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Monday 11 December
My.Anglia > Faculties > Alss > Miners strike > The Cambridge Miners' Support Group

The Cambridge Miners' Support Group

Support group members: Ethel Shepherd, social worker, Anna Frankel, postgraduate stu-dent at Cambridge University and Lucy Munby yracher Longt Road, Sixth Form College.

On April 18 1984 at a meeting chaired by Tony Carter (TGWU), the Cambridge Trades Council resolved to set up a miners’ support group after a talk by a miner from the Snowdown Colliery in Kent. The original committee members were Peter Aldrich (GMBATU), Chris Bailey (AUEW), Lucy Munby (NUT) and Alison New (NUT). Ethel Shepherd was appointed Secretary.

This committee broadened out into an open discussion forum in which dozens of people took part, meeting every week in the Labour Party headquarters, the Alex Wood Hall in Norfolk Street, to talk about the strike and practical ways of raising money with local artists, printers, and musicians offering their skills. Support went far beyond the traditional labour movement to include many academics, sympathetic members of church congregations, and groups of pensioners and school children. Hardly a week went by without some new initiative for the miners, whether a cake sale, a public meeting, a trip to London to join a demonstration, or a performance at the Arts Theatre with Equity members donating their wage packets.

The pit villages of Blidworth and Rainworth (where many of the Rufford miners lived) were ‘adopted’ and close relationships were quickly established with the miners and their families. Some friendships between Cambridge residents and those in the mining communities, with the late Ernie Daglish who died in 2014 and is  fondly remembered for his cooking in the  in the communal kitchen at Rainworth, and with Jim Line of the Six Bells Pit, in Abertillery, to give but two examples, lasting for thirty years. Cambridge activists have particularly warm memories of being made to feel welcome at Saturday night social events in both communities. Many well-attended social events and benefits also took place in Cambridge, often at the Geldhart Public House, raising hundreds of pounds. Nottinghamshire miners and their families were invited to stay in Cambridge for holidays and rest breaks whenever they needed them. 

Volunteer drivers undertook the weekly ‘food runs’ with a cheque for £150-£200 and groceries to each of the villages always lingering to talk to the   families about their needs. Trips across the country at short notice to offer practical support wherever and whenever it was needed became routine.  Workplace collections, many impromptu and informal, took place at venues large and small. There were regular ‘whip-rounds’ at the weekly meetings of academics involved with The Cambridge Journal of Economics as well as among groups of council employees such as the refuse collectors. 

Jon Lawrence, then a student beginning his Ph.D in History at King’s College, remembers having a long list of weekly subscribers and that his own college provided the largest of all the college funds. Student support across the university was organised through the broad-left University Left, and by two students at Selwyn College in particular. The Saturday bucket collection in the market place were organised by Peter Aldridge (unmistakable in the photographs because he is taller than anyone else) who attended virtually every week. These took place in rain, sunshine and snow and were always the main source of income raising a total of just under £10,000.

Dominic Tucker from Cambridge and Gary Tucker from Blidworth on a Woodcraft Holiday in Norfolk. This picture was used by the Co-operative Society Members’ Relations Committee on the cover of a leaflet.

Anne Campbell, later M.P. for Cambridge, attended whenever she could. The Gwent miners who were in Cambridge on week-days also raised around £10,000. From August, the Queen Edith’s branch of the Labour Party supported Selby in Yorkshire sending baby clothes and money, and, from November, the Cambridge group also helped Selby splitting money between Gwent and Selby after the needs of Blidworth and Rainworth had been met, collecting £1,365. Sue Kington and the Woodcraft Folk organised holidays for six miners’ children in Norfolk (‘they sent us six little boys without night clothes. They said their dads didn’t wear pyjamas’).

The strike had its lighter moments. Bemused Welsh miners found themselves sleeping on a water bed proudly acquired by Nicky Glegg as well as on the floors of sympathetic students in the central Cambridge colleges.  Arjuna in Mill Road generously provided a regular supply of  rice, pulses and other wholefoods but the Nottinghamshire miners did not eat lentils and unbeknown to their donors regularly sold such produce to vegetarians in order to buy ‘proper food’. One supporter recollects keeping wads of banknotes overnight in the twin tub washing machine and her momentary panic when she thought it had been switched on accidentally.

The highlight of the year for many Cambridge residents was the arrival of two coach loads of Nottinghamshire miners and their families who were entertained at  Strawberry Fair, swam at the Parkside Pool, enjoyed visits to the Cambridge colleges provided by the Fellows, and ‘scrumptious’ teas and lunches provided by the Co-op and the YMCA. In 1985 the miners’ support group dispersed after one final fundraising meeting. A public poetry recital in King’s College addressed by the Beat Poet, Allen Ginsberg, raised £267 for victimised miners.


Images:

(i) Support group members: Ethel Shepherd, social worker, Anna Frankel, postgraduate student at Cambridge University and Lucy Munby, Long Road Sixth Form College.

(ii) Dominic Tucker from Cambridge and Gary Tucker from Blidworth on a Woodcraft Holiday in Norfolk. This picture was used by the Co-operative Society Members Relations Committee on the cover of a leaflet.