"They say Tevershall's done, finished. Only a question of a few more years, and it'll have to shut down . . . my word, won't it be funny when there's no Tevershall pit working. It's bad enough during a strike, but, my word, if it closes for good, it'll be like the end of the world." -- "Lady Chatterley's Lover," D.H. Lawrence -- This region's most famous coal miner's son was a bit premature when those words first were published in 1928. The coal pits around Lawrence's home of Eastwood -- the "Tevershall" of "Lady Chatterley," and "Bestwood" of "Sons and Lovers" -- in fact took much longer to die.
The last of them held on until this summer, when the National Coal Board declared nearby Moorgreen Colliery uneconomic. It shut it down just in time to mark the 100th anniversary of Lawrence's birth, which is to be commemorated beginning today in a three-week festival here.
The closure may not have been the end of the world, but it was the end of an era in this small corner of England's East Midlands that for nearly two centuries has lived and breathed the black, sooty dust of coal mining. By some reckonings, there once were at least 300 coal pits working within a two-mile radius of here. Today, there are fewer than two dozen in all of Nottinghamshire.
Unlike other parts of Britain, where the closure of the mines has brought hardship, anger and a sense of social dislocation, Eastwood and the surrounding villages seem to have managed fairly well. Many still work in the mines, commuting to the remaining pits to the east of here. Others commute to the textile factories and offices of nearby cities such as Nottingham, Derby and Mansfield.
Eastwood appears to have adjusted less well, however, to the memory of D.H. Lawrence. To generations of students of English literature throughout the world, Lawrence has been the unparalleled chronicler of the British working class during the early years of this century. Through his novels, plays and short stories, he turned life in these small mining towns -- with all its dirt, drudgery and poetry -- into literature.
Yet for years, until about a decade ago, Lawrence was not taught in Eastwood schools. Only in 1971 -- 41 years after his death -- did local authorities decide to purchase the small house on Victoria Street where he was born Sept. 11, 1885, and turn it into a museum.
To many in Eastwood today, just as during his lifetime, Lawrence remains what one local resident recently called "that mucky man," the one who put on airs and set himself above the community to expose the most private parts of their lives in his "dirty books."
As recently as last July, a dramatized version of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was banned from production as far away as Edinburgh. In this more provincial part of the British Isles, the explicit sex scenes that once caused the book to be banned worldwide brought shame and embarrassment upon the town.
Even worse, however, was the fact that the characters, places and incidents throughout much of Lawrence's work were easily recognizable as the people and lives of Eastwood. In many cases, he even used the real names of his neighbors. Chatterley, the wheelchair-bound cuckold of Lawrence's most famous, if not best, novel, is tied to the real-life Barber family, which owned the Brinsley Colliery where Lawrence's father worked. The name itself is recognizable to people around here as George Chatterley, the Brinsley clerk. Descendants of both the Barbers and the Chatterleys still live here and still bear grudges against Lawrence.
"The descriptive way he wrote about the area, the beautiful side of it -- the town, the walks -- all pleased people," said Eva Warren, the curator of the tiny Lawrence museum. "But when he wrote about the ugliness, well, then that perhaps didn't. Mainly his books like 'Lady Chatterley' and 'The Lost Girl' . . . he didn't change some of the names. The people are very easily recognized. . . . I think they thought it was a bit too close to home."
It is with some trepidation, then, that the community approaches the centenary of Lawrence's birth. Local authorities have put up the money, and people from the south -- from London or, even worse, places like Oxford -- have come here to prepare for a three-week festival that will put Eastwood on the map once again under the aegis of "that mucky man."
Kevin West, the weary-looking festival coordinator whose large mustache seems to droop with the fatigue of last-minute preparation for the opening today, is one of the outsiders.
"I get rather bored with articles about the antipathy between Lawrence and Eastwood," he says. "Eastwood is a typical mining village that turned into a town . . . . It's inevitable that the people always are suspicious of new ideas."
"Lawrence wrote about the rough edge between the effects of industrialization and the natural world. They are tensions not just in a family," as in Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers," "but tensions in a changing community."
"I'm a local lad," said Raymond Storer. "I was brought up here in Selston, and my dad was a butty, same as Lawrence's dad." Selston is an old mining village a few miles north of Eastwood. A butty is a mine worker who takes on the extra-paid job of contracting labor for the mine owners.
Storer, 61, went down into the pits as a miner at the age of 16 and eventually rose to a local management position for the National Coal Board, the government-appointed entity that took over Britain's coal mines when they were nationalized in 1947. Since his retirement last year, he has been able to devote more hours to his avocation, the study of mining history in this region.
Lawrence called this part of Nottinghamshire, a rolling countryside lying between the Erewash River and the Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood, "the real England -- the hard pith of England." Almost as long as its history has been recorded, it has been mining country.
"Mining has been extensive here for hundreds of years," says Storer with the sense of the past that seems to be in the genes of every Englishman. "Since after the Norman Conquest. After 1066." The Nottinghamshire fields, he says, rival the storied coal seams of Newcastle, far to the north.
Always a tough breed, the "Notts" miners pride themselves on hard work and independence. "They are a different race, these Welshmen and Scotsmen; I think they are," Storer says. "I think the Notts colliers are better workers. The Welshmen, they're all for talking and singing, and I don't know how good they are on a coal face."
In the north, "they've thought their lot has been so bad for centuries, I think they've become lesser workers than the Notts miners. . . . They've landed here as new recruits, it's been a month and they've gone back. It's the tempo here. A collier's life is tough in any case. It's not a life where you can play the fool."
During the great miners' strike of 1926 -- the debacle Lawrence witnessed and said "pushed the spear through the side of my England" -- the Notts colliers ultimately went their own way. Convinced that the seven-month strike was hopeless, many joined a new union that broke away from the predecessor of the all-powerful National Union of Mineworkers.
It was years before the Notts men came back to the fold. Then, during the devastating year-long strike that ended last March, it was again the Notts miners who broke away. The coal board, determined to streamline Britain's aging coal industry and close down unproductive mines throughout the country, listed an initial 20 pits to be shut down. Militant miners' union leader Arthur Scargill said the first 20 were just a stalking horse for the ultimate death of coal mining, and called a general strike.
The Notts miners held the strike to be illegal, arguing that Scargill had not called a nationwide ballot of miners and was more interested in his own power than in the welfare of the colliers. Nearly all of the miners in Nottinghamshire continued working, and their striking colleagues throughout the country, with Scargill at their head, denounced Notts men as scabs and traitors.
This strike ended as in 1926, with the miners drifting back to work, having gained little or nothing. In its wake, the Notts leadership now wants to form its own breakaway union, and is fighting the powerful Mineworkers for the allegiance of the local miners. The vote is due this month, and the Nottinghamshire countryside is dotted with posters and billboards alternately depicting Scargill and breakaway leader Roy Lynk as devils incarnate.
Despite the widespread number of pit closures in Nottinghamshire, the region remains rich in coal, and the 20 or so pits still employing some 28,000 miners in the shire are unlikely to appear on the board's closure list for a long time. While overall unployment in Nottinghamshire is high, at about 12.5 percent, it is far less than in much of the rest of the industrialized north and Wales.
Others in less fortunate areas say the Notts men and their breakaway union are engaged in a selfish play for favor from the Conservative, antilabor government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
"A lot of these fellows seem to think we are the blue-eyed lads in Nottinghamshire," says Storer. "That they never had it so good. But when they get to a Nottinghamshire pit, they find it as bad" as where they came from, "and they go home again."
He illustrates his point with a fictitious Notts miner's trip to one of the British seaside resorts that cater to vacationing colliers. "You're walking along the beach with a Welshman, and you'd say to him, 'Well, what's the thinnest coal seam you've ever worked in?' And the Welshman, with all his very nice talk, he doesn't want to tell you. You have to force him." The thinnest seams, of course, are in the narrowest, lowest and most dangerous tunnels of the mine.
"Finally, he says, 'Well, well, three feet.' And I say, 'Well, you've never been in a coal pit. You want to try1-foot-9? Here, we have seams that are 1-foot-9.' "
"The pit-bank looked up beyond the pond, flames like red sores licking its ashy sides, in the afternoon's stagnant light. Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and the clumsy black headstocks of Brinsley Colliery." -- "Odor of Chrysanthemums," D.H. Lawrence
The Brinsley Colliery headstocks, the tall pulley contraption that pulled the miners' cage up out of the pit at the end of each shift, were dismantled when the mine closed in 1970. Thanks to Ray Storer, they were reassembled at the National Mining Museum 20 miles north of here, where they remain as the last example in the country of the tall, wooden contraptions that once dotted the landscape.
Storer is memorializing them in a book, "Some Aspects of Brinsley Colliery and the Lawrence Connection," for the Lawrence festival. It is only in such volumes, and in those of Lawrence himself, that the mining life of the early 20th century will be remembered.
The British colliery of today is a much different place, a modern industrial site that bears little resemblance to those small, ancient pits, and most of the ugly slag heaps that surrounded them have long since been grassed over to blend with the natural hills. Eastwood itself is much different than the town Lawrence knew.
The Sun Inn, where the local coal barons gathered in 1832 to form the Midlands Railway, still is open for business, although the trains do not come here anymore. Just around the corner at The Miners Arms pub, the now-commuting colliers still gather after their shifts.
But the Congregational church of Lawrence's childhood on the main Nottingham Road was torn down more than a decade ago to make room for the Gateway Supermarket. Eastwood now has its own Fitness Center, where aerobics is taught. Skinheads, the youths whose shaved heads and industrial clothing mark them as would-be thugs, loiter in front of the busy shops.
Far from the rural, isolated hamlets described so lovingly by Lawrence, Eastwood and the other nearby mining villages are now largely bedroom communities, appendages of the urban sprawl within the triangle formed by Nottingham, Derby and Mansfield.
The house where the Lawrence family lived in the neighborhood known as The Breach, immortalized as the dingy "Bottoms" in "Sons and Lovers," still stands. But most of the similar coal-blackened rows of hovels built for the colliers by the big mining companies before nationalization have long since been torn down.
In their place are new rows of somewhat larger, red-brick buildings, each fronted by a tidy garden full of English roses. These houses were build mostly for the "new" people, the "Geordies" who came down from the north looking for mine work as their own pits closed and many Notts people moved up the social and economic ladder into the mills and the offices.
It is the newcomers, and the new industries, that have most changed Eastwood during the past 20 years, says Storer. "There's been a big change socially . . . . You take 1913 -- the year of 'Sons and Lovers' -- as a base. It was a very close-knit community here." The valley was the kind of place, he says, where "the old men you met knew your father and knew your mother," and "it was the tradition to follow your father" into the mines.
Still, there is much that remains the same about the landscape that Lawrence chronicled so lovingly in "Sons and Lovers," the "great stretches of country darkened with trees and faintly brightened with corn-land, spread toward the haze, where the hills rose blue beyond grey."
Shortly before his death from tuberculosis, he wrote to a friend:
"I was born nearly 44 years ago, in Eastwood, a mining village of some 3,000 souls about eight miles from the small stream, the Erewash, which divides Nottinghamshire from Derbyshire. It is hilly country . . . . to me it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside . . . . to me, as a child and a young man, it was still the old England of the forest and the agricultural past, there were no motor cars, the mines were, in a sense, an accident in the landscape, and Robin Hood and his merry men were not far away."