Chapter 3

III

 

‘The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared’

Lois Lowry, The Giver [1]

Having deciphered the serious effects that the decline had upon the personal identities of the workers, it is necessary to investigate the consequences that the slump had upon the towns themselves. In many respects this concerns a change in the use of space. Sacrosanct grounds, bastions of industry, which were invested with meanings, lost their symbolic value owing to the downturn. Moreover, this is also measurable for many of the buildings that we associated with the communities of our three towns; namely, public houses and working men’s clubs. Finally, this chapter examines the way in which the town’s histories have popularly been remembered.

Spaces are imbued with meaning. Any alteration to this delicate balance has a crucial effect upon identity. Just as we become familiar with our living rooms and how the sofa is positioned, the townsfolk of Grimsby, Consett and Barrow, were used to certain spaces being ingrained with particular meanings. Foucault argued in 1986 that “the great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, History. […] The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space.”[2] In some respects Foucault was right, as we have experienced the spatial turn, which purports that space is no longer considered to be a neutral box in which historical action takes place. Therefore:

Humans are [..] not individuals making free choices, but live in a specific situation which provides different opportunities, but also blocks the opportunity for wholly different ways of existence. [3]

In Consett and Grimsby, for instance, there have been attempts to use space as a way to remember the industries that were lost.[4] More useful, however, is the study of the areas of the towns that were once hubs of industry. In Barrow and Grimsby, for example, the docks are still used but not to the same extent. Hence many people have written poetry or songs about the desolate spaces that remain. Terry Island, for instance, wrote a poem entitled ‘Post Cod War Blues’ about the Docks of Hull. Here is a poignant section:

St Andrews fish dock has been long closed down
for there’s barely a fleet to sail from the town
the old lock gates where the trawlers queued
to land for the markets are no longer used
a metalled road runs over the lock
and no water runs between river and dock
buildings are tumbled or razed to the ground
and its quiet and eerie with only the sounds
of the water and wind and shrieks of the gulls
this Sunday morning in the old docks of Hull
it’s forlorn and deserted and so cold and bleak
I’ll cuddle the fire for the rest of the week
but I need to watch it as it finally goes
I need to remember so my kids will know[5]

As such, the study of spaces and the meaning attached to these places, impacts upon identity, belonging and community. In many respects the sudden change in the landscape of the town is of fundamental importance. In Consett, the steelworks was razed to the ground and no longer cast a shadow over the town. Similarly, at Barrow, although the shipyard remains open, the ‘mass exodus’ we discussed no longer takes place. Thus, the persona of the towns shifted as the town itself was forced to change.

This had implications for other areas, beyond purely occupational sections. For instance, in all three towns interviewees spoke about a decline in the numbers of pubs, clubs and cinemas, all places where the workers had gathered. Often these were referred to as central pillars of the community:

Before the steelworks closed, everybody had some money. There was friendship, and there was buzz about the place because people had money to spend, because there was good money. And after it finished, with all the money going and the local people unemployed, there was no money so… Cinemas closed… So what you had, you had three cinemas and going out, all sorts, before the closure, and after it closed all these closed down. It became more nightclubby, the pubs became just different types of pubs, you know what I mean? So like, the community, because there were no more clubs, the working men’s club was very popular in them days so… Used to meet there…[6]

Similarly, in Grimsby, the traditional drinking grounds of the fisherman lost their business. Surprisingly, many of these pubs were actually inside the dock:

Yeah. There was quite a lot of pubs. Humber, that was one of the main ones; Albion, Cotties, Lincoln, God knows. Coaching horses… The Lord Raglan which err -the docks, erm part of the dock.. the landing quay. The corner where the Raglan was, offside, the other side of the railway line, they used to call that the Raglan corner. In the dock itself. And there was a pub just the other side of the railway line which was the Lord Raglan. And a lot of people used to get in there, first stop, and then a few on the other side, Humber Street, then the first stop was The Humber.[7]

Subsequently, many of these areas surrounding the docks and the traditional ‘fisherman’s’ public houses, down Freeman street have closed. The hustle and bustle of people, of familiar faces, has not been replaced. One must, nevertheless, be wary of making these generalisations and feelings about the decline in our towns. In some respects what the workers are mentioning is not only an economic slump, but also a change in the leisure habits of people. Traditional public houses are not as prolific as they once were. Nightclubs and bars, in contrast, have sprouted up around the country. Thus, there was a significant change in the appearance of our towns. This was triggered by the economic downturns in our industries, which reduced disposable incomes and changed the areas, where people gathered in the towns. Nevertheless, this has been accompanied by a nationwide shift in forms of social interaction and leisure. In many respects therefore, the memories of our interviewees echo the sentiments in Bornat’s study of communities. For Bornat, the communities are ‘remembered’, where certain places, actions and feelings represent the idea of a community. As people have aged, and the world has changed, yet these epochs have gained special symbolic meaning.[8] Hence, when many workers argue that the community changed and stopped with the decline in the industry, they are right to suggest this, but it is accompanied by the natural slow change in culture.

The towns, in the twenty-first century, do, to some extent, resemble their former selves. In Grimsby, fish is still on the menu:

They [The Icelandic] fly eighty tons of fish, five times a week, into Humberside airport for Young’s Seafoods. Their trawlers land up in the North of Scotland and it comes down here by road. They send it in containers from Reykjavik and from the Faroe Islands, send containers into Immingham docks, which comes here, and it comes from Norway and Denmark on the night ferries to here. So from the biggest fishing port in the world, to the biggest distribution port in Europe. So there’s plenty of fish around for us. [… ] It’s different now. [9]

Although John Vincent was pleased to see that Grimsby still has place, he was clearly disappointed that so few Grimbarians have a role in catching the fish.  Grimsby is now a distribution centre. In stark contrast, Barrow shipyard has expanded its role as a weapons’ manufacturer:

the shipyard has… having got down to 3,000 people, it’s now getting up towards 6,000 people, it’s been taking on large sums of apprentices on a regular basis, it’s been recruiting people, people have been leaving other companies including our own to go and join BAE because they see a secure future, with order books that they have for the astute nuclear submarine program and also the work on the successor program to the Trident nuclear deterrent submarine. So there’s a greater confidence around the future of BA systems, therefore greater confidence I feel in the Barrow economy and greater confidence of people wanting to go into BA systems because they see a secure future. So from insecurity there’s now a greater security. And I said the numbers will never get back up to 15,000 but they have sort of doubled from when we had 3,000 people[10]

Consequently, since the decline experienced in the early 1990s, there has been a slow and steady development. Thus, when many workers believed that there was ‘hope’ for the future when the shipyard had closed this seems to have instilled a sense of confidence. This, perhaps, helps us to explain why so many workers chose to receive incapacity benefit – they were hoping for a return to success for Barrow. Nevertheless, Harry Knowles is quite right to point out that the shipyard will never return to the dizzy heights of employing 15,000 people. Thus, there was a change in identity and community, but not to the same degree of severity, as was experienced by Grimsby, or indeed Consett. Since the decline, Consett has become an infamous example of a town treated poorly:

Poverty has become big business in Consett. People are writing books, giving lectures, making reputations and good livings out of us. Yet no one is doing a thing to help. I’ve seen men age two years since it closed, I know people who have committed suicide and I know people who have just given up and died and no one’s done a fucking thing to help. They just took the money or whatever else they could get out of it and ran.[11]

The decisions taken at Consett, meant that a new identity, forged through injustice, bitterness and angst took hold, for a number of years. A regeneration project for the town in 1980, started at year zero, implying that there was no history to the town before this ‘resurgence’. In many respects, this is how many of the workers felt:

When they closed the works, it wasn’t only about unemployment, it was about total change – physical social, cultural- that’s what people don’t understand and no-one is addressing the real problems […] because they can’t question their particular view of things. […] When are people going to start addressing themselves to the real problems?[12]

Hence, unlike Grimsby and Barrow where their histories have been embraced, for Consett and those who live there, they still appear to be wrestling with the implications of the closure. In both Grimsby and Barrow, for example, there are museums, which glorify and educate the town about the long history that the area has. Nevertheless this is also a point of contention. Museums offer a specific kind of history. Often sanitised, simplistic, and overly reverent, one can be forgiven for recalcitrantly disregarding some of the history, which neglects controversy.[13] Yet, the reasons for this type of history are crucially important. When one is remembering local history, or visits a museum, the expectation is to have an enjoyable and interactive experience. As such, many of the more troublesome periods in the history of Barrow and Grimsby are left untouched. In Barrow, the massive redundancies of the 1990s are not discussed, whilst in Grimsby the Fishing Heritage Centre, does not mention the Cod Wars, although a temporary exhibition was produced in April 2013.

Thus, for the purposes of our discussion, one must bear in mind that our memories of the decline in the industry have not been formed in a vacuum. For Consett, the feeling of an unsanctimonious ending has remained, lingering on like an unwanted odour. In contrast, for those at Barrow and Grimsby, their history has been left untold, helping to add to a feeling of injustice, but also a feeling of helplessness. One assumes that many must wonder why has ‘our history been left unwritten?’


[1] L, Lowry, The Giver (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 1993) p.158

[2] M, Foucault, ‘Of other Spaces’, Diacritics, 16/1 (1986), p22

[3] T, Rohkramer, F, Schulz, ‘Space, Place, and Identities’ History Compass 7/5 (2009) p1340

[4] Particularly relevant here is the Made of Steel project in Consett, which can be accessed online.

[5] T, Ireland, ‘Post Cod War Blues’ Available online at: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOsKX7BeNbY] accessed 14/03/13] accessed 22/05/13

[6] Pat Carr, interviewed by Alasdair Fuller, 12/07/13 , see appendix for transcript.

[7] Eddie Collins, interviewed by Alasdair Fuller, 9/07/13, see appendix for transcript.

[8] J, Bornat ‘Representations of Community’ in J, Bornat et al. (eds.) Community Care: a Reader (MacMillan, London, 1993) pp.21-32

[9] John, Vincent, interviewed by Alasdair Fuller, 6/05/13, see appendix for transcript.

[10] Harry Knowles, interviewed by Alasdair Fuller, 19/06/13, see appendix for transcript.

[11] J. Holmes, Consett, A Case study of Education and Unemployment (Further Education Unit , London, 1985) p74

[12] Ibid. p.1

[13] Eddie Collins, interviewed by Alasdair Fuller, 9/07/13, see appendix for transcript.

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