Revisiting Polmaise

It was good to be at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum last week for a book launch by the Scottish Labour History Society.  The society has republished two pamphlets originally published in the 1980s:  “For as long as it takes!  Cowie Miners in the strike 1984-85” and “One Year On.  Sacked Polmaise Miners Speak Out.”  Both give a perspective on the miners’ strike in Polmaise, which was the first pit out and the last pit back.

Former MP Dennis Canavan, who was speaking at the event, had his appointments diary from 1984 with him.  It confirmed he was already speaking to the Coal Board on behalf of Polmaise’s striking miners before the walkout at Yorkshire’s Cortonwood Colliery, which is usually accorded the status as the pit that started the strike.

I was born in Bannockburn in 1976 and remember helping in my family business, electrical retailer Radio Music Store, during the late 1980s.  I was too young then to appreciate what was going on, but I vividly remember the mining villages of Fallin, Plean, Cowie and Bannockburn and the many characters that lived there.  I equally vividly remember the fallout of the pit closure and the many, many years it took for a sense of normality to return to these villages.

Fallin’s outdoor mining museum is a community funded resource that shows some of the former pit machinery.  It opened in 2006, nearly twenty years after the pit closed.  But the interpretation material shows the wounds of the strike will always be raw; that bitterness towards Margaret Thatcher and the Tories comes through in the words in front of the rusting hulk of huge machines that served an industry that sustained countless communities around the country.

The Museum, which sits in front of the pit bing is always open, always free and always worth a visit.  The route of the railway spur that linked Fallin with the mainline at Braehead is now a cycle and walking path and well used by local families out in the fresh air.  The offspring of the swans that swam in this pond in front of the bing at Millhall (Polmaise 1 & 2) in the 1950s in the image are still there today.

The landscape is different, but the story of the mines and the miners who will always be a hugely important part of Stirling’s story lives on.  The book is available from the Smith, who also have a mining display as part of the permanent “Stirling Story”.