Observing the 1980s

Cairns, George (Part 1 of 1)

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Hannah BarnesHis father
Posted by Hannah Barnes on 29/11/2015

Hannah BarnesSense of community
Posted by Hannah Barnes on 29/11/2015

Posted by begin on 17/07/2014

Posted by end on 17/07/2014

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  • Subjects

    Miners' Strikes

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Cairns, George, (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Ingram, Alan, (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: George Cairns comes from a mining family spanning at least four generations, and he's witnessed the demise of two coalfields - one in Scotland and the other in North Staffordshire. He himself had to leave the industry because of injury, but he says if he had his life again, he wouldn't choose any other job. It was what he wanted to do as a boy, and the camaraderie down the pit made life very special, he says. He's also been active as a trades union official and as a Borough councillor at Newcastle , and served a term as the Mayor. He's proud of the Borough and the way it's developing. Grandma called me "George Rex" to distinguish me from all their other George's in the family. I used to do her shopping. I had eight brothers and sisters and the whole family lived in a 3 bed house. We enjoyed being overcrowded; the bed was always warm for the last one in. The only television in the street at Silverdale was owned by Mrs Dunn. There'd be a crowd of up to twenty kids outside her window when Popeye was on. She was happy to let us watch; but only through one programme we were four generations of miners, the old miners cottage in Scotland didn't have bedrooms, just built-in beds in the living rooms. Dad would come home black and I remember filling the tin bath for him. The pit closed and dad left to get a job at Silverdale. he brought me and my brother with him and we lived on our own for a few weeks, then he got a house and Mum and the rest came down. We’ve been in that house for 47 years. Other kids at school couldn't understand us at first, but we settled in. The nuns rewarded us with chocolate if we did well; it was the stick if we didn't He describes how his mother could make one tin of beans into a dinner for nine- with a few eggs and toast; how clothes came from jumble sales and they were given vouchers for shoes- but still always managed to go to school looking decently turned-out. His father was tough - although only five feet four. He yearned to start work down the pit and had visions of what it would be like. When the cage went down on the first day he was dismayed.. He found it was big, well-lit and everything white-washed; a terrible disappointment. Then he travelled further underground and came to narrower seams, where it was pitch black and you worked with a pick and shovel; that was just right, exactly what he'd wanted. He says the miners were like one big extended family. They worked together, drank together, and went to the club with their wives. it was a marvellous life. George outlines his work in the union .He says the Midlands branch of the NUM was never militant. The men were practical and got things done. He discusses the strike of 1974 which led to the fall of the Heath government. Pit strike of 1984-85. He says they knew the hit-list of pit closures existed and something had to be done, but the government set them up for a trial of strength and timed the dispute so that the strike would have little immediate effect on the country. After the collapse of the strike, he and other union officials were given work where they weren't in contact with the rest of the men. One day he was working alone - which was against the regulations, but he accepts part of the blame for that- when a lump of earth hit him on the head and he fell sixteen feet. His back was damaged and he had to end his work at the pit. He talks about the bitter feelings left after the strike. he says he can sympathise with SOME of the men who went back, because they'd been driven to the limit, but he still doesn't mix with men who returned quickly , without giving the strike a chance, or men he believes were responsible for damage to his home and threats to his family. The pits have now gone, and he believes closure was a mistake. Increased investment, he believes, would have yielded a good return. The closures have not just taken mining jobs, but ruined other firms which supplied the pits He talks about the Parksite housing estate at Silverdale where he lives, and which was built by the Coal Board in 1954. Parts of it have been badly neglected by private landlords and some of the houses are being pulled down. He wants to make sure the estate is regenerated and the area revitalised and as a local councillor he's determined that that will happen. Finally, he talks about his term as Mayor of Newcastle Borough; the pleasure it gave and the pride of people in the borough.

  • Description

    Interviewed for Millenium Memory Bank

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User notes for this item


His father

Posted by Hannah Barnes on 29/11/2015 21:39:00


Sense of community

Posted by Hannah Barnes on 29/11/2015 21:36:00



Posted by begin on 17/07/2014 21:04:00



Posted by end on 17/07/2014 21:03:00


Posted by start on 17/07/2014 21:02:00