Black and white photograph of a line of women protestors wearing winter coats and carrying a sign that reads 'X for scabs, coal not dole'

A new exhibition retraces the UK Miners’ Strike, 40 years on

The Martin Parr Foundation is holding a show that seeks to commemorate and reflect on a tumultuous chapter in British history

It has been four decades since the beginning of the 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike, which only lasted one year but made a significant impact for decades to come.

The strikes were held by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) against the National Coal Board (NCB) and the Conservative government, led by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The strikers were protesting the closure of collieries around the country, and action was taken in areas such as South Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland, North East England, and Kent.

The strike, which was one of Britain’s longest and most brutal industrial disputes, involved mass picketing and was attended by supporters up and down the country – though mostly by those within the mining communities themselves.

Black and white photograph of three union officials sat at a desk covered in phones and a Yellow Pages book, with two signs that read 'N.U.M Official Picket' stuck to a patterned wall behind them
Top: Women’s picket at Bevercotes Colliery, Nottingham, 1985 © Brenda Prince; Above: NUM union officials in Maerdy Miners’ Hall, Rhondda Fach, South Wales, 1984-85 © Roger Tiley

Many of these demonstrations turned violent, with the most infamous being the Battle of Orgreave in June of 1984, which saw pickets and officers of the South Yorkshire Police clash in a bloody confrontation that left 123 protestors injured.

These encounters, as well as other behind-the-scenes efforts, have been captured in the images on show at a new exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol.

Black and white photograph of a row of police officers on horseback in a field
Riot police await orders in fields surrounding Orgreave coke works in South Yorkshire, 1984 © Brenda Prince

One Year! Photographs from the Miners’ Strike draws on press and documentary images taken from the foundation’s own collection, as well as the work of other prominent British photographers, to explore the events, happenings, and impacts of the movement.

Featuring photographs by Brenda Prince, John Sturrock, John Harris, Jenny Matthews, Roger Tiley, Imogen Young, and Chris Killip, the show brings together some of the most poignant moments from the strike while illustrating the quieter ways in which people came together in this time.

Black and white photograph of a woman pouring food from a very large metallic pot into a smaller pot, wearing jeans and a t-shirt that reads 'women against pit closures'
Dot Hickling on strike from NCB canteen at Linby Colliery, Nottingham, 1984-85 © Brenda Prince
Black and white photograph of a retired pit deputy wearing a hat and dark coat holding a three-month-old baby sleeping on his lap
Sidney Richmond, retired Pit Deputy, babysitting Sean at Clipstone Colliery, Nottingham, 1984/85 © Brenda Prince

“For those who have lived through this strike, its enormity cannot be underestimated,” says Parr. “We have brought together some of the best-known photographs – including John Harris’ image of a policeman with a truncheon held from a horse waving at a cowering woman and John Sturrock’s photograph of the confrontation between mass pickets and police lines at Bilston Glen – to rarely seen snapshots taken by Philip Winnard, a striking miner himself.”

The exhibition also features a fascinating range of ephemera relating to the strike, such as posters, vinyl records, plates, badges, and publications, all of which attest to the importance of this moment in history. There are even vernacular images taken by Swansea police at a picket line in Derbyshire, which have been loaned by the National Museum Wales.

Image shows a yellow poster that reads 'Victory to the miners' at the top, an image of protestors appearing to throw objects in the middle, and the phrase 'victory to the working class' at the bottom
Victory to the Miners, Victory to the Working Class poster
Image shows a blue poster headlined 'save our pits!' above a photo of a colliery and the tagline 'support the miners' strikes' at the bottom
Save Our Pits, Support The Miners’ Strike poster printed by Blackrose Press for Kent NUM, featuring photos by GM Cookson and John Harris

Speaking on this aspect of the show, exhibition curator Isaac Blease says that “the ephemera materials show the urgent use of images and the creativity that was deployed in support of the striking miners”.

“The works tell a story of the battle against Margaret Thatcher and the National Coal Board’s pit closures, but what ultimately shines through is the unity and imagination of people coming together in defence of their communities and the basic rights to work and to survive.”

Black and white photograph of protestors holding signs that read 'Victory to the miners' and 'United we can win'. At the centre of the image is a person wearing a pig mask and a police helmet with pig ears protruding from it
Durham Miners’ Gala, 1984 © Chris Killip Photography Trust/Magnum Photos
Black and white photograph of a person holding a sign that reads 'Stop the police state' and wearing a light vest that reads 'Was Judas a Notts Miner?'. In the background, two people are seat inside a DIY structure with a burning crib in front of them
Rossington Main Colliery, 1984 © Howard Sooley
Black and white photograph showing parents and children of striking miners eating party food from long tables inside a hall
Striking miners’ children’s Christmas party, Ollerton Miners’ Welfare, Nottingham, 1984-85 © Brenda Prince

One Year! Photographs from the Miners’ Strike is on show at the Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol from January 18 – March 31;