New Rotherham exhibition captures human stories of 1984 miners' strike

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Rotherham’s central role to the year-long miners’ strike of 1984/85 has been brought to life with a new exhibition to mark 40 years since the largest industrial dispute the UK has ever seen.

Entitled ‘Days of Laughter, Days of Pain: The Miners’ Strike in Rotherham, 1984-5’, the exhibition takes place at the town’s Clifton Park Museum.It explores the strike year in Rotherham from the organisation and mobilisation of pickets, rallies and support groups in the spring and summer of 1984, though to the intense struggle of autumn and winter, before the mass march back to work in March 1985.

Coun David Sheppard, Rotherham Council's cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “This year is the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike which touched the lives of many of our communities across Rotherham.

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"It is important to remember such pivotal events in our history while the people who lived them are still able to pass on their stories and feelings to the younger generations.

Inside the exhibition at Clifton Park MuseumInside the exhibition at Clifton Park Museum
Inside the exhibition at Clifton Park Museum

People often talk about the strike in terms of divisions it created, but there were many strong bonds formed that have continued to this day, and this exhibition is a fantastic representation of that time.”

South Yorkshire was a focal point of strike activity with the strike beginning at Cortonwood Colliery, near Rotherham, and the key confrontation of the strike took place at the town’s Orgreave Coking Plant, near Waverley.

There were 11 pits operating within the borough of Rotherham at the time of the strike, and by November 1984 97.3 per cent of Yorkshire miners were on strike.

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The idea for the exhibition came from Silverwood Colliery Heritage Group following a residency in Clifton Park Museum’s Test Space from January to June 2023.

The exhibition includes a model of Orgreave coking plantThe exhibition includes a model of Orgreave coking plant
The exhibition includes a model of Orgreave coking plant

And Tessa Chynoweth, collections and exhibitions manager, said the aim was to focus on the people involved:

“The strike caused divisions in communities across the borough and there are ethical questions about what we share and what we don’t.

"But we’re focused on people’s stories , so we’re really pleased and proud of this exhibition.”

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The exhibition, which runs until June 30, 2024, is brought to life by the archiving, diaries, photographs, banners and artworks of those who took part.

Many miners and their families sought to ‘capture’ the year and make sure their version of events was recognised and survived for posterity.

It includes objects from Rotherham Archives and Local Studies, the museum’s own collection and loans from the community.

And curators have worked with a variety of creative and community partners on this exhibition including designer and illustrator Lisa O’Hara, who has produced the visual identity and 2D design for the exhibition and Fuzzy Duck, a digital storytelling firm who have recorded and produced the audio interviews for the exhibition.

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There will also be the opportunity to see the film made by conceptual artist Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave (An Injury to One is an Injury to All), which was commissioned by Artangel and Channel 4 in 2001. It will be the first time the public have been able to watch the film in this way.

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