STANDING on top of a hillside at the former site of Easington Colliery stands a pit cage.
It’s all that remains from 83 years of mining. That and the memories.
Some of those memories are stored in a capsule provided by the proud people of Easington and kept in the middle of the cage.
Memories which turned life into a nightmare for 1,400 hardworking men who lost their livelihood when Easington Colliery was the last of the Durham Coalfield to be closed down in 1993.
The majority never found work again. And these proud, proud men will tell you it wasn’t through a lack of trying.
The dole queue was booming. Easington was not.
“It was a disaster, quite simply a disaster, make no mistake of that,” says George Ottowell, MBE.
The passionate 88-year-old is as well placed as any to make such a reflection. George is a former safety officer at the pit who spent 10 days searching and rescuing in the aftermath of the 1951 explosion in the pit, which killed 81 miners and two rescuers. He had left the pit before the closure but his work didn’t stop there and he was to go on and become the former chairman of the Easington Miners’ Welfare and the residents’ association.
He held a meeting every single week for 12 consecutive years as he campaigned for development in the village. A village which needed exactly that after having its “backbone and soul torn out” when the mine closed for the final time.
Twenty years on and Easington is still feeling the effects of that fateful day.
Unemployment is still sky high.
In fact, only yesterday on the day hundreds commemorated the closure, Government figures revealed 3,408 adults in Easington are claiming jobseekers allowance, way above the national average and considerably higher than the regional average. Just like all of those miners who found the search for work not far short of impossible following the closure, many of their children now find themselves in the same situation.
Thousands took to the streets of the capital yesterday to mourn the passing of Baroness Thatcher. The wife of one former miner described the timing of her death as “ironic”. Others were more hard hitting.
“I’ve had a few people say to me that it was insensitive of her to die when she did,” said Marilyn Johnson, whose husband, Jimmy, worked in the mines until the day of the closure.
“We have had events planned to commemorate 20 years on since the closure for a long time, now it’s all about her.
“We are not interested in Thatcher, that was in the past but we will never forgive and forget, never.”
Marilyn’s husband, Jimmy, 68, recalls his feelings on his last day at the pit in one word: “Bitterness.” His blame is just as short: “Thatcher.”
Jimmy never found work again after the mine closure. And according to Marilyn, Easington has never recovered either.
“The colliery was the backbone, the spine, the soul, everything to Easington,” said the mum-of-two and grandmother of two.
“We were told afterwards there was going to be an abundance of jobs, that shops and businesses would open but they never did. Nothing ever happened.”
Marilyn recalls Monday afternoons, every single week, where everybody would spend their time sweeping the front and back door steps and washing their homes.
But she says the pure pit culture didn’t last long after the closure and Marilyn and Jimmy left the village in 1999.
“To be honest I couldn’t live there anymore,” she said.
“There was an influx of people from outside the village and they brought drugs, alcohol and crime with them.
“The real people of Easington are fantastic people, I would love to see the place bounce back, the village deserves it.”
MP Grahame Morris admits Easington and many other communities in the industrial heartlands “have never fully recovered from the free-market policies Thatcher unleashed upon them”.
Dr Boyes, whose father Roland Boyes, from Peterlee, stood on many picket lines during his time as MP for Houghton and Washington and was a front-bench spokesman in Neil Kinnock’s opposition against Thatcher, described the Iron Lady as a very bad influence on Easington, saying: “It was a cataclysmic event that we are still suffering the consequences today.”
But he added: “I feel as though we are pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, its been a long hard struggle over the last 20 years, but we are just starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Light which has been darkened by the shadows of the closure for 20 years. And according to Mr Morris there is still some time to go. “While we may have seen the end of Thatcher, we have yet to see an end to her baleful legacy.”