The dark, damp and draining shifts of Yorkshire miners have become all but extinct over the past 30 years.
But thanks to a rare insight into life underground at one of the region’s last working pits, the unseen graft of the coal miner has been unearthed.
Over 20 years Bradford-born photographer Ian Beesley compiled a photographic body of work called ‘The Drift’ through photography both in and around the 700ft-deep Hayroyds Colliery near Skelmanthorpe.
The pictures and poem (bottom) by Barnsley’s Ian McMillan exposing the drift mine, which closed in 2012 due to flooding, will be exhibited at the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills from today to March 30.
The photographer, 59, said: “The problem is getting access to work underground because it’s very dangerous and there’s the danger of gas and explosions so photography is restricted but Hayroyds is a gas-free mine.
“You realise how incredibly hard it is in the working conditions – it’s very, very dark, hot and claustrophobic.”
The latest showing of The Drift could be its last public exhibition following outings in Italy, China and all over the UK over the past three years.
Hayroyds Colliery, founded in 1911, saw a limited workforce travel hundreds of feet underground in cramped mineshafts for up to an hour just to get to work at the mine face in sweltering conditions.
Mr Beesley said: “There are a number of different levels to the exhibition.
“It looks at the relationship of the men with the land and the environmental impact of mining – I took a series of landscapes showing exactly where we were working in the pit and the land 700ft above.”
Having worked as the photographer in residence at the closure of Leeds industrial landmarks such as Tetley Brewery, Kirkstall Forge and West Yorkshire Foundries, Mr Beesley is now teaching part-time at the University of Bolton.
Alongside his teaching, the Saddleworth resident is working on First World War projects with McMillan as well as on health photography.
Stand here and listen. Earth shifts,
Slightly, as though a butterfly
Has landed on a leaf’s shadow
Mistaking it for a leaf.
Men worked under here. Beneath this.
History has drifted this mine away
Like water washes away that pattern of shells.
The ground lifts momentarily
Then sinks again. The movement
Is so small as to be
Almost no movement at all.
By Ian McMillan