Colliery checks and tokens

Ceri Thompson

Lamp check number 523 used at Groesfaen Colliery

A red plastic disc used by Mines Rescue during incidents.

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.

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.

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.

Comments (76)

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terry leslie
21 February 2022, 10:50
FTAO Ceri Thompson
Hi Ceri, I'm writing a novel set during the period 1900-1903. It's based on a true story from details on a memorial stone in Trane Cemetery near Tonyrefail. Ever heard of the Frank Slide that occurred in the North West Territories of Canada on the 29th April 1903? Not many have I certainly hadn't. Have a look on line and I think you'll be surprised. So half of the story is set around Tonyrefail and the second half in Canada where the Williams family emigrated. There were lots of Welsh miners there that night and several from Tonyrefail.
Anyway a question on lamp checks please if you can clarify. In the U.K. it seems that only one lamp check was issued to a miner that he exchanged for his numbered lamp. But if in an explosion he was separated from his lamp that kind of defeats the object of identification. In Canada it seems that they were issued with two lamp checks, one to keep on them personally during a shift and the second to hand in for his lamp which makes more sense. Or is it the case that procedures just altered over the years?
I like to get the facts right or otherwise someone will be sure to tell me!
Allan watkins
9 December 2021, 15:12
I have a tom/Williams aberdare davy safety lamp dated 67 the number on the lamp is 283 can you please let me know what colliery it cam from.if possible thank you.
Louise Whitworth
1 October 2021, 10:49
I've found an old token in my garden and would be interested in identifying the owner. Both my grandfathers and dad were pit moggies. Are you able to trace individual miners?
It's Bentinck Colliery
Roger Cole
5 September 2021, 19:59
My grandfather Henry Lewis along with another miner, Ernest Watkins was killed underground at Cribbwr Fawr Colliery,Pyle on 12th November 1925. A brave, but unsuccessful rescue attempt was carried out by the shift Overman, Albert Gubb. Mr Gubb did manage to rescue another miner, Jenkin John Bowden. For his heroic bravery Mr Gubb was awarded the "Order of St John of Jerusalem, Lifesaving Medal, silver" The medal was presented to Mr Gubb at a public meeting in Kenfig Hill. Do you have any information regarding the accident at Cribbwr Fawr or, indeed any information about the colliery itself? I'm 76 years young but I still have huge respect for my grandad and for Albert Gubb.
Carole Challenger
31 August 2021, 14:25

I am cleaning out my parents house after their passing and I have found two lamp checks.

PPG 1125


29 64

Could you help me find out the Mine and the owners please?

Tom Hungerford
10 August 2021, 21:55
I have a collection of lamp checks a watch case shot firing key tobacco box cap lamp and battery and a resperators I want to sell any collectors interested ?
Pat Bevan (Maiden name Davey)
4 February 2021, 00:54
I recently found a lamp token stamped YNYSFAIO COLLIERIES (108)

My Grandfather William Davey worked in a coal mine in Treherbert, not sure which one. Maybe Fernhill? He and his wife and two sons emigrated to Canada in 1923. I'm wondering if it is something Gramp brought with him or maybe he got on a visit to the Rhondda in 1958. Are there museums that collect these tokens? I'd be happy to pass this one on. Any information you can send would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you,
Pat Bevan
Abbotsford, BC
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
9 December 2020, 10:50
Hi Mr Richards,

The colliery was sunk in 1894 by Thomas Williams & Sons (Llangennech) Ltd., but by 1926 ownership had changed to Evan Williams.

Ackroyd and Best Ltd. existed under that name from 1897 to 1927, so the check dates between that period. At that time Morlais would have been using Ackroyd and Best lamps and the lamp checks would have also been supplied by that company. This practice was quite common in the coalfields. After 1947, of course, the checks would have NCB Morlais Colliery on them, but I bet a few of the older versions were in use after that date. I’d be interested to find out if the checks were stamped ‘Evan William’ after 1926

What’s the collier’s number stamped on the lamp? If it’s a very low number, it’s probably an official.

Best wishes

David richards
6 December 2020, 18:57
I’ve just received a brass mine check on one side Ackroyd and best LTD on the other side it has Thomas Williams and sons Morlais colliery has a number aswell as an ex morlais miner I havnt seen this sort of detail on our brass checks any information would be appreciated
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
28 October 2020, 11:55
Dear Sven

I'm afraid that we don't have any employment records from Llanbradach Colliery. What years did he work there? If he worked in the industry after 1947 his records should be held by the Coal Authority who are responsible for the NCB/British Coal records. If he did his lamp number should be in the records.

Any problems please email me at

Best wishes

Ceri Thompson, Curator, Big Pit