Some of you out there may recognise the slogan in the title of this post; Don’t worry, the museums are not on strike! My name is Ruth, and when not playing frisbee on the beach or entertaining children through the medium of science, I can be found at Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum working as a Museum Assistant. Industrial heritage has been a long-standing interest for me, and when the recently produced film ‘The Happy Lands’ was screened at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, I was extremely interested to see it. The film deals with the experiences of a Fife mining community during the 1926 general strike, and the slogan above represents their struggle for better working conditions.
Produced by Theatre Workshop Scotland with assistance from BBC Scotland, the film tells the tale of 3 families in a mining village in Fife. Based on the experiences and recollections of miners and their families from the 1920s, the film is part documentary, part fictional drama. Following the Guthrie, Jenkins and Baxter families during the strike and the seemingly inevitable march towards civil unrest and starvation, the film really does evoke a sense of what it was like for working class people during this troubled year. It deals with themes that are familiar to everyone – loss, hardship, fighting for something you truly believe in, even if you know you cannot win. This is a true underdog story, of a community that holds together even under immense pressure. By the end of the strike, even people who were considered champions of the mining community, (like Sir Harry Lauder who himself was a miner before taking to the stage) resented the miners and their refusal to go back to work. With excellent performances from some first-time actors, the film is worth seeing as an example of social working-class history that is not often told.
Seeing the film also got me thinking about community involvement and how the 1926 strike would have affected the people at Prestongrange. Coming so soon after the last strike in 1921, it would have meant near-starvation for families and loss of jobs, as well as violence and division in the community. One of our big events at Prestongrange this year is the ‘Revisiting Prestongrange’ local history event, during which we hope to encourage people who used to work on site (as well as people whose relatives worked here) to come and tell us their stories. Hopefully we can find out more about events like the strikes, from the people whose relatives actually lived through them!