Most mining trade union branches had banners that depicted the pit and often reflected the politics of the time. These symbolic objects are still shown in the North East at the annual Durham Gala (‘The Big meeting’) which is held every July. In Nottinghamshire, miner’s galas were held in Basford and Kirkby in the 1950’s, then at the height of coal production, moved to the new Union Headquarters and athletics ground at Berry Hill near Mansfield. Here, union banners were proudly paraded by mineworkers, family members, union officials and civic dignitaries.
Union banners were displayed during political rallies and protest marches, notably during the General Strike of1926, the victorious strikes of 1972 and 1974, and the miners strike of 1984-85 which remains controversial due to a split between the NUM and the breakaway union; the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), established in December 1985.
Fourteen union banners were discovered by the research team whilst visiting the Union Headquarters that was facing closure at the time of the project. The banners, consisting of painted and embroidered designs, incorporate socialist iconography, political slogans and folklaw related to individual collieries and communities.
The Union banner for the Bolsover Branch, National Union of Mineworkers, illustrates recreational activities that embody the benevolent ethos of Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge who leased land from the Duke of Portland in Bolsover and Creswell and began producing coal in 1891 and 1896 respectively. Bainbridge’s Bolsover Colliery Company were instrumental in developing the New Bolsover Model Village to house and cater to the needs of his workforce. The company, featured in the original FT top 30 list of companies and went on to establish mines at Rainworth (Rufford), Forest Town, Clipstone, Creswell and Edwinstowe.
The Union banner for the Nottingham Section, Union of Democratic Mineworkers is a reworking of the original NUM banner, produced by the breakaway union that later occupied the Mining Union Headquarters at Berry Hill. This banner once adorned the Council Chamber where delegates held their meetings. It incorporates a Robin Hood ‘Safety’ theme that appears in the original design. Nottingham Castle and Southwell Minster are recognisable in the background of the front panel. The reverse deviates from the original NUM design, depicting a cut-away view of the ground beneath a Sherwood oak where two miners are working in cramped conditions. The banner features modern mining techniques (hydraulic roof-supports) and both sides of the banner bear the inscription ‘Unity Is Strength’.
The banner for Linby Colliery, Nottinghamshire Section, UDM, illustrates the colliery’s steam powered winding engine: Manufactured by Robey and Co of Lincoln; the winding engine operated from 1922 until it was replaced with an electric winder in 1982. The preserved Robey Steam Winding Engine can be seen in operation at Papplewick Pumping Station. The vignette in the centre of the banner represents Union Activist Joe Whelan (1925-1982) who worked at Linby for 20 years: A life-long member of the Communist Party, Joe enjoyed respect from both workforce and management. Whelan was an important mediator between the National Union of Mineworkers, National Coal Board and the Government, during the miners strikes of 1972 and 1974. The reverse panel features a pair of hands cradling a family group, a modern cap-lamp framed by the title ‘Linby Colliery’ and the inscription ‘Caring for the Community.
The NUM banner for Mansfield (Crown Farm) Colliery, features a map with radiating quadrants framing a coal tub, rail-wagons, ship and power station. The reverse features food, drink, light and heat, arranged around an illuminated safety lamp. Dated 1951, the same year that ‘The Festival of Britain’ celebrated the end of wartime austerity: This magnificent banner conveys Britain’s confident mastery of industry and the provision of essential utilities.
Project collaborators, Paul Fillingham and Dr David Amos share connections with the coal industry. As a young art student, Paul painted scenes from Blidworth Colliery which hung in the Miners Union Headquarters for over three decades and also received a scholarship from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation.
Established in 1952, CISWO catered for the welfare of mining employees and their dependants ‘beyond the colliery gate.’ Today the organisation engages with Government and funding bodies in order to tackle issues associated with de-industrialisation and structural unemployment.
Prior to embarking on a career in academia and industrial heritage, David worked as a miner at Annesley Colliery. The Annesley Branch NUM Banner pictured above was unveiled shortly before the 1984 miners strike. More recently, the banner was on temporary display at the Bestwood Dynamo House. Both Annesley and Bestwood Collieries were part of Nottingham’s Leen Valley; once an important area for textiles and coal production. Other Leen Valley Pits include; Newstead, Linby, Hucknall, Bulwell, Babbington, Radford, Wollaton and Clifton.
The cache of mining banners uncovered at the Union headquarters in Mansfield were just part of a rich archive of material offering a unique insight into coal mining culture. Our team discovered a wide range of artefacts, ranging from joyful photographs capturing the spirit of annual mining galas, to official inquests into the tragic mining disasters that have blighted local communities. Historic documents, some dating back to the last century were taken to the University of Nottingham for archiving and preservation.