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1940s Mining Life

Caphouse colliery pithead baths, built in 1938.
Caphouse colliery pithead baths, built in 1938.
© National Coal Mining Museum for England (Photo: Phil Butcher)
Mining has always been a very dirty job and until quite recently, miners had to go home filthy in their pit muck to wash in tin baths in front of the fire. Their clothes were thick with coal dust and often wet so these had to be dried in front of the fire too, ready for the next days work.

Pithead baths are a physical symbol of the changes that took place in coal mining before nationalisation in 1947. Finally the burden of having to prepare a bath and dry the clothes of mine workers was lifted. Miners and other colliery employees could step onto the bus or cycle home clean, knowing that they wouldn't have to suffer the embarrassment of travelling home in their dirt or having to bathe in front of the fire.

The Pithead Baths building at the National Coal Mining Museum was completed in 1938. The national scheme for the building of baths was started in 1926 by the Miners' Welfare Committee (established in 1921) as a result of the Mining Industries Act, which declared that 1d of every ton of coal sold should be given to the Miners' Welfare Fund. As well as the Pithead Baths, the Miners' Welfare Fund also provided for pithead canteens, educational establishments, recreation grounds, institutes, halls, convalescent homes, hospitals and ambulance services.

A miner coming to work hung his clean clothes in a locker on the clean side, walked through to the dirty side with his towel and put on his pit clothes. After work he would hang his dirty clothes in his locker and, taking his towel, go and have a shower, dry off and put on his clean clothes in the clean side. The miners bought soap at the baths canteen which would have been pink, green or white and stamped PHB. At Caphouse, the Pithead Baths was also where the miners collected their wages.
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