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Monday 14 October
My.Anglia > Faculties > Alss > Miners strike > Silverdale


Silverdale colliery

Silverdale at the time of the miners’ strike was a large village on the outskirts of Newcastle-under-Lyme with a population of approximately 2, 800 in a valley overlooked by Keele Uni-versity. The village depended on coal and steel and was made up largely of rows of terraced houses clustered around the colliery. It was originally part of Knutton Heath and covered in the dense Silver Birch trees from whence the village derived its name.

The Silverdale Colliery had been the main source of employment in the area for over a cen-tury and at the height of production was mining one million tonnes of coal annually. Rebuilt and modernised in the 1970s, Silverdale was the last deep pit in Staffordshire when it closed in 1998. The feature film Proud Valley (1940) had been made partly on location in the vil-lage. The aim of the community play, Go See Fanny Deakin, performed in May 1991, was to bring young and old together to celebrate Silverdale’s proud history as a pit village and one indomitable woman who had spent her life fighting for the local miners and their families and was still remembered by some of the older residents.

Go See Fanny Deakin

The play Go See Fanny Deakin was written by Joyce Holliday (1932-2002), staged by the Silverdale Community Play Association at the Knutton Recreation Centre in Newcastle- under-Lyme in May 1991, and directed by Robert Rae who had worked for eight years professionally in the theatre. The size and scale of the event, with a budget of £70,000 raised by the Silverdale Community Play Association, was unparalleled in the history of Staffordshire. The planning for a production, destined to involve hundreds of local people (including miners and their families who had lived through the strike) in every kind of activity from costume and set-making to acting, fund-raising, and office management, began in December 1987 when the North Staffordshire Industrial branch of the Workers’ Educational Association invited Joyce, Holliday, a writer and lecturer for the University of Keele Adult Education Department, to talk about Silverdale’s most famous resident; Fanny Deakin, the redoubtable councillor, and maternity rights campaigner, as part of their successful ‘People’s History of the Potteries’ educational programme.

From January to the autumn of 1988 the WEA, led by its enthusiastic Tutor Organiser, Dr Zoe Munby, made informal approaches to many local organisations and village groups to see if there were sufficient support for a community play about Fanny Deakin’s life. These talks were followed by discussions with the Staffordshire County Council and the West Mid-lands Arts. The Play Association was launched in March 1989 with the backing of the West Mercia WEA, Staffordshire Youth and Community Service, and a determined group of local villagers and councillors. Joyce Holliday lived in Staffordshire and had already written a community play for the city of Lincoln. She was closely associated with the Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent through her successful adaptations for the stage of Arnold Bennett’s The Card, Clayhanger, and Anna of The Five Towns and was approached to write the play.

The Cambridge Connection

Zoe Munby, who had grown up and gone to school in Cambridge, was the daughter of the Treasurer of the Cambridge Miners’ Support Group, Lucy Munby, and the WEA Tutor Organiser for Staffordshire. Lucy and her husband Jim Dronsfield were present at every public performance of the play in May 1991 and served refreshments during the intervals. Other members of the Cambridge Miners’ Support Group including Mary Joannou remember making the journey to Staffordshire to be part of the audience.

Fanny Deakin

Who was Fanny Deakin?

"Many people have sat in her house at Silverdale to be castigated for their lack of effort in righting injustices, wilting under a verbal panzer attack, while she made them a cup of tea and served it with a twinkle in her eye." ‘Fighter for the People’, The Evening Sentinel, May 7-18, 1991, p.7

Fanny Deakin was born Fanny Davenport as one of ten children and grew up on Spout House Farm in Farmers Bank, Silverdale, near Newcastle-under-Lyme. In 1897 Fanny had to leave school to help on the farm after her mother went blind. In 1901 she disappointed her par-ents, who thought she could have made a better match, by marrying a local miner, Noah Deakin. However, Fanny resolved to retain her independence and not let her marriage inter-fere with her work for the people and causes in which she believed.

Fanny became politicised at an early age and put herself forward as a Poor Law Guardian in 1917. She was the first woman to be elected onto Wolstanton Urban District Council (later incorporated into Newcastle-under Lyme) standing for the Labour Party in 1923. Around 1925 she joined the Communist Party, retaining her seat as a Communist Party candidate in 1927, and remaining a member of the party until her death. Fanny was prominent during the General Strike of 1926, widely recognised as an articulate community spokesperson, leading processions of hundreds of miners, and addressing huge meetings with the slogan she made her own; ‘Fighting for the Mothers’.

All but one of Fanny’s six children, her son, Noah, named after his father, were to die in in-fancy and as a result of her first-hand experience of hardship and malnutrition in working class communities, maternity care and infant welfare were always close to her heart and high on her campaigning priorities. Fanny was part of a delegation including Beth Turner, Rose Smith, Lily Webb and Florence Durham who visited the Soviet Union in 1927 to find out about health, nursery provision, birth control and abortion. She also met miners and their families and went down a coal mine in Ukraine. An account of this visit was published as a book, Women in Russia, in 1928. She returned on a second fact-finding mission in 1930.

In 1931 tragedy struck when her husband broke his back in an accident at the Fair Lady Pit in Leycett. He was never able to walk without assistance again and Fanny, who nursed him un-til his death in 1951, successfully fought the colliery for improved compensation for the vic-tims. In the same year, Fanny was the only woman in a deputation from the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement to be received by the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. The delegation demanded that local authorities provide free milk for pregnant women and chil-dren under the age of five; a demand that was partially acceded.

After Fanny was tried and found guilty of perjury and providing a false alibi for a man con-victed of inciting the unemployed to riot she served a nine month sentence in Winson Green Prison in Birmingham. She lost her council seat for non-attendance but was re-elected again on her release. Known as ‘Red Fanny’ because of her socialist convictions, her tireless work for the people of Silverdale won her the respect of many who did not share her politics and she was elected to the County Council for Newcastle-under-Lyme. In 1941 she became the first member of the Communist Party in England to be appointed an Alderman twice; firstly in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme and then as Honorary Alderman of the Stafford-shire County Council in 1946. Fanny outlived her husband who died in 1951 by seventeen years and died in 1968.

About the Play

Go See Fanny Deakin was produced from Tuesday 7 May to Saturday 11 May and Monday 13 to Saturday 18 May at the Knutton Recreation Centre in the High Street, Knutton, New-castle-under-Lyme. The play drew upon the professional expertise of a director, playright, composer, designer, wardrobe mistress and stage manager. The director, Robert Rae had worked at the Belfast Opera House and the National Theatre in London. The MPs for Stoke-on-Trent, Mark Fisher, and for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Llin Golding, were both present at the official opening.

The non-professional cast consisted of over 100 local people. Seven different women including Joanne Moore, Karen Woodcock and Wendy Bostock enthusiastically played the part of Fanny at different ages recreating key incidents in her life including her visits to Russia, and 10 Downing Street. The set, created by professional designer, James Helps, who came to Go Seek Fanny Deakin straight from the Hollywood film, Robin Hood, recreated different venues in and around Silverdale beginning with Christmas on the farm in 1888. Other scenes were set in Mill Street School, the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Bill Ford’s barber’s shop, Newcastle Council Chambers, the Assize Courts, and the Leycett pithead. The play ends with the achievement that meant most to her; the opening of the Fanny Deakin Maternity Hospital in Chesterton, a small mining village in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, in 1947. Original music was written by Rod McVey who had joined the production after an international tour with Van Morrison. The costumes were presided over by Jenny Falconer, formerly Head of Wardrobe at the Bristol Old Vic.

The production was sponsored by Staffordshire County Council, Newcastle Borough Council, West Mercia WEA, with funding from the Arts Council, West Midlands Arts (£15,000), the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. £2,800 was awarded to the Silverdale Play Association by the government-backed Arts in the Community. £8,000 was raised by approaches to local businesses and other commercial sponsorship.

Lee Corner was appointed to ensure the full participation of people with disabilities throughout.

Writers and Researchers

Joyce Halliday drew together a group of researchers to organise workshops on interviewing techniques and to volunteer to visit and record people who could remember Fanny Deakin. The research, delving into council minutes, archives and local newspapers, lasted a year. Those interviewed included Fanny’s relatives and local people whose words were used ver-batim in the play. Fanny had left a notebook of reminiscences at the end of her life and a lot of her own words were also used. Art Link funded reminiscence workshops with old people in Silverdale and in Brighton where some of Fanny’s family lived.

In 1990 Joyce ran a series of writing workshops. The research and writing team consisted of Pam Bannister May Blakemore, Wendy Bostock, Gerald D’Arcy, Kay Dawson, Joyce Holliday, Jack Lowe, Zoe Munby, Jannette Rangeley, Brenda Matthias, Jane Sharman, Joan Swann, Karen Townsend, and Mandy Welsh.

Women holding up a large patchwork quilt

Is This the World’s Largest Patchwork Quilt?

The women in the photograph are working on what they hoped might become the world’s largest patchwork quilt consisting of lots of individual quilts, each six foot square, sewn together. The response to a national appeal sent to Women’s Realm by Zoe Munby was magnificent, bringing in patchwork quilts, and strips from as far as Germany, Australia, Scandinavia and the United States as well as patchwork squares donated by Women’s Institutes, schools, groups from the Woodcraft Folk, and quilters across the United Kingdom. The Silverdale quilt, which eventually stretched around the whole village, was taken to London by the village children and featured on the BBC Blue Peter programme before being dismantled and sold to raise money for the Fanny Deakin play.

The Silverdale Community Play Association

The association raised its initial funding by a series of hugely successful community events; three concerts, a ‘pantomime with a difference’ entitled Silverdale Cinderella, an evening of magic, Silverdale’s ‘Sixties Spectacular’, a spring show, a ‘sing-a-long’, a local knowledge quiz, several raffles, the revival of the Silverdale carnival after a gap of thirty years, and a coach trip to see the Worcester Community Play. There was also a special screening of Proud Valley, starring the great American bass singer and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson, with a chance for local people to watch their grandparents as extras.

The Community Play Association ran workshops in quilt-making, singing, drama, and photography (printing and developing pictures) as well as research, family history, and writing.


Anglia Ruskin University Library Archive on the Cambridge Miners’ Support Group:

  • souvenir issue of The Evening Sentinel produced to commemorate the Silverdale Community Play in May 1991.
Poster for the film 'The Proud Valley'

The Cambridge University Library:

  • Joyce Holliday, Silverdale People: Fanny Deakin, Joseph Cook, John Cadman, Harold Brown (Staffordshire Libraries, Arts & Archives, 1996)
  • Denis Stuart (ed.), People of the Potteries (Keele: University of Keele Department of Adult Education, 1985)

Staffordshire Records Office:

At the time of writing Staffordshire County Council holds a collection of Fanny Deakin’s papers in the Newcastle-under-Lyme Library. The archive includes an autobiographical notebook written in 1966-7. There are plans to move the papers to the Staffordshire Record Office. Before depositing four of her scrapbooks about the play in the collection Zoe Munby kindly made them available for this website in the summer of 2016.

The Working Class Movement Library in Salford:

  • The People’s History of the Potteries and Surrounding Districts published by the WEA with a chapter on Fanny Deakin written by Joyce Holliday [WEA Box 2]

Available Digitally:

  • Go See Fanny Deakin was broadcast by BBC local radio. The Silverdale Community Play production in 1991 was filmed by Stoke Video Workshop. Rare copies of the original production exist on VHS in private hands
  • Joyce Holliday's obituary, The Guardian website 27 February 2002 (accessed 20 September 2016)
  • Fanny Deakin on Graham Stevenson's website (accessed 15 November 2014)
  • The Proud Valley (1940), Ealing Studios, Dir. Pen Tennyson, Prod. Michael Balcon. Available from Amazon.

The gate of the miners’ memorial garden created in 2010 by children at Silverdale Community Primary SchoolPhoto of the young Fanny DeakinA young girl in a drama workshopWorkers at the Donetz Coalfield, including Fanny DeakinFanny Deakin outside 10 Downing Street Film director Robert RaeSilverdale Primary School Badge Children in a drama workshop
Fanny Deakin in her later years with Harry PollittThe young Joyce Holliday


(i) The Silverdale Colliery

(ii) Fanny Deakin

(iii) Mark Fisher (right) and Llinos (later Baroness) Golding on the left on the opening night of 'Go See Fanny Deakin'

(iv) The Silverdale quilt

(v) Poster for 'The Proud Valley' (1940)

(vi) The gate of the miners’ memorial garden created in 2010 by children at Silverdale Community Primary School awarded £5000 in the Class Act competition sponsored jointly by The Evening Sentinel and Barclays

(vii) The Young Fanny Deakin

(viii) Learning how to act at the drama workshops

(ix) After being down a pit in the Donetz coalfield. Middle row: third from left, Rose Smith; fifth, Fanny Deakin; middle, L. Webb; right, F. Maxwell

(x) Fanny Deakin at 10 Downing Street lobbying for the unemployed in 1931.

(xi) Robert Rae, Director of 'Go See Fanny Deakin'

(xii) Silverdale Community Primary School badge

(xiii) A drama workshop with school children

(xiv) Fanny Deakin in her later years with Harry Pollitt

(xv) The young Joyce Holliday