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Days of Laughter, Days of Pain: Rotherham commemorates the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike

1984's Battle of Orgreave has been described as "a brutal example of legalised state violence", and was the focal point of one of the UK's biggest industrial disputes.

Visitors to the Days of Laughter, Days of Pain exhibition look at a 3D model of a local colliery.

Days of Laughter, Days of Pain exhibition

James Mulkeen

2024 marks the 40th anniversary of the largest industrial dispute the UK has ever seen, in which miners and their supporters in South Yorkshire and beyond came together to fight for their jobs and their communities.

Perhaps most notably, Rotherham was the backdrop for what is now known as the Battle of Orgreave, which has become infamous as “a brutal example of legalised state violence", and resulted in dozens of wrongful arrests and injuries. To this day, the Orgreave Peace and Justice Campaign continues to call for an inquiry into the events of 18 June and justice for the picketers subjected to police violence and corruption, including the deliberate submission of false evidence by South Yorkshire Police.

40 years later, Rotherham Museums, Arts and Heritage, along with various local partners and community groups, have launched a programme of events sharing the lived experiences of Rotherham’s former mining communities throughout the strike, which finally ended in March 1985. The programme includes an exhibition at Clifton Park Museum which runs until 30 June exploring how the strike is remembered in Rotherham, as well as performances, workshops and more.

Part of the Days of Laughter, Days of Pain exhibition at Clifton Park Museum, including a large banner for the Yorkshire Mineworkers Association behind a 3D map of a local colliery
James Mulkeen

I chatted to Tessa Chynoweth, Collections & Exhibitions Manager for Rotherham Museums, Arts and Heritage, to find out more.

Hi Tessa. What do you think has been the lasting significance of the miners’ strikes in Rotherham and beyond? Why do you think it’s important for people to remember and learn about?

The significance of the strike varies enormously for different people and different communities. Some people we speak to are really keen to move on and forget about it, others are so invested in making sure the history is not forgotten about and historic injustices are rectified. Whether the lasting impact has been mistrust in the authorities, a sense of personal loss and of communities divided, or of pride, community cohesion, strength and personal and political empowerment really depends on who you speak to.

A child holding a paintbrush takes part in a protest badge making workshop
James Mulkeen

For Rotherham Museums, Arts and Heritage it was important to mark the 40th anniversary of the strike as it was a history that groups we were working with were keen that we tell. These individuals wanted their stories and their families’ stories remembered and represented, to demonstrate that, although the strike was ultimately unsuccessful, their fight, their suffering, mattered.

I also think one of the other reasons that this exhibition is resonating with so many people from across the borough is that Rotherham has received a bad rap in recent years, but the strike was a time when Rotherham was at the centre of national and international politics, and when many of the communities here rallied to support themselves and each other. For lots of people we speak to, the strike is still a thing of immense pride. We love an underdog in Yorkshire don’t we?!

The Days of Laughter, Days of Pain exhibition felt immersive, and really helped me to imagine what the feeling and the culture was like at the time. It uncovered some things for me I was not particularly aware of beforehand, such as the connections between the miners’ strike and campaigns against the development of nuclear weapons. What interesting facts or ideas were uncovered for you in the process of the exhibition coming together?

It’s really lovely to hear this!

For me, it was the complexities of the personal stories that really challenged my understanding of the strike and of this moment in history. Having the opportunity to speak to the people we spoke to, it is the differences of opinion and the diversity of viewpoints which became clear – this was the case even within communities, families, and even individuals. When we’re thinking about the past, there is a tendency to stereotype and focus on opposing viewpoints – often of the people who shout the loudest or have the most skin in the game – but people’s opinions are personal, contingent, and change over time; they’re not necessarily consistent, or perfectly aligned with a particular political argument. This appears to have been exactly the same during the strike.

Actors rehearsing for a performance at the Chol theatre, in front of a projection of Jeremy Deller's 2001 film, The Battle of Orgreave
James Mulkeen

Although the exhibition closes at the end of June, the wider programme runs into 2025 with a range of events. What events in the programme would you like to tell us a bit more about?

We’re really pleased and proud to have worked with teams across Rotherham Council and partners across the borough to bring together a programme of activity throughout 2025 (and beyond). There’s some amazing stuff!

I’m particularly proud that we’ve been able to arrange for Turner-prize winning artist Jeremy Deller to return to Rotherham for a screening of his film ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ at Rotherham Civic Theatre on 12 June 2024. The Battle of Orgreave is infamous as one of the most vicious and violent clashes in the history of industrial disputes in this country, and took place in Rotherham in June 1984. It will be fascinating to hear from the artist about his experience recreating the battle in 2001, and hear what the audience think about it – we’re hoping that lots of people who actually took part will attend the screening!

Anything else you’d like to add?

If people are interested in learning more about the miners’ strike, Rotherham Archives and Local Studies have a fascinating collection of archive material related to the strike (some of which is on display in the exhibition). The team have been busy cataloguing this material so much of it is now searchable via the catalogue and accessible at the Search Room at Clifton Park Museum.

Learn More

Days of Laughter, Days of Pain: The Miners’ Strike in Rotherham, 1984-1985 runs until 30th June 2024 at Clifton Park Museum.

Clifton Park Museum’s main entrance has level access, with a lift to all floors, disabled toilet and parking spaces. See the full accessibility guide here.

See the full programme of events here.

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