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A catch up with Professor Ray Hudson

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It’s almost that time of year when more than 200,000 people attend the Durham Miners’ Gala in a celebration of trade union values and the mining communities of County Durham. 

This gives us a great opportunity to catch up with Professor Ray Hudson who has spent much of the last 50 years researching the North East region, including our coal mining communities. 

Through archive research and interviews, his latest book “The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain” charts the story of the families in the former pit villages in the North East and south Wales and what happened after the last pits closed.

Professor Hudson, in your interviews with families in the former pit villages, what surprised you the most? 

Not a surprise as such, but what was really striking was that those people who lived through the strike in the 1980s – and then its aftermath as pits closed and communities were wracked by the resultant conflicts and tensions - continued to retain vivid memories of what went on then. It clearly had a deep and lasting impact on their lives and their view of the world around them.  

How does the closure of the mines then still affect those families and communities now? 

It continues to have a massive impact on many. Not just on those who had worked in the pits and then lost their jobs and on the other people who lived through the strike with the conflicts and tensions it brought. But also on those whose lives have since been adversely affected by the loss of jobs and lack of decent paid work, by the social tensions and conflicts that didn’t end with the ending of the strike and the closure of the pits.  

What initially sparked your interest in researching the region? 

I was born and brought up in Alnwick, then went off to university in Bristol, before getting a lectureship at Durham. In the course of trips back to the North East I’d become aware of the changes affecting the region. Once in Durham I became increasingly interested in understanding the processes that were producing these changes.  

What is the best and worst thing about being a researcher? 

The best thing has been the opportunity to find out why places have developed and changed, to travel to places I probably would never have otherwise visited, and to meet and work with other researchers, some of whom then became very good friends. The worst thing is realising that there’s always something more that you didn’t find out, but maybe could have with a bit more time and money...

Who inspires you, personally and professionally? 

When I went to Bristol to study geography, there were two people, Peter Haggett and David Harvey, who greatly influenced me in the time I was there, and in different ways have continued to do so. There are many others but if I had to pick one, it’d be Nelson Mandela.  

As a child, what job did you want to do when you were older? 

Well, apart from playing for Newcastle United, I didn’t have any real ideas about future jobs. The emphasis was getting a good education and then seeing what doors that might open. My early encounters with the world of work when I was at school and university gave me clear ideas as to what I didn’t want to do.  

What is your favourite place in the North East? 

A hard question as there are so many great places in the region. But if I had to pick just one, then it’d have to be Lindisfarne in Northumberland when the tide is in. The causeway is under water, the visitors have departed, and it really is an island.  

Lindisfarne, Northumberland
Lindisfarne, Northumberland

What does your perfect day off look like? 

Depends where I am, and since I retired there’s a sense in which every day is a day off, though I try and spend some time writing most days. But it’d probably be at our house in Spain, spending a quiet morning on the terrace with a leisurely coffee, followed by a trip to the coast or up into the mountains and a relaxed lunch in one of the local restaurants. 

The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain is written by Ray Hudson from our Department of Geography and Huw Beynon from Cardiff University.  



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