Elements of place – Orgreave

Waverley nee Orgreave (lest we forget)

Waverley nee Orgreave (lest we forget)

Orgreave coking plant, on the outskirts of Sheffield. Famous for being the site of a pitched battle between Police and striking coal miners during the 1984 dispute, the plant supplied coke to the steel manufacturers of South Yorkshire and Scunthorpe, and was closed in 1990.

That’s the bare bones. The truth of the battle of Orgreave is complex, and for those interested I recommend the excellent documentary (Still) the enemy within, produced in 2014. The miners strike itself was engineered, by the Thatcher government, as a deliberate ploy to ensure the destruction of the trades unions, an essential goal in ensuring that the objective of dismantling the state could happen. A productive and viable Coal Industry was destroyed as collateral damage in acheiving this objective,  which enabled first the sacrifice of British Industry on the altar of neo-liberal economics, and now the destruction of the welfare state. An important time, the repercussions of the failure of the strike continue to impact upon us, and particularly in the industrial North, which lost so many productive jobs, jobs that have thus far failed to be replaced.

Of the coking plant nothing remains. Even the landscape has been altered, the contaminated topsoil placed in a steel encasement and buried, lakes and hills forming a manicured wilderness for the benefit of the new residents. Redevelopment, an advanced manufacturing park and 4000 new private sector dwellings, has swept the physical past away. The name has been changed too, it’s now called Waverley. Eventually memories will die as well, and in fifty years there will be few who could identify a site that for 190 years provided first coal, and later coke, to people and industry, and which gave the backdrop to one of the most important moments in the history of British labour. Let’s not forget.




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