The right thing but the end of an era all the same

Kellingley Colliery, the last deep coal mine in Britain, closes down for good next week, finally shutting the book on a trade that stoked the industrial revolution and helped fuel an empire.

We just don’t need deep coal mining any more, thankfully. A horrible, dangerous, job that no one has to do any more.

45 thoughts on “The right thing but the end of an era all the same”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    If it is the right thing, it is being done for the wrong reasons.

    Drax has already converted some generators to biomass, importing six million tonnes of wood pellets from America each year to run them.

    Instead of burning British coal, the government has pushed Drax to burn Americans trees. While making everyone else burn gas. The latter is sensible. The former is not. Either way these decisions should be made by the market. Not some pimply newly-minted PPE graduate with no actual experience of anything outside student politics.

    Still. It is a pity that blogs rely solely on text. Because I would like the world to see the expression of concern and sympathy on my face when I read an NUM delegate complaining about being let down by everyone else.

  2. SMFS

    Instead of burning British or imported coal, the government has pushed Drax to burn American trees. Deep mined coal is costly, and it has been on the way out for a long time. With that said, you are right.

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    Theophrastus – “Deep mined coal is costly, and it has been on the way out for a long time. With that said, you are right.”

    Which, as I am sure we all agree, is not a bad thing. It is sad to see people transition out of the industry and all those towns close down. But then Gone with the Wind is full of romantic nostalgia as well.

    The only way these fields could be saved would be to work towards in-situ gassification. Fracking for coal in other words. I don’t see the Greens and politicians supporting that.

    Actually there is another alternative. We could keep a few of the pits open – for people who admire the miners’ way of life and community spirit. We can invite all those sophisticated metropolitan elites to leave Hampstead and come work down a mine. They can even play in the brass band on the weekend.

    It would be a win-win really. The pits can stay open. The villages survive. The effete London Guardianistas would sweat most of their effeminity out. And the local sushi would get much better.

  4. Bloke in North Dorset

    “Actually there is another alternative. We could keep a few of the pits open – for people who admire the miners’ way of life and community spirit. We can invite all those sophisticated metropolitan elites to leave Hampstead and come work down a mine. They can even play in the brass band on the weekend.

    It would be a win-win really. The pits can stay open. The villages survive. The effete London Guardianistas would sweat most of their effeminity out. And the local sushi would get much better.”

    I like your thinking. Can we make it compulsory for the Guardianistas to have to do a set number of weekends, or better still dig out a set amount of coal, say the equivalent of 10 day’s output from the average miner every year? We could call them Bevin boys and girls, that should give them a real sense of pride.

  5. One assumes that in Social Justice World the deep mines would be kept open producing coal ad infinitum at 100% public cost, but none would be burnt as that would of course destroy the planet. Perhaps they could dig it out of one mine and bury it in another in a closed loop.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in North Dorset – “Can we make it compulsory for the Guardianistas to have to do a set number of weekends, or better still dig out a set amount of coal, say the equivalent of 10 day’s output from the average miner every year?”

    We would not have to make it compulsory. All good Leftists know that community feeling and solidarity with the workers is something that comes naturally to the Right Thinking. So all *real* Guardianistas would volunteer without hesitation.

    And if they didn’t? Well that would prove that they have not yet overcome the privileges of their class and race and gender so they need to spend some time in re-education with said working classes. By, for instance, being sent down a coal mine. And any other objections would be neo-liberal sophistry frankly.

  7. So good that we have got out of coal-mining.So much better that we rely on oil from countries with a tradition of jihad. Nobody mentions the coal- to- oil process = Fischer Troppsch?( I used to check my spelling/ facts but on here that is regarded as effeminate.) The South Africans used to rely on it and the German Army according to Lord Haw Haw.

  8. @DBCReed: a few seconds research would tell you that the FT process only ever provided the German Army with 10% of its fuel needs, and that its utterly uneconomic unless you have a large cheap source of energy, such as natural gas that cannot be easily transported and sold to a large population centre, such energy source needing to be close to the source of the coal of course.

    I hardly need to point out that these conditions are not met in North Yorkshire. It also produces large amounts of CO2, even before the resulting oil is burned, so I am at least glad you are not one of the warble gloaming crew.

  9. I think it is important to point out that burning biomass is one of the most important low carbon forms of electricity in Europe. And yes, it is a complete fudge of the extra chocolatey european type.

    It was classified as a low carbon form of energy in order to keep coal powered plants open. Either the plant uses co-fuelling, which is where the biomass is mixed with coal or the plants have been converted to run on pure biomass.

    For me the answer to all this low carbon economy thing is to build plenty of nuclear power. Nuclear for electricity for homes, industry and road going golf carts ands nuclear thermal energy to produce carbon neutral hydrocarbons (made from water and carbon dioxide) for proper cars and heavy goods vehicles.

    Frankly I am getting sick and tired of listening to groups like Friends of the earth and Greenpeace complain about the lack of investment in renewables and how we need to make massive changes to our way of life in order to transition to a low carbon economy.

    Not we fucking well don’t! Nuclear power will get the job done and without me having to drive the road in a peddle powered golf cart. Then we can actually deal with real environmental issues like pollution in the seas and overfishing.

  10. Unfortunately it was a horrible, dangerous job that was the basis of the British highlands’ economy and the basic reason that those regions could support the populations they did.

    We really can’t move everyone to the London area to be either a banker or a banker’s servant.

  11. It always sounds strange calling Kellingly “North Yorkshire”. It’s in Knottingly, FGS, the epitome of West Yorkshire pit towns. However, glancing at a map shows there’s a kink in the country boundary, running about 200 yards from the collery gates, putting it in North Yorshire. Ridiculous really, the boundary should have continued down the River Aire.

  12. Salamander

    FoE, Greenpiss, the Greens et al have always had an unstated agenda – to lead us to a post-industrial, renewable energy based, Gaia-friendly world with lower living standards, though they tend to keep quiet about the lower living standards.

  13. [It] was the basis of the British highlands’ economy and the basic reason that those regions could support the populations they did. We really can’t move everyone to the London area to be either a banker or a banker’s servant.

    The compound errors in those statements would take more time than I have today to refute them. But if anyone else has the time, feel free.

  14. I’m not sure what is in error, though my opinion at the end may be unsound. England is historically divided into wealthier lowlands in the South East and poorer highlands elsewhere. This was true until the Industrial Revolution, when coal, found in the Northern and Western Highlands, became the power source of industry, which moved close to its energy source. Because it is easier to transport finished goods South than coal.

    Thus, the end of the coal economy was the end of the Northern Industrial economy, and its workforce was no longer needed. And nobody has quite figured out what to do with them instead.

    The “solution” so far has been financial services (the new “engine room of the economy”, remember) and then sending money to the old Industrial areas to create Soviet boroughs where the State is the majority employer and money source.

    It would be nice to think of something more productive.

  15. @ Ian B
    The Northern and Western Highlands are in Scotland, not England.
    The main Scottish coalfield was in Lanarkshire, not in the Highlands.
    The English Highlands are the Lake District and the Pennines, neither of which have coalfields (if you want to instance the “Peak District” which is lower – that was, like upper Weardale a source of leasd rather than coal).
    Secondary coalfields in Lancashire and South Yorkshire do not justify your description.
    The west Midlands might also dispute your claim that industry was concentrated in the north.
    Historically Lincolnshire was the (or one of the) wealthiest areas in Saxon and mediaeval times because it was *much* more fertile than the couth-east. the Earl of Lincoln was one of the greatest lordsin the land a thousand years ago.
    Secondly – no, this is too long, read my next post.

    The traditional coalfields are Durham in the North-East, Nottinghamshire in the Midlands, a small one in Kent,

  16. Coal mining is an extractive industry: when everything you can economically mine has gone, that’s the end. Or it bloody well should be.

    Wilson, of course, closed more mines than Thatcher – perhaps he was an economic rationalist on this topic.

    It was a very dangerous game for decades, but for much of my lifetime I don’t think it was off-the-scale dangerous. It was dangerous, however, to attend primary school near a pit spoil tip.

  17. john77: I take it that Ian B was referring to the Highland Zone of England, contrasted with the Lowland zone: it’s a standard distinction among, for example, landscape historians. In which case he is right.

  18. @ Ian B continued
    The end of coal mining was NOT the end of the northern industrial economy. ICI Billingham was frequently the largest chemical plant in Europe (we alternated with BSF Ludwigshafen every time one or other expanded), Tyneside, Tees-side and Wearside had shipbuilding, heavy engineering (who built Sydney Harbour Bridge and Auckland’s?), chemical engineering, railways (heard of George Stevenson?),
    Yes, I can think of more but my other memories such as titanium and nylon are relatively minor compared to the ones I could find if I wasted my time on a search engine.

  19. @ dearieme
    NO, NO, no
    The Durham (and Nottinghamshire) coalfields were NOT in the highlands.
    Northern Industry was 90+% in the lowlands.
    There are no coal mines in the pennines or beneath Sca Fell ot Hellvellyn.
    Don’t put Aberfan above the deaths of miners unless you want to be called an idiot. Atrocious, appalling, unacceptable … but almost invisible in the context of deaths caused by coal mining.
    Sometimes you annoy me. Tim alleges that you have a responsible position in a decent university – in which case why talk soft?

  20. One of the unsung revolutions of the 20th century has been the advances in cheap surface transportation (containers and bulk carriers). This has allowed cheap surface mined coal from the US and Australia (inter alia) to undercut European deep mined coal. I believe there are still deep mines operating in Poland, and under EU rules anyone keen to work down a pit is free to relocate there (for Polish pay and H&S conditions, of course).

  21. IanB

    John77 has given you some pointers as to your errors.

    In addition, I’d simply observe that you are self-deluding or slippery…For instance, you start off talking about the “British highlands” at1.25pm, but by 6.49pm you are talking about England’s highlands.

    Just as the other day you began by talking about the period of the Attlee government and then started talking about the 70s (and then risibly attempted to justify this by reference to an arbitrary definition of your own devising).

    You’ve got form: I suggest you reflect on the pattern.

    That said, when you are focussed, you are often accurate and insightful.

  22. Additionally; these are comment threads not scholarly debates. Comments are written hastily and we should all allow some latitude to each other and allow further clarifications to take precedence.

  23. John77-

    The argument I am advancing being that all those other industries were where they were due to the proximity of the primary power source, coal.

  24. “these are comment threads not scholarly debates. Comments are written hastily and we should all allow some latitude to each other and allow further clarifications to take precedence.”

    Agreed, not scholarly; but some basic precision is surely desirable, and you often fail on that score. Always happy to allow further clarifications, though.

  25. So Much For Subtlety

    DBC Reed – “So much better that we rely on oil from countries with a tradition of jihad. Nobody mentions the coal- to- oil process = Fischer Troppsch?”

    There are half a dozen possible coal-to-gas or coal-to-oil processes. The problem is that they tend to be expensive and can be polluting. Britain used to have a lot of coal-to-gas plants across the country. Coal gas used to be commonly used in homes and in street lights. I doubt there are any surviving these days. They were all replaced by natural gas.

    Essentially coal is carbon (plus small amounts of hydrogen and other things). The more hydrogen you add to that carbon, the less solid it becomes. Add a bit and it turns into a liquid that looks a lot like petrol. Add a lot more, and it turns into a gas that can serve in the place of natural gas. Coal gas is more primitive than that. It basically involved burning a lot of coal and then adding a lot of water.

    C + H2O -> CO + H2

    So you burn coal with steam and get a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Not a good thing to pipe into people’s homes. You can add more hydrogen and end up with methane if you like. Or go on to produce liquids.

    It is just not very cost effective. Which is why people often think about directly injecting steam and oxygen into the underground seam. Saves you building an expensive plant.

    But there is a way around this. We do give too much money to the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia. So we ought to think of the alternatives. I suggest we simply offer a reduction in fuel excise for any non-traditional fuel that does not come from our enemies. Methanol, coal-to-LPG, whatever. They become cost effective at levels far below what we pay at the pump.

  26. So Much For Subtlety

    Coal gas will soon be known only to historians of the Victorian period. And fans of a certain type of folk music:

    I met my love by the gas works wall
    Dreamed a dream by the old canal
    Kissed my girl by the factory wall

    Dirty old town
    Dirty old town

    Clouds a drifting across the moon
    Cats a prowling on their beat
    Spring’s a girl from the streets at night

    Dirty old town
    Dirty old town

    I heard a siren from the docks
    Saw a train set the night on fire
    Smelled the spring on the smoky wind

    Even today you would have to explain to young ‘uns what a steam train looked like at night. What the pollution used to be like. Maybe even what a dock was before it was an up market housing development.

  27. @ Ian B
    Firstly your coal map is inaccurate, secondly even it shows that zilch of the coalfields in England and Scotland are in the highlands, thirdly Middlesbrough is based on the location of iron ore not coal (yes coal was not too far away but it was the iron ore that determined where the steel industry started). There are sites of lesser importance, but the first that comes to my mind is Coalbrookedale (yes, honestly, it is – maybe because you jabber on about coal in the highlands).
    Agreed this isn’t a scholarly thread and we should allow some slack – but only to those who recognise and admit their errors, not to those who refuse to do so.

  28. @ SMFS
    I am surprised that you should choose a completely misleading song written by a Communist to misrepresent the past.
    Isn’t that Arnald’s job?

  29. Well John, I don’t know what you’re counting as highlands, so we can’t really go further than that with this. The correlation looks pretty clear to me.

    *shrugs*

  30. So Much For Subtlety

    john77 – “I am surprised that you should choose a completely misleading song written by a Communist to misrepresent the past.”

    What is misleading about that song? If you don’t think Britain used to have some pretty dirty towns, I could show you a few.

    “Isn’t that Arnald’s job?”

    Only from Monday through to Friday. I get the weekends.

  31. john77, you clearly haven’t bothered to learn what is meant by the Highland Zone and Lowland Zone of England. So why not pull your effing finger out and have a look?

  32. @ SMFS
    I grew up in industrial towns – the gasworks did not have walls, if they had had them, that would not have been a place to meet your potential girlfriend, nor would the factory fence (not wall – shows his ignorance).

  33. @ dearieme
    So you class the Durham coastline as the Highland Zone, the Clyde Valley in Lanarkshire and the Ayrshire coast as Highlands and the Grampians as Lowlands, a few yards around Whitehaven as Highlands and the Lake District as Lowlands? Need I go on?
    What is meant by? Meant by whom? Apart from idiots who cannot distinguish between 3000 ft above sea level and 3000 centimetres?
    Look at Ian B’s maps.

  34. So Much For Subtlety

    john77 – “I grew up in industrial towns – the gasworks did not have walls, if they had had them, that would not have been a place to meet your potential girlfriend, nor would the factory fence (not wall – shows his ignorance).”

    Come on John. It is a song. As Communist propaganda goes, this is not all that much of a big deal.

    Besides the Victorianist blog has a picture of the London gas works from 1890something. I could swear that looks like a wall to me.

  35. When I was a kid in the 50s, the comics suggested coal mining in 2015 would be done by effing great robots minded by some guy on the surface in a comfy chair. I miss that future.

  36. So Much For Subtlety

    Roue le Jour – “When I was a kid in the 50s, the comics suggested coal mining in 2015 would be done by effing great robots minded by some guy on the surface in a comfy chair. I miss that future.”

    There is very little to stop them doing it that way now. Except the Unions. And the fact that open cut mines are just so grossly more efficient it makes no sense.

    I would have hoped for self-supporting bases on the Moon by now.

  37. Bloke in Costa Rica

    “[…]coal mining in 2015 would be done by effing great robots minded by some guy on the surface in a comfy chair. I miss that future.”

    You mean effing great robots minded by a guy in a comfy chair like this one?

  38. Yes, very much on that scale… but underground. (She’s a beaut, mind.)

    I also remember a big machine that made motorways. Countryside in, tarmac out. I’m not seeing that bugger either.

    Thunderbirds left me with a lot of unfulfilled expectations, I find.

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