West Cumbria Mining by David Banning

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

In the news recently was the announcement that the British government has given approval for the first coal mine to be opened in the country for decades. Provided you ignore the fact that burning coal is one of the worst ways of pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the powers that be said that this was going to be a carbon-neutral site. I was under the misbelief that the Tories didn’t like coal miners and this lot wouldn’t get irony if it ran them over in an MPV.

Coal mining is dirty and dangerous work and the men who used to do it in this country were a special breed. The places around the county that had pits used to be proud of what they did and the contribution that they made to the country and economy. It brings back memories for David Banning too, of his childhood and the family members that used to head below the surface to earn a living.

Reliving these memories with him feels like he is mining his past. He has uncovered various documents and photos to add historical context to his family story. His relative Sam Snaith was very elusive about his work in the pit, and Banning has pieced together a narrative from other contemporary accounts and tiny details that he did reveal.

But this isn’t a look back at the past through soot-flecked spectacles, Banning has something to say about the new coal mine at the stage of writing that was being approved. Even though it was claimed to be a British company creating British jobs, tracing the money showed that it was, as expected, located offshore. Things are never as they seem.

I liked this mix of memoir and personal family history set in the context of the mines of West Cumbria. It has a nice balance to each element of the book. Setting the future in the context of the past works really well too and whilst Banning doesn’t come across as angry when talking about the new mine, you can tell that he sees the project as futile and we are shredding what little is left of our reputation on the global stage.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Interesting stuff. More positive than I expected from the 3.5 score, though I know you’re careful in your scoring!

    • Paul

      I do find star ratings very difficult to gauge. I tend to be as enthusiastic about handing out five-star ratings as much as I used to. This book is one I liked, but not quite enough to give it four stars. I have wondered about dropping them all together but haven’t made up my mind on that yet.

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