Thatcher: Anger towards Baroness in Newtongrange

Former striker Alan Kierzkowski celebrates in the Dean Tavern. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Former striker Alan Kierzkowski celebrates in the Dean Tavern. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE anger towards Margaret Thatcher in Newtongrange, a former mining village in Midlothian, was intense yesterday.

When news of her death broke on Monday, one elderly woman in her 80s who had witnessed the mining community struggle to survive during the 1984 strike and its bitter aftermath, said her immediate reaction was to invite her neighbour in to celebrate with a glass of wine.

She said another of her friends had gone into the local newsagent’s early yesterday and ripped the front page off one of the newspapers with Mrs Thatcher’s face on it.

In the Dean Tavern, a popular pub since the miners’ club was demolished three years ago, some former miners enjoying a quiet pint yesterday afternoon said their comments would be too extreme to publish.

But Alan Kierzkowski, 52, from Newtongrange, on strike for a year in 1984 from nearby Bilston Glen Colliery, said he felt it was important the experiences of the “last generation of miners” were not forgotten.

“The struggle to get by during the strike was hellish. It was hard, really hard. Thatcher was willing to bankrupt Britain to beat the miners and the unions.

“My daughter, Lisa Marie, was born during the strike. Everyone tried to rally round to help you out. My family was helping me and we had donations from local businesses. There was even food parcels from Russian miners. They sent food, sweets and chocolates for the children.

“If you didn’t have enough to eat you went to the Miners’ Club where there was a soup kitchen. It took a long time for the bad feeling to die down.”

Mr Kierzkowski, who now works at Costco in Loanhead, said he would mark Mrs Thatcher’s funeral: “I’m going to put in for day off so that I can sit here and celebrate. This place will be full with ex-miners celebrating.”

Malcolm Richardson, 76, a former stonemason, from Newtongrange, who grew up in a mining family, said Mrs Thatcher’s policies had been highly divisive.

“The strike set brother against brother, father against son. It destroyed families. There were people who were called “scabs”, but some of them were the ones who eventually had to go back to work. It was that or their wives and kids starved.

“Her policies ruined 90 per cent of Scotland. She went after our industries, shut Ravenscraig and the steel industry, the pits and mining. I remember nearly all the people I went to school with went down the mines. There’s nothing left round here for young people now except jobs with the council or community projects.”

The village (population 4,925) used to centre round the Lady Victoria Colliery until its 1981 closure. The site of the old “Lady Vic” is now home to the National Mining Museum Scotland.

Former miner John Kane, 75, who works as one of its tour guides, said he had been bombarded with calls from TV stations and newspapers, wanting to interview him about Mrs Thatcher.

“There was a phone call from an Italian TV company this morning, it’s been non-stop. ”

Though coloured balloons were tied to a statue of a miner in Newtongrange’s main street hours after Lady Thatcher’s death was announced, many local businesses did not want to comment. A member of staff at Chapter One Hair Spa said: “We’d rather not say anything, it’s such a touchy subject.”

The same went for Sharon’s Cafe, the florist, the post office among the handful of shops opposite red brick former miners’ cottages.

Among the younger generation feelings were mixed.

Chris Micheau, 22, an electrician, said: “Most people I know are glad she’s gone.

“I was a little surprised at how strongly people felt, but I wasn’t born at the time to experience it. It took me three years to get a job and it might have been a lot different if mining hadn’t shut down.”

The only person willing to openly talk in favour of Lady Thatcher in Newtongrange was 19-year-old Jessica McBurnie, who is due to start a new job in a restaurant in Dalkeith.

She said: “I think she helped the country. She helped and the unions didn’t.

“I think she was right to shut the mines. There’s plenty of work round here.

“[Today] you can go to college and train to be an engineer or a plumber instead of going down the mine.”