he left the building for the last time.
And it was the emotion felt by many of the men as they struggled to come to terms with the reality that today marked the end of deep coal mining in the UK.
Simon Coward, 40, a fellow locomotive driver who has spent more than 20 years in the coal industry, said: “We don’t want to believe it. We have known it was coming but we have put it to the back of our minds.
“When it actually comes around, even though you know it’s happening and it’s here, it’s still a shock.”
Mr Coward, who started his career in Selby in 1995, before moving to Kellingley in 2004, said the was one of high emotions.
He said: “It’s pretty surreal but the lads have just got on with it as they always have. It’s a sad day for us all but we all pull together in this industry and that’s what we always have done.
“We’ve done the job for us and not for them. Everyone has walked out with their heads held high.”
Richard Dobrowolski, a mine official who took voluntary redundancy from the doomed pit 16 months ago, returned today to say a last goodbye to his co-workers.
Behind a tough exterior, the emotional farewell reduced some of them to tears.
Mr Dobrowolski, 59, said: “I worked in this pit for 35 years and it has a special place in my heart.
“I always said I’d come back on the day it shut.
“People are laughing and joking but in the mines it is an upsetting day, especially for those who have been here most of their lives. There have been tears among grown men.”
John Marshall, who has spent four decades cutting the coal at Kellingley, said the hardest part to take was the loss of the close-knit coal community.
He said: “The most difficult bit is knowing you aren’t going to see a lot of your friends again, people you see each day. We have stood with each other until the end, with our final handshakes and final goodbyes.”
Keith Poulson, branch secretary for Kellingley NUM, said the miners were angry because they believed the closure was unnecessary.
He said: “I feel disappointed, I feel angry and, more importantly, I’ve seen my colleagues come off the last shift and you can see the anger and frustration that’s in their faces. They feel bitterly let down and disappointed.
“There was a market for our coal, coal will still be burned at Drax power station for the next 10 years or more, and that’s what’s angering a lot of these men.
“If there was no market out there to burn our coal at power stations, they would understand it, but there is and that’s ridiculous.”
Prospect, the union representing managers at Kellingley, accused the Government of failing to provide enough support to help staff retrain or seek alternative employment.
It said the workforce believes Kellingley has been thrown on the “industrial scrapheap” even though it still has ample reserves.
Mike Macdonald, a spokesman for the union, said: “We are proud of the hard work and engineering expertise of our members who have successfully delivered the last coal face in Britain under challenging physical and financial conditions. Everyone at Kellingley should be congratulated as they have met the managed closure plan safely.”
Shaun McLoughlin, the mine manager, said it was a “sad day” and thanked the miners for their “hard work and determination” and the Board of UK Coal, which owns the colliery, described the closure as a “historic moment”.
It said the UK owed “a debt of immense gratitude to those who have done so much to help power this country over many decades”.
Kellingley began production in 1965 and its closure will complete a two-year closure plan for the UK’s deep mines, implemented by UK Coal with financial support from the Government.
The company said the closures follow a long period of difficult trading conditions, largely due to low international coal prices.
UK Coal will oversee the run-down of the pit before the site is redeveloped.
After the end of the Second World War there were almost 1,000 collieries employing up to a million miners, making the industry a powerhouse and major employer in communities across Britain.