END OF AN ERA FOR NUM BRANCH

SATURDAY night marked the end of an era for a Doncaster community as the Hatfield Main branch of the National Union of Mineworkers was wound up after 87 years.

Reporter DAVID JONES looks back at the pit's proud history and its role in the national strike that marked the beginning of the end for Yorkshire's mining industry.

LIKE so much else in Stainforth, the Old Club is steeped in the long tradition of Doncaster's coal mining heritage.

Within its walls, the stirring oratory of trade unionists has echoed alongside the laughter and tall tales of generations of miners fresh from the coal face.

So it was fitting that union officials and miners past and present should gather there on Saturday to mark the final chapter in the history of the Hatfield Main branch of the NUM, founded in 1918.

The timing of the branch's final function could not have been more poignant, coming 20 years almost to the day of the end of the 1984-85 miners' strike.

Branch secretary Dave Douglass explained that the anniversary had been chosen as a fitting finale for a union branch that had been especially active during the dispute.

He said: "The Doncaster coalfield in particular was the strongest coalfield in Britain in terms of sticking with the strike. Even in the final week, only one per cent of our miners were back at work."

Hatfield Main had already seen its fair share of industrial action, having been actively involved in the national strikes of 1926, 1969, 1972 and 1974.

In 1972, Hatfield miner Freddie Matthews was crushed to death by a lorry while on picket duty, resulting in a mass funeral attracting huge crowds of mourners to line the streets.

Hatfield's miners were at the forefront of the 1984-85 strike, but defeat paved the way for sweeping reforms of the coal industry

The pit was privatised in the early 1990s with the NUM suffering the indignity of not being recognised by the colliery's new owners.

After changing hands several times, Hatfield Main was mothballed last year, leading to the decision to wind up the union branch.

Mr Douglass, branch secretary for 25 years, explained: "It is regrettable, but by rule you are supposed to have 50 members to have a branch and the Yorkshire area NUM has given us a bit of licence in recent years.

"They were working on the basis that (colliery owner Richard) Budge was confident the pit could be saved, but now he has paid everybody off so we have no members."

Union reps from across the country attended Saturday's event, with guest speakers remembering the high points and tough times in the pit's history.

And performance group Banner Theatre stirred memories with a production recalling the miners' struggles in the 1970s, 80s and 90s through a combination of live action and pre-recorded films.

But while Saturday's events marked the end of an era, Mr Douglass remains hopeful that a deal could still be struck to save the pit.

He added: "While the pit is still there and the head gear is still there and the ropes are still there and the shafts have not been filled in, there is still hope.

"The reality is that half of all Britain's remaining reserves are accessible from Hatfield, so it still makes sense to keep that option open.

"But they have got to be quick, because there are no young miners coming through any more, and once that link is broken there will be no going back."

david.jones@doncastertoday.co.uk