Rare Miners’ Strike Chess Set on Display at National Coal Mining Museum

An extremely rare chess set depicting key political figures of the Miners’ Strike 1984/85, including Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill, has gone on display at National Coal Mining Museum for England (NCMME) as part of their free year-long exhibition, 84/85 – The Longest Year.

The polyester resin pieces designed by Bill Spalding, are believed to be one of only two sets created in 1984. Acquired at auction in March of this year, the Museum are looking forward to displaying the set for the first time ahead of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave.

Each opposing side features caricatures of key political figures and icons of the year-long strike, positioned in a stalemate. The black pieces are made up of: Arthur Scargill – President of the National Union of Mineworkers (King), Neil Kinnock – Leader of the Labour Party (Queen), Karl Marx (Bishop), Flying Picket (Knight), Pithead (Rook) and Miners’ Helmets (Pawn). The white characters include: Margaret Thatcher – Prime Minister (Queen), Ian MacGregor – Head of the National Coal Board (King), Milton Friedman – Economist and Adviser to Thatcher (Bishop), Police Horse (Knight), Big Ben (Rook) and Police Helmets (Pawn).

The chess set has been installed alongside a selection of items from the Museum’s collection and loans ahead of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June. Additions include arrest documentation for a ‘Breach of the Peace’, a Code of Practice Picketing booklet, a selection of commemorative pin badges and more.

A series of events at NCMME add to the conversation, starting with performances of Without Malice or Ill Will by Writer and Actor, Ray Castleton. Telling the story of Geoff Marsh, a miner turned copper, and a decision that changed his career forever. The play takes place on Fri 7 (7pm) and Sat 8 June (2pm & 7pm), with tickets bookable via the Museum website for £10. The Museum will also be screening two documentary films delving into the subject matter, with The Battle For Orgreave (Yvette Vanson, 1985) on 23 June and Still The Enemy Within (Owen Gower, 2014) on 29 June. Both screenings are pre-bookable via the Museum website for £2.

The Museum’s free exhibition, 84/85 – The Longest Year, runs until the anniversary of the end of the strike, Monday 3 March 2025, with refreshed displays and a supporting events programme throughout the year. The exhibition focusses on the experiences of miners and their families, giving a voice to three different points of view: striking miners, those that went back early and those that didn’t strike at all.

Curator Anne Bradley installing the chess set

Anne Bradley, Curator (Social & Oral History), said: “We are delighted to have acquired this extremely rare chess set into our collection in such an important anniversary year and are thrilled that we can display for the public ahead of the commemoration of Orgreave. Bill Spalding’s caricatures offer an insight into the mood of 1984 and the value of humour in the face of hard times.

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