Symbolic stop for miners' march

HALF AN HOUR before 14 weary Scottish miners marched into the centre of Oxford yesterday, two undergraduates huddled up against the Martyrs' Memorial in St Giles, protecting themselves from the rain.

Ben Walton, reading English at Jesus College, was not there to welcome the miners; they are not in his good books. 'I missed my brother's stag night in London the other day because I got stuck behind a miners' procession and missed the rendezvous. I won't be able to forgive them for that.'

His friend, Alex Cross, reading English at Corpus Christi, took a drag on his cigarette and said: 'Call me selfish if you want, but although my base is in the North- east, near Durham, I don't see that the miners should involve me. That sounds bad but I'm a pretty liberal kind of bloke.'

The memorial against which the undergraduates were leaning was built 151 years ago in memory of Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who were burnt at the stake for their Protestant heresies.

To the undergraduates, it probably meant nothing; but to the miners, it was a symbol of a cause worth fighting for. Twenty-two miles after setting out from Banbury on one of the last legs of their 636-mile march from Glasgow to London, the miners stood beside the monument, their candles flickering in the rain.

As a symbol those candles were almost as important: as he went to the stake, Bishop Latimer had turned to Bishop Ridley, saying 'Be of good comfort, Master Ridley: we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.'

Phyllis Starkey, leader of the Labour-controlled Oxford City Council, told the miners the memorial was 'a symbol for what you are doing, standing up for what's right for Britain and particularly Britain's energy needs'.

There was no doubt in the minds of the miners that what they are doing is right. Since 14 November they have been warmly welcomed at every stage on their march in support of the 30,000 English miners whose jobs are threatened at 31 pits.

George Bolton, president of the Scottish NUM, said the reception the miners had received in Oxford had been as warm as it had been all over the country. 'We are looking forward to getting to London where I'm sure we will receive the same reception,' he said.

'We have raised pounds 12,000, but it is not over yet. In particular we hope that people will turn off their lights for five minutes at 8pm on Saturday to show their support for what we are doing.'

One of the miners on the march Pat Egan, admitted he was suffering from blisters, but said: 'I don't care about those, what I care about is the fact that thousands of miners are worried about their jobs and I hope what we have done on this march is to persuade the Government that they should keep them.'

(Photograph omitted)