Members of the Nottinghamshire labour and trade union movement were deeply saddened to learn, last week, of the death of Henry Richardson. Henry was the General Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers, during one of the most significant periods of British social, political and industrial history – The Great Miners’ strike of 1984-1985.
At just fifteen years of age, Henry started his working life at Creswell Colliery on Monday, September 25th, 1950. A date etched in the memory of many; the day on which eighty miners perished in an underground fire.
A class conscious and politically developed young miner, Henry was elected Branch Delegate and immersed himself in the work and culture of the N.U.M. and was elected to the National Executive Committee in August 1983. Then in December of that year, he was elected a full-time N.U.M. official. Speaking in 2013, Henry explained that his electoral victories were both a surprise and a break with tradition. “Normally, in the Notts Area, the NEC place would be taken by a full-time official. Now, for the first time in our history, it didn’t; I won. Then, in December, I was elected full-time and, in the January, just two months before the start of the strike, we had the vote to see which full-time official would be General Secretary.” Richardson topped the ballot. Despite his previous years of union activity, the modest newly-minted General Secretary still felt very much “…. a green-horn; wet behind the ears. I’d only been in the job ten minutes before the strike! I was looking forward to easing into the job and finding my feet and then next thing I knew I was in it up to my neck!”
Indeed, he was. The year-long strike cleaved Nottinghamshire into two eternally hostile camps, with its majority choosing to work while the pro-strike Richardson battled valiantly to prosecute the N.U.M. cause and fight off wave after wave of attacks from scab miners determined to see him ousted from his post.
The year that followed saw Henry and fellow pro-strike official, Ray Chadburn, the Area President, engage in a wearying and tense battle of cat-and-mouse with an Area Committee dominated and controlled by scabs. “It were awful. Us supporting the strike but trying to stay just the right side of the rule book so the scabs didn’t have an excuse to chuck me and Ray out. Arthur [Scargill] were bloody brilliant, though. He knew what we were up against and he couldn’t have been more supportive. Clever, with it, too. He knew the rule book like the back of his hand and all the procedural dodges and whatnot. Even so, looking back, I’m amazed we lasted as long as we did.”
Eventually, the N.U.M. was defeated in Nottinghamshire with the overwhelming majority of the Area’s 32,000 miners opting to side with the architects of the Spencerist breakaway organisation, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Henry was eventually sacked by them on March 12th 1985. Just one week after the end of the strike. “It was diabolical,” he said. “The whole meeting was a charade, a witch-hunt, nothing but a kangaroo court. The decision had already been made long before the meeting.”
Down, but not out, Richardson, alongside N.U.M. militants and ‘Loyal to the Last’ strikers Keith Stanley, Eric Eaton, Alan Spencer and others, set about re-building the N.U.M. in Nottinghamshire. And a Herculean effort it was with nothing left on which to commence rebuilding. Richardson commented, “They [U.D.M] got everything. The Berry Hill HQ, the convalescent home at Chapel St. Leonards, and capital totalling £1.7 million. All awarded to the U.D.M. by an unelected High Court Judge. We’d got Eric and Keith running around trying to recruit back into the N.U.M., bloody heroes they were. They should’ve had medals, the shit they had thrown at them. Put on shit jobs, victimised, weren’t allowed an office even though we had as many members as the U.D.M. at Thoresby, but they never stopped fighting for the union. I’m working from Jill Clifford’s bungalow, with Pam Elliott [ N.U.M. administration officers]. Jill eventually got sacked as well. Took some guts letting us use her house while she were going into Berry Hill every day. She and her husband were out at work all day, so she let us set up there. Miners traipsing up and down the path all day, in and out of the house, as we tried to rebuild, God knows what the neighbours thought! It were only for a few weeks and then we set up at Mansfield; we got some premises up there.”
Henry remained the N.U.M.’s General Secretary in Nottinghamshire until his retirement in 1997.
Speaking to former N.U.M. Press Officer, Nell Myers, she remarked, “Arthur always held Henry in high political and personal regard for his courage in fighting not only for pits, jobs and communities, but for the N.U.M. itself.”
In retirement, while plagued by ill-health, Henry remained keenly interested in politics and world affairs. We exchanged frequent ‘phone calls that often lasted a couple of hours. I’d call in at his home in Worksop, intending to stay just twenty minutes and I’d still be there two hours later, discussing that day’s Morning Star headlines, the ANC struggle against apartheid, the Soviet Union, you name it. I recall his 80th birthday party. It was crammed with family and happy kids galloping around everywhere. He and I spent the entire time in a corner talking about politics, the strike and world affairs.
Bless you, comrade. A life richly lived in the service of the greatest cause on earth – the liberation of humanity. My sincere condolences to Henry’s daughter, Sharon, and all his family and friends.
Henry Richardson will be cremated at 10.00am, Thursday 24th December, at Babworth Crematorium, Straight Mile, Babworth Rd, Retford DN22 8FJ. The family have requested no flowers but donations in Henry’s name to be made to Cancer Research UK.