The organisers of the Agecroft Colliery exhibition were searching for over a year to discover the identities of a group of miners currently starring in old photos being displayed of the last days of the pit...and then, this week, two of them walked into the exhibition and saw themselves looming large on the walls.
John Freeman and Brian McGeown were two of four miners featured in a series of photos called Death of a Pit, taken by Lorraine Mchugh, whose uncle Ken worked at Agecroft. She got special permission to go on site as the mine was being dismantled in 1991 and some of the subsequent haunting photos have been exhibited in Salford as the centrepiece of The Last Pit In The Valley exhibition at St Augustine's Church.
One of the group, Brian Stott, attended the unveiling of the Agecroft Memorial recently (see here), and at the opening of the exhibition last week, someone recognised the other pair from the photos, alerted them to their new found stardom and Brian and John visited the exhibition this week and came face-to-face with their old images.
"We were put onto the salvage team bringing the roof support out from underground and we were at the top when this young lady came and asked if she could take our photos so we obliged" recalled Brian McGeown "It was a way of getting a rest really. She said that she wanted to take the pictures and then put them onto canvas, and I haven't seen them since. I don't think we've changed that much really!"
Lorraine's hand drawn images from the day have long since been sold but a selection of the original photos are on display, along with some incredible artefacts saved from Agecroft.
Brian and John were both working at the pit on the coal preparation plant, sorting the black gold before it went to the power station or to people's houses to be burned.
"When they decided to close the mine down they asked if we would go and bring the roof support out of the pit" said Brian "but we knew that would be it once that job had finished."
When Lorraine came in to do photos the lads were only too happy to show her around as it lengthened the job even more…
"The quicker we dismantled the roof supports the quicker we were out of work so we tried to keep the job going as long as possible" laughed John. They even re-named some of the rooms and put their own special mark on some of the doors as they went around. Lorraine's photos capture an office with the new title `Charm School', while Accrington Stanley is painted onto one of the lockers.
Brian and John were transferred to Agecroft from Hapton Valley near Burnley after that pit closed and they travelled to Salford every day from Accrington…
"We loved it, it kept us in a job and we got on well with the lads who were up here" said Brian "Some of them never took to it because Hapton Valley was only a small pit and everybody knew everybody, they all grew up together, went to the same school together and then went to the pit together - and when they came here it was a bit strange, a big world to them, being from Burnley. They used to call it going `over the hill'…"
As the memories flooded back during the exhibition they both nodded and agreed "It was a sad day when the pit shut."
And, over twenty years later, Brian and Peter have been immortalised in the images which are now set to go tour in the near future – as the Death of a Pit gets re-born…
The Last Pit In The Valley
Last day Saturday 28th September
St Augustine's Church, Bolton Road, Pendlebury M27 8UX
(parking in the church grounds via Church Street by the side of Isis Restaurant)
See also the Death of a Pit e-book featuring Lorraine Mchugh's ace photos of Agecroft and these salvage miners - click here
See exhibition review previous Salford Star article – click here