Lamp check number 523 used at Groesfaen Colliery
Lamp check number 523 used at Groesfaen Colliery
A red plastic disc used by Mines Rescue during incidents
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.


Julian Day
2 August 2020, 20:28
Just found a check tag in the garden! Waterloo main colliery no 476. I think it was Temple Newsom Leeds.
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
19 June 2020, 07:37

Dear Ann Thomas

The number of the lamp was issued to an individual miner when he began his career underground. Over the years it could be used by a number of men as one retired and another took his place.

The unfortunate thing is that the lamp room registers, that would have matched up the number with a name and address, usually disappeared after the colliery closed. Some do exist in record offices and in private hands but I haven't come across any for Cwmtillery yet.

Sorry that I can't be of more help.


Big Pit: National Coal Museum

Ann Thomas
18 June 2020, 11:15
I have found a lamp check while clearing out my fathers home, it is from Cwmtillery Colliery number 593. how can I find out who the check belonged to Many thanks Ann Thomas
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
21 May 2020, 11:39

Dear Mr Barnett

I'm afraid that we wouldn't be looking to add any American lamp checks to our collections unless there was a strong Welsh link.

Best wishes

Ceri Thompson, Curator, Big Pit: National Coal Museum

George Barnett
20 May 2020, 16:06
I have maybe a 100 coal mining checks with random numbers on them. They were issue to the miners at Pocahontas Fuel mines called Amonate in Amonate Virginia. I would sell some. GB.
Nia Meleri Evans Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
25 February 2020, 14:28

Dear Kenneth Sullivan

I’m sorry but we don’t have blank lamp checks available.

We sell Big Pit museum lamp checks in the shop but we buy them from Pendragon Wales Ltd. in Bridgend.

Best wishes

Ceri Thompson

Curator Big Pit: Amgueddfa Glo Genedlaetho l National Coal Museum

Kenneth Sullivan
25 February 2020, 08:12
We are trying to raise the money for the old NCB workshops gates in tredegar it looks as this is going to cost £12.000. wears looking at ways to raise this money. What I was hoping for was if you had blank miners lamp check s for as we had over 20 pits in Tredegar we was going to try stamping the names on to them and to sell them on the bank holiday week end can you help us out please
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
11 November 2019, 14:42

Dear Veronica

We wouldn't have any details of why he didn't receive a lamp on retirement as the presentation was usually through the trade union. Do you know which pit he worked in?

Ceri Thompson

Curator, Big Pit

Veronica Pidd
10 November 2019, 12:10
Hi looking for my dads Davy lamp & anything attached to my dad x who sadly passed away 30.1.2019 from lung cancer x he never recieved the lamp or anything belonging to his time served in the pit x John Perryman I'm his daughter enquiring xx
Susan Cartlidge
24 October 2019, 16:16
My parents left me this miners lamp with 3 tokens attached.
Somebody has offered my £250 for them
Are they north much more

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