Pit Banners & Trade Unions in the Mining Industry

On Saturday 7th March our guest speaker was Anne Bradley. She is the Curator for Social and Moral History at the National Mining Museum near Wakefield. Anne reminded us that the Museum has many records in its archives that are accessible for researchers. Many of these records include the history of the Museum, where a shaft was sunk in the 18th century up to the closure of the pit in 1985. The pit was then modified in order to create a museum in 1988. In 1995 it obtained National status which reflects the history of coal mining in England.

Pit banners have a long history and one firm, George Tutill of London, manufactured them for almost two hundred years. The firm provided more than three quarters of the total output for England.

The banners were created for individual pits or coalfields. They represented the solidarity and pride felt by miners. They were displayed on Gala days when marches were organised annually and accompanied by brass bands. They might be used at rallies, strikes or during times for celebration. At first, they were made by hand then in the late 19th century, they were manufactured in factories. They were often illustrated with figures or symbols that reflected the spirit of the miners and of the trade union movement that was developing at the same time. An example shown was for the Rothwell miners which had a miner holding a bundle of sticks which was a symbol of solidarity and strength. Others portrayed justice, friendship and shared help. A recent banner for the Durham coalfield portrayed a group of figures one of whom was the politician Tony Benn.

The banners were colourful and a source of great pride for those who handled them. On marches they could also be difficult to handle if the weather was windy or wet.
Anne, who was a very interesting and enthusiastic speaker, reminded us that there are a number of banners on that the public can see at the Museum along with many other exhibits in a new and refurbished display.