One of the last Shropshire coalminers who was buried underground several times as a teenager dies aged 82

James Edgar Ford, one of the last of the Shropshire and Staffordshire coalminers who was buried underground at the coalface several times as a teenager, has died. He was aged 82.

Jim, centre, at the coal face of Lea Hall Colliery, Staffs
Jim, centre, at the coal face of Lea Hall Colliery, Staffs

Mr Ford left school at the age of 15 and began working first of all in Kemberton Colliery, between Madeley and Shifnal, until it closed in 1967. He then worked at Granville until it closed as the last Shropshire coal mine in 1979.

He had no choice but to take the long bus journey each day to Rugeley in Staffordshire to work at Lea Hall Colliery, a so-called "super pit".

Jim in Manchester, on the way to see his beloved Man Utd play, 1960

His son Rob, director at the Heritage International School, in Moldova, said: "The pit was very outdated and he remembers pit ponies, ghost stories from the older miners as well as being buried several times as a teenager underground at the coalface.

"In 1964, after he married, they came to live in the new coalminers' houses built on Hills Lane, Madeley, where they stayed all their lives, buying the house when he retired."

Mr Ford died on November 9 in Severn Hospice, Telford, after a short battle with cancer.

Born next to RAF Cosford on September 19, 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, he remembered as a toddler standing in the fields when the camp was attacked.

He saw the Blitz glow of the fires on the horizon and Italian prisoners of war arriving at Cosford and soon after, the GIs ahead of D-Day.

A brilliant footballer, he played for Shifnal Town FC including the year they won the county amateur league and cup. He was a huge fan of Manchester United and the Busby Babes, travelling to see them play and was devastated when that team suffered the appalling air crash at Munich in 1958.

Jim playing for Shifnal

His son, Rob said: "I am named after Bobby Charlton and had the pleasure of meeting the great man once and telling him this, he just grinned at me at the idea."

At that time, making a career out of the beautiful game was all but impossible so a career down the mines beckoned.

Rob said: "My father was heavily involved in trade union affairs and was on strike in 1972 and 1974.

"My father was a moderate but believed in fighting for his community and their livelihoods. This was set against the decline of mining in the East Shropshire coalfield and in Madeley in particular, as it was soon swallowed up and huge parts of it demolished as it became part of Dawley New Town, later Telford. My father transferred to Glanville until it closed as the last Shropshire coal mine in 1979."

Rob said: "In March 1984, the inevitable industrial showdown broke out as flying pickets from Yorkshire arrived and although my father didn't agree with Scargill on a number of things, crossing a picket line was something that he couldn't do.

Jim and Margaret in Springhill Crescent, Madeley

"He would be on a strike for whole year with the dwindling band of Shropshire miners at either Lea Hall or Littleton collieries. My dad was the treasurer of the striking miners fund and my mother was active in the women's group of miners' wives.

"My mum would collect the food parcels each week from the miners' welfare club in Rugeley. My dad and his fellow strikers picketted mostly the Ironbridge power station and were joined by striking miners from Pontypridd.

"My mother and father spoke at events to support the miners with famous politicians such as Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner and Arthur Scargill. Local trade unions and the Labour Party supported the action and raised funds and collected food, toys at Christmas, but it was very hard.

"Coal inevitably had no future and my father was fortunate enough to retire aged 55 and spend time taking up painting, supporting his family and community in Madeley, speaking at schools about coal mining in Shropshire as well as supporting the community in Hills Lane and Madeley.

"He was one of the main organisers of local marching band, The Telford Royce Royals, for years. My dad loved Shropshire and was a real Shropshire lad. He loved a pint at the All Nations and a walk to Ironbridge. He attended reunion events including the one in 2009, the Fletcher Memorial Hall/Blists Hill and again at the Anstice, Madeley in 2019.

"My dad lived a very full life to the very end and in retirement he travelled with my mum to the United States, around Europe and to his beloved Wales and the West Country. He continued to enjoy his football, following Manchester United and seeing the success his grandson and great grandson are enjoying with local Shropshire sides.

"He was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis from his time working underground and Parkinsons'. In 2022, he was diagnosed with cancer."

Rob added: "He was a very decent Shropshire lad. Already, we are receiving many messages from people who knew him and worked with him. He will be sorely missed.

His funeral will be around the first week of December, in St Andrew's church Shifnal, where he was married and where his wife's service was last January.

He was married to Margaret, in 1964, and she died of cancer last December. They had five children and are survived by 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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