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Our ‘twin’ pit’s wise Catherine

10 January, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Catherine Church

FOR readers interested in local contemporary history may I remind them that 36 years ago a strange thing happened – union activists at the Town Hall took up the cause of the miners who had embarked on a national strike, and “twinned” with a mine called Bentley in Doncaster!

Scores of union members of Nalgo, now transmogrified into Unison, would collect from the public for the miners, and went to Doncaster to show their support. They were before their times because they saw how important the so-called “northern heartlands” are well before Boris Johnson and his cunning side-kick Dominic Cumming had thought of it! But they had a different and more honest view, and wanted to help the mining families who were having a hard time.

The New Journal and this column supported them.

I paid several visits, as perhaps Ed Miliband may have done, because, of course, he eventually became MP for that constituency!

During my visits I got to know one family, the Churches, with whom I have always kept in contact. Heads of the family were John and Catherine Church both of whom would have become known to Town Hall activists.

John, not so much a Labour man as a “syndicalist”, could smell political hypocrites from afar – among whom he included Boris Johnson. His wife Catherine, like so many mining families in Yorkshire, originated in Scotland. They had left their country of birth to find work in the Yorkshire pits.

Catherine was generous, kind, with a wisdom that had organically grown out of her family background of auto-didacts and rebels.

She revered – as I do – the great Scottish novel A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which poetically paints the Lowlands she was so fond of.

Well, Catherine died over the weekend, a fairly young woman at 72. And it is a great loss, naturally, to her family but also to all the many people who found hope in her sheer enjoyment of life. I was one of them.

She would have agreed with the powerful speech by the Scottish socialist and nationalist John Maclean, in court over his opposition to the First World War, who said: “We are out for life and all that life can give us.”


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