Ackton Hall, Wheldale, Ledston Luck… the roll-call of names reads like a list of old, abandoned railway stations. They were among the 28 pits in Yorkshire that had already been swept away when, 25 years ago today, the government passed what was to be a death sentence on the rest.
It fell to Michael Heseltine, president of the Board of Trade in John Major’s Cabinet, to swing the axe. Some 31 out of 50 remaining deep mines would close, he announced. 31,000 jobs would go at a stroke.
It was the biggest redundancy ever announced in Britain. After years of decline, the news was not a surprise but it was a shock. “Politically there was no appetite for coal. Not after the strikes,” said Shaun McLaughlin, who heard the news, with the rest of his shift, at Stillingfleet pit in Selby.
At his National Union of Mineworkers headquarters in Sheffield, Arthur Scargill called for a mass mobilisation in defiance. But British Coal was one step ahead. In a series of deals in the weeks leading up to his October 13 announcement to the Commons, Mr Heseltine had agreed with the company’s chairman, Neil Clarke, a detailed package of enhanced redundancy payments for the 31,000 – tempered with the threat to withhold them from any miner who walked out.
Mr Scargill had always maintained that the government had a secret hit-list of pits it wanted to close, but Mr Heseltine’s announcement went much further than even he had predicted.
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