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Girls from the black stuff

The tale of two very different women united by a desire to help others is a compelling read, says John Church

08 January, 2021 — By John Church

Illustration from the book cover, of Anne Scargill and Betty Cook

THE fascinating stories of two women – Anne Scargill and Betty Cook – are written in their own words and describe their lives from childhood to present day.

Both women were raised in the industrial heartland of South Yorkshire among the mining communities, and even though they had the same background, circumstances determined that they would lead vastly different lives. Both were driven by the desire to improve the lives of not only themselves but of others in need.

Anne married arguably the most famous trade union leader of his time –Arthur Scargill. Betty struggled through a difficult marriage. Both women were not prepared to sit idly accepting that their roles in life were predetermined, deciding that through hard work and education they were destined to make a better world.

This stalwart determination was evident in the miners’ strike of 1984-85 when both women became activists, standing on the picket lines and working tirelessly for the cause of the miners. They became lifelong friends and co-activists during the strike, and they helped to create The Women Against Pit Closures movement, which empowered women to adopt a public role in male-dominated communities.

Their exploits became legendary, from lock-ins at pits offices (underground and surface) to commanding the pavement outside Tory headquarters and the Board of Trade. The indignity of arrest and strip searches are peppered with comedy and humour, testimony to their ability in making these harrowing experiences an enjoyable read. The list of projects they undertook and their account of them are too numerous to describe even briefly, and this alone is one reason why you should read their story.

Both women continue to be active and are always ready to support and fight a good cause. Their book describes the strength and determination of both women, and also touches on the humorous side of their lives. Having met both women, I can testify that not only do they project both strength and energy, but also a mischievous side.

It is a privilege to be allowed a glimpse of their lives, and an honour to know them personally.

Anne and Betty: United by the Struggle. By Anne Scargill and Betty Cook, Route Publishing, £20.
John Church was a miner at Bentley colliery until its closure in 1993, having served 35 years. He was the NUM branch delegate during the strike of 1984/85 and was later secretary of the branch and also a member of the Yorkshire Area Executive. He worked for the local council as a welfare rights adviser from 1993 to 2010 when he retired.

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