Photography: Coal mining's demise and the people left behind

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Demonstration against pit closures, Cardiff. 1984Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
For 40 years Roger Tiley has been photographing mining communities - this photo was taken at a demonstration against pit closures in Cardiff in 1984

For the past 40 years documentary photographer Roger Tiley has been capturing miners and the communities they live in as their way of life slowly disappeared.

It is a career that has seen him charged at by police horses during the miners' strike of 1984-5 and photograph crestfallen miners as the UK's last deep-pit mine closed in 2015.

Roger, 62, who grew up in the mining community of Cross Keys in Caerphilly county, said after spending a year covering the miners' strike he was both physically and emotionally drained.

"I'd seen people, my own community suffer so much," he said.

"I wasn't just a journalist coming in and going out. I actually lived in the places where I was photographing."

One of the first miners he photographed was his uncle Bill at Bedwas Colliery, Caerphilly, in 1983.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
One of the first miners Roger photographed was his uncle Bill in 1983

Following an apprenticeship as an industrial photographer for brake manufacturer Lucas Girling in Cwmbran and Pontypool, Roger studied photography in Newport where he was taught by the influential documentary photographer David Hurn.

In his first year he took the portrait of his uncle Bill - the catalyst for his fascination with mining communities that would dominate his photography and filmmaking career and take him around the world.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Roger took this photograph of young Brandy and her mother in a trip to Hazard, Kentucky, USA in 1997

More photos of miners followed and he took his portfolio to Fleet Street in London, where most national newspapers were based at the time.

When the miners' strike began he found himself in demand.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
This photo captures the moment working miners broke through the picket line at Celynen South Colliery in Newbridge during the miners' strike

"It was hard work - the miners and their families were really suffering and I was really feeling it," he said.

He would join the picket lines at 6am, sometimes walking there in the freezing cold over mountains to avoid the police clocking him.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Miners emerging from pit bottom at Celynen South Colliery in 1983

Often there would be no time to process his film, so he would send it to London by train where the newspapers would process it and pick two or three for publication.

"I never got to see a lot of the pictures I took... the negatives were probably thrown away, long gone," he said.

A day that has stuck with him is 18 June 1984, when he found himself caught up in the most violent event of the strike, the "Battle of Orgreave".

That day police and striking miners clashed violently at Orgreave Colliery in South Yorkshire.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Woman working at a cigar factory in Cardiff in 1985

Debate goes on about who acted first, but police horses were sent to charge the crowd up the field and officers followed to make arrests. Many miners and police officers were injured.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Striking miners picking coal during the miners' strike at Penrhiwceiber, Rhondda Cynon Taf

"That was the worst day of my life. I was so scared," said Roger.

"I was stood right in the middle of it all and I I just remember running for my life away from the horses charging. It was a horrific time."

Roger's camera film fell from his bag as he rushed to flee to the scene so he has no pictures from that day.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Mr Coles' home is demolished as he looks on in 1983 - he had lived in the miners cottage at The Ranks in Abercarn, Caerphilly, all of his life

After 364 days on strike, the miners returned to work defeated.

"After that, the pits were closing one after the other, that was all that was on the news - it was a very sad time," said Roger.

In the 40 yeas Roger has been taking pictures of miners, attitudes towards coal have shifted and there has been a move towards greener energy.

He said he had witnessed "incredible changes and not for the good".

"I'm sorry to see the pits gone... the communities were built around the mines," said Roger. "I'm sad about it all."

A 2019 Sheffield Hallam study said former mining towns and villages across the UK have still not recovered, a generation on from pit closures.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Megan, a Welsh descendant, at home in the coal mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA in 1998

In 1987 Roger's old tutor from Cross Keys College invited him to give a talk to students.

This led to him running an evening class in photography, then lecturing at the college before he moved to Swansea FE College (now Gower College Swansea), where he stayed for 27 years, all while working on his own assignments.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
The miners' flower show at Cross Keys in 1983

Roger now lives in Ystradgynlais, Powys, and his career has taken him all over the world.

He has made many trips to the US, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, to capture how those communities are responding to the closure of their pits.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Miners comfort each other at a party held following the 2015 closure of Kellingley Colliery, North Yorkshire, the last deep coal mine in the UK

Closer to home, in 2015, he captured the closure of the last deep coal mine in the UK - Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire.

He spent time underground with the miners and attended the party they held to mark its closure.

"It was a difficult situation, you're photographing people losing their jobs and jobs they love," said Roger.

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Miners at Crumlin Mines Rescue Station, Caerphilly, in 1983

"There aren't many miners that say 'I hated working in the pit'.

"If you spoke to them now the majority would say to you 'I miss it, I loved it' - the banter and the friendships were second to none and you wouldn't find that anywhere else.

"That's the way it was, and that culture has pretty much gone now."

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Celynen South Colliery in Newbridge, Caerphilly, in 1982

Choosing photographs for his new book Valley Boy with a Camera, a retrospective of his work, has been an opportunity for reflection.

Despite the sadness he has seen, he looks back on the decades fondly.

"It's been a fun career," he said.

"The most joyful thing for me is just meeting the people and if it weren't for photography I wouldn't have been able to meet the people I did and have met.

"I wish I could just wind everything back and do it all again."

Image source, Roger Tiley
Image caption,
Roger (pictured) has spent his career photographing miners