Researched by John Lumsdon

An extract from George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”

At some of the larger and better-appointed collieries there are pithead baths. This is an enormous advantage, for not only can the miner wash himself all over every day, in comfort and even luxury, but at the baths he has two lockers where he can keep his pit clothes separate from his day clothes, so that within twenty minutes of emerging as black as a Negro he can be riding off to a football match dressed up to the nines.

But it is only comparatively seldom because a seam of coal does not last forever, so that it is not necessarily worth building a bath every time a shaft is sunk. I can-not get hold of exact figures, but it seems likely that rather less than one miner in three has access to a pithead bath. Probably a large majority of miners are completely black from the waist down for at least six days a week.

It is almost impossible for them to wash all over in their own homes. Every drop of water has got to be heated up, and in a tiny living-room which contains, apart from the kitchen range and a quantity of furniture, a wife, some children, and probably a dog, there is simply not room to have a proper bath. Even with a basin one is bound to splash the furniture.

Middle-class people are fond of saying that the miners would not wash themselves properly even if they could, but this innocence, as is shown by the fact that where pithead baths exist practically all the men use them. Only among the very old men does the belief still linger that washing one's legs 'causes lumbago'. Moreover the pithead baths, where they exist, are paid for wholly or partly by the miners themselves, out of the Miners' Welfare Fund. Sometimes the colliery company subscribes, some-times the Fund bears the whole cost. But doubtless even at this late date the old ladies in Brighton boarding houses are saying that 'if you give those miners baths they only use them to keep coal in'.

Last verse of poem, (a day in the life of a miner)
Two o'clock in the pithead baths, I'm washing away the grime,
Now clean and refreshed I head for home, the bus it arrives on time,
On the table my dinner is waiting and it's devoured without delay,
With heavy eyes I slump in my chair, at the end of my working day.
J. H. Smith. (A Welsh miner)

Miner’s Clothes

Instead of disposing of their old clothes when new ones were bought, miners would wear these as pit clothes. They would travel to the pit, work their shift and return home in the same clothes. Attached to their belt would be a pair of kneepads, snapping tin, for their food, a helmet and a water bottle slung over their shoulder. That was until pithead baths were built and work wear was provided. Some pits had baths in the 1920s but most had none until 1947 when the coalmines were nationalised. (Brought into public ownership)

Then a programme of providing baths was started. Prior to this the Coal Mines Act, 1911, laid down that if a majority of two thirds of the men required pit pithead baths the proprietors were required to provide these facilities. However the men had to make a payment of two pence per week for this privilege.

Some miners resisted the introduction of pithead baths with all sorts of excuses such as immodesty of communal bathing, catching colds and weakening their backs

However the payment of two pence per week was probably the main reason, particularly when they had a good supply of hot water at home.

Where baths were provided miners would come to the pit in their travelling clothes, enter what was known as the clean side lockers, take off their clothes then take their soap and towel through into the dirty side lockers. Here they would put on their pit clothes or (work wear.) and go underground.

When the shift was over they would do the same in reverse, having a bath in the meantime of course. As temperatures varied from pit to pit and even in different parts of the same pit, clothing would also vary. At the shaft bottom of a downcast shaft, this was where the fresh air was drawn down. In winter times men would wear thermal underwear and extra layers of clothing. While in hotter parts of the mine the clothing worn would be football shorts, boots and stockings.

Footwear was also an element of clothing. Prior to the hobnailed boots, were the clogs, and then the more modern boots had extra hardwearing rubber soles plus steel toe capped Wellingtons for working in wet conditions.

Work of Miners’ Welfare Fund

Achievements of the Miners’ Welfare Fund in helping to make the lives of coal miners easier and happier are shown in the Miners’ welfare Committee’s 16th Annual Report 1938. This committee has been at work since 1920, and derives its revenue from a levy of a halfpenny per ton of coal produced and a levy of one shilling in the pound on mining royalties. It includes representatives of coal-owners and mineworkers, and is assisted in each of the 25 coal-mining areas by district committees of employers and employees.

Pithead Baths

One of the chief objects of the Miners’ Welfare Fund is to provide pithead baths and in 1937 a sum of £657,690, two thirds of the total grants from the fund during the year, was allocated to this object. By the end of 1937, 208 baths had been completed, giving accommodation to nearly 275,000 miners, and a further 70 baths, with accommodation for 90,000 miners were under construction. This accommodation is sufficient for more than half the total number of miners to be catered for, and the main building programme for baths is planned to be completed about 1944.

Although once regarded with apathy in the coalfields, pithead baths are appreciated not only by the miners who use them, but also by the womenfolk, who find that much of the labour traditionally associated with their lives has vanished. Illustrations of bath buildings included in the report show also that their value is not limited entirely to bathing facilities and that clean modern design has already noticeably improved the appearance of the coalmining districts. Besides building pithead baths, the committee has spent large sums for a variety of different purposes ranging from bowling greens to scientific research. A summary of the amount spent under broad headings will show the magnitude of this work.

Nearly £5,500,000 has been spent on sports grounds and all kinds of children’s playgrounds, boys’ clubs and camps, swimming pools, halls, institutes and pavilions. Other pithead welfare included canteens, cycle stores, first aid rooms, convalescent homes, and safety in mines research. Altogether, the committee had by the end of 1937, made grants to a total of £16,523,533 and the receipts of the fund amounted to £16,701,774

Mossfield Pithead Baths 1930

Mr. Ben Turner, M.P. the veteran Labour leader who holds the position of Secretary of Mines in the Government, spent the weekend in North Staffordshire, which he visited at the invitation of the local Miners’ Welfare committee for the purpose of opening the newly installed pithead baths at the Mossfield colliery Longton. He was also to open the splendid new pavilion on the Bignall End Cricket Club’s ground, together with the Bowling Green attached, and laid down through a grant from the Welfare Fund.

A Famous Pit Pony

Many top mining officials attended the opening ceremony, and the chairman, Sir Francis Joseph, C.B.E. made an introduction speech, then handed Mr. Turner an exquisite tea service as a memento of the occasion from the directors of Mossfield Colliery Ltd., and a framed photograph of Boxer, a pit pony which retired on pension last year after 30 years continuous service underground, coming to the surface for a fortnights holiday once a year.

Returning thanks, Mr.Turner said, one thing he noticed was that Boxer had been given a fortnights holiday each year “with pay” and it was a reminder to those who controlled the pits that miners might have the same privilege. Continuing the speaker congratulated the colliery on having pithead baths installed. It had been a dream of such leaders as Mr. Enoch Edwards, one time M.P. for Hanley. Since the war they had developed new ideas about social amenities. They were coming back to the old proverb that cleanliness was next to Godliness and they were realising the miners should be as clean as any other man when leaving his work. So far they had 85 pithead bath schemes in hand and Mossfield was the 16th to be completed. Following the ceremony, Mr. Ben Turner was entertained at luncheon at the North Staffordshire Hotel and afterwards journeyed to Bignall end to open the £3,000 Pavilion and Bowling Green.

Hanley Deep Baths 1932

The new pithead baths provided for the colliery workers at Hanley Deep Pit of the Shelton Iron, Steel and Coal Co. Ltd. At a cost of £28,000 were opened December 1932 in the presence of a large gathering of persons connected with the North Staffordshire coal trade. The baths, which have taken about 18 months to erect, contain 18 cubicles and provide facilities for 2,180 miners. Mr. John Cocks, joint managing director of the Shelton Co. presided over the opening ceremony.

The chairman said he was glad to find that pithead baths were becoming more generally recognised as a necessity. The baths they were opening today were the fifth installation to be put into commission in north Staffordshire and others would be erected when the penny per ton contribution fund had further accumulated. These had been allocated from the Welfare Committee to the north Staffordshire coalfield the sum of £209,000, of which £100,000 had been earmarked for the provision of baths.

The baths not only raised the status and self-respect of the men, but also made their home life happier by eliminating the dirt, which pit clothing carried into the homes, and the committee were determined to equip every colliery in the district with baths.

In declaring the baths open, Mr. Summers paid a tribute to the staff and officials controlling the company, and said that at the present rates of output at the Deep Pit, the reserves of minerals were estimated to last another 150 years, “so that no one need worry very much.” He new of the harmonious spirit that existing between the workmen and the management, and hoped the workmen would continue to realise that the prosperity of the company was at least as important to them as it was to the owners.

The Lord mayor, in adding his congratulations to the company, expressed the hope that the period of depression with the consequent unemployment was coming to an end. Sir Francis Joseph, seconded by Mr. I. W. Cumberbatch, proposed a vote of thanks to the opener.

Great Fenton Baths 1933

The new pithead baths and canteen erected at the Great Fenton colliery of the Stafford Coal and Iron Co. Ltd. Were opened by the Secretary for Mines, Mr. Ernest brown, M.P. in may 1933 in the presence of a large gathering of influential persons connected with the coal industry. On arrival at the colliery premises, Mr. Brown and party were met by Mr. E.P.Turner, the colliery manager and made a tour of the surface, including the Cardox plant, which is an improved method of shot firing, instead of by explosives.

Long Service Employees

Mr. Brown and the Duke of Sutherland, were introduced to the following long service employees George Beadmore 54 years, James Humphreys 54 years, James Smith 53 years, William Rathbone 52 years, F. Bracknell 51 years, H. Morris 49 years, W. Hassall 49 years, B. Spruce 49 years, and G. Pass 48 years. Mr. Brown remarked that some of the men had been working at the colliery before he was borne as he was only 52 and the Duke remarked that as his age was 44 two of the men had been working there ten years before he was born.

To the distinguished gathering

In his opening remarks the Duke congratulated the local Welfare Committee. They had he said, quickly and rightly realised that one of the best uses that could be made of the funds at their disposal was to augment the funds for pithead baths. They therefore decided to contribute an equal amount to that provided by the royalty levy. The men at the Great Fenton colliery had all along been most keen to have baths and in the ballot over 80% expressed themselves in favour, which, of course, meant contributing towards the cost. The baths were the most up to date type and the canteen was the first of its kind in the whole of the country Unfortunately, he continued, things were not very happy in the coal trade and there was much short-time working, but they were all hoping for better times and the accommodation at the baths could be doubled to meet the demand.

The fact that the colliery had had the baths was a sign of the good feeling which existed between the management and the men, not only at the colliery, but at all the collieries in North Staffordshire, due to a large measure to the good leadership of the men by Messrs. Leese, Hancock, Sumnall and Timmis, their Union representatives. The directors and management were proud of that spirit of co-operation.

Example to Whole Country

Referring to changes in the working of pits the Duke said that North Staffordshire had set an example to the whole country in the mechanisation of mines and the Staffordshire Coal & Iron had played their part. The directors has supplied the plant, the management had made their plans and the men had carried them out with the result that the proportion of machine mined coal in the past ten years had increased from 45% to 99% while the proportion of coal mechanically conveyed from the face to the pit tub had risen from 7% to 96%. In order to work coal it was necessary for miners to become mechanically minded. He added, in conclusion that if prosperity was to return to the coal industry masters and men had to work hand in hand for the common aim.

To day they were opening the 107th pithead baths under the Coal Mines Act of 1926 and now 137,000 miners were provided for. There were 45 more schemes under construction and the programme when completed would provide for 210,000 miners. It was true that North Staffordshire had exceptional keenness, and by the latest instillation 9,000 miners were provided for out of 33,000.

Mr. Brown concluded by giving figures of the amount earmarked for pithead baths, pointing out how brains plus kindness could work miracles in the coal industry, and urged the miners to make the fullest use of the facilities provided. The old belief that it is a very bad thing for a miner to wash his back because it makes it weak is a fairy tale, he added.

Victoria Baths 1933

Mr. Ebby Edwards, general secretary of the Miners Federation of Great Britain, paid his first official visit to North Staffordshire in June 1933, when he opened the new pithead baths at the Victoria colliery of the Norton and Biddulph Collieries Ltd., installed at a cost of £21,000. The baths, which are a further exemplification of the usefulness of the Miners Welfare Fund, will provide accommodation for 1,680 men, bringing the proportion of men thus catered for in the district to about 50%.

There was a large attendance at the opening ceremony. Mr. James Cadman, chairman, said the were all gratified when the men voted for the utilisation of the Welfare Fund in the erection of pithead baths and it was a great satisfaction to know that North Staffordshire now had a bigger percentage of pithead baths than any other district in Great Britain

North Staffordshire’s Record

Introducing the principal guest, Mr. Cadman said, Mr. Edwards’s statesmanlike handling of his work had secured the respect and confidence of everybody, and they all wished him the best of luck, health and happiness in the high position he occupied.

Mr. Ebby Edwards said he had that day, the honour of opening the 112th installation of pithead baths in the country. It was an achievement of which all sections might well feel proud, but he reminded them as yet only 20% of the workers were provided for in that respect. At the present rate of progress it was going to take 20years to provide for all the workers. One heard of many places, which had no pithead baths because the workers had voted against them. He regretted that very much, and he should like to appeal to those men to reconsider their decision if not for themselves, then for the sake of their women folk. Compared with the country as a whole, North Staffordshire had a magnificent record, and the fact that about 50% of the mineworkers were now provided with pithead baths, was a credit to the foresight and social conscious of the employers and the employees. There was no dispute between the men and employers about pithead baths.

No Stoppage in July

Speaking on the future of the mining industry, Mr. Edwards said the time had come as Mr. Cadman had suggested, when the industry must be looked upon not as a number of pits, but as a national asset, which it was the duty of the country as a whole to preserve. The great problem was to secure an increase in the demand for coal, and at the same time increase the economic value of the coal its self. Someone would ask,” What about the July situation?” and he would say in passing, that there would be no stoppage in July this year; because he believed the large body of employers, knowing the immense competition in the coal trade of Europe, could not afford to have any crises created in the industry which could lead to a stoppage. He would go further, and say that the wages of the men were so low that there could be no economic salvation in any limitation of the standards of the men employed in the industry. In those two facts he was satisfied that there would be no crises in the industry next month. The time has come when they should be able to implement the machinery, which would prevent any stoppage, and yet do justice to the workers in the industry. Nearly 75% of British coal production was used in this country, and there could be no justification for the employers selling at a price which would not give his men a living wage, and the employers a return on their capital.

Production and Prices

What was needed, concluded Mr. Edwards, was a new conception of the industry. The old conception, from the days when there was no limit to demand, was out of date. Today they had not got a demand for anything more than 205 to 210 million tons per annum, yet the country was producing 278,000,000 tons, and had a capacity 300,000,000. They needed to end the over production on a market of depressed prices. To the employers who were asking for a free hand for maximum production without control, and sale at minimum prices, he said: “Can you dispose of coal at less than an economic price and give my men a living wage?”

They should have learnt their lesson from the past, and he hoped he had indicated that the Miners Federation did not desire any conflict in the industry. They were seeking to avoid conflict, but at the same time they ask for a humane contribution, that the men should be paid a living wage for the risks they ran in the extraction of coal Mr. Edwards was cordially thanked, and the chairman presented him with a silver tea tray as a memento of the occasion. Each member of the Management Committee of the baths was presented with a clock.

Glebe Baths 1934

The new pithead baths at the Glebe colliery, of Fenton Collieries Ltd. Erected by means of a grant from the Miners Welfare fund, were formally opened in July 1934. The baths are housed in an imposing two story brick building on the continental style and the immediate vicinity has been laid out as a lawn with shrubberies, enclosed in a concrete pillar and chain surrounding, giving the frontage a nice appearance.

The total cost of the baths and annexes was £23,600 and the men themselves have raised £73 for the canteen equipment. There is accommodation for 1,216 miners and the various departments are designed with a view to affording convenience and comfort to the men who will have to use them.

Over Fifty Years Service

A special interest attached to the occasion, was the fact that the directors have invited Mrs. Gough, wife of Mr. John Gough, of Adelaide St. Fenton, a working miner, who retired eight weeks ago after having been employed underground at the colliery for over half a century, to perform the opening ceremony. Mrs. Gough is 72 years of age and has been married over fifty years.

The speech making ceremony took place in a special enclosed area under the shadow of the pit winding gear and here a large crowd of colliery officials and workers, with their wives together a number of specially invited guests assembled.

Sir Francis Joseph

Sir Francis Joseph expressed his regret for the absence of his wife, who had gone 330 miles to visit her children in school. Wonderful people these months are he said, and I’m sure Mrs Gough will forgive her absence. I extend an invitation to her and husband John to come along and have tea with us. You can’t separate people when they have lived together all these years and I pray to God they will that they will be spared to live together for many more years to come.

Out of Debt

Sir Francis Joseph continued to give a brief history of the colliery, which was very bleak at one time losing at the rate of £500 per week. But they all pulled together with the men co-operating, determined to preserve the continuity of the pit as an important factor in the coal producing industry of North Staffordshire. The result had been that they had succeeded in getting more employment, more security, for the future and brought the colliery into line with the most up-to-date pits, a tremendous achievement.

Wife of a Working Miner

He was glad that his fellow directors agreed to his suggestion that the proper person to open the baths was the type who would benefit mostly, namely, the wife of a working miner, and that was why they invited Mrs. Cough, whose husband had had a long and honest career at the colliery and who her self had rendered great service to family life.

Mrs. Gough, who was obviously nervous and very shy, said: I have great pleasure in declaring these baths open, and I hope they will be of great benefit to the miners who use them. After Mrs. Gough had opened the main entrance door of the building and the guests had made an inspection, they were entertained to tea, where further speeches were made and Mrs. Gough was presented with a locally made china service as a memento of the occasion. Sir Francis also handed a handsome clock suitably inscribed from the directors to Mr. Gough to mark his retirement.

Holditch Baths 1937

Developments at the Holditch Colliery, Chesterton, during the past twelve months include not only the new Pithead Baths building, which is to be opened on Saturday, but also a new lamp house, planned and equipped in such a way as to make it at least the equal, if not superior, of any in the country.

Work on the pithead baths began in June 1937. The scheme, which has cost £23,000, borne by the Miners’ Welfare Fund, is now complete. The new lamp house is an enterprise of the owning companies Holditch mines Ltd. And the Shelton Iron, Steel and Coal Ltd. Both buildings are set back a considerable distance behind the old buildings, which included the lamp house. On the site of the old building in front of the baths, is a large raised lawn; this, together with rockeries, which have been built in front of the company offices, transforms remarkably the approach to the pithead.

The Baths Building

The baths are in a two story building, rectangular in shape, 293 feet long and 34 feet wide. At each end there is a single story extension, one is for a canteen, the other for a boot cleaning and greasing room. There is also a first aid room fully equipped for the prompt and efficient treatment of injuries. The company has provided this. The canteen has seating and table accommodation for 66 men, and it will be possible to obtain light cooked meals and various other refreshments there, an undoubted boon of which full advantage will doubtless be taken. The boot cleaning room has revolving brushes mechanically driven and apparatus for greasing boots.

Other accommodation provided in the building, apart from its main purpose, includes, cloakrooms, lavatories, drinking water fountains, and lost property office.

For 2,000 Men.

Bath and locker accommodation for 2,000 men is provided in the main body of the building. On each story are 2,000 lockers. Every man has two lockers, one for his ordinary clothes and the other for his pit clothes. The lockers are of rolled steel, sprayed with aluminium. In corridors running parallel to the locker rooms are the baths, arranged in a double row with an aisle down the middle, 54 on each floor. Most of the showers are divided by brick partitions, but in a few places three or four are together, for the convenience of groups of friends working together in the pit. Each spray is capable of yielding a flow of hot, tepid or cold water. The baths building is air-heated by electrical methods, the effect of which is that the temperature may be controlled at will.

The New Lamp house

In the new lamp house, which has been opened now for a week or two, there is accommodation and equipment for 1,400 standard miners’ lamps and 400 cap lamps. It is an entirely new building, modern in style, of steel construction. Above the height of four feet, up to which point there are tiles on the interior side, the walls are of glass. Running all round the lamphouse is a totally enclosed glass veranda. The men do not enter the house for their lamps, but are served with them at service windows of which there are five on each side of the house. The advantage of the veranda is that they are under cover all the time they are passing between the pithead and the entrance to the baths, which are connected to the lamp house by a corridor, glassed roofed and walled. Lamps are given out at the service windows on one side of the house and collected at the end of each shift on the other. There is, thus, no clashing of parties of men respectively coming on and off duty.

For Charging Lamps

For the lamps not in actual use there are charging stands, each holding 144 batteries. There are four of these for the standard lamps and one (120 batteries) for the cap lamps. The stands are controlled from big panels and switch boards. The size of the house is 85 feet by 47, and the accommodation includes a steaming room for the cleaning of lamps, complete with a fumes extraction tower; a mess room for the staff; an office for the head lamp-man; and a special section for oil lamps. The equipment includes the most up-to-date methods of keeping the lamps completely efficient, a point vital of course, to the safety of the men. The design and equipment of the house are such that the company feel that they could safely challenge any colliery in the country to show a better.

Silverdale Baths 1954

Silverdale baths with 70 open showers and heated clean and pit lockers, providing accommodation for 1,092 men were opened at Silverdale Colliery on Saturday 11/12/1954 by Mr. Harold Lockett, North Staffordshire District Secretary of the N.U.M.

The North Staffordshire area manager of the National Coal Board, Mr. R. Bennett, who presided over the opening ceremony, said that in addition to the baths, a new canteen was being provided.

Mr. Lockett recalled some of the earlier difficulties in getting pit head baths. With to-days opening ceremony he said the bath’s building programme in North Staffordshire under the old Mines Welfare Scheme was completed. In 1930, Mr Lockett went on, it was not a question of men clamouring for baths. Older miners used to think regular bathing would bring on rheumatism. The position to day was very different and there were few miners who did not bath.

The Chairman of the National Coal Board West Midlands Division, Mr. Cumberbatch, said the baths were a credit to the people who built them and the men that used them.

The speakers were supported by the President of the National Union of Miners, West Midlands Executive, Mr. A. Badderley. Thanks to the speakers and guests, who included the Mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Miss Ethel Shaw was expressed by the colliery manager, Mr. F. Allan and by the Secretary of Silverdale N.U.M. Branch, Alderman D. Whithurst who said that the next thing required at the colliery when funds became available was a miners institute.


The second largest pithead baths in the country have been erected at the Chatterley Whitfield colliery, Tunstall, and are to be opened on Monday 21st February 1938. The baths have been erected by the Miners’ Welfare Committee at a cost of £36,000 and provide accommodation for 3,168 men. Attached to the building are a spacious canteen and a well-equipped first-aid room.

The baths will fill a long felt want and their popularity can be judged by the fact that 99.5% of the men employed at the colliery have signified their desire to use them. All the underground workers, surface workers who handle coal and men employed in the workshops will have the use of the baths and each man will have two lockers, one for his pit clothes and the other for the clothes he will ware when going to and from work.

All the latest improvements for the convenience of the miners have been incorporated in the baths, which are undoubtedly the finest of their kind in the country. They are the eleventh baths to be erected by the Miners’ Welfare Committee in North Staffordshire. The cost of the baths is met out of the Miners’ Welfare Fund which is derived out of a levy of a halfpenny per ton on all coal produced and is payable by managers of every colliery.

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