Bill Spalding Chess Set E 04 06 2024

Pieces from Bill Spalding chess set acquired by National Coal Mining Museum for England. Pictured here, Margaret Thatcher, Westminster and police helmet (in white) and Arthur Scargill, colliery and miners' helmet (in black).

Image credit: NCMME

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A chess set recently acquired by the National Coal Mining Museum for England (NCMME) has gone on display as part of the year-long exhibition 84/84 – The Longest Year, which runs until March 2025.

The set depicts key political figures of the miners’ strike from the early 1980s, including Margaret Thatcher (white queen), Arthur Scargill (black king) and Neil Kinnock (black queen). Highlighting combatants on the front line, the set’s pawns are crafted as police and miners' helmets.

Designed by Bill Spalding, the polyester and resign set is thought to be one of only two created in 1984.

Bill Spalding Chess Set B 04 06 2024

Black and white chess pieces featuring police and miner’s helmets as pawns.

Image credit: NCMME

It was acquired by the museum at a Catawiki auction in March, where it was sold for €1200 (£1022) plus fees, below the estimate of €1400-1600.

Following the response to his miners’ strike creation, Spalding went into full time production of chess sets in 1986. Hand crafting them at his home in Hetton, North Yorkshire, Spalding also designed set featuring caricatures of the British royal family. After receiving one of his creations, the Queen gave a “seal of approval” for the design.

Anne Bradley, curator (social and oral history) at the museum, 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.”

Though the exhibition has already started, the museum is refreshing displays and running a programme of events throughout the year. The chess set has been installed now alongside a selection of additional items from the museum’s collection and loans ahead of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June.

Further displays include arrest documentation for a ‘Breach of the Peace’, a Code of Practice Picketing booklet and a range of commemorative pin badges.