Voices in the Coalshed: George Orwell
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Voices in the Coalshed: George Orwell

George Orwell – The Road to Wigan Pier 

George Orwell’s name will be familiar to many because of his two famous novels, Animal Farm and 1984; in 1984 he also gave us, indirectly, the TV programmes Big Brother and Room 101. Big Brother, the leader whose forces observed everything and Room 101, the place where those who went against Big Brother faced their greatest fears.

What isn’t so often talked about is the work which today we would call investigative journalism, in particular, as far as we are concerned, The Road to Wigan Pier – published in 1937. In the book he explored the coal mining areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire, living and working with the miners themselves.

He is in awe of the miners he meets, of their strength and courage, “If there is one type of man to whom I do feel myself inferior; it is a coal miner…” he says. He tells people the truth of a miner’s life and the conditions he works in.

One point which Orwell is keen to get across is the “travelling” which the miners do to get to and from the coal face.

“But what I want to emphasise is this…this frightful business of crawling to and fro, which to any normal person is a hard day’s work in itself… is not part of the miner’s work at all, it is merely an extra, like the City man’s daily ride in the Tube. The miner does that journey to and fro and sandwiched in between there are seven and a half hours of savage work.”

It is only the seven and a half hours at the coal face which earns the miner his wages.

After a particularly interesting description of the miners’ “travelling” he talks about the men having “buttons down the back” – a scab on each vertebra where they hit their backs on the roofs of the low walkways to and from the coal face.

If you want to visit our coal mine you will not have to endure such conditions as this so why not come along this week?

This week’s Voices in the Coalshed post was researched and written by volunteer Nicola. If you would like to join Voices in the Coal Shed, please get in touch with voicesinthecoalshed@gmail.com