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Safeguarding Ayrshire’s Coalmining Past: Heritage, Nostalgia and Social Memory

La préservation du passé minier de la région d’Ayrshire (Écosse) : patrimoine, nostalgie et mémoire sociale
Laurence Gourievidis

Résumés

Le passé industriel de l’Écosse est un aspect central de son récit national et le discours patrimonial s’attache depuis longtemps à ses succès en matière d’outillage et de technologie. Cependant cet article considère une autre facette de ce patrimoine industriel, un patrimoine qui s'intéresse au local, à la désindustrialisation et qui, partant de la base, reflète le regard de communautés ouvrières. S’appuyant sur le cas de la mine de charbon Barony, un ancien site minier situé à l’est de la région d’Ayrshire, il explore les initiatives d’un groupe de bénévoles locaux impliqué dans la restauration et l’interprétation du site. Il cherche à montrer que, bien qu’il mette en lumière les usages multi-fonctionnels du patrimoine en tant que ressource, ce projet signale surtout le rôle crucial de la mémoire sociale dans les activités patrimoniales, notamment dans des lieux où le déclin socio-économique est associé à une piètre estime de soi. Avec pour toile de fond un présent et un futur problématiques, la promotion d’un sens du passé et d’un lieu, teintée de nostalgie, mais ne niant pas pour autant les aspects douloureux et embarrassants de ce passé ainsi que leurs conséquences durables, cherche à encourager apaisement et régénération, en insufflant fierté et dignité à des communautés, et au final, en renforçant l’estime de soi.

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Introduction

  • 1 Andrew Perchard, ‘“Broken Men” and “Thatcher’s Children”: Memory and Legacy in Scotland’s C (...)

1Scotland’s identity has in part been forged through its industrial development and the experience of deindustrialisation, as reflected in the title of historian Knox’s study of the industrial rise and decline of Scotland and its working class: Industrial Nation: Work, Culture and Society in Scotland (1999). At the peak of this expansion in the 19th century, Glasgow became clad with the label ‘second city of the British Empire’, gained on the strength of its engineering sector and heavy industries. Equally transformational and formative - or disruptive - has been the loss of this industrial basis, an erosion started in the 1950s that the Thatcher years accelerated brutally and inexorably. Deindustrialisation is now firmly lodged in the national narrative, remaining a ‘live political issue’ strongly associated with the actions and decisions of the Conservative party – a cloak that Scottish Conservatives still find hard to shed.1

  • 2 Neal Ascherson, Stone Voices. The Search for Scotland, London: Granta Books, 2002, 115.
  • 3 Now part of Historic Environment Scotland.
  • 4 Listed buildings come under 3 categories: A for national and international importance; B fo (...)

2The traces of Scotland’s industrial past punctuate its landscape, not least those of its coal-mining days as Ascherson evocatively noted in the late 1990s: ‘Scotland’s industrial landscape also became archaeology. […] Collieries where a thousand men had laboured for a hundred years became silent fields around a concrete shaft-cap.’2 As the 1980s sounded the death knell of Scottish coal mining, particularly in the wake of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, most sites were earmarked for demolition and razed to the ground. Mostly undertaken in the name of public safety, destruction also signified the wilful erasure of powerful remnants of a bygone activity - potent aides-mémoire - whose end was politically and emotionally charged, and, for political actors, the obliteration of the past was an equally important yet covert consideration. However some structures were spared from destruction, becoming listed buildings, an accreditation granted by the governmental agency Historic Scotland.3 One of them, Lady Victoria Colliery, situated just outside Edinburgh, was a major industrial complex opened during the Victorian era and closed in 1981. Under the aegis of an independent trust, which oversaw its restoration, this A-listed colliery4 whose fabric has in the main survived, morphed into the Scottish Mining Museum in 1984. Similarly, two years after its closure in 1989, the Barony colliery in east Ayrshire, was listed Category ‘B’ and, although most of the site had by then been demolished, the imposing A Frame soaring some 50 metres above ground – a German-designed steel headframe used for man and coal winding and one of very few ever built in Britain - was left standing and became the focus of a volunteer-run heritage project (figure 1).

Figure 1: Silhouette of the A frame from the west

Figure 1: Silhouette of the A frame from the         west
  • 5 Maurice Halbwachs, La mémoire collective, Paris : Albin Michel, (1950) 1997, 193-23 (...)
  • 6 Tim Edensor, ‘The ghosts of industrial ruins: ordering and disordering memory in excessive (...)

3As compellingly argued by Halbwachs in the 1950s and many scholars since then, place is essential to the building and maintenance of collective identities through the preservation - or creation - of memory spaces.5 Heritage sites are used to bear witness to a collective cultural inheritance, landscapes becoming the theatres or stages of much memory work, notably contest and negotiations around the preservation, meaning, interpretation and uses of traces of the past, such concerns stemming from current priorities. Heritage spaces, such as the Barony A Frame, serve to anchor local mining memories and stabilise their meaning, and if, as opposed to uninterpreted ruins of former industrial sites, they ‘limit the interpretive and performative scope of visitors’,6 they most of all act as significant markers of identity for the memory choreographers involved in heritage making and the collective they represent, playing a major role in processes of recognition. In the case of bygone coalmining activities which had been bound up with the rhythms of a colliery, the hazards of mining work and their outcomes, a particular work ethic, a local economic environment, patterns of sociability and cultural practices – in short the stuff of collective identity -, heritage work is intimately linked with the expression of loss and nostalgia.

4Focusing on the Barony A Frame in East Ayrshire as an example of volunteer-led heritage making, the aim of this article is to explore the multi-facetted uses of heritage in areas badly scarred by deindustrialisation and its effects, looking in particular at the memorialising dimension of heritage work. It argues that this type of heritage work serves primarily healing or regenerative purposes, as social groups strive to make sense of their experiences and bridge generational and social fissures. In the process it examines the notion of nostalgia and its (re)reading in memory and heritage studies.

Deindustrialisation, memory and heritage

  • 7 Jefferson Cowie and Joseph Heathcott, ‘Introduction: The Meaning of Deindustrialisation’, (...)

5As exemplified by Cowie and Heathcott’s call to move beyond a ‘body count’ recording closures or industrial actions, and look into the mental and socio-cultural implications of deindustrialisation,7 the cultural impact and legacy of the process have been emphasised through a variety of disciplinary approaches. Mining communities are a case in point; analyses have knitted sociological and anthropological perspectives with heritage and memory studies to underscore the weight of the past on mining collectives and identities.

  • 8 Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, 12 (...)
  • 9 Tim Strangleman, ‘“Smokestack nostalgia”, “ruin porn” or working class obituary: th (...)

6Tim Strangleman’s sociological work has stressed the need to take into account the long-term effects of deindustrialisation at a socio-cultural level. Deindustrialisation may have eradicated an economic activity, but it leaves in its wake collectively shared and internalised norms, values and expectations that people will resort to when dealing with the experience of occupational loss and making sense of the sweeping structural changes that affect their lives. These residual / industrial ‘structures of feelings’ - a notion borrowed from Raymond Williams8 - account for the resilience of world-views and meanings over time and generations and their influence on the mentalities of specific social groups. Alluding to the persistence of these feelings and the tensed re-workings to which they inevitably give rise, Linkon coined the expression ‘half-life of industrialisation’ comparing its continuing effects to radioactive waste or polluted brown fields.9 Such lingering sensitivities motivate and percolate through many heritage endeavours, whatever their forms, notably those undertaken by local grass-root groups.

  • 10 Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage, London: Routledge, 2006, 3.

7Heritage is not an artefact or a site, as Smith underlined, but a ‘constitutive cultural process’, constitutive of meaning, values, shared memories and experience, and ultimately social identity. 10As an active discursive process, it is not only implicated in the negotiations and discussions surrounding the selection, identification and interpretation of given aspects of the past, but it also contributes to reflexive work on the part of collectives, who, whilst consciously engaging with the preserving and reinforcing of collective memories, seek to assert, reclaim or redefine their identity and sense of place. As a discourse, heritage offers templates to reflect on and tease out questions raised by representations of the past. It is also a performative experience fostering feelings of togetherness, commonality and shared aspirations.

  • 11 Paul A. Shackel, Laurajane Smith and Gary Campbell, ‘Editorial: Labour’s Heritage’, Interna (...)
  • 12 Beamish is an open-air museum in County Durham presenting past life in the North East of En (...)
  • 13 Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, London: Routledge, 1995, (...)
  • 14 Bella Dicks, ‘Heritage and social class’ in Emma Waterton and Steve Watson (eds.), The Palg (...)

8With regard to industrial heritage, the starting point of much academic work focusing on working-class and labour heritage is that the working classes have not been a prominent feature of Authorised Heritage Discourse (AHD) or heritage work as defined by professionals together with socio-cultural and political elites, AHD tending to foreground technological prowess, performances and consensus along with national history rather than approaches intimating social crisis, injustices and more broadly dissonance.11 So the notion of class is an important feature of many analyses, in particular its treatment or, more to the point, its obfuscation. It has been a long-standing argument in heritage and museum literature critiquing the tendency of heritage, and notably industrial heritage, to neutralise political issues. It was the crux of Tony Bennett’s assessment of Beamish,12 which contended that it epitomised an ‘institutionalised mode of amnesia’ divulging little about the region’s past history of labour unrest, trade unionism or women’s activism in suffrage and feminist campaigns.13 A similar point was made by Bella Dicks who concluded that ‘coal-mining heritage asserts the collective strength of mining communities while avoiding the language of class, with the effect of depoliticising the history presented’.14

  • 15 Robert Lumley, ‘The debate on heritage reviewed’, in Gerard Corsane (ed.), Heritage, (...)
  • 16 Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, New York: Basic Books, 2001.
  • 17 Nostalgia for the east.
  • 18 Nadia Attia and Jeremy Davies, ‘Nostalgia and the shapes of history’, Memory Studie (...)

9As the scope of heritage studies broadened and its focus came to encompass a variety of heritage formats, topics and social actors, ‘nostalgia’ as a notion became central to many analyses dealing with the cultural legacy of deindustrialisation, industrial heritage and the power of affect in representations of the past. Nostalgia was a key feature of the heritage debate as it developed in Britain in the 1980s; it was largely read in terms of its detrimental effects: a form of longing for or even mythologizing of a past that no longer was, seen as the product of a politico-cultural elite keen to exhibit a sentimentalised or sanitised version of the past.15 Cleansed of hardships and conflicts, this neutralised past offered little scope for challenge and questions, and ultimately served conservative interests. Rather than being empowering, nostalgia was viewed as an anaesthetising force. In a kindred vein, sociologists labelled ‘smokestack nostalgia’ the tendency to endow industrial ruins with aesthetic or sublime qualities eliding their social and political dimension. Building on Boym’s work, who differentiated between the ‘restorative’ and ‘reflective’ qualities of nostalgia,16 as well as analyses examining the nostalgic propensities of the heritage discourse elaborated in Germany after reunification, notably in the former GDR, where the process is labelled ostalgie,17 nostalgia’s emotional power has been reassessed because of its significance in memory culture and work. With ‘reflective nostalgia’ Boym argues that loss and longing are not antithetical to critical thinking and that this type of nostalgia faces up to the challenges and contradictions of modernity. Instead of a passive or simplifying force, nostalgia can thereby equally be seen as an emotional conduit enabling the confrontation and connection of past and present, ‘giv[ing] sensory depth to our awareness of the other places, times and possibilities that are at once integral to who we are and definitively alien to us’.18 Underlying mining heritage projects is the sense of loss and of a fast-vanishing past with its values, norms and ways of being, such as solidarity, camaraderie and humour as well as shared hardship, mixed with interrogations about the present and future. Imbued with nostalgia, mining heritage discourse, as the Barony A Frame site illustrates, serves crucial memory functions, helping social actors to make sense of their condition, as they work out old and new identities in the context of changing social circumstances, and as they frequently engage with painful recollections.

East Ayrshire’s coalmining heritage

  • 19 http://www.baronyaframe.org/

10Saved from destruction by virtue of its listing by Historic Scotland, the A frame was left standing after the Barony colliery was levelled to the ground in 1992 and it rapidly cut a sad and forlorn figure, its rusting silhouette looming along the Barony road between the villages of Ochiltree and Auchinleck. The initiative for its preservation and restoration was initiated by a local group, the Barony A Frame Trust (BAFT),19 established as a charitable trust in 1997. It brought together a broad range of representatives - of the local community, of the community councils of the two nearby villages, of East Ayrshire Council, of the National Union of Mineworkers, of Scottish Coal and of the Scottish and British parliaments - but its linchpin was Barney Menzies, its chairman. A retired miner, official of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in Scotland and Labour councillor for Cumnock and New Cumnock on East Ayrshire Council from 1999, he was keen to see the material landmark of an industry where he had spent much of his working life, which had once been the economic heart of the area, and which had also claimed the lives of many, preserved for future generations.

  • 20 Quoted in Joe Owens (ed.), Miners 1984-1994. A Decade of Endurance, Edinburgh: Polygon, 199 (...)
  • 21 Ibid. 10-11.
  • 22 Its Scottish branch receives funding from the Scottish government.

11By the time the Trust came to be, this part of East Ayrshire was blighted by unemployment, rising deprivation, alcohol and drug abuse – all high on the social exclusion gauge. Former bustling villages such as New Cumnock and Patna, whose lifeblood had been the ‘black diamonds’ industry, had their main streets lined with boarded up shop fronts. In the words of a former miner from Auchinleck, interviewed in 1994: ‘the area has been decimated’.20 By 1992, unemployment in the area stood at 14.1% largely exceeding the Scottish average; it also stood out in terms of duration.21 With the loss of employment opportunities, came a loss of focus and perspectives together with the loss of the specific form of socialisation that this unique workplace with its rhythms and discipline had instilled in the miners and their families for generations. Given that former coalfield areas became associated with some of the highest levels of deprivation in Britain, the Coalfield Regeneration Trust (CRT) was set up in 1999 as a UK-wide organisation to promote the social and economic regeneration of former coalmining districts.22 In a report published on Scotland in 2016, the CRT still painted a stark picture of former coalfields; the pre-2008 fairly grim situation had been compounded by the economic downturn, which threatened to unravel the progress made – in particular as regards health and crime:

  • 23 The Coalfield Regeneration Trust, 15 Years of Coalfield Regeneration in Scotland, A (...)

[D]espite the work that has been undertaken and the investment in regeneration over the last fifteen years, the former coalfield communities in Scotland continue to face major economic and social issues. […] Thirty years after the decline of the coal industry in Scotland, there is a continuing legacy of poverty and deprivation within the former coalfield communities that requires to be addressed.23

12Among the challenges to be faced are the usual benchmarks indexing deprivation: joblessness, low incomes, inadequate access to services, a weak enterprise culture, poor educational attainment and poor health. If these terms point to economic degeneration, they also, and more importantly, intimate low self-esteem and loss of confidence - in short, a badly wounded self-image.

  • 24 Gary Ellis, Deprivation in the Rural Coalfields, Alloa: CRT, 2013.
  • 25 www.baronyaframe.org [Accessed 5/08/2017]

13The objective of CRT is to empower communities by encouraging them to consider and use the resources that their environment offers with a view to promoting economic and social sustainability. Perception and image of place play a significant role in their strategy and not unsurprisingly CRT’s work features heritage-related projects, designed to ‘[change] the face of coalfield communities’.24 The social capital that heritage work can yield was part of the BAFT’s vision, a significant aspect when such projects have to attract cash from a variety of funders responding to diverse agendas. BAFT aimed to raise £1.3m for the restoration of the A Frame and work on the surrounding area – a considerable sum. Consequently, not only did it envisage the restoration of the headgear as a ‘meaningful and sustainable monument to mining and mining communities’25, but it also factored in its socio-cultural potential, aiming, on the one hand, to provide a focus for visitors with site interpretation and, on the other, to orchestrate a major oral history project entitled Pitheid Patter in order to safeguard local mining stories for posterity. The Trust’s website, which documents the actions it undertook, is testimony to the significance of the educational initiative, comprising a substantial educational section, thematically organised and complete with teaching resources and the oral history material collected. As a heritage site, the Barony A Frame attests to this multi-functional use, one which assembles a variety of purposes to serve a variety of consumers/visitors and needs. It is a restored listed building testifying to Scotland’s social and economic past, a monumental structure, a memorial to personal and collective events with their emotional entanglements, a museum without walls with interpretive boards, an educational space constructed round visual and oral testimonies (photos and recorded voices), an introduction to local wildlife and a manifold recreational space inviting relaxation, exercise or reflection. As an outdoor unmanned site, it is free of charge and easily accessible (figure 2).

Figure 2: Barony Site - Plan

Figure 2: Barony Site - Plan

The Barony site: interpreting Ayrshire’s mining past.

  • 26 Rosemary Power, “After the Black Gold”: a view of mining heritage from coalfield areas in (...)
  • 27 Ian Roberts, ‘Collective representations, divided memory and patterns of paradox: m (...)
  • 28 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, London: Verso, (1983) 1991, 6.

14As widely attested in diverse studies, in former mining communities, heritage is not only material such as the tangible remnants that were mostly bulldozed - former pits shafts, galleries, winding headgear and colliery buildings, in short a workplace - or the small items that were part of miners’ daily lives, but it is also immaterial.26 It is located in the experience of work and the culture that this occupation with its intrinsic specificity had cemented over generations, an occupation that had gradually become regulated by strict health, safety and organisational rules over- and under-ground and a tacit code of practice internalised within families and passed on to apprentices. In addition, it is located in solidarities that developed outside the mines through kinship links and associational participation, not least trade union membership and activities. Therefore, whilst machinery and equipment – particularly as mining became increasingly mechanised following nationalisation in 1947 - or emblematic objects that defined mining as an occupation feature prominently in exhibitions and monuments, even more prominent is a sense of shared feelings, implicit conventions and practices, accepted norms, discipline and behaviours forged out of social and industrial relations.27 Interestingly these aspects are central to definitions of identity and the very notion of communities, which according to Anderson, ‘are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined’.28 The style in which the local mining communities are imagined comes strongly through the heritage discourse produced at the Barony, interpretation invoking selected personal and communal memories alongside historical data - notably a timeline, starting from 1900 and finishing with the official opening of the Frame as a heritage site, which interweaves Barony happenings and data with national and international events.

15The A frame, for the BAFT, signalled the endurance of the spirit that had defined mining communities, emphasised in the words which greet the visitor entering the site: ‘We still remain’. Buildings have disappeared but stories and memories live on and the interpretive display is meant to bring these communities and the site as a busy workplace to life, in the hope that visitors will ‘leave with a new respect for those who worked at the Barony’. Information is gained from a number of panels disseminated across the area, the majority of which border a central alley leading to the frame. A further two displays, mounted on concrete platforms below the frame, focus on two themes: ‘working underground’ and ‘the Barony overground’. In addition to explanatory panels, they include a series of photographs as well as creative artwork produced by school children as part of a programme of activities organised by BAFT involving local schools – one is a mosaic representing the frame itself and another is a miner at work on the coalface. Of significance is the oral history kiosk, a sheltered area beneath the frame, that hosts recorded testimonies on four identified themes: friendship and camaraderie; health and safety; the Union and strikes; life in the community (figure 3). Voices, unfortunately, can no longer be heard as the sound system is broken, but personal reminiscences appear on the kiosk with photographs; additionally many of the panels surrounding the site include individual recollections. Smaller plaques also present short quotes from poetry produced by former miners, one of them being George Montgomery, a Barony employee and local secretary of the NUM. Throughout, the wide use of photographs, oral testimonies, creative writing, local lore together with the art work created by local children underscores the importance of transmission, of linking past, present and future in order to foster a sense of origin or connection with the surrounding community. It also draws attention to the fact that the group’s intention was to go beyond the production of a concise potted history setting the A Frame in context, and to bring in people and affect into the narrative, mixing as it does different voices: woven into the third person narrative are short individual recollections.

Figure 3: Oral history kiosk

Figure 3: Oral history kiosk

16The themes selected flesh out the sense of place and past of the surrounding communities that BAFT wished to impart. They encapsulate what formed the bedrock of their identity as a social group, how they came to be and what mattered to them when the mine was in operation; they seek to mediate a common imaginary. The narrative conforms to a diegetic format that is found in many industrial heritage sites, one that steers a middle course between the harshness of mining life and the warmth of a communal spirit. To begin with it focuses on origin and locality, telling visitors about ‘how coal is formed’ and the geographical scope of the coal seams extending ‘as far as the eyes can see’. Secondly, it concentrates on the essence of what constituted Barony as a workplace detailing layout, operations, labour under- and over-ground, with specifics on the hierarchy of employment and the particularities of each job, dangers and safety, health and hygiene, and shift patterns. Use is made of emblematic objects that have come to epitomise the image of the miner: the Davy or Glennie lamp, the miner’s helmet or the numbered tokens that were part of the system accounting for miners underground during a shift. Not only does the interpretation rely on the materiality of objects or their images to provoke recollections or affective responses in visitors, but sensory experiences are also invoked. One miner recollects the taste of food underground:

You ate nothing in the mine – cold meat curled, tomatoes went through the bread and bananas went black. So you had things like jam or lemon curd and cheese in your piece: or “Fry’s Chocolate Cream” or a “Tunnocks” snowball in your piece, sometimes even a “Mars Bar” – they stayed moist.

  • 29 From Joe Currie’s poem A Cageload of Men, quoted on the panel ‘Working underground (...)

17Another alludes to chewed tobacco which ‘kept the saliva in your mouth [… and] kept the dust out.’ Yet another recalls ‘the water trickling down the back of [his] neck’. The embodied experience of mining percolates through individual recollections, either part of the pitheid patter project or poetic work: the closeness, the heat, the sweat, the underground smells, the dropping of the cage clanging and rattling with ‘the yawning abyss beneath’, and the ‘toil[ing] in muck and grime’29. If senses, as Proust’s madeleine has long exemplified, are essential memory triggers, they are equally powerful vehicles of human feelings through vicarious empathy. Here hardship and hard graft come forcefully to the fore – part of what shaped the miners’ character.

18Building on this evocation is another major element of the narrative which concerns the miners’ way of life with its socio-cultural dimension. Taking the visitor out of the mine to village life underlines that mining conditioned more than just occupational activities and impacted on housing, notably the now-vanished miners’ rows, and recreation with entertainment and sport, illustrated by the colliery pipe band or quoiting, said to be a popular sport until the 1950s. A further characteristic of the narrative is that it singles out defining or watershed moments that are etched deep in local imaginaries: disasters, strikes and the demise of the colliery, as well as the building of pithead baths in 1931 to which specific panels are devoted. Two present the 1962 Barony disaster which caused the death of four men following the collapse of N°2 shaft, the permanent closure of Nos 1 and 2 shafts and the re-opening of the mine in 1966 once a new shaft was constructed. Another two panels deal with the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike and the final closure of the pit in 1989 when a fault in the seam was discovered. The advent of the pit baths, featured with the original plaque celebrating their opening, comes through as a major turning point, changing the life of miners and their families. A final feature defining the Barony site is its reliance on exchanges and connections via its rail network, internal to the mine and also external for transport within and beyond Scotland. Conveyed through dedicated panels, artefacts and photos, it reminds the visitor that, as a place of production, the Barony was dependent on demand, markets and economic conditions.

19Like many instances of mining heritage, Barony’s interpretation is tinted by nostalgia when it evokes the ‘humour and camaraderie' that bound miners together, or the community life of mining villages, but it is no sentimentalised idealisation as fracture and dissent also characterise the community. Tensions and conflicts are not toned down, notably when the development and the long-term consequences of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike are depicted. It is not a seamless story of class solidarity, the lengthy conflict presented as causing distress and creating deep rifts between miners, families and relatives, as individuals ‘in desperation’ crossed the picket line in ‘fortress buses’. It resulted in individuals and families being ‘ostracised’, divisions ‘continu[ing] to this day.’ If the decision to return to work is alleviated with allusion to necessity, and frictions seem the result of distressing external circumstances, the bitter rancour and acrimony generated is said to have been long-lasting and intense. The community spirit of mining days seems to pertain to the mining past too.

The Barony A Frame – a memorial

20Multi-functional though the Barony site is, to many, its primary function is as a memorial - a place of mourning, part of the grieving process. It is a memorial to those who lost their lives in the mining industry, to the fatalities at the Barony colliery and, more specifically, to those miners who died in the 1962 disaster and whose bodies were never recovered. As early as 1989 a memorial stone, funded by the local District Council, was erected by the roadside. It was moved as part of the restoration programme and now stands to the left of the entrance, commemorating ‘those who lost their lives in the Barony Colliery (1908-1989)’ (figure 4). It is a space which strides the public and private realms, where families can come to remember their loved ones as the small personal plaque dedicated to a lost husband shows. Reminiscent of the graves raised to honour the Unknown Soldier, symbols of national recognition for sacrifice during wars, this stone stands as local recognition to those who sacrificed their lives to one of the nation’s most prominent industries. This small stone is not the only marker that signifies loss and the reality of the danger that attended mining. They, in fact, permeate the entire site, dominated as it is by the imposing form of the A Frame, a towering cenotaph, whose height commands reverence, in remembrance of lives and livelihood lost. Its base serves as a memorial to those who died in 1962 as their names and dates are carved in the stones surrounding a central plaque inscribed with the dates of the Barony colliery. This generic commemoration induces confusion as it might signal to those visitors unfamiliar with the site that the bodies of the four men are lying below ground underneath the A Frame, when actually the location of shaft N°2, whose collapse caused their deaths, is about a quarter of a mile to the east. If careful perusal of the boards can dispel this impression, the symbolic use of this awe-inspiring structure makes a powerful statement.

Figure 4: Gravestone

Figure 4: Gravestone

21Not only does the layout of the site invoke remembrance and respect, but so do the iconic objects used, particularly when taken out of context. The most ubiquitous is the token enabling miners to be identified in case of accident, found on photographs, but also in a magnified form on each of the platforms presenting life under- and over-ground. Normally bearing numbers, these tokens now bear the names of miners, including those who died in 1962 along with the dates of the opening and closing of the mine, thus becoming commemorative plates. They make manifest the sense of finite time, of a site of remembrance sacralised through heritage making, a sacralisation that verges on the religious, as the two platforms are suggestive of altars where mementoes or ex-votos are pinned (figure 5). The A Frame thus offers a space of reflection and contemplation, a sanctuary where individuals can pay their respect as the candles placed atop the ‘underground’ display tend to confirm.

Figure 5: Working Underground – display with candles on the left.

22As a memorial site, but also because of the inclusion, in its mining narrative, of the painful or unpleasant episodes of the past and their enduring effects, the Barony is an attempt to confront and work through the wounds of the past and their consequences in the present without pasting over the cracks and blemishes that affected the surrounding communities. The nostalgia that imbues many of the reminiscences, notably those featured on the token board placed at the entrance of the site - ‘this was the best working days of my life’ - is one that strives to make sense of the present and come to terms with it in the light of the past (figure 6). Recalling fatalities together with the demise of a ‘once thriving nationwide industry’ (Token board), locals, particularly ex-miners, endeavour to render their lives in meaningful terms, and give sense to the loss of lives that an abandoned site would have obliterated.

Figure 6: Token Board

Figure 6: Token Board

23Just as reclaiming the past helps to justify previous loss of life, it also serves present and future purposes. The social dimension or social value of the Barony site is a major feature of the BAFT’s approach. Conserving and developing the site is seen as a means of fostering a sense of past and place and, as a result, creating or heightening feelings of cohesiveness and common identity amongst different generations, in particular inclusive of the younger generations. Since its opening, the Trust has been keen to involve local schoolchildren in various projects and promote inter-generational exchanges. It received funding from a local development agency – Ayrshire leader - for a two-year programme of ‘awareness raising, capacity building and forward planning’, which ran until 2016.30 This led to ongoing partnerships with local schools around oral history and arts projects, among which the two mosaics now part of the display. An app telling the story of the Barony was also produced in collaboration with high school children.31 If work at the mine formerly provided youngsters with skills and a form of socialisation, heritage work is an attempt to instil community values through awareness and understanding of the past. It is also an attempt at ‘emotional regeneration’,32 trying to combat low self-esteem with dignity, through pride in past achievements and sense of self.

  • 33 Chris Clement ‘Miners’ fury as ‘rave on a grave’ goes ahead at the site of 1962 Ayrshire pi (...)

24Yet the will to engage with the younger generations and make the site relevant to them also led to dissonance. In 2014, as part of the Auchinleck Alive and Kicking Festival, the local council agreed to the organisation of a music and arts event called ‘Project A frame’, on the site of the Barony colliery. It was to be an annual event, a grassroots festival offering fifteen hours of non-stop live art and music, however it stopped after two consecutive years, seemingly because of cost. The controversy which surrounded the event is testimony to the difficulty that such a multi-functional site raises with its many values. For the local council, the A Frame has largely been approached from the perspective of socio-cultural - and even economic – regeneration. However, for many members of the community, notably former miners and their families, its narrative is embedded in death and loss, ultimately acting as a sanctuary and a shrine. Consequently, its use as a locus of alternative music and counter culture raised opposition, one former miner branding the festival ‘Rave on a grave’ to vent his indignation, adding that ‘it [was] a total affront to the memory of the men who died in the pit’.33

Conclusion

  • 34 Louise Hosie, ‘Charles opens £1m monument at colliery’, The Herald, 22 January 200 (...)
  • 35 François Hartog, ‘Time and Heritage’, Museum International, 2005, 227, 57 (3), 15.

25During the inauguration of the A Frame, the Prince of Wales, who performed the ceremony, paid tribute to the four men who died in 1962 viewing the occasion and the memorial as ‘a form of closure after all these years of grief and agony’, whereas the chairman of BAFT put forward the regenerative dimension of the site meant to ‘become a place of learning, pride and inspiration for future generations’.34 The multi-functionality of the Barony site does not deflect from the fact that towering above this widely open space is the imposing four-legged structure of the headgear, a symbolic marker sensitising us to the past - a semaphore. In Hartog’s words: ‘Heritage is one way of experiencing ruptures, of recognizing them and reducing them, by locating, selecting and producing semaphores. Heritage is a recourse in times of crisis.’35 With its grandeur and isolation, the Barony site is most of all a memorial to the loss of lives and a local industry. Whilst this takes precedence over the restored monument, the prevailing narrative of the site, also imparting a sense of loss and mourning and depicting a past world - and community - of strong values, purposes and resilience against adversity, partakes in the healing process that is often tied in with the (re)presentation of memories and the meaning assigned to them. It contributes to the modelling and reworking of identity, so deeply rooted in memory, be it individual or collective. Injecting pride and dignity into former mining communities, whose sense of self-worth has been badly dented over the past decades, is part and parcel of heritage as a process.

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Notes

1 Andrew Perchard, ‘“Broken Men” and “Thatcher’s Children”: Memory and Legacy in Scotland’s Coalfields’, International Labour and Working-Class History, 2013, 84, 80.

2 Neal Ascherson, Stone Voices. The Search for Scotland, London: Granta Books, 2002, 115.

3 Now part of Historic Environment Scotland.

4 Listed buildings come under 3 categories: A for national and international importance; B for regional importance and C for local importance.

5 Maurice Halbwachs, La mémoire collective, Paris : Albin Michel, (1950) 1997, 193-236.

6 Tim Edensor, ‘The ghosts of industrial ruins: ordering and disordering memory in excessive space’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 2005, 23 (6), 831.

7 Jefferson Cowie and Joseph Heathcott, ‘Introduction: The Meaning of Deindustrialisation’, in Jefferson Cowie and Joseph Heathcott (eds.), Beyond the Ruins. The Meaning of Deindustrialisation, New York: Cornell University Press, 2003, 1-15.

8 Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, 128-35.

9 Tim Strangleman, ‘“Smokestack nostalgia”, “ruin porn” or working class obituary: the role and meaning of deindustrial representation’, International Labor and Working class History, 2013, 84, 23-37; ‘Deindustrialisation and the historical sociological imagination: making sense of work and industrial change’, Sociology, 2017, 51 (2), 466-82; ‘“Mining a productive seam?” The coal industry, community and sociology’, Contemporary British History, 2017, 1-21; Sherry L. Linkon is quoted in Strangleman.

10 Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage, London: Routledge, 2006, 3.

11 Paul A. Shackel, Laurajane Smith and Gary Campbell, ‘Editorial: Labour’s Heritage’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2011, 17(4), 291-2; Steven High, ‘“The wounds of class”: a historiographical reflection on the study of deindustrialisation, 1973-2013’, History Compass, 2013, 11 (11), 994-1007.

12 Beamish is an open-air museum in County Durham presenting past life in the North East of England, notably its mining past.

13 Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, London: Routledge, 1995, 112.

14 Bella Dicks, ‘Heritage and social class’ in Emma Waterton and Steve Watson (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 367.

15 Robert Lumley, ‘The debate on heritage reviewed’, in Gerard Corsane (ed.), Heritage, Museums and Galleries: An Introductory Reader, Oxon: Routledge, 2005, 15-25.

16 Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, New York: Basic Books, 2001.

17 Nostalgia for the east.

18 Nadia Attia and Jeremy Davies, ‘Nostalgia and the shapes of history’, Memory Studies, 2010, 3(3), 184.

19 http://www.baronyaframe.org/

20 Quoted in Joe Owens (ed.), Miners 1984-1994. A Decade of Endurance, Edinburgh: Polygon, 1994, p. 44.

21 Ibid. 10-11.

22 Its Scottish branch receives funding from the Scottish government.

23 The Coalfield Regeneration Trust, 15 Years of Coalfield Regeneration in Scotland, Alloa: CRT, 2016, 4.

24 Gary Ellis, Deprivation in the Rural Coalfields, Alloa: CRT, 2013.

25 www.baronyaframe.org [Accessed 5/08/2017]

26 Rosemary Power, “After the Black Gold”: a view of mining heritage from coalfield areas in Britain’, Folklore, 2008, 119, 2, 160-81.

27 Ian Roberts, ‘Collective representations, divided memory and patterns of paradox: mining and shipbuilding’, Sociological Research Online, www.socresonline.org.uk/12/6/6.html [Accessed 23/04/2018]

28 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, London: Verso, (1983) 1991, 6.

29 From Joe Currie’s poem A Cageload of Men, quoted on the panel ‘Working underground’.

30 www.baronyaframe.org/the-trust/funders, accessed 5/09/2018

31 Ibid.

32 Laurajane Smith and Gary Campbell, ‘Don’t mourn organise: heritage, recognition and memory in Castleford, West Yorkshire’, in Laurajane Smith, Paul A. Shackel and Gary Campbell (eds.), Heritage, Labour and the Working Classes, Oxon: Routledge, 2011, 99.

33 Chris Clement ‘Miners’ fury as ‘rave on a grave’ goes ahead at the site of 1962 Ayrshire pit tragedy’, Daily Record, 2 August 2014.

34 Louise Hosie, ‘Charles opens £1m monument at colliery’, The Herald, 22 January 2008.

35 François Hartog, ‘Time and Heritage’, Museum International, 2005, 227, 57 (3), 15.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Silhouette of the A frame from the west
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/11191/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Figure 2: Barony Site - Plan
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/11191/img-2.JPG
Fichier image/jpeg, 8,6M
Titre Figure 3: Oral history kiosk
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/11191/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
Titre Figure 4: Gravestone
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/11191/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,5M
Titre Figure 6: Token Board
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Fichier image/jpeg, 2,1M
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Référence électronique

Laurence Gourievidis, « Safeguarding Ayrshire’s Coalmining Past: Heritage, Nostalgia and Social Memory », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XVII-n°1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 12 novembre 2019, consulté le 14 décembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/11191 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.11191

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Auteur

Laurence Gourievidis

Laurence Gouriévidis Ph.D. (Histoire écossaise, Université de St Andrews), est PR en Histoire britannique XIXe –XXe siècles, Université Clermont Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand. Spécialiste d’histoire sociale et culturelle, elle étudie l’interaction entre histoire et mémoire, s’attachant à la façon dont les groupes sociaux construisent leur passé, leur patrimoine et les discours entourant ces processus. Son terrain d’étude est principalement l’Écosse mais depuis le milieu des années 2000, elle a aussi développé une approche comparative comprenant l’Europe et les pays anglophones. Parmi ses publications : The Dynamics of Heritage: History, Memory and the Highland Clearances, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010; Museums and Migration: History, Memory and Politics (ed.), London: Routledge, 2014.en

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