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A lament and a lesson,
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This review is from: The Pitmen's Requiem (Paperback)
The Pitman's Requiem - a Requiem for a way of life
Unlike the previous reviewer, I never had the privilege of meeting the subject of this book, and gives the spine of the thread that binds it together - a thread that describes the now dead Great Northern Coalfield that stretched almost the length of the old traditional counties of Durham and Northumberland.
Saint, a pitman, a bit of a chancer (in the best sense of the word) and who augmented his wartime factory work as the leader of a small dance hall combo, is now only known (if that) as the composer of the Miner's Hymn 'Gresford' a tune named after the pit in the North Wales town of the same name that saw, in an ear of similar events, one of the greatest mine disasters of the 20th century. This tune, 70 years on is still in the play list of every silver band based in a former colliery area. Other than that, Robert Saint is a name utterly forgotten in the condescension of history.
The author, Peter Crookston, despite a life spent in London literary circles, comes from the North East and knew Saint as a boy. This is the peg for his portrait of the pit villages, the pitmen and their families. He shows for the benefit of those who do not know or understand this unique area, how totally septate these villages in the hills of Durham and the low lying lands of South East Northumberland (and their neighbouring communities in the East Cleveland Ironstone region) were from the big towns that outsiders might see as representing the region. Pitmen might visit Newcastle, Sunderland and the Teesside towns for shopping or to watch a big match, but for the rest of their life, they retreated to the certainties and close communal ties of the villages and small towns. Today, even after the closures and ordeal of the great last strike in defence of a wway of life in the mid 1980's, these villages are still there, and whilst many of the older residents still have their family ties to the pitmen who were their ancestors, the newer inhabitants - commuters to the big cities of Tyne and Tees or Durham students attracted to affordable housing - do not have that certainty and linkage. If they invest a small part of their earnings on this book, they will learn much about their new home. I hope they take my advice !
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Initial post: 3 Feb 2012 18:52:38 GMT
You might be interested in a beautiful film that's come out last year called "The Miners' Hymns," which assembles BFI archival footage of Durham's late mining culture and takes Saint's song as its point of departure. Thanks again for your reviews.
In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2012 10:11:40 GMT
Last edited by the author on 5 Feb 2012 10:12:04 GMT
Thank you for this and for previous warm words which are much appreciated.
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