'No Friend of the Miners', Labours Victory, Nationalisation and the end of Waleswood Colliery

The war came to an end in 1945, amidst scenes of jubilation and relief in the village. There were parades and celebrations in the streets.

There were celebrations in Kiveton when news came through that the Labour Party had won the 1945 election. a number of witnesses remember red hanker-chiefs fluttering in the yards of the Little Rows. Churchill was widely hated. The stories of when he had authorised troops to fire on striking miners over thirty years before had been passed down. Mining communities don’t forget things easily. Frank Ward was taken to one side by an older miner when he worked at Kiveton Pit in the 1960s, who explained what Churchill had done before 1914 as if he had been there himself.

The Labour Party was committed to nationalisation and at the start of 1947, Britain’s pits were taken into the hands of the government, off the men and companies that had owned them since the nineteenth century. The day was known as Vesting Day. Nationalisation’s immediate impact on pit life was hardly momentous. One veteran told us, ‘there might have been a sign up but nothing else.’ Over time, this did grow to be seen as the start of a new era. There were small changes that many miners won’t have noticed, such as group or regional co-operation between pits, new communication exchanges and telephone systems, and a new system of supplies and stores, carefully overseen by Tom Batty and others at Kiveton. Other changes were more obvious to the men at the pit. A new training regime was quickly brought in. For several months, men were still paid with Kiveton Park Colliery Company wage-slips, but with National Coal Board hastily stamped across them.

Waleswood Colliery was closed down in the wake of the Second World War, seen to be uneconomical and with a short lifespan compared to other local pits, such as Kiveton. There is also a local legend that money had been given to Waleswood to drive a surface drift but after some time inspectors discovered that the work hadn’t even been started. Whatever the exact circumstances, debates raged about the future of Waleswood. Waleswood was a close mining community, established longer than Kiveton Park, its rows just as closely packed and closely knitted. It’s hardly surprising that the proposed closure caused uproar.

Several activists started to campaign to lead the Waleswood Miners in a fightback against the closure. These included Vin Williams, a well-known labour activist of more than twenty years experience – read about his biography here. Vin and others led meetings and the idea came up of a stay-down or stay-in strike, during which the men would stay in the pit to protest against its closure.

This became one of the most unusual acts of industrial action in Britain’s history. A shift of Waleswood men stayed in the pit and lived there in protest. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like, but it’s made easier by the vast collection of cartoons produced by Zok, a cartoonist for the Sheffield newspapers who worked at the pit. His photos are reproduced on this page and elsewhere on the site. They offer a fascinating insight into what it was like for the strikers, eating, drinking, washing and passing the time in all kinds of fascinating ways! Partly because of Zok, but more fundamentally because of the nature of the strike and the challenge it posed to a Labour Government that had recently nationalised the coal industry, Waleswood captured the national imagination and became front page news. Zok’s cartoons and images of Waleswood women and children taking letters and food to the pit became recognisable across the country.

The strike eventually failed. Men were laid off, in some cases almost immediately, and within months Waleswood Colliery was closed down for good. Most men were transferred to local pits, a majority to Kiveton Park, although the Kiveton miners had refused to support the strikers, perhaps because of events a generation back in 1926. The close mining community at Wales Bar lost its pit and the area was transformed, something hundreds of other mining villages experienced later in the century. This area had gone from having three pits to just one – Kiveton Park Colliery was left but all felt sure its future was secure. In fact, the pit was transformed unrecognisably over the following years and was to be closed within half a century.