Voices in the Coalshed: The Stars Look Down
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Voices in the Coalshed: The Stars Look Down

A.J. Cronin (1896 – 1981) began his career as a doctor in South Wales where he encountered mining in his daily life.

The book I want to talk about is The Stars Look down, first published in 1935. In this story Cronin centres on the lives of the Fenwick family among others in a mining community which he calls Sleescale in Northumberland and also in Tynecastle.

He writes of how Davy Fenwick seeks to remove himself from the mines through education both as a pupil and later a teacher. He is also drawn to politics, becoming an MP and wanting the nationalisation of coal mines – something which came into being around ten years after the publication of the novel.

A particularly significant event in the story is an inrush of water into “Scupper Flats” which leaves nine men trapped underground. We see the story from both sides, from the rescue attempt above ground and the suffering of the men below ground. We see mines rescue teams brought in from neighbouring collieries and pumping gear also.

Underground we see the trapped men and boys rationing the candles they have, writing to loved ones and one by one we see them die. Davy’s father is the last and he spends his last moments writing to his son.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the Mines Rescue Organisation, why not visit us and see our current exhibition, Rescue!