The Perils of the Miners’ Pit Head Baths

Among our work, we have been creating a database from Derbyshire National Union of Mineworkers’ tribunal cases relating to illness and injury.  Among the many injuries, illnesses and diseases, were those caused by visits to and working in the pithead baths.

Before the construction of pithead baths at collieries, miners would travel to and from work in dirty, damp clothes. Pithead baths were first discussed by the Mineworkers Federation of Great Britain at its annual conference in 1910 but for many reasons, ranging from worry over illnesses to a proposed charge for using the baths, there was difficulty in persuading miners that pithead baths were needed.

The first baths in Derbyshire were opened at Grassmoor colliery in December 1929. By the late 1930s ten of the county’s collieries, including Markham colliery, had pithead baths. In the late 1940s the Ministry of Fuel and Power decided that every pithead bath should have an attached medical centre. By the beginning of 1947 pithead baths had been built at 366 collieries across the UK with provision for 450,000 men.

The main two groups of injuries and diseases that we have come across resulting from pithead bath use have been slipping and/or falling and skin diseases such as dermatitis and athlete’s foot.

There were strict rules about using the baths (picture courtesy of National Coal Mining Museum for England):Pithead Bath Rules - compressed

Each colliery might have their own set of rules, too.  This is from the Markham Collieries: ‘The Bather’s Handbook’ [1935-1939] (our ref D1920):
a476_7-the-bathers-handbook-markham-colliery-1935x1939

These next two photographs were taken at the National Coal Mining Museum for England near Wakefield, a highly recommended visit.
The pithead baths at this Colliery (no longer in use of course!) certainly put the accidents suffered by both the staff and bath attendants and the miners themselves into context.
lockers

The pithead bath locker rooms could be dangerous places if the miners were eager to get home after their shift!

 

No Money No Soap

A very clear message!

Distant family…or not so distant?

A recent visitor to the Record Office reminded me of a really important point when researching your family tree – distance! It’s important to remember how people travelled and why, in the past, which can help when searching nearby parishes and areas for those ‘lost’ ancestors.

The example in question was of a relative who had been born in Hucknall, but had possibly travelled ‘over the border’ for work.  The visitor initially thought that Heanor parish would have been too far away, having used a satnav to calculate the distance.  They obviously realised that this was giving them the distance by modern road, which we all take for granted so much these days (the distance was around 15 miles). However, as the crow flies, the distance was around 7 miles, a not unfeasible mileage for someone in the early 1800s to have walked to find work (particularly as the ancestor in question was an agricultural labourer).

It’s easy to assume that ‘in the old days’ our ancestors simply stayed in one place and worked wherever there was labour available locally. However, like the present day, people did travel long distances to a place of work, or perhaps where more lucrative work was available.

Capture

Of course many people also emigrated from the UK to try and increase their opportunities. If you think a relative may have emigrated, passenger lists for ships heading overseas can be found on family history websites such as Find my Past and Ancestry To get an idea of how many people emigrated from the UK between 1890 and 1960, I entered my name into the passenger lists, and it came up with 386 entries during those years!

Parish Map

Old maps can be a really useful source of information about the conditions, providing information about distance, terrain and settlements. Knowing the occupation of the person you are trying to trace is also useful (these can be found on census returns, or in trade directories). Additionally, knowing the main employment centres of the time can help e.g. mills, farms, manor houses.

Learning about the historical background as to how, why and where people travelled in the time period you are looking at can really help narrow down a tricky search (even though family members might convince you that your relatives never moved from one area!)

We have plenty of resources at the Record Office to help you with this: in addition to the online local studies and archive resources our Local Studies Library has county parish maps, trade directories and guides to ancestors’ occupations.  The other resource we have of course, are our helpful staff!

Let us know if you have ever been ‘led up the garden path’ by a relative you were sure never could have strayed far…