Vesting Day Memories

Vesting day memory events were an opportunity for communities and members of the public to share stories and memories of what nationalisation meant to them and their families.

The Museum ran three events in conjunction with Wakefield Library and West Yorkshire Archives Service.

We invited members of the public to join in an afternoon of sharing memories and stories of their personal experiences of the mining industry pre and post nationalisation to form part of the narrative for the forthcoming exhibition.

The events were held:

Tuesday 24 January at the National Coal Mining Museum for England nr Wakefield

Tuesday 28 February at South Elmsall Library

Tuesday 21 March at West Yorkshire Archives Service’s new History Centre in Wakefield

You can also share your memories using our online form.

Here are a few of the memories we have collected from our January memory day event at the Museum

John McPhail...

"I worked at Kellingley from 1980-1986. My father worked at the pits from 1937 to 1981, finishing at Lofthouse as a Safety Engineer. He spoke of Nationalisation often and was very proud of the NCB. He always distinguished them from British Coal. His attitude to the NCB was very different to mine. I had gone through the 1984-5 [strike] and saw them as the enemy. He was ready to leave the industry in the 1940s but stayed and took his deputy’s ticket. He later took his Manager’s qualification undertaking a sandwich course at Cannock Chase College. He was a great advocate of Nationalisation. He saw the difference mainly in terms of safety and managements attitude to the welfare of the workforce."  

Dr Ivor Brown...

"Nationalization took place on Wednesday, 1st January, 1947. Jan 1st was not a holiday as it is today. During the week everything took place normally, but as a 9 year old I was taken late on Tuesday evening to the pit to check that the carpenters were putting up the NCB board/sign on the pump room wall, ready for all to see when they passed on Wednesday morning. They had a bit of a meeting there on Sunday following but not many attended. The Miners Workers Federation changed their name to NUM at that time too but still remained only as a loose association of county organisations. Most changes appeared to occur at the “top”. My father’s boss - the Company Secretary of Madely Wood Company lost his job, but got another as NCB Area Timber Supplies officer. My father as Chief Clerk then reported direct to the Colliery Manager. The Manager did not like nationalisation, so emigrated to Canada and a new one came. Men could now move easily between collieries so NCB produced a book for each pit listing the qualifications for each men. This could be checked when a man moved to another pit."

Sydney Preene...

"(On) vesting day, I remember that there was a service the following Sunday and the yard was full of hundreds of people. There was no immediate change" Mr Preene thought that there was only really a personnel change at management level. In short, it “didn’t feel like much change” at the time. However, there was big change in safety. "For example, flat caps and rags and clogs were out – managers and deputies had compressed card helmets. After 1947, wages went up slightly."

Eddie Downes author of Yorkshire Collieries 1947-1994*, joined the NCB in the early 1970s with the promise of a “job for life” .

"I joined the NCB in the early 1970s with the promise of a ‘job for life’. I left school with 7 O’Levels and 4 A’ Levels and the offer of University places in Belfast and Salford. However after 15 years of schooling, I opted out and went to work in a brickyard as a labourer. My father had insisted I would never ‘go down the pit’ and he and my brother were miners. Dad at Upton and brother at various pits as a contractor with Thyssen. I met the pit Personnel Manager in a pub by accident and he asked what I did for a living. When learned that I had qualifications he insisted that I attend the pit (Frickly) for an interview. Needess to say I signed on at the pit and immediately started attending technical college on day release. At the pit I progressed from road-layer to haulage to coal face worker. After 12 months of day release I progressed to OND and HND (block release), 6 months at pit and 6 months at college. After the OND, the NCB were desperate for me to undertake a 4 year external London degree at North Staffs Polytechnic. It is as an industrial student – something unheard of at the time! I declined because it meant spending less time at the pit – something I enjoyed and couldn’t get enough of. Even on 6 months block release I worked Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Sunday day shifts. I found with the NCB, if you delivered the results you could name your own price. In the Summer of 1976, I was part of a group of miners who manned a mock coal face in Surrey as part of a mining exhibition for BBC employees. After the HND, I converted the diploma into BSC Degree at Leeds and at the same time I obtained a Mine Mangers Certificate. I became a under manager at the end of 1980 and my disillusionment with the NCB began! As an undermanager you were expected to work a 10-12 hour day and then be telephoned at least 3 times at home – simply because this had been the norm for 40 years. I left the NCB in March 1983 but continued to work in the industry until the end of 1993. In those 10 years particularly, the years following the 1984/5 dispute the NCB changed dramatically. Prior to 1984 it was a pleasure to go to work underground, after the strike the atmosphere changed for the worse. The changeover to British Coal was even worse, as a mining company owner I was openly encouraged to undercut fellow tenderers for work in order to be awarded the contract. Some companies did this and paid the price of insolvency. In summary, Eddie says that between 1970-1980 the NCB was superb. 1980-83 disillusionment was setting in. 1984-1993 the NCB/British Coal became obnoxious and corrupt."

Gordon McGregor...

Mr McGregor remembers his father working for National Coal Board in the early days… "My father served his time as a pit blacksmith, but at the age of 21 he went onto the coal face for more money and stayed there all his working life. He was a “coal hewer” - as it said on my birth certificate, but also worked as a “filler”. As local pits closed he was moved to Wearmouth colliery at Sunderland which went out under the sea, but eventually his health gave way and he was found suitable work taking samples around the mine and taking them to the surface. Sadly his lungs were damaged and he retired with industrial illness and died prematurely. I remember him coming home black and washing at home in the tin bath, and joy in the street when the pit baths were opened. He was a staunch Labour supported and delighted in the Nationalisation of the mines. He was proud to be part of the new system. He worked with picks and shovel to begin with, but moved onto “winchy picks” (Pneumatuic drills) and mechanisation that followed. He made good money after Nationalisation as he made bonuses for production. He proudly marched at the Durham Miners Gala and the whole family and neighbours chartered a train through the miners welfare to take us there and back. Proud men! Although he was a proud miner, his aim was to ensure his sons did not go down the pits because of the harsh conditions and he pushed hard to educate his children for career choice outside the mines. After nationalisation many necessities were subsidised at the pit baths and canteen. He was able to buy soap and towels for use in the baths, a big tub of hand cream was provided too. I don’t think he had much use for the cream as his hands were hard and calloused. The meals at the canteen were subsidised and the ladies in the canteen would also serve us children with cake and biscuits on the way home from school. Medical facilities seemed to be good after nationalisation and we even had many blue pit ambulances. My mother would run home if she saw the pit ambulance heading towards home. The nationalisation of the coal mines brought great changes to our community and the NUM brought safety changes and better conditions for all."


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