Former mining community honoured with new Ray Lonsdale statue
A new statue by artist Ray Lonsdale has been unveiled in South Hetton in honour of the village's former mining community.
Hundreds of people turned out to see the sculpture unveiled for the first time today at the Robin Todd Centre in South Hetton.
The impressive sculpture- created by the same artist as Seaham’s famous Tommy statue- depicts a miner pushing the last tub before the closure of the South Hetton Colliery in the 1980s.
Gill Rodgers, secretary of the South Hetton Heritage Committee, which raised the funds for the sculpture, said she was thrilled with the statue’s reception by the community.
She said: “I am delighted with the turnout that we have had for the unveiling, it just shows the level of support we have had throughout. “It all started when a group of men who called themselves ‘Team Dad’s Army’ -who have always done a sponsored bike ride for charity- decided to do something specifically for mining heritage. “From there we formed the South Hetton Heritage Group in April 2015, which is chaired by David Adamson. “We appealed for donations, held various fundraising events, and along with the support from the parish, we managed to raise £30,000 for the statue in just over a year.
“The whole importance of it all was to create a new sense of community now the colliery has gone.”
After the statue was unveiled to the public, a live band played the song ‘Gresford,’ often known as the miners’ hymn and a minute’s silence was held to honour those who had worked on the mine.
The statue also bears the names of those who worked at the mine and sculptor Ray Lonsdale, engraved it with a poem dedicated to all those who lived and worked as part of the South Hetton Colliery community.
In it he said: “Long gone the shaft, the tub, the face
“Long gone the black coal stains.
“Wiped our hands, turned off the lamps,
“But the village still remains.”
There to unveil the sculpture, was the first lady to ever work at South Hetton Colliery, Joyce Raymond, who was joined by the oldest surviving miner of the colliery Bill Short, 95, and his son William Short, 53, who was the youngest miner to work at the colliery.
Joyce, 88, whose dad Joseph Corner, was also a miner, said she was delighted with the sculpture. “I was the first female through the door to work as a junior clerk on June 5, 1944,” she said.
“I worked there from the age of 15 to 21 when I became pregnant. “During that time I had a number of roles including a receptionist, wages clerk and tax clerk.
“I have since moved down to Derbyshire, but I always say you can take the girl out of South Hetton, but you can’t take South Hetton out of the girl! “My own dad was miner and my husband, Fred Raymond, worked for the national coal board, so I think that stature is a lovely tribute to the mining community.
“It’s been quite emotional to see it.”