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Miners’ strikes to shopping haven: How the Dearne Valley has been reborn

Written by on 14/11/2020

Back in 1984 a tiny but very significant corner of South Yorkshire’s Dearne Valley became universally known as The Alamo – black humour as it turned out because it really was to be the last stand for the area as that generation knew it.

The Alamo was the picket line shelter at Cortonwood Colliery, which sparked the year long miners’ strike when the National Coal Board announced plans to close it.

While the site of The Alamo – at the start of the road into the old pit yard – remains, the rest of the colliery would be unrecognisable to anyone returning today.

It could be a metaphor for much of the Dearne Valley – a traditional industry which provided communities with employment gone and replaced with a thoroughly modern and hugely popular shopping centre which helps answer the lust for ‘retail therapy’ in today’s society.

Whether the businesses which operate there provide the same career opportunities as coal mining did, wages which were enough to support a family, is open to debate, but the situation is duplicated across the area, which sits between Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster.

In the 1980s it was still home to many collieries and the industries which traditionally sat alongside them, like coking plants, filling the gaps.

Regeneration: Daniel Ibbotson’s Barnsley Brew occupies old Grimethorpe Colliery offices

History was to prove The Alamo was aptly named because despite bitter persistence from the National Union of Mineworkers, the strike failed and wholesale colliery closures followed.

The 1990s brought hardship to communities in the area, many of which had evolved with the single purpose of supporting the mining industry, though change was to come.

The Dearne Towns Link Road was carved through the valley, with the intention of improving road links to encourage new businesses into the area.

It’s early success may have been limited, but over time the area has evolved with a new personality.

Rotherham Council was successful in attracting many call-centre businesses into the Manvers area, a name once synonymous with a coking plant.

Colliery sites have been redeveloped and 21st Century names like Asos and Next appear where signs in NCB yellow and blue livery would once have stood.

Those businesses help to feed an industry of online shopping which was not even a dream in the era when miners walked out to save their jobs.

Not all developments are corporate, however.

Grimethorpe was at the gritty end of the spectrum even for mining communities back in the day – when news that the town council were planning to install hanging baskets seemed like a revelation to a young reporter.

Today life has moved on. Colliery offices are still there and provide a home for Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band, but also for innovative businesses like Barnsley Brew, a tea and coffee blending firm which uses it’s Barnsley background as a positive tool to promote the drinks it sells.

The village is even home to a specialist Porsche garage.

One thing which has not changed is the community spirit which bonded such communities when residents both lived and worked cheek by jowl.

Over in Goldthorpe there are many examples of a community still fighting deprivation but doing so with pride, dignity and the backing of the councillors who represent them.

It started here: The old entrance to Cortonwood Colliery

They make up the Dearne Towns Area Council, which has money to spend in the area and they wring good value from the cash they have, supporting ventures like a job training club to help hopeful candidates prepare themselves for job applications.

They have also backed the creation of a new family park and recreation area, the railway embankment, which was land made redundant by the removal of rail freight lines and had become a fly tipping hotspot.

The Dearne Towns Link Road was installed in the mid-1990s but now several of it’s junctions are being given significant upgrades to help cope with higher traffic levels.

Proof, if it was needed, that the Dearne Valley is still thriving, even if it needs more care, attention and nurturing.