LONDON — Thousands of miners and their loved ones held a sentimental solidarity march in North Yorkshire to mark the closure of Britain’s last operating deep coal mine.

The crowds and a marching band filled the streets Saturday in Knottingley, 180 miles north of London, one day after the final shift at the Kellingley Colliery mine.

Many cheered the miners, who have now lost their jobs and their close-knit way of life. The march was organized by two women whose partners had worked at the mine. Organizer Kirsten Sinclair says “this had to be marked and the guys needed to have some love and affection shown to them for everything that they do.”

Britain’s mining industry employed more than 1 million people at its peak in the 1920s.

Once, coal fueled the British Empire, employed armies of men and shook the power of governments.

The last haul of coal from the Kellingley Colliery pit is destined for a museum, as a once-mighty industry fades into history.

SINGING ON LAST DAY

Defiant to the end, miners sang a hit by Tom Jones – the son of a coal miner – as they headed underground for their final shift on Friday.

“This is what makes us very special, the mining community,” said Nigel Kemp, who worked at the mine for more than 30 years. “The men have gone down today singing ‘My, my, my Delilah.’ Every single man on the cage, you could hear them 400 feet down singing. And I do believe they’re going to come out singing as well.”

Britain’s mining industry supplied coal that drove trains, fueled factories and heated homes. After World War II, the country had 750,000 underground miners at almost 1,000 coal pits. But the industry’s days were already numbered.

With gas and nuclear power on the rise, hundreds of coal mines had closed by 1984, when a showdown between the government and miners fixed the industry’s central – and contested – place in Britain’s national mythology.

CHEAPER TO IMPORT

Thousands of miners went on strike hoping to scuttle Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s plan to shut 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs – and destroy the powerful mining unions, which for years had used their economic clout to extract concessions from British governments.

The bitter, yearlong struggle brought violent picket-line clashes and ended in victory for the government. Since then, changing economic demands and cheap imported coal have all but wiped out Britain’s mining industry.

Britain still gets a fifth of its electricity from coal, though it is giving way to cleaner alternatives. But with coal prices at historic lows, it’s cheaper to import coal from countries including Russia, Colombia and the United States.

Britain still has several open-cast mines and a handful of idle pits that could be reopened if needed.

National Union of Mineworkers representative Keith Poulson said the Kellingley miners had felt like “a convicted prisoner on death row” since the closure was announced two years ago.