Once, coal fueled the British Empire, employed armies of men and shook the power of governments.
On Friday, workers at Britain’s last operating deep coal mine finish their final shift. The last haul of coal from the pit is destined for a museum, as a once-mighty industry fades into history.
Defiant to the end, miners at Kellingley Colliery in northern England sang a hit by Tom Jones — the son of a coal miner — as they headed underground for their final shift.
“This is what makes us very special, the mining community,” said Nigel Kemp, who worked at the mine for more than 30 years. “The men have gone down today singing ‘My, my, my, Delilah.’ Every single man on the cage, you could hear them 400 feet down singing. And I do believe they’re going to come out singing as well.”
At its peak in the 1920s, Britain’s mining industry employed more than 1 million people, as coal drove trains, fueled factories and heated homes. After World War II, the country had 750,000 underground miners at almost 1,000 coal pits. But the industry’s days were already numbered.
With gas and nuclear power on the rise, hundreds of coal mines had closed by 1984, when a showdown between the government and miners fixed the industry’s central — and contested — place in Britain’s national mythology.