Death at 82 of one of county's last coal miners

One of the last of Shropshire's working coal miners, Jim Ford, has died at the age of 82.

Life at the coal face at Lea Hall Colliery. Jim is centre.
Life at the coal face at Lea Hall Colliery. Jim is centre.

He worked at two of the county's last mines until their closure – Madeley Wood Colliery which closed in 1967, and the last of all, Granville Colliery, on the eastern outskirts of Telford, which shut in 1979.

However, he then made the daily bus journey to Rugeley to work at Lea Hall Colliery.

Life at the coal face at Lea Hall Colliery. Jim is centre.

He took part in the famous miners' strike in 1984-85, and was treasurer of the local striking miners fund. In 2019 Shropshire miners, including Jim, were at an event at Anstice Memorial Hall, Madeley, to commemorate the area's mining heritage.

Jim, who lived in Madeley in Telford, died at the Severn Hospice in Telford earlier this month. Funeral arrangements are being finalised.

His wife Margaret died last December. They had five children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Son Rob said: "My dad was one of the last surviving Shropshire coal miners.

"He was a brilliant football player and played for Shifnal Town FC, including the year they won the county amateur league and cup.

In Manchester in 1960 on his way to watch his beloved Manchester United.

"He was a huge fan of Manchester United and the Busby Babes, travelling to see them play. I am named after Bobby Charlton and had the pleasure of meeting the great man once and telling him this – he just grinned at me at the idea.

"There was no money in football and so at 15 he left school and began working first of all in Madeley Wood Colliery's Kemberton pit, between Madeley and Shifnal, until it closed in 1967.

The closure of Madeley Wood Colliery in July 1967. Jim Ford is seventh down the line.

"The pit was very outdated and he remembered pit ponies, ghost stories from the older miners, as well as being buried several times as a teenager underground at the coalface. In 1964, after he married, they came to live in the new coal miners' houses built on Hills Lane, Madeley, where they stayed all their lives, buying the house when he retired.

"My father was heavily involved in trade union affairs and was on strike in 1972 and 1974. He was a moderate but believed in fighting for his community and their livelihoods. This was set against the decline of mining in the East Shropshire coalfield and in Madeley in particular.

"He transferred to Granville until it closed as the last Shropshire coal mine in 1979.

"He had no choice but to take the long bus journey each day to Rugeley to work at Lea Hall Colliery, a so-called 'super pit,' now the site of one of the largest Amazon warehouses in Europe."

Then in March 1984 the nationwide miners' strike began.

"Although my father didn't agree with Arthur Scargill (the miners' leader) on a number of things, crossing a picket line was something that he couldn't do.

"He would be on a strike for a whole year with the dwindling band of Shropshire miners at either Lea Hall or Littleton (near Cannock) collieries."

In March 1985 they gathered at Hills Lane Social Club in Madeley to mark the end of the year-long strike.

Miners at Hills Lane Social Club, Madeley, at an event marking the end of the strike in March 1985. Jim is third from left of the line-up.

"My dad was the treasurer of the striking miners fund and my mother was active in the women's group of miners' wives. My mum would collect the food parcels each week from the miners' welfare club in Rugeley.

"My dad and his fellow strikers picketed mostly the Ironbridge Power Station and were joined by striking miners from Pontypridd.

"My mother and father spoke at events to support the miners with famous politicians such as Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner and Arthur Scargill.

"Local trade unions and the Labour Party supported the action and raised funds and collected food, and toys at Christmas, but it was very hard."

Miners at an event at Anstice Memorial Hall, Madeley, in 2019, with Jim second from left.

Rob, who is director of the Heritage International School in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, added: "Coal inevitably had no future and my father was fortunate enough to retire aged 55 and spend time taking up painting, supporting his family and community in Madeley, speaking at schools about coal mining in Shropshire as well as supporting the community in Hills Lane and Madeley.

"He was one of the main organisers of local marching band, The Telford Royce Royals, for years."

A legacy of his long years working underground was the lung disease pneumoconiosis, caused by inhaling coal dust, and earlier this year he was diagnosed with cancer.

"He was a very decent Shropshire lad. Already we are receiving many messages from people who knew him and worked with him. He will be sorely missed.

With wife Margaret.

"His funeral will be around the first week of December, in St Andrew's Church, Shifnal, where he was married and where my mother's service was last January."

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