Excerpt: 'Chavs' by Owen Jones


From The New York Times:

Mrs Parry is a woman battered by events that were outside her control. I met her in the centre of Ashington, a 27,000-strong community about seventeen miles north of Newcastle. It was the world’s biggest mining village until the local pit closed in 1986, just a year after the defeat of the Miners’ Strike. Thousands were thrown out of work; the community has never recovered.

When I asked Mrs Parry what impact the pit’s closure had on the community, she interrupted me before I had even finished the question. ‘We died!’ she responded with a combination of grief and conviction. ‘Once all the mines closed, all the community had gone. It’s just been a big depression ever since, just struggling to survive, that’s all.’ Both her father and her then-husband were miners. They split up the year he lost his job. ‘We owed not just our livelihoods, but our lives to the pits as well. My dad retired, and then he died. My marriage broke up.’

Before the 1840s, Ashington was a tiny hamlet. It became an effectively purpose-built town when coal was discovered. Irish farm workers fleeing the Potato Famine came to the town to work down the pits, as did farm workers from Norfolk, lead miners from Cumberland and tin miners from Cornwall. Six hundred and sixty-five cottages were built in eleven long rows to house them. As the town thrived, working men’s clubs sprang up alongside schools, post offices, churches and a police station. Coal had brought the community to life.

Take away the heart of a community and it will wilt and begin to die. ‘The community just disintegrated,’ says Mrs Parry. ‘There was just nothing left for nobody. They tried to fetch various works up to the industrial estate, but every one’s just left after two or three years. Loads and loads of men over forty-five never worked again, because they were too old.’

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