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Colliery checks and tokens

Lamp checks (or 'tokens' or 'tallies') are one of the most popular coal mining objects collected by both museums and the general public. They basically informed colliery management of who was in work but became vital when rescue services needed to know how many men were actually underground during an incident such as a fire or explosion. Colliery check systems apparently became common during the late nineteenth century and became mandatory in 1913 after an amendment to the 1911 Coal Mines Act.

Lamp check number 523 used at Groesfaen Colliery
Lamp check number 523 used at Groesfaen Colliery
Early check systems usually employed a single check for each underground worker, which was usually taken home at the end of the shift. At the start of the shift the check was handed to the lamp man and exchanged for a safety lamp stamped with the same number as on the check. At the end of the shift the miner handed his lamp in and retrieved his check either from the lamp man or from a 'tally board'.

Check systems varied between coal fields and altered over time, by the late 1970s a three check system (safety check system) became common. In this system each underground worker was issued with three checks, often of different shapes and sizes, one to be handed in to the lamp room, one to be handed to the banksman before the man descended the shaft and one was kept on the person during the shift.

A red plastic disc used by Mines Rescue during incidents
A red plastic disc used by Mines Rescue during incidents.
Colliery checks were stamped with a number and, usually, the colliery or company name. After nationalisation checks were stamped 'National Coal Board' and often the individual division as well. They were usually of brass but zinc, aluminium, Bakelite and plastic versions can also be found. They come in a variety of shapes including square, round, oval, hexagonal and octagonal. By the late 1990s the lamp check was being replaced by a plastic swipe card.

A similar system was used by Mines Rescue during incidents. This was similar to the three check system but pre dated it. In this system a red plastic disc was handed into the lamp room, a yellow plastic disc to the banksman and a copper disc was worn around the neck during the time the rescue man was underground.

Other types of checks were also issued in the mining industry such as those used for shotfiring, canteens, pithead baths and bus and train passes. The mining trade unions also issued checks in various forms to show when a member had paid his contributions. Mining institutes and public houses in mining areas also issued beer checks on various occasions.

Amgueddfa Cymru's Industry Department has collected over a thousand examples of these colliery checks and tokens. Some are on display at Big Pit National Coal Museum and examples can be seen on our online resource Images of Industry

Article by: Ceri Thompson, Curator, Big Pit National Coal Museum

Article Date: 30 January 2013

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