Sunderland student wins award for digging out piece of mining history

Sunderland University graduate Leanne Smith receives the Sid Chaplin Trophy from John Creaby from the North East Labour History Society.
Sunderland University graduate Leanne Smith receives the Sid Chaplin Trophy from John Creaby from the North East Labour History Society.

A Sunderland history graduate has scooped a prize after unearthing a piece of the past.

Leanne Smith won the annual Sid Chaplin Memorial Prize for the best undergraduate dissertation on North East history.

Sid Chaplin.

Sid Chaplin.

Leanne, 37, who graduated from the University of Sunderland this summer with a first class degree, chose as her subject a little known, almost forgotten aspect of social history.

The Sunderland woman said: “The First World War is often seen as a watershed moment for women, as they began to enter traditionally male industries, but that move towards equality was not always the case.”

Leanne’s dissertation, The Struggle Over Female Labour In The Durham Coalfield, 1914-1918, has unearthed original research into how the Durham Mining Association (DMA) resisted pressure from colliery owners and the government to accept the introduction of female labour during the First World War.

She said: “My research shows that the Durham Mining Association resisted reforms, because they believed it was necessary to continue the status quo.

I really can’t put into words how much this award means to me

Leanne Smith

“The DMA were a very conservative body, who believed that a sexual division of labour was essential to coalmining communities such as the Durham coalfield.

“Women contributed not just domestically.

“It was women who built the Durham mining community, who held together the family unit and brought stability that made it possible for the coal mining industry to exist – and made equality impossible in the minds of the Durham Mining Association.”

The pitman author Sid Chaplin was a founding member of the North East Labour History Society.

His Memorial Trophy is awarded each year to the winner of a labour history essay competition showing good use of original sources.

Leanne said: “I really can’t put into words how much this award means to me. Going to university was the best decision I’ve ever made.”