IN PICTURES: Miners statues unveiled in Rugeley
It was the day Rugeley has been waiting decades for - the unveiling of a new memorial in recognition of the town's once thriving mining industry.
Miners were once the beating heart of Rugeley but when the pits closed at Brereton in 1960 and Lea Hall in 1991 the ramifications were deep and long-lasting for generations of locals.
But yesterday - Sunday - the town was brought to a standstill as more than 2,000 people lined the streets to witness the historic unveiling of the four miners statues.
The nine-foot sculptures were installed at the Globe Island a week ago but excited residents have had to wait to see the finished masterpieces which have remained concealed until now.
Deafening applause and cheers rang out as the covers were finally pulled off.
Crowds of people of all generations had gathered in the town centre, with former workers exchanging tales of their time working in the mines while children stood on walls and cable boxes eager to gain a good view of the new memorial.
The unveiling was the culmination of a four-year project spearheaded by Lea Hall & Brereton Collieries Memorial Society.
Brian Batey, chairman, said: "This is an immensely proud day for the area.
"It has been a fantastic day some four years in the making from start to finish.
"A lot of people have come out and supported us and that is what it's all about.
"The closure of the pits decimated the town and decimated the people.
"People relied on the mines for their livelihoods and they had to find new jobs.
"For years and years Rugeley was like a ghost town, but now on September 13, 2015, it is alive again."
The concrete statues which weigh up to 2,000kg each, cost £55,000 collectively and took 18-months to be designed and created by the hands of Andy De Comyn who has also crafted the Shot at Dawn statue at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.
Not only have they been brought to life in exquisite detail but the position they are facing at the roundabout is symbolic.
Mr De Comyn explained that the miner facing Western Springs Road replicated the typical worker from the Lea Hall mines in the 1940s, while another statue 'watching over the people' in the town centre depicts a deputy who would have been responsible for safety down the pits.
The statue facing Horse Fair represents one of the early Brereton colliery workers before the 1930s who would have had little safety gear, while the fourth sculpture is based on a rescue miner facing towards the former rescue station up Sandy Lane.
Mr De Comyn said: "Today has made me really proud especially the amount of people who have turned out.
"Some people have said to me this is the best thing that has happened to them.
"When they shut the mines it affected absolutely everyone here.
"This has been a long hard battle for them."
The names of 115 miners who died at Lea Hall and Brereton collieries were read out by primary school children on the day.
But their names will remain on permanent display at the spot thanks to a new plinth at the entrance to the town centre.
Doves were released into the sun-drenched sky while Deputy Lieutenant for Staffordshire Mrs Barbara Hyde formally dedicated the new memorial.
Preacher and former miner Jim Bullock performed a bible reading at the service.
He said: "Those were days, we thought they would never end but they did.
"That's why we are here today to remember those days long gone, the miners who did so much for this community and especially those who lost their lives in the Brereton and Lea Hall pits."
The crowd then collectively sang an emotional rendition of 'Guide me, O thou great redeemer' accompanied by the Rugeley Power Station Band.
The ceremony was closed with a miner-led procession from the town centre to the Lea Hall Colliery Sports & Social Club a short distance away on Sandy Lane where celebrations continued throughout the day.
Cannock Chase District Council and Staffordshire County Council have supported the project.
Cannock Chase MP Amanda Milling was also at the ceremony, she said: "It was a real privilege to be there, the support was immense.
"To be on the stage and see how many people got behind it.
"Mining is such an important part of Rugeley's heritage.
"It was an incredibly moving event as well. There were people there who had obviously been miners who were sharing old stories and it was incredibly well done to involve the school children who read out the names of the miners who have died."
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