Wednesday, April 02, 2014



As part of another contribution to the start of WW1 two other small musical essays that will enrage Michael Gove - but they were both penned at a time when the Education Secretary was still in his nappies.  

It is perhaps telling that despite the national hype on WW1 there has been nothing from the most accessible culture  in our society - pop and rock.  Leaving aside the classical or the hand over the ear folk genres - both marginal in popular culture  - there has been nothing from the rock industry, either from the narcissistic indie album makers, or from the TV dominated chart sector.  

It is frightening that what there is, is only from my old generation of the 1960's.    It might not be all that odd - after all, WW1 veterans were then around in good numbers, unlike now, and we heard their memories - but even then rock was absorbed with the hedonistic here and now, not old history 

But, still, two numbers emerged, and I am using this column to reprise them.

"Sky Pilot" was penned by Burdon at the time when he was with what are called "the second Animals" when he was on the road in the US in 1968.   Banned by the BBC for its anti-war lyrics at a time when the London US Embassy was under siege from haries like me there in solidarity with the embattled people of Vietnam, it was written by Burdon when he was at his most political.    He was politicised generally by the US anti-war movement - a far more serious cause in a country actually at war - and personally by his chief US roadie who, it seems, was oddly also a bit of a Trot,   Burdon bought heavily into the San Francisco scene, and his single 'San Francisco Nights' has classic lines like "Cops face is filled with hate..,.. heavens above he's on a street called love".  That was a minor hit here, and "Sky Pilot" reached 11 in the US, despite being blacked by right wing 'good old boy' DJ's.     

Classic stuff.


Then -  the boy from Walker                    And now................on the road with Springsteen.....

"Sky Pilot"


He blesses the boys as they stand in line
The smell of gun grease and the bayonets they shine
He's there to help them all that he can
To make them feel wanted he's a good holy man
Sky pilot
How high can you fly
You'll never, never, never reach the sky

He smiles at the young soldiers
Tells them its all right
He knows of their fear in the forthcoming fight
Soon there'll be blood and many will die
Mothers and fathers back home they will cry
Sky pilot
How high can you fly
You'll never, never, never reach the sky

He mumbles a prayer and it ends with a smile
The order is given
They move down the line
But he's still behind and he'll meditate
But it won't stop the bleeding or ease the hate
As the young men move out into the battle zone
He feels good, with God you're never alone
He feels tired and he lays on his bed
Hopes the men will find courage in the words that he said
Sky Pilot
How high can you fly
You'll never, never, never reach the sky

You're soldiers of God you must understand
The fate of your country is in your young hands
May God give you strength
Do your job real well
If it all was worth it
Only time it will tell
In the morning they return
With tears in their eyes
The stench of death drifts up to the skies
A soldier so ill looks at the sky pilot
Remembers the words
"Thou shalt not kill"
Sky pilot
How high can you fly
You never, never, never reach the sky

Enjoy on YouTube (extended version)

And then - as well - The Zombies "A Butcher's Tale 1914" - lyrics by Chris White (Bassist)

The lyrics are based on an incident from WW1 which was a subject band bassist Chris White took an interest in. The lyrics tell of a battle from the viewpoint of a soldier in the midst of the fight. Despite the title, the battle White had in mind when writing the lyrics occurred in1916.   In the album's CD cover notes, Alec Palao calls the song "a thinly-disguised comment on Vietnam".

Instrumentation for "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" is limited to Rod Argent playing a harmonium in a manner described by music critic Matthew Greenwald as "odd-sounding'.   Sound effects are also incorporated to help give the song its strange sound.  These sound effects were developed by playing a Pierre Boulez album backwards and speeded up.  The effect of the harmonium and sound effects is to make the song appear to be an example of "musique concrete"

Although White wrote the song with the intention that Zombies' lead singer Colin Blunstone would sing it, White ended up singing the words. "Butcher's Tale 1914" is White's only lead vocal performance for The Zombies. Although, in the words of Dorian Lynskey "Butcher's Tale 1914" was the band's "most soberly uncommercial song," Date Records chose it for a single for the LP Odyssey and Oracle. This was apparently due to the company seeing the song as a metaphor for Vietnam.  The band, however, was surprised that such an uncommercial song was also chosen as a single.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the single sold poorly.

Music critic Matthew Greenwald called it one of The Zombies "strangest and most experimental songs," adding that it provided "a fine strangeness" to the album. Pierre Perrone of The Independent, recently reprising the band, claimed that the song proved that "the band were both of their time and incredibly prescient".


Chris White (lower centre) in 1967                                                      And now- still on the road

A butcher, yes that was my trade
But the King's shilling is now my fee
A butcher I may as well have stayed
For the slaughter that I see

And the preacher in his pulpit
Sermoned "Go and fight, do what is right"
But he don't have to hear these guns
And I bet he sleeps at night

And I...
And I can't stop shaking
My hands won't stop shaking
My arms won't stop shaking
My mind won't stop shaking
I want to go home
Please let me go home
Go home

And I have seen a friend of mine
Hang on the wire like some rag toy
Then in the heat the flies come down
And cover up the boy

And the flies come down in Gommecourt,
Thiepval, Mametz Wood, and French Verdun
If the preacher, he could see those flies
he wouldn't preach for the sound of guns

And I...
And I can't stop shaking
My hands won't stop shaking
My arms won't stop shaking
My mind won't stop shaking
I want to go home
Please let me go home
Go home

And again on YouTube listen.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hartlepool Telegraph Poles and Shildon Non-League Footie - Odd Reflections on the Passing of Tony Benn and Bob Crow

More measured reflections on the loss of Bob Crow and Tony Benn in the space of a few days last week, gives me the thought that we should concentrate on the arcane in Socialist politics, as it has touched us in our area of the country.   In a sense, this is referring to the Marxist strain in our movement - in this case Groucho Marx's influence.      

I have also included at the end the Hansard transcript of Hilary Benn's tribute to his father given in the Commons last week.    Hilary has been a friend of my constituency party (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) for many years, and in this connection we should also remember the tragic passing of Ashok Kumar who died tragically young this time in 2010.  Ashok was Hilary's PPS and Hilary helped us in the MP's office to sort matters out in what was an unprecedented set of circumstances at that time


First a memory of Benn's recorded in his diary days after Labour had won the 1964 general election, and his first encounter with the decidedly odd Labour MP for Hartlepool, Ted Leadbitter, as recorded in Benn's diary.     See below an extract from a 2004 piece in The Northern Echo by Chris Lloyd, which recalled this tale

"Mr Leadbitter's election was part of the swing towards Labour that enabled Harold Wilson to end 13 years of Conservative rule - but only with a majority of four. In real terms, with illness, this was just a majority of two.

In such circumstances, most newly-elected MPs would do their utmost to support their new Prime Minister and government.

But, in astonished tones, the newly appointed Postmaster General Tony Benn recalls in his diary how early in 1964 he received a letter from the MP from West Hartlepool complaining that a telegraph pole had been erected in front of an irate constituent's house.

Mr Benn replied that there was little he could do; Mr Leadbitter was so affronted that he said that "he regards the Postmaster General's reply as so evasive that he does not propose to come to the House or accept the Labour Whip until the pole is removed". 

Ted Leadbitter was threatening to wipe out Mr Wilson's majority and let the Tories resume their reign.

Mr Benn told the Chief Whip. The Chief Whip told Mr Leadbitter "in earthy and graphic terms" about the foolhardiness of his actions.

A few days later, Mr Benn records that the "Leadbitter fellow had relented". The Government was not about to topple - and the pole stayed in place."

"I'm afraid that Mr Leadbitter's here again PMG" - Tony Benn at  the Postmaster General's desk

Then also from the Echo - this time from Mike Amos's "Bactrack" Local Sports column, which, last week, managed to find room for Bob Crow.

"The unexpected death on Tuesday of RMT union leader Bob Crow stirred affectionate memories for Alan Morland, in Shildon.

Ten years ago Alan helped run Shidon Railway FC, then nearing its 50th birthday. “None outside the town was particularly interested and few inside it, to be honest,” he recalls.

Alan wrote to Bow Crow, reminded him that Shildon had been “callously wiped off the British Rail Engineering map”, asked for a message of support from the union.

Crow replied personally, knew every detail of the wagon works and their demise, pledged to come personally to congratulate the club on its milestone. He did, brought an RMT football team, played himself, enthusiastically joined the dinner that evening.

The following season the club hit serious financial difficulty. Alan again contacted Crow and received a “sizeable” RMT donation almost by return. Again the RMT football team was drawn together, again enjoyed the dinner, have returned annually ever since. The next, sold out, is on March 22.

Shildon Railway FC Ground and RMT Poster. Is the refreshment room now the Crow Bar ?

Now scouting for Newcastle United, Alan Morland speaks as he finds. “”The portrait of Bob Crow in the media is harsh and untrue. It’s not a political endorsement by any means, but I just asked him to help the lads from Shildon. He promised he would, and he did"

(Thanks to both Chris and Mike for permission to reproduce)

Hansard 20th March 2014 11.58 am

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): First of all, may I say on behalf of my sister Melissa and my brothers Stephen and Joshua and the whole family just how much the words we have heard today mean to us?

I do not propose to add to what has already been said, and indeed written, about my father’s political legacy—apart from anything else, everyone already seems to have their own opinion, as today’s debate has demonstrated—but I do want to say a few words about what Parliament meant to him, because it was the centre of his very long life. He won 16 elections, proudly representing first Bristol South-East and then Chesterfield. Fifteen of those elections enabled him to walk through those doors and take his place in this Chamber. One of them—the by-election he fought after the death of his father—did not. He was barred from entry to the Chamber on the instructions of the Speaker because, it was alleged, his blood was blue. His blood was never blue; it was the deepest red throughout his life.

That moment taught him that the right of people to choose who will represent them here in this place—the very foundation of our democracy—was never, ever granted by those in power. It had to be fought for. That is why democracy is so precious.

His fight to stay in the Commons had, I think, a marked and profound effect on his life. It was why he was so determined to support others in their struggles: to bring an end to apartheid and the death penalty; in support of the miners, as we have heard; and to campaign for peace, because it was war that had taken from him his beloved elder brother Michael.

It was also why he was so determined to commemorate in Parliament the history of those struggles because, as he would often say, all change comes from below. That is why, as we have heard from many Members today, he went down into the Crypt with his screwdriver and put up that plaque in the broom cupboard. He wanted to teach us: why did that brave suffragette spend the night in the broom cupboard in 1911? The answer is because it was census night. What do you do in a census? You fill in a form, and she wanted to write: “Name: Emily Wilding Davison. Address: Houses of Parliament.” Why? Because she believed that a woman’s place was in the House—the House of Commons.

He was very fond of challenging those in authority, assisted by “Erskine May”. He once even moved a motion of no confidence in the Speaker. But he also had a great sense of fun. On one occasion, he was part of a group of Labour MPs who had decided to delay a Division in the Lobby because they wanted to make trouble for the Government. The Serjeant at Arms was dispatched in order to investigate and told them that if they did not move he would have to take their names. My father looked at him and, as his diary records, said, “But that would be completely contrary to Mr Speaker’s ruling of 1622.” After the Serjeant at Arms had departed from the fray, Dad turned to his fellow conspirators and, with that mischievous twinkle in his eye, admitted that he had just made that all up but it seemed to have done the trick.

He loved this place, the people who built it and those who help us in our work. He loved the debate and the argument. But he did not idealise Parliament. He saw it as the means to an end: to be a voice for the movements outside these walls that seek to change the world for the better, as well as being a voice for the people who send us here and whom we all have the privilege to represent.

That was the essence of his character. Yes, it was shaped, as we have heard, by events and experiences but also, as for many of us, by his childhood. He was, at heart, not just a socialist; he was a non-conformist dissenter. His mother taught him to believe in the prophets rather than the kings, and his father would recite these words from the Salvation Army hymn, which I think best explain what he sought to do in Parliament:

“Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone,
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known.”

If we are not here to do that, what are we here for? Well, he was. He knew what he thought. He was not afraid to say it. He showed constancy and courage in the face of adversity. Whatever the scribes and the pharisees may have to say about his life, it is from the words and kindnesses of those whose lives he touched that we—those who loved him most—take the greatest strength.

After all, any life that inspires and encourages so many others is a life that was well lived. [Applause.]

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tony Benn and the Steelworkers - "We on this side are a socialist party".

"Not a lot of people know this" but Tony Benn's  maiden Commons speech in February 1951 was devoted to the nation's steelworkers and the need for democratic control by the people of the industry.  It resonated then for Teesside. It still does today.  He bounced up to follow Churchill who had opened an opposition debate to castigate Labour's steel nationalisation act

His speech is below, plus a note from the succeeding (Tory) speaker Sir Ralph Glyn (of Glyn Mills Bank fame, for what it is worth).                                          

5.30 p.m.

§Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East) 
As this is the first occasion on which I have ventured to address the House, I must ask for the usual indulgence and sympathy of hon. Members. I am sure that all hon. Members realise that the hesitancy of a maiden speaker is a very real thing indeed; hesitancy, one might almost say, is an understatement of the way a maiden speaker feels. Conscious of the traditions of this occasion, I have chosen to speak in this very non-controversial debate. I have been inspired by hon. Members on both sides of the House in their appeals for unity at this time, and I believe that a great deal of unity of opinion is possible on both sides of the House over a great many of the issues we have to discuss this evening.

I detect in the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition three distinct ideas. First, it is a fundamental challenge of the wisdom of the last Parliament in passing the Steel Nationalisation Act. Secondly, it suggests that fresh evidence has come to light which should lead this House to reconsider its decision. Thirdly, in the wording of this Amendment, in which I note a trace of pained surprise, there is an implication that the Government have somehow or other behaved rather badly in this matter. I would like to deal, if I may, as non-controversially as I
can with those three propositions.

I do not want to deal at any great length with the main case of hon. Members on this side of the House for nationalisation, for the arguments are well known to all hon. Members. However, it is necessary to recapitulate them briefly so as to be able to see whether, in fact, the fresh evidence adduced in this Amendment is likely in any way to alter the necessity for this decision. Curiously enough, it is on the basic issues of nationalisation that the greatest agreement is possible on both sides of the House. Hon. Members on this side and hon. Members opposite are united in their agreement that this is a basic industry, that the health of this industry, the investment policy of this industry, the development of this industry in the future are absolutely fundamental to our economic life and to our standard of living. There can be no disagreement about that.


                          And the people he was speaking for - Panteg steelworks 1950

Nor, I submit, can there be any disagreement on the nature of the present organisation of the industry. I do not want to press this point too much. I do not want to use the word "monopoly" in reference to this industry, because I do not want to be controversial. But I do think that hon. Members on both sides must agree that in the past this industry has shown a marked aversion, to put it mildly, to the workings of the competitive market both at home and abroad, and that it could hardly be described as the sort of industry which would make the classical economists smile with pride—if classical economists were ever known to smile. On these points, then, I submit there is universal agreement: it is an important industry and the control of it is in a limited number of hands. The point on which we disagree is the way in which this power should be controlled.

It is significant—significant, I would suggest, of the result of five years' political education since 1945—that nobody in the House today has suggested that there is no need for any control whatsoever. To do so would be to suggest that there was no likelihood of any divergence of interest between the industry and the people of this country.

Certainly such a suggestion involves an optimism which it would be hard to justify. On the contrary, hon. Members on both sides have stressed that there is a need for some degree of supervision. In accepting that, the point is immediately made that there may be in the future, as there has certainly been in the past, a divergence between the interest of the industry and the interests of the nation. Our problem tonight—indeed, the problem which was being considered throughout the last Parliament when this Measure was under consideration—is how such a supervision can be made effective.
I realise that analogies are dangerous, but there is one analogy which is as simple as it is instructive when we are considering the question of making supervision effective. It is the analogy with the present Parliamentary situation.

Right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench are making sustained efforts to supervise the policy of the Government. They find this supervision difficult because the political power in the country rests with my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. Similarly with the iron and steel industry, it is difficult to organise effective supervision over an industry when the real power lies, as in this particular case, with the shareholders. I would suggest to hon. Members opposite, if I may be so presumptuous, that the solution of their Parliamentary difficulties lies in a return to power at a General Election. There could be no dispute on the solution of their difficulties in that case, and there can be no dispute on the solution of our difficulties in this matter. If we are to make supervision effective, we must have control over the sources of the power in the industry, and this lies with the shareholders in the industry.

So much for this substantial case. I apologise to the House for recalling it, except that it is worth keeping it in mind when considering the fresh evidence adduced in this Amendment. The first piece of fresh evidence adduced is the record production in the industry. I, along with many of my hon. Friends, regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not devote more attention to the efforts of the steel workers in this connection. There are, however, many hon. Members on this side of the House who are better able to speak of that than I am. The point I want to make is a simple one: that the steel industry since 1945 has been working in what it is quite fair to call a sunny economic climate.

In this connection I should like to say a word about my predecessor, Sir Stafford Cripps. No one did more than he to bring about the economic recovery of this country since 1945. He, and those who worked with him, brought this country through the difficulties that faced it without many of the instabilities which arose from different policies, both in the United States and in Western Europe.
One of the major reasons of the success of the steel industry since 1945 was that it enjoyed, in the opinion of our British businessmen, a sustained justification for optimism about the future. I would, of course, only take this information from businessmen themselves. Hon. Members who doubt this, have only to read the annual reports of the company chairmen—that is, the business parts of their reports, and not the political parts—to see that the industry as a whole has benefited immensely through the sound economic planning of the Government. I do not underrate the value of American help—how could I when I am married to an American girl?—but I suggest that the success of the steel industry is much more a vindication of the Government's economic policy than a measure of the soundness of the present basis of ownership.

The second piece of evidence adduced was on rearmament. The part that the industry has to play in the rearmament drive simply underlines its importance, and therefore we on this side, to say the least, have every right to argue that as the industry is likely to be even more vital in the years ahead. We have even more right to believe that it should be in public hands. Also there are specific problems involved in rearmament, and it is upon these that I should like to focus the attention of the House.
First, there is the fact that the high demand for the products of the industry would tend to push considerations of costs and efficiency into the background if the industry were in private hands. The interests of the shareholders in this respect would be likely to diverge from the interests of the Government.

We saw after the First World War—I say "we  saw," but that is a politician's phrase: I was not born at that period—a similar situation, and we cannot afford to allow the demands made on the steel industry at present to result in its getting behind with its modernisation and development projects. Coupled with the need for a balanced programme is the need also for a proper system of supervision, which, I have tried to suggest, can be achieved only by public ownership.

There is also an important psychological factor. Owing to the curious nature of the industry, the fact that its units of production are of widely differing degrees of efficiency, and because of the complications of the price structure in the industry, there is at least the possibility that high profits will be made in the years during which the rearmament programme is under way. At a time when there is a very real threat to our standard of living, it would be psychologically disastrous to have an iron and steel industry which was doing very well indeed from a business point of view. [Interruption.]

That was put badly. I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I submit that the point itself is valid.
The last point with which I should like to deal is the implication in the Amendment that the Government have in some way behaved badly. We on this side are a Socialist Party—we have been for a long time. We have never made any secret of the fact. In 1945, when our election programme was published, we made no secret of it, and if any members of the electorate failed to read our election programme, they had only to listen to the Leader of the Opposition to realise that we were a Socialist Party. Everyone on this side pays tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his valiant work in informing the electorate of the intentions of the Labour Party.

The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1948, and was debated throughout the following year. After some disagreements in another place, a compromise was agreed which seemed, to say the least, to be very fair to the critics of the Bill. Finally, the Bill was enacted. The people and their steel were married, after what, I suggest, was a long period of not very reputable cohabitation—if I may misquote the marriage vows—"For better for worse, for richer or poorer, until the advent of the Conservative Government doth us part." Moreover, it should be remembered that "That which Parliament hath joined together, let no man put asunder." This, surely, has some relevance to the Amendment which is before the House. That is the case which we put from this side.

We have learnt some lessons from this controversy. We have learnt that when one is up against the steel "bosses" it may not be as easy to get one's way as was thought. I believe that the whole history of this controversy is a final justification for our refusal to accept mere control. We have also tasted the political ambitions of economic power, and we shall not forget that either.

There seem to me to be two ways of dealing with the industry. One is an entirely new way, which nobody has actually suggested but which, I believe, is implied in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition; that is, for an entirely new form of public accountability, based on a constantly postponed plan of nationalisation, in which the work of the industry would be regularly surveyed by Parliament on Motions of Censure. That is one way in which it has been suggested that we could retain our ideological security and hon. Members opposite could retain their position of power. I do not think it is a very satisfactory solution, and therefore, with continued diffidence but with no hesitation now, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

5.47 p.m.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon) 
It falls to me, as the next hon. Member to speak, to congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) on a most admirable and able speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] On this occasion I should like to couple the Socialist Party with my congratulations on having obtained an extremely helpful and forceful recruit. Another reason why I am so glad that it falls to me to be able to congratulate the hon. Member is that I am old enough to have sat in the House for a good many years with his father. It makes me feel uncommonly old to see the hon. Member sitting on the benches opposite looking as his father did then, and, indeed, as his father does now.

Every time we hear somebody make a maiden speech which convinces us that the House will gain by the hon. Member's presence and that the hon. Member will rise to positions of responsibility—it is all the more refreshing to have such sane remarks from a Socialist point of view and made by so young a Member of Parliament—we are given great hopes for the future.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

End of an Era Revisited

A fortnight ago,as previously advertised int he PRT, 120 people packed out a North Skelton pub at a public meeting called by the 3 Labour Councillors for the ward and the local North Skelton Community Group, Action North Skelton.   This was a big turn out for a small village of 600 people,   Normally meetings of this size are to protest against something seen as a threat to local life - but this wasn't.   Instead it was to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of North Skelton Mine - the last ironstone mine in the Cleveland orefield. 

Those at the meeting  saw film clips and heard contributions form three local experts on the mine and the miners - Peter Appleton from the Skelton History Group,  Dr Tony Nicholson, a retired History Lecturer from Teesside University and local film maker Craig Hornby, whose works include the the epoch-making 'A Century in Stone' a film honouring the heritage and deeds of the Cleveland Ironstone Miners

The closure was not one that was contested.  1964 was a different age.   Only two weeks notice of the closure was given, and the job losses were not fought.    Most of the men moved on automatically to other jobs in Dorman Long, such as at the expanding Lackenby steelworks and rolling mills.   Teesside was expecting a new future.  The week before the closure had seen Ted Heath, then the Tory President of the Board of Trade (today, the Business Minister) visiting the area to open the new Thornaby industrial Estate  and to announce the news that Shell were to open a "vast" new crude oil refinery at Teesport.   Modernity and expansion was in the air, and no-one - not even the GMB who represented the miners - seemed to care  overmuch about the loss of grubby, physical mining jobs - even if that industry was why Teesside existed.
It was both a sad and at the same time joyous meeting at North Skelton. The pit saw deaths, injuries and tragedies. But at the same time it also was a place where human comradeship between the miners was the key feature of their working life. And that comradeship still lives today in the spirit of a village that, 50 years on, can still come together to celebrate a collective working class community past.
Below is an article on the pit closure from Coastal View's enigmatic columnist, Hollie Bush


Fifty years ago last month a chapter of history in East Cleveland came to an end - and we are now set to celebrate  - or mourn - it again,     This was the day in late January 1964 when the last shift came to the surface at North Skelton mine - the last ironstone mine in East Cleveland and the final survivor of a string of pits that stretched from Grosmont near Whitby through to the motherlode pit at Eston.  It was by fate that North Skelton survived its last weeks as the last survivor; it was originally expected to shut at the same time as neigbouring pits in Lingdale and Kilton, but it outlived them by a number of months.

North Skelton Pithead
This closure marked not just the loss of the jobs there, but the ending of an industry that simply and profoundly shaped our entire area.    If ironstone was not below our fields and meadows, then there would have been no Teesside - pure and simple.  We would have had an alternative history that would have meant that all that would have been of Teesside would have been small villages and the market town of Guisborough.   Instead, the discovery of ironstone at Eston set off an industrial juggernaut that saw the explosive growth of a whole region.    We became the iron land.
One thing that was missing in 1964 was this paper, as Steve and Lynne were just wee bairns,and so I have had to look at how the local press of the day covered this event, and it is from the faded, dusty pages of the Northern Echo and the Gazette that a lot of this column comes from
“Seven hundred feet below the green whaleback hills of Cleveland, the strong and proud heritage of the ironstone miner yesterday passed quietly into history,” said The Northern Echo's reporter, one Geoffrey Sumner, “The North Skelton ironstone mine, the last in Cleveland, died at midday. Its passing ended a way of life which brought industrial might to Teesside and moulded generations of men of iron.”
"And so, at noon on January 17, 1964, after 150 years of digging, the Great Cleveland Orefield came to an end. During those one-and-a-half centuries, 83 mines had employed up to 10,000 miners at any one time, produced hundreds of millions of tons of ore, created scores of little communities and one large conurbation, and started an industry which still employs thousands of men today"
 “A few minutes before noon, a dozen old men in cloth caps and mufflers stood at the pit head,” wrote the Echo’s talented reporter, Geoffrey Sumner, who must have been one of the last people to go underground. "In silence, they remembered the years of their youth given to the mine. With them stood miners’ wives, children and two women who still remembered men who were crushed to death in the mine." 
“They had come to see the end of a magnificent, roaring century. They had come to see history made.
But, 700 feet down in the damp, deserted galleries, this historic passing of an era had an air of anti-climax.

A jerking and groaning mechanical loader snaffled up the last three tons of ore that will ever be mined in Cleveland – the last of 25 million tons from this mine alone.   The ore, now in two iron tubs, rattled in the cage to the surface. Then two dozen men – the last of the tough, dedicated, larger-than-life miners who for a century have ripped iron from the Cleveland earth – stepped blinking into the sunshine. It was all over in 12 minutes."
The Evening Gazette was as elegiac.  Their 18th January 1964 edition said "It was an unreal moment of history. The roar of a mechanical loader made make talk impossible, and so, in silence, the party underground stood and watched iron ore being loaded into a tub.  Yet they were seeing the last tub being levered out of the mine signifying the end of Cleveland as a mining area" wrote an Evening Gazette reporter.    

Faces from the past - Tyne Tees TV's  George House speaking to a North Skelton pitman on the last day

That reporter - although the story had no by-line - was almost certainly the late Tom Leonard, a local man who served the East Cleveland area for the Gazette for many years, and who founded the Ironstone Mining museum still open and thriving to this day at Skinningrove.

Both papers marked the closure by talking to individual; miners on that last day - by all accounts an unseasonably sunny and warm day for the end of a January. The Northern Echo reported one person on the scene - a women form a local Mining family " “I don’t know how we’ll ever get used to the mine being closed,” said Meda Sanderson, of 27 William Street, North Skelton, whose uncle had died down below.  'It will always feel strange. Our village and our lives have always revolved around the mine. It is part of us. And now it is gone. I shall miss the rattle of the trucks in the morning and the sound of the hooter.. When you live with a mine all your life, these sounds become music.”
The papers gave a roll call of some of the men underground on the last shift - a shift that ended early that day, at 12 midday.   Given the ages quoted it is unlikely any of these men are with us now - but I hope members of their family are, and who can now appreciate how their grandfathers were recorded in the roll call of history.

Final pay queue

They started with the Banksman who lowered them 700 feet down into the mine - Mr Bob Calvert of North Skelton who, they reported, had worked at that pit for 30 years.   They were met at pit bottom by overman Charlie Dawn of Skelton - a 36 year miner.   They were introduced to the 'most experienced man in the mine" Deputy Mr William Armstrong, a 64 year old veteran of mining and who lived at 16 Davison Street, Lingdale.  They were then introduced to the men loading the very last tub of the material that made Teesside - Stanley Winspear of 2 Clifford Street, Redcar, George Johnson off Skelton, Sid Wesson, the driller, from Lingdale,  Mr Ray Johnson of Loftus, Mr Arthur Welburn of Brotton, Mr Victor Davison of Brotton and a Mr Conrad Radomski of Lingdale - almost certainly a Polish refugee from WW2, and a historical reminder that it is not only the 21st century that have seen Polish workers welcomed into our community as a fellow workers.

The last tun being loaded - Conrad Radomski (back to the camera) operating the Einco loader
The last tub of Ore was then hitched to a diesel loco - driven by a Mr Dave Hugill of Carlin How, and which then started its journey back to the bottom of the shaft for weighing at the pit head.  The weighman present for this - perhaps the most historic moment of the day - was Joseph Bennison of 9 Park Street, Skelton.   He was assisted by another veteran Arthur Pearson of Woodside, Brotton a 50 year service miner, and .Mr Alec Batterbee of 37 Wharton Street, North Skelton.  Alec told the gazette that he was the last man to care for the pit ponies at the mine; "I have been here 45 years and when I state as a horse keeper we had 89 horses stabled here.   My father, uncle and three brothers have all worked here, and I have been underground all my working life."   Not recorded was the actual last man out who later rode to the surface after all the underground systems had been turned off - Reuben Cooper of Bolckow Street North Skelton - aptly a man from the village built to house the mineworkers,  and who lived in a street named after the man who founded the iron land.
At the surface were   "the gaffers"  - mine engineer Mr F W Cape, and assistant engineer, Mr W C Allen.     Coming down the steps from the offices were some of the clerical workers; Mr W Meaburn, wages clerk Mr T Laverick, Mr Benson, the mine accountant and a Councilor on the old Skelton and Brotton UDC and cost clerks, Mr Ingleby, Mr Stonehouse and Mr Gorman.   Presiding was the Mine Manager himself, George Pearson of Brotton, a man who began life at Carlin How mine as a pony stableboy at the age of 14, and through study worked up to be the man at the top.   He was a man who cared for the North Skelton community, and indeed up to his death just a few years ago, put much back into the village, and especially into the now closed St Peter's Church.

Sid Wesson and his marra on the drill

North Skelton was one of the most consistent and productive mines in the orefield – most years it produced nearly 300,000 tons to feed Middlesbrough’s voracious blast furnaces. Ir was hewed at a price, 30 men died in the lifetime of the pit.   The last trainload carrying the final 200 tons of ore that Cleveland ever produced left North Skelton for the blast furnaces three days later. And that was that.   The Northern Echo's Geoffrey Sumner concluded his report: “The spokes of the pit wheel stood still and stark against the sparkling winter sky. A page in history turned over.”    The Gazette's Tommy Leonard wrote is epilogue and epitaph too. recalling a miners banner he had known as a young lad in the East Cleveland area;   "It was Longfellow" he wrote "who said "And departing,  leave behind us footprints in the sands of time" but words forming a verse seen on a Cleveland Miners Association banner so long ago give an appropriate farewell to a vivid era in Cleveland history;
"Seize mortal, the transient hour.
improve each moment as it flies
life's a short summer, man's a flower
He dies - alas how soon he dies
Hollie Bush