Kent Mining Heritage Foundation has unearthed a unique collection of images offering a glimpse into life at Betteshanger Colliery and reunited ex-miners in the process.
The set of thirty-six black and white negatives has been gifted to the new Heritage Lottery-funded Kent Mining Museum, which is opening at Betteshanger Park, near Deal, in 2018.
Darran Cowd, Museum and Heritage Manager, Kent Mining Museum, said: “With picture research for the Kent Mining Museum displays underway, a phone message from someone, who we now know as Mike Dugdale, saying they had some photographs of a Kent colliery was too good an opportunity to miss. This was just the start of what turned out to be an amazing journey into the past of the Kent Coalfield.”
Hythe-based photographer and cameraman Mike Dugdale visited Betteshanger Colliery in 1968 as a student of Medway College of Art & Design, looking to take photographs of the miners. The resulting collection of images show miners both in groups and individually as they change shifts. They show a very human side to Kent’s bygone industry, catching the miners in a brief moment of respite.
Mike recalled: “At 18, I spent each day in an unrealistic world, in an art college studio with fashion models. However, my real passion was portraiture at its most natural. It reflected the hardship and toil that many people experienced on a day-today basis.”
“On my visit to Betteshanger I was allowed free access to all surface areas. By absolute luck, as I arrived near the pithead, a group of young apprentices, a few years younger than myself, had just emerged and I simply placed this group of coal dustcovered lads in front of the winding gear and took several photographs.”
The discovery of the images launched a research project for the Kent Mining Museum team to identify the miners from the photographs. With the help of the local mining communities, many have now been named. This has subsequently led to a reunion of photographer and some of the subjects almost fifty years after Mike’s first visit to Betteshanger.
Mike, along with twins Andrew and John Inglis and Brian Hood, met again at Almond House, the former administrative headquarters for Betteshanger Colliery, earlier this year. The original photographs triggered reminiscences about their time down the mines, including stories of their working life, accidents at the pit, the strikes and the humour that released some of the stress of an otherwise dangerous job.
Mike credits the photographs of another miner, Douglas Carr, with helping him get his very first job in television.
Mike also added: “Of what has since been a lifetime of photography, it is the image of a blackened 15-year-old Kent mining apprentice, taken by me as an 18-year-old art student nearly half a century ago, that means so much and has altered my life.”
Mike’s negatives have been scanned and will be printed, forming part of the Kent Mining Museum’s collections when it opens next year. Once complete, the Museum will celebrate the Kent Coalfield, showcasing the story of the local mining communities and their heritage.
The Museum is actively looking for further stories and items about the Kent Coalfield. If you have something, a badge, books, photographs, Davy lamp, tools or a grandparent’s diary telling of their journey to Kent, the team urge you to get in touch. They’ll be given a safe home, where they’ll be used and shared with future generations.
For information about the Kent Mining Museum, see www.betteshanger-park.co.uk