Baffled anger in village doomed to die

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The Independent Online
(Photograph omitted)

Clipstone children knew their lives were about to change, writes Jonathan Foster. Some have been wondering aloud whether Santa will detour the Nottinghamshire pit village this year, while their mothers have become resigned to an awful impending poverty in everyday family life, a sudden void. It will begin by March.

'How are we going to cope?' Mandy Dixon said, seeing her children to the gates of Samuel Barlow primary school yesterday morning. Mrs Dixon and other young mothers talked with quiet, resentful hopelessness. The closure of the colliery will close down their lives, but what exactly it will be like they can only guess.

At least the date is known. Joy Langthorne and Cheryl Simpson can begin planning. 'We can go sit with the building society and tell them we can't pay the mortgage,' Mrs Langthorne said.

Mrs Dixon is pregnant. 'If I'd known, it wouldn't have happened. All the children have picked it up. 'No misters will have jobs', they're saying. 'We'll not be able to go on holiday any more.' '

Clipstone, north-east of Mansfield, is a self-contained pit village, one of D H Lawrence's 'accidents in the landscape'. Bolsover Colliery Company sank the shaft and built the houses in the 1920s. Many Clipstone colliers moved from coalfields farther north. Yesterday, as one of Samuel Barlow's classes arrived at the little library, two retired miners reading in the sunshine cursed British Coal from dust- clogged lungs.

They remembered the great celebration that marked nationalisation in 1947, the children's party, dancing to the Swingsters Band, the expectation that government would treat miners well. 'The miner has been shat on by the owners again,' one of the old men said.

Outside the pit canteen, six young miners spoke contemptuously of the Government. Most are members of the Union

of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), which split from the National Union of Mineworkers during the 1984-85 strike. 'The Tories told us in Notts to stick by them and they'd see us right, just go for militant Yorkshire pits,' one man said. Of Clipstone's 940 employees, most underground workers are too young to recall the strike; even fewer think that a different strategy could have defeated the Government.

They gathered yesterday afternoon at the UDM office, a 'For Sale' sign on its door, and sounded utterly despondent as the news circulated that redundancies would begin immediately. There are no jobs to be had for miles, the men said. The logic of closing a profitable pit working three ample coal faces was beyond their comprehension. They sat smoking and stared down between open legs.

Clipstone Miners' Welfare Club did not welcome outsiders. The women say the workforce is broken. Some have wept; most do not want to talk about how they have failed despite 300 per cent increases in productivity.

On the estate, a few weeping cherry trees and touring caravans mark working-class affluence. Mining families fear now they would be unable to sell their houses even if work was available elsewhere. 'We've spent thousands on our home. It'll be worthless now,' a middle-aged woman said. Average mortgages on Clipstone's avenues are around pounds 20,000.

Brenda Cox, head teacher at Samuel Barlow, may soon have more than half her 300 children on free school meals. 'The young women are especially worried,' Mrs Cox said. 'They have been worried during two years of uncertainty about the pit. All we can do is try to minimise the effects on the children: make the school as safe and exciting as possible. In the past when pits closed there were other coalfields to move to. Not any longer.'

Mandy Dixon believes the Government has to be stopped. 'I take my hat off now to those that went on strike in 1984. What's needed now is for the whole country to stop work, including all the small businesses. The rich are getting richer, and the little ones like us lose our houses.'

Clipstone's children went home yesterday to a tragedy in the landscape.

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