Kent Miners’ Festival
PUBLISHED: 17:55 09 August 2015 | UPDATED: 17:55 09 August 2015
Heritage displays, brass bands and a Kent Coal Queen pageant: The Kent Miners’ Festival taking place in Betteshanger on 31 August promises fun for all
Kent’s last mine, Betteshanger, was closed nearly 25 years ago, since when most people have either forgotten about the county’s mining industry or never knew of its existence
Coal was discovered in Kent in 1880. There being no mining skills in the county, miners from all the traditional colliery areas relocated to Kent. Mining started in 1882, the main pits being located at Chislet, Snowdown, Tilmanstone and Betteshanger (all close to Deal and Dover).
In 1947 the coal industry was nationalised. Due to extraction problems, Kent coal was among the most expensive in the UK and as early as 1960, the National Coal Board (NCB) formulated plans to begin closing the Kent collieries.
Reorganised as British Coal in 1987, two of the surviving Kent collieries were closed, thus leaving only Betteshanger. This last Kent colliery closed in 1989 and the miners and their families were left devastated and without hope.
The stark facts relating to the history disguise the very real human suffering that resulted from closure of the collieries. Jobs were virtually non-existent and the transport and medical ‘benefits’ that had been put in place by NCB/British Coal were withdrawn, leaving them isolated.
But mining families are strong and they formed loyal, vibrant communities. They have never forgotten their mining heritage and they continue to celebrate it. This year the Kent Miners’ Festival is held on August Bank Holiday Monday at Betteshanger Sustainable Park (BSP), site of the £40m Betteshanger regeneration project initiated and led by Hadlow College. The college and BSP are the proud main sponsors.
Expect music from the Colliery Brass Bands, including Betteshanger’s new youth band and other local brass bands, plus Dover Community Radio and their Road Show and cinema showing films about local history and heritage.
The community dog show is an important part of the programme, and last year the amateur boxing tournament attracted many entries and will doubtless be hotly contested again.
The Heritage Marquee includes Kent Mining Heritage Exhibitions and, for the first time, the Invicta Military Preservation Society. The Charity Marquee will include local charities and a section for the disabled, and the diversity of the craft, food and other stalls is larger than ever.
A funfair, refreshments, ice cream, a skateboard park – the latter new this year – and Betteshanger Garden and Allotment Group exhibits will all draw the crowds.
The mining galas of old always included a ‘Coal Queen Beauty Contest’ and Deal Regatta Association has agreed to host a revival, ‘The Kent Community Coal Queen Pageant.’
The Festival is run by a committee chaired by Gary Cox. Born into a mining family (both grandfathers were miners), his father was a Betteshanger miner and Gary still lives in the same road where he was born.
Vice-chair Colin Varrall, son of a Tilmanstone miner, is a paramedic during the day, a lifeboat volunteer and a writer and historian.
Jim Davies, a local mining historian, is founder of the Miners’ and Friends’ Reunion, an important part of the festival. Ross Llewellyn specialises in the history and heritage of Chislet colliery and his research is fascinating.
BSP executive director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor says: “The mining communities are 100 per cent committed to the BSP regeneration project and are working closely with the team. The miners, their families and the communities have waited a long time but now what only a short time ago seemed impossible, is happening. This year we all have something very special to salute.”
FIND OUT MORE
Kent Miners’ Festival
31 August 2015, 10am to 5pm
Betteshanger Community Park, Circular Road, Betteshanger, Deal CT14 0LT
Contact Gary Cox, chairman, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07800545135
Follow signs to Bettehanger via the A256 or A258 if travelling by car. Deal Railway Station is the nearest stop and direct services are available from Dover and Ramsgate.
A shuttle bus will be provided by the festival organisers. Full details and a timetable will be published closer to the event.