It is said that The Romans mined the coal, That lay under the Votadini soil, Like a black
treasure In its earthen chest. But evidence for that is hidden, Like a precious
jewel In a strong safe.
The first time we hear Of coal for certain is in 1183. The Boldon
Book, A record of the lands of local
bishops And there is the word, coal. Still a small word, But a word that would grow
huge In the centuries to come.
Slowly, but surely, more landowners learnt Of the fortune under their well-heeled feet As they walked their lands Like miniature
kings In their gently sloping, wooded northern
kingdoms. With the blue sloping ridges of the Pennines Looking one way And the straight blue line of the
sea Off in the distance, the other
way. This was their land and underneath it Lay their coal.
Hundreds of miles away towards the sun, A city was growing in warmer
climes. But the winters were cold, like the
Arctic And people would shiver through the dark months. The black gold from the North Kept them warm and more holes were dug In the land near the border.
The coalfield grew and
grew, Like an insatiable monster, Continually consuming people And money and land. People came into the
North, 49-ers every year In search of the black gold. From other parts of the North and from Cornwall, From Scotland and from Ireland.
In each rudimentary
village, The mine bought the strangers
together And communities were formed, With unions and chapels, Cooperative shops and welfare halls.
The coal kept people
warm And kept the wheels of industry
turning, As iron and steel was made And mighty ships were built, which proudly sailed the seven seas. . And all the
while, The carbon rose into the atmosphere, Like a smoky genie That couldn’t be put back in its bottle…
Now the days of coal are long gone The mercury rises year on year The world is beginning to sweat Mother Nature sheds a silent tear We can still provide energy for industry and home Still fulfil our historic task We just need the tools to do the
job That shouldn’t be too much to ask
We can build the strong rotary blades For the great turbines of the
future And the batteries for electric cars We will need in the coming years We can innovate and
develop And we can be all that we can be While showing the world once again The strength of community
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Peter is a teacher, writer and historian who has also been active in human rights work for 35 years. He is particularly interested in how our great human rights history in the North East can help us to be both inspired and enlightened and enable us to face up to the challenges we face today. These challenges include defending the human rights of all people in the region and the country and dealing with the existential crisis that is climate change.
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