Images of Yorkshire Coal
Published by Landmark Publishing, 2005, pp192, £19.99, ISBN 1843061511.
Some book titles can be misleading, this one most certainly is not. ‘Images of Yorkshire Coal' provides what it suggests - a series of mainly, but not exclusively, photographs portraying many of the facets of Yorkshire's coal industry.
Peter Williams has chosen an alphabetical approach to this new compilation, however, this is not just a collection of photographs. Throughout the book photos are mingled with sundry other depictions of aspects of the coal-mining industry - pub signs, union banners, reproductions of engravings from The Illustrated London News and advertisements for mining equipment.
While amateur and professional photographers have captured images of the coal industry for over a century, rarely have sustained campaigns been undertaken with a particular target in mind. One such was the colliery-recording project carried out by the UK's Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. The outcome from this work, which took place in 1991, has already provided source material for two books - ‘Images of Industry - Coal' and ‘Colliery Landscapes'.
The standard of photography reflects the skill of the people who were employed to record aspects of a coal industry in sharp decline. The images are invariably crisp, often even stark, but rarely contain any human input that might provide a softer result. Whether the picture is of the Kiveton Park headframe, the scrapped steam winder at Shuttle Eye, or of derelict miners' housing in Thurnscoe near Barnsley, the effect is the same - these are landscapes, not portraits.
A book showing photo after photo of derelict headframes, washing plants and other shaft-bank ephemera could be pretty monotonous, but Peter Williams' choice of images ensures that this is not the case here. There is enough variation to ensure that the reader's attention is retained. Even tragedy has its place. The Illustrated London News' engravings of 19th century mining accidents provide a dramatic reminder of the frequency and, in a way, public acceptance, of this aspect of coal mining, while memorials provide a lasting tribute to the dead, from Huskar in 1838 to Lofthouse in 1973.
Where this book differs markedly from both of its predecessors that drew on the NMR archives is that there are no descriptions of the images used, other than a short caption. This book lets the images speak for themselves. While often commendable, this approach can sometimes be frustrating, especially for a reader who is not intimately familiar with the Yorkshire coal industry. Another grouse, and one that seems to escape the attention of Landmark Publishing time and again, is that there is no map to show the location of the mines featured in the book. Each photograph does have a grid reference, however, so enthusiastic or merely curious readers have the opportunity to nail down locations for themselves, albeit by a separate map.
Presented entirely in monochrome, this is probably not a book for the easily depressed. Readers with little personal knowledge of Yorkshire coal mining may also find difficulty in relating to the images. However, it provides a valuable record of a once great industry in decline. By highlighting the resource that lies in the NMR archive, Peter Williams has certainly done mining history a service.