Around two hundred people, including forty former Agecroft workers, attended the unveiling yesterday of a new monument to those who lost their lives and worked at Agecroft Colliery, Salford's last pit which closed in 1990.
Some had come from as far away as Scotland and Wales with their families to commemorate the colliery, and many said that, despite the dangers and harsh working conditions, they would go back down tomorrow for the camaraderie.
Brian Stott, who worked at Agecroft from 1966, as first a face worker and later a deputy, was one of the last to drive through the gates when it shut… "It broke our hearts the day it closed" he said "If they sank a shaft now I'd come for a job."
The monument was particularly poignant for Brian, who had three sons working at the mine. His eldest, Adam aged just 19, lost his life in an accident at the pit… "The treatment by these guys was incredible – six hundred miners packed the church singing Abide With Me…unforgettable."
While there were many tears to remember past colleagues, there were also many smiles as former work mates were reunited after many years. Some wore their original helmets and workclothes as they unveiled the monument which read…
`This monument is dedicated to the coal miners of the Agecroft Colliery and to all the men, women, boys and girls who toiled in the collieries of the Irwell Valley. Remember all those who lost their lives below the ground on which you stand.'
Before the monument was unveiled there was absolute silence as the brilliant Besses Brass Band emotionally played The Miners Hymn, originally written to commemorate the Gresford Colliery Disaster in Wrexham in 1934 when 266 men died.
Earlier, speaker after speaker paid tribute to those who worked at Agecroft…
Steve North, President of Salford Trades Council, and whose granddad worked in the pit, said it was important for young people to learn real history about "people who worked down the mines and in the shipyards who actually built this country", while Hilda Palmer, co-ordinator of Greater Manchester Hazard committee, stressed the need "to remember the people who worked under the ground, and the many who died horrible deaths… these people fought collectively for better conditions of work that we have now but which we are in danger of losing. Mine workers were at the forefront of all that.
"We need to fight now to maintain those gains for our children" she added "There are only 3000 miners left in this country but the rate of death, since privatisation, has gone to a fifty year high."
Jim Lord, branch secretary of the NUM at Agecroft, said it was "A great pleasure to see, at last, a memorial being erected on the site on behalf of everyone who worked there.
"I worked alongside men who have been killed or carried out of the colliery with very bad injuries" he added "I've very sad memories, and very happy memories working with my comrades, both miners and the staff and the deputies. It was a very happy pit."
Ex Agecroft worker, Paul Kelly, who has co-ordinated the Irwell Valley Mining Project (IVMP) which created the monument, also paid tribute to those who lost their lives at all the Salford… "This day is all about those who have died and not been acknowledged" he said "Miners have been treated very badly for the work they've done and the money they've made for the rich in society …who wouldn't go down the pits to bring back that coal. Blood is the price of coal."
While speakers remembered the past, they also stressed the need for links with a new younger generation, and Alice Searle, joint co-ordinator of the IVMP, recalled how important it is to pass on the legacy and history of the industry which fired the Industrial Revolution, adding that when Paul went to talk to children about mining, many had never seen a piece of coal.
The links with future generations were maintained, as Salford City College construction students built the monument, and Stuart Quayle, Head of Construction, said everyone wanted to be involved "because it's part of Salford's history and they all wanted to be build something for it, something that would stay for a lifetime…it was a great honour for the College to be part of this project."
In return the Irwell Valley Mining Project, which has co-ordinated the project with a Heritage Lottery grant, has sponsored an annual award at the College to keep the links going.
Meanwhile, pupils from St Augustine's Primary School made the tiles that read `Agecroft Colliery' on the monument and have also created a collage of all the Irwell Valley mines which will be on display at a new exhibition commemorating Agecroft at St Augustine's Church opening on 25th September.
After the unveiling, pupils from St Augstine's, together with miners' children and other young people from the area, planted flowers in the raised garden sponsored by Greater Manchester TUC, on the monument, which had previously been blessed by Father Huchence, of St Augustine's Church.
Peter Bradshaw, now 82, who worked as a mechanic at Agecroft between 1960 and 1984, said he'd been down to Agecroft on many occasions but "there was nothing there to say anything about the men who worked down here, or the men I knew who died. This a fantastic achievement."
Paul Topping, who worked as a machine driver from 1977-1991, and who still carries the Agecroft fob that workers carried down the mine, said "the monument means a lot – it was the best time of my life working here", while Alex Channon, who worked as a pit fitter at Agecroft for 25 years, from 1965 to the day it closed, added "It's significant that this has been done to commemorate not just Agecroft but mining up and down the country."
Meanwhile former safety officer, Anthony Haslam, added that the day revived "a lot of very pleasant memories and some unpleasant ones, the worst when Brian Stott's son, Adam, was killed."
It was for people like Adam that the monument now stands. Jean Barnes, has lived next to the pit since the day the modern shafts were opened, has lived through the strikes, the tragedies and the happy memories of Agecroft, and was first to speak at the unveiling…
"It's a great honour to see this memorial unveiled, it is long overdue" she said "God bless all the miners"
• During the day, £90 was raised towards getting a replica Agecroft miners' banner made for future marches and ceremonies.
• A new exhibition centred on Agecroft Colliery will open on 21st September at St Augustine's Church. It will feature longer versions of all the interviews conducted yesterday, plus films, oral memories, artefacts and photos. Full details to follow.