Oddball’s big future as part of former miners’ Leeds park plan

HISTORY MEN: From left, Paul Thompson, chairman, Dave Weedon, secretary, and Nevile Wilkinson, volunteer and model maker.
HISTORY MEN: From left, Paul Thompson, chairman, Dave Weedon, secretary, and Nevile Wilkinson, volunteer and model maker.
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A dedicated team of former miners hope the new year will mean big things for a huge piece of Leeds’s industrial heritage.

The massive, 1,200 tonne St Aidan’s dragline has sat on land just outside the village of Swillington for more than a decade.

The hulking piece of mining equipment, nicknamed Oddball, was first deployed in Leeds the 1970s and was last used in coal working in 1988.

Now the group of ex mining engineers are hoping it can form a major part of a proposed new country park, teaching future generations about the history of opencast mining.

Paul Thompson, of the Friends of St Aidan’s Dragline, formed in 1997, said: “There’s about 90 of us in the friends group, many of us are ex-miners.

“I worked in opencast in the Scholes and Barnbow areas in the 1960s.

“We want to see the dragline preserved because it’s a big piece of the city’s mining heritage and it’s the only one of it’s kind left in Europe.

“There’s not many machines like this left.”

Oddball was built in the USA in 1948 and got it’s nickname because of the unusual number of cycles per second in performed.

The towering behemoth entered service in Leeds in 1974 and was used to remove overburden which lay on top of coal seams.

Helping to shape the landscape from Temple Newsam to Allerton Bywater, it recovered coal for Yorkshire’s power stations.

When it was officially decommissioned in 1999, the friends group lobbied for it to be preserved and relocated, a campaign which saw it powered up and moved to its current location in 2000.

Today, in partnership with the council, Oddball is cared for by the group which organises a series of open days throughout the year and has carried out repairs and security work to stop the machine becoming a target for metal thieves.

Land around the machine is expected to be opened up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) early next year as a new park which it is hoped could attract up to 150,000 visitors.

A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “We can reassure the group that we will continue our partnership with them and nothing will change with regard to the mining machinery on this site.”