Stalwarts of the Women Against Pit Closures movement tell their stories

  • Watch Christine Talbot's report.

Two of the stalwarts of a women's political movement that emerged during the Miners strikes of the 1984 to 1985  have spoken to Calendar Presenter Christine about their experience.

Anne Scargill, who was then the wife of the National Union of Miners leader Arthur Scargill, and Betty Cook, the matriarch of a staunch South Yorkshire mining family, met for the first time as they and a group of other miner's wives, sisters, daughters and mothers formed the Women Against Pit Closures movement.

Christine joined Anne and Betty at Barnsley Main Colliery, one of the last remaining pitheads in the country.

They remained lifelong friends and are now in a support bubble during the current Coronavirus crisis. 

They met Christine in the shadow of the Barnsley Main pithead - which is one of the last remaining pitheads in the country and is now a heritage site, to talk about a book they have written with Featherstone author and broadcaster Ian Clayton in which they tell their story for the first time in their own words.

Anne and Betty shared their stories with ITV Calendar

The book, "Anne and Betty: United by the Struggle" describes, not only the hardship of their own personal lives, but how they joined together to help feed and clothe miners families in their communities during the year of hardship as miners took to the picket lines.  

The strikes were called by the National Union of Miners over the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's plans to close down deep mines which the Government considered unprofitable in the wake of a declining demand for coal. The Government accused the miners of holding the country to ransom and it led to violent clashes with the police, including the infamous "Battle of Orgreave" and huge rifts in Yorkshire communities which still exist to this day.

The strikes officially ended in March 1985

The two women told Christine, that although the group began as a means to support the miners' families in a practical way, it soon grew into a larger political feminist movement with hundreds of women from pit communities joining the pickets, going on marches and sometimes being arrested themselves.

Suddenly wives and mothers with previously non-political lives, found themselves empowered politically and began speaking at rallies and meetings of thousands of women from across the country as the movement grew.

Betty and Anne (left) alongside other protestors

Betty told Christine: "I knew the strike was coming along, I knew it would be a long one, so and he was left at home with the kids. My mum was in her 80s, but she was brilliant, she used to come through a couple of days a week and do housework and cook meals and I immediately changed from full time work to part time, because I knew I would be needed in the community and so, it was a different kind of life.

"I was flying all over the place like that, and for a change I sort of was, I was coming out of my shell if you like. I was gaining new experiences, meeting new people, particularly different kinds of women."But being arrested doesn't always go down well with the family - as Anne says with a chuckle as she recalls her mother's reaction, "She was livid, she said, what's your Uncle Alfred going to say? What's your Uncle Charlie going to say? What's so and so going to say? My dad was sat in the chair and he just looked at me and said to me, 'Anne what's it like doing porridge?'

"I've got two grandsons and I thought I want to tell them what their grandma did, and tried to get a better world for us, for our communities."

The strike officially ended in March 1985 and the miners returned to work defeated, applauded back into the mines by their supportive communities.  

The closure of the deep coal mines was to go ahead over the coming years. In 1984 at the start of the strike there were 180 deep coal mines. The the last one finally ended production at Kellingley Colliery near Pontefract in 2015.

Anne Scargill

Anne and Betty never stopped their campaigning and went on to travel the world, campaigning on many issues, from help for asylum seekers to bringing medial aid to Cuba. They have spoken all over the world. 

Writer Ian Clayton, says: "Anne and Betty have shown as much tenacity in getting their story told in a book as they have in the many campaigns they’ve been involved in over the years. 

"They fought tooth and claw to protect their own nest , their own family and where they came from, so that's what it's about really - it's not about people behaving thuggishly or behaving in a violent way against the Government, it's about people trying to look after their family and what is theirs."