The Pithead Baths

Pit baths were built in the late 1930s at both Kiveton Park and Waleswood. Before that time, men walked home to get washed, their faces and bodies black with coal. These pit baths were understood as a great step forward in miners’ social welfare and they certainly made a big difference for the men. For the first time men could actually get properly clean: a few men we’ve spoken to remember trying to use tin baths and how impossible it had been to get properly clean. With pitbaths in place, miners got home sparkling clean while Sheffield workers still sat sweaty and dirty on trams each night – as Kivetoners proudly boasted.

The baths at Kiveton and Waleswood were built in the days before nationalisation, which meant money had to be found locally to pay for them. It’s something of an indictment of pit bosses that at Kiveton, as elsewhere, the miners themselves had to pay for the baths. It should be noted that they paid out of a compulsory deduction in wages to the Welfare Fund, not from voluntary collections as is sometimes thought. The resulting architecture was an excellent example of modernist design, the lines and angles of the building perfectly designed for what it was intended to do.Lance Wilks remembers fire hoses being stretched through the lockers and turned on full pelt, soaking men as they got dressed. Another trick was to reach through into the next cubicle and twist it to cold. To have a shower involved a certain amount of teamwork - it’s not easy to scrub your own back when covered in coal-dust and muck. Men washing each others’ backs was part and parcel of pit life, as Lance Wilks remembers in this extract from his interview. Pit soap was carbolic and stunk to high heaven – and still does, our example from Kiveton is shown here.

Deputies and officials had their own shower cubicles and lockers downstairs. Modesty was the order of the day for those who struggled with the open nakedness of the baths. Several men preferred to use the few cubicles whilst others, particularly in the years after the baths were first built, when modesty was perhaps more valued, took to covering up with pieces of material that were bought from attendants.

The baths were a chance to chat and catch up with friends and relatives, out of the bustle of the pit. Ken Dennis had the locker above his Dad. When his Dad left the pit, Ken took over his locker and in turn his own son took his. Like the tallies, the lockers were immediately recognisable by a number, which many men still remember, some of whom have given us their old keys.

The baths were also a place of tension. Several men remember all too well the electric tension of the baths after going back to work in 1985. One locker in the baths still has ‘Scabby Bastard: We Will Never Forget’ daubed in yellow pit paint on its door, a very real relic of the strike – remember the baths were still in use until 1994. More generally, the baths were where problems or issues which had arisen down the pit could be ‘sorted’ without risking safety.

The men and women who staffed the pit baths are remembered warmly by the men who used them. Jamie Toseland is probably the most famous Kivetoner at the present time. What few will realise is that generations of Toselands before him were amongst those who ran the Pithead Baths, keeping them spotlessly clean, providing much-needed bits and pieces for the men, acting as impromptu ambulancemen if the need arose. The rules of the baths were strict, but they had to be. In later years, as the baths got muckier and rules slackened, many men wished that the old ways were still in force.

There was a canteen on the ground floor, as many men fondly remember. At first it was only drinks and snacks in the canteen, such as when Rosie Betteridge worked there.

Later, as Mrs Miley recalls, the canteen was fitted out so meals could be prepared. Listen to their memories in the Oral History Section. The canteen was an important part of pit life and it was where children would sit, waiting for their dads to come out of the pit. Canteen staff worked long shifts to match the men working underground and, if the men were working overtime, sandwiches would be prepared in the canteen and sent underground.

The role of the pithead baths was transformed. By the mid-1990s many of the vital functions of the pit were carried out here. There was the wages office, where Sid Pridmore worked for a long time, lamp room, control room, telephone exchange and more, as well as the showers, boot cleaners and suchlike that are more commonly associated with pithead baths.

The baths are at the centre of controversy once again. For several years, the baths were the focus of the local regeneration agenda, with excited villagers making plans about what they could be turned into. No adequate funding could be found and the cost of any refurbishment increased all the time. Blame is placed for this locally on the post-closure owners, for inadequate protection and preventative action to stop the building falling into disrepair. It’s now a shell, almost empty, the canteen burnt out, the lockers bent and twisted.

What was once just another pit building, nestled alongside many others, now stands alone with the Offices as the only physical remnants of the pit.

You can view a short film about the history and demolition of the pit head baths here.