Saddleworth Players

I wouldn't be here today if my great-grandfather hadn't injured his leg!

Hi, I'm David Plowright, responsible for lighting, projection and sound for The Pitmen Painters. This excellent play about a real-life group of miners and their search to expand their world reminds me that I wouldn't be here if my great-grandfather hadn't injured his leg, which meant he was not down the pit on 12 December 1866.

His family - fourth generation miners at least - had only just moved to Barnsley from Ingleton after that pit flooded. But three of his brothers, his father, uncle and cousin, died in a huge explosion that day at The Oaks Colliery. Final death toll: 361, the highest in any English mine disaster.

None in that family went down a mine again. With the pit closed, the employment prospects in Barnsley were desperate. Two more brothers died of disease within 10 years. Determined to find something better, sister Sarah emigrated alone, aged no more than 17, to New Zealand. Brother James - a miner turned stone mason - emigrated with his wife and family to Sydney. Prominent Methodists and teetotalers, in total 12 of their 13 children died before adulthood, but they remained adamant in their beliefs to the end. My great-grandfather's escape to a better life was not by training as an artist, but as a village school teacher. Though looked down on socially by the worthy school governors (and rebuked for keeping hens on school premises), he was clearly well respected by the villagers, and held in 'esteem and regard' by the vicar. His wife, son, two daughters and two granddaughters followed him into teaching.

The picture above is not of me as an objectionable infant, but of the clay model for a bronze statue of a widowed miner's wife, cast to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Oaks disaster in 2016. At the service, the Miners' Hymn 'Gresford', was played, as it is on our stage in our play. A wonderful, evocative piece, which makes the hairs on my neck stand up whenever I hear it.

Come and experience for yourself the humour, energy and creativity of this artistic group of Northern miners some 70 years after The Oaks. Don't miss it.

‘The Pitmen Painters’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, from 24 November until 1 December. Tickets £9 (£5 students) from our online booking site.

David Plowright, Nov 4, 2018