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.

Comments(50)

Marc Haynes Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
27 September 2019, 11:34

Dear Sarah,

Thank you very much for your enquiry. Could you please send us an image of these objects? I have sent you our curator's contact details using the e-mail address your provided.

Best wishes,

Marc
Digital Team

Sarah Griffiths
25 September 2019, 11:44
I bought a couple of 23cm brass discs in Hay on Wye recently for £1 - it said they were miners tags but I can't think they are because they don't have a number on them.Stamped on one side is LEVICK and they have a hole punched at the top. Do you know what they might be?
many thanks
Sarah
Marc Haynes Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
29 May 2019, 16:22

Dear Kevin,

Thank you very much for your enquiry. I have consulted our Senior Curator of Coal (and also the author of this article), Ceri Thompson, on this. He says that he hasn’t seen an example of the kind of pass coin your Dad owns, but that it’s probably a token given to an employee to access rail transport to and from work. We have similar NCB passes from a later period in our collection. For any further information, please contact Ceri at ceri.thompson@museumwales.ac.uk.

Best wishes,

Marc
Digital Team

Kevin welsh
21 May 2019, 20:07
My Dad has a Dowlais Iron Co railway pass coin ..i was wandering if you could give us any information on it .... we've tried looking but can't seem to find any .... Thanks
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
25 February 2019, 16:57

Dear H Mort

In 1889 a colliery was developed by the Dowlais Iron Company in Abercynon to supply a new steel works in Cardiff. It was originally known as Dowlais Cardiff Colliery, Abercynon. Guest Keen and Nettlefords took over control in 1903. In 1931 the colliery was taken over by Welsh Associated Collieries which was then absorbed into the Powell Duffryn coal empire in 1936. The colliery was closed by the National Coal Board in 1988.

We have Powell Duffryn papers which still call the Colliery Dowlais Cardiff Colliery, Abercynon in 1939 so the pit seems to have officially become Abercynon Colliery only after the NCB took control in 1947

I can’t confirm whether the other token is a lamp check by the description. Normally there’s an inscribed colliery name and a stamped coal miners number on lamp checks. Sometimes you have a blank disc with a stamped number but I’ve never seen just decorations. Do you have a photo?

The National Museum collects lamp checks and would be interested in the Dowlais Cardiff one. However, there are many private check collectors and a flourishing market for all types of colliery checks on Ebay.

You can contact me directly on ceri.thompson@museumwales.ac.uk.

Best wishes

Ceri

H Mort
25 February 2019, 09:58
Hi, I have a few questions that I hope you wouldn't mind answering. I found a pit check from the Dowlais-Cardiff Colliery in a coin collection I inherited from my Grandfather. I was able to find out that the colliery changed its name to Abercynon, but not what year the name was changed and I thought you might be able to tell me. I found another token with it that doesn't have any kind of inscription, just decoration, and I was wondering if you could tell me if this is also a pit check and if so, where it came from? Finally, are they something museums or public institutions would be interested in or just something that individuals collect? As far as I know my Grandfather didn't have any connection to the mining industry so it would be good to pass them on to a good home.
Marc Haynes Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
18 February 2019, 15:42

Dear James Smith,

Thank you very much for your enquiry. If your grandfather worked in the coal industry after 1947 his records should be available through the Coal Authority, which can be contacted at the following address:

The Coal Authority
200 Lichfield Lane
Mansfield
Nottinghamshire
NG18 4RG
(Phone: 01623 637000)

Best wishes,

Marc
Digital Team

James Smith
15 February 2019, 16:54
Hi, I'm looking for my grandfathers lamp number or where I could get this information as he's passed recently and looking for it for the headstone. He worked at Blaenant Colliery. Many thanks
6 February 2019, 09:50
I’ve come accross a miners lamp from E WHILLAMS @ THOMAS dated 1989 with a number can you help me
Jimmy exton
20 January 2019, 22:48
Hi,
I've found a colliery token with no hole punched into it. It is circular 1" diameter and reads ocean coal company lady Windsor can you give me any more information.cheers

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