Friday, 28 July 2017.

Miners’ memorial garden is opened in Aylesham

6 May, 2017

An audience of about 100 residents and invited guests crowded into the grounds of Aylesham Heritage Centre on Saturday morning for the opening of a memorial garden commemorating miners lost at Snowdown Colliery.

The Co-op’s Tracy Richardson and Heritage Chairman Keith Owen after unveiling the granite plaques.

A pair of black granite plaques bearing the names of all 57 men and boys who died in accidents between 1907 and 1965 was unveiled by Tracy Richardson of the Co-op Faversham, during the occasion. The Co-operative Society paid for the plaques to be shipped from China and engraved. One bears the miners’ names and the other a detailed illustration of miners working underground.

Heritage Centre Chairman Keith Owen addresses the audience.

Heritage Centre Chairman Keith Owen, who has led the project to create the garden, welcomed everyone. He said: “Today brings us to the end of a three year journey – a journey that sent our researchers back to the days when Snowdown Colliery was in its infancy and when the first miner, Edward Knight, was killed in 1907.

“The miners working the coal seams were bonded together by hardship and common danger. They would be pleased to know that they have not been forgotten by the mining fraternity of this community and beyond.

“This memorial is a tribute to the continuing sense of community that our village has retained throughout the years.

“It would not have been possible without the help and support of so many people and we are deeply indebted to the Co-operative Society who donated this magnificent work of art to our community.”

Keith went on to thank the individuals and organisations which also contributed to the fundraising work for the garden. Some £9,000 was raised with the help of Aylesham Community Project, Dover District Council, Aylesham Parish Council, Ratling Social Club, among others. Children from both local primary schools helped with planting up the garden.

Past Chairman of Snowdown NUM Philip Sutcliffe.

Philip Sutcliffe, a past Chairman of the Snowdown branch of the National Union of Mineworkers, paid a tribute to the men remembered. He said: “We all agree this is a beautiful memorial but at the same time it represents a great sadness – each one of the names holds a woeful family tragedy.”

Philip talked more about how some of the men met their end. Edward Knight, was one of the sinkers involved in the early work of creating the mine – he drowned in the number one shaft after an inrush of water. His demise was followed in 1910 by the deaths of two men killed when a boiler exploded at the pit top.

Among the youngest was 15 year old Rex Taylor, still remembered by some of the older residents, who died in 1943 when he fell from a building and through a glass roof. Ironically, he was afraid of working underground so opted to work in a maintenance gang above ground.

Philip added: “We would like the community to see this as a place of remembrance, where the gate is always open and they can come in for a quiet moment of peace and tranquillity at any time.”

Chantelle Fieldsend reads Kay Sutcliffe’s poem about the end of mining.

A poem, written by Philip’s wife Kay, reflecting on the closure of the mining industry, was read to the audience by Chantelle Fieldsend and William Calvert’s Miners’ Prayer read by Nicole Milton.

Jim Davies, one of the centre’s researchers and ‘Kent’s last miner’, told the audience unearthing the names over the past three years had been an arduous task. No local records had been kept and much of the information needed had to be taken from inquest records. In all, he added, 202 men were killed in accidents across the entire Kent coalfield.

Nicole Milton reads the Miners’ Prayer.

Tracy Richardson, for the Co-operative, explained afterwards that stonemasons in its funeral service had been delighted to take on the work of sourcing and preparing the plaques as a community project. The Co-op has strong links with Aylesham having opened the village’s first shop when the first residents arrived in 1927. The village’s 90th birthday will be marked with a series of events in late June and early July.

Refreshments and a celebration cake were served afterwards in the newly finished Roses tearoom, set behind the Heritage Centre, which opened specially for the occasion ahead of its formal opening later in May.