The History of How Coal Made Britain

Richard Vinen at The Literary Review:

In many ways, the age of coal was terrible. Thousands died in mining accidents and thousands more of diseases that they had contracted in pits. When a slag heap at Aberfan collapsed on top of the village primary school in 1966, at the inquest the coroner talked of ‘asphyxia and multiple injuries’, but one miner shouted that the words that he wanted on his child’s death certificate were ‘buried alive by the NCB’. And yet the British remember this age with a curious nostalgia. What could be more reassuringly familiar than the dense, smoky fogs of Sherlock Holmes’s London or the fact that the detective keeps his cigars in the coal scuttle? In Mike Leigh’s film High Hopes, the disappearance of coal is used as a metaphor for the rise of the rootless, yuppie society of the 1980s. ‘Mum, look what they’ve done to your coal hole,’ says one character when she sees how the new owners of a former council house have adapted the cellar. A Hovis television advertisement of 2008, celebrating the last hundred years of British history, featured miners, along with V-E Day parties and a Churchill speech, though, revealingly, it depicted a scene of a picket line in 1984 rather than of an actual working mine.

more here.