Over one hundred people, including many ex-workers and Salford City Mayor Ian Stewart, attended the opening of The Last Pit In The Valley , the exhibition that documents Agecroft Colliery in Pendlebury, the city's last working pit that closed in 1990.
Amongst the massive array of exhibits from the Colliery are miners' lamps and helmets, commemorative plates, badges, maps, old diaries, `Coal Not Dole' and `Switch Something On For The Miners' posters, ties showing the gradient of the seams, and even a polished cutting from the original wooden Victorian props that held up the first Agecroft workings.
The Last Pit In The Valley, organised by the Irwell Valley Mining Project and funded by a National Heritage Lottery grant, is being housed in the spectacular St Augustine's Church on Bolton Road in Pendlebury, known as the `Miners' Cathedral'. Huge photos adorn its pillars, showing the colliery's life and its eventual demise in the early 1990s, as documented by Lorraine Mchugh, who flew over from Ireland for the opening.
Lorraine, whose uncle Ken Chandler worked at Agecroft, got special permission to go on the site as the mine was being dismantled and her stunning series of photographs, Death of a Pit, speak volumes about the desolation caused by Margaret Thatcher's class war (see the full ebook of photos – click here).
Speaking at the opening, Lorraine dedicated the exhibited photos to her Uncle Ken and "all the courageous and loyal miners" at Agecroft and throughout Salford.
Those who attended yesterday saw the launch of the film, The Last Pit In The Valley, in which former miner Paul Kelly begins by showing a lump of coal "formed millions of years ago from the forests that covered this land", which "millions of people toiled under the ground to bring to the surface".
Standing near Agecroft's now extinct shafts, he tells the story of the pit and how miners went down four times the height of Manchester's Beetham Tower to bring back the black gold (Beetham Tower, incidentally, looks like it was modelled on one of Agecrofts former shafts).
Paul shows, with visits to working pit museums, how difficult and dangerous the job was, and how coal is as much a part of British history as 1066 or anything like that. He asks people to think about those who toiled underground and those who never returned to the surface, and "to recognise the role that coal miners played in the shaping of the country that you live in today".
The film, by History Project Moston, is now available to view on You Tube – click here. Another film showing the unveiling of the Agecroft memorial on Agecroft Road, was also shown (and is available to view on You Tube – click here).
Speaking at the opening, and launching his book, The Last Pit In The Valley (review to follow), Paul Kelly explained that St Augustine's Church, or the `Miners' Cathedral', is the only place in which the exhibition could have been housed… "I feel the presence of our past in here, the presence of former comrades."
And speaking of the opening of the memorial last July (see previous Salford Star article – click here) he noted that someone had planted a rose bush there to commemorate their great grandparent who died at the pit in 1963…
"I thought that was worthy of anything" he said "It has given us the opportunity to come to that site and recognise what miners did for this country, bringing back the coal that kept us all alive and made us what we are today…This exhibition is what it's all about - the community sticking together."
The exhibition opening was also about the generations sticking together, with artwork showing the old Salford mines by St Augustine's Primary School pupils, and a funny short play by two of the children showing a 50s fireside scene.
Those visiting the exhibition can also hear what is was like at Agecroft from former workers, their families and pit neighbours. The oral history project, Even The Pigeons Had Black Feet, has both the tragic and comic memories…
…girls getting dressed up to go on family visits down the mine, only to emerge covered in black dust…a fat teacher from Irwell Valley High getting stuck in a tunnel during a school visit…and one person's part in helping Yorkshire miners avoid the police and get to the picket via the Racecourse pub, Whit Lane and the River Irwell…
The Last Pit In The Valley is one of those special Salford events that don't happen very often in a city that's being sterilised and lobotomised.
The exhibition runs until next Saturday. It's one not to be missed.
The Last Pit In The Valley
Until 28th September
St Augustine's Church, Bolton Road, Pendlebury M27 8UX
(parking in the church grounds via Church Lane by the side of Isis Restaurant)
Sunday 22nd: 12- 4pm
Mon 23rd to Fri 27th 2pm-6pm
Saturday 28th: 12- 4pm.
See also previous Salford Star preview of the exhibition - click here
Update: 27th September - Mystery miners discovered at Agecroft exhibition - click here
Main photo shows premiere of The Last Pit In The Valley film
Exhibition opening photos by Steven Speed