FORTY years ago there was optimism about Barnsley’s most important industry with a productivity record broken at Dodworth Colliery.

Miners at Dodworth had been on strike in September 1978 at a time when the pit had lost £2m in the preceding six months. That was an incredible sum - equivalent to something like £10m today after adjusting for inflation.

But just a few months later, in early 1979, miners were celebrating and being congratulated by management. The 1,350 employed at the colliery had managed to make a profit every week since that strike.

In the last week of January 1979 they had excelled themselves by smashing the colliery’s then 15-year-old record output by mining 21,455 tonnes of coal - an average of 3.8 tonnes a man shift.

That really was some going when it compared to the national average at the time of 2.2 tonnes.

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The record was even more remarkable because three of the four faces being mined in the Silkstone and Whinmoor seams at the time were being mined using the ‘advance method’, as opposed to the retreat mining method which was more usually associated with the breaking of productivity records.

Colliery manager Derek Summerfield said production was up from all faces.

“The figures are very good and well above the national average,” he said at the time.

“Obviously a lot of effort has gone into it.

“I think the incentive bonus scheme has helped but this increased productivity could

not have come at a better time.

“A multi-million pound scheme to sink a new shaft at the Redbrook end of the workings is currently being considered and the board will now look at it more favourably with these kind of production figures.

“The shaft is necessary for ventilation for further workings at the pit, and, without it, difficulties will arise.”

But NUM delegate Terry Bristow said he believed the incentive bonus scheme had played only a minimal part in the increased production.

“There are a lot of factors which contribute to success in mining including geological factors and industrial relations. Everything seems to have clicked together now.”

The jubilation was relatively short lived however. The celebrations came just three months before Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister.

Within five years thousands of miners across the borough would be locked in a bitter yearlong strike the ramifications of which would last generations. Just 15 years after that photo shoot outside Dodworth Colliery, the very last mine within the Barnsley borough closed for good leaving the town in a pit of economic despair.

The effects of the loss of the entire mining industry are still felt today.

That optimism of early 1979 was sadly misplaced.