Published: 13:10, 28 June 2017
A collection of images has shed new light on our Kent mining heritage and reunited ex-miners in the process.
The set of 36 black and white negatives by photographer Mike Dugdale have been given to the new Kent Mining Museum under construction at Betteshanger Country Park in Sholden.
Museum and heritage manager Darran Cowd said Mr Dugdale’s offer was “too good to miss”.
He said: “It was just the start of what turned out to be an amazing journey into the past of the Kent Coalfield.”
The Hythe photographer visited Betteshanger Colliery in 1968 as a student of Medway College of Art & Design to take shots of the miners.
The resulting collection shows 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.
Mr Dugdale said: “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-to-day 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 dust-covered lads in front of the winding gear and took several photographs.”
The discovery of the images launched a research project by the Kent Mining Museum team to identify the miners in the photographs.
Many have now been named.
This has subsequently led to a reunion of photographer and some of the subjects almost 50 years after Mr Dugdale’s first visit to Betteshanger.
Mr Dugdale, along with twins Andrew and John Inglis and Brian Hood, met again at Almond House, the former administrative headquarters of 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.
Mr Dugdale credits the photographs of another miner, Douglas Carr, with helping him get his very first job in television.
He said: “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.”
Mr Dugdale’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 Kent Mining Museum is 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
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