The 50s and 60s: Mechanisation, the International Brigades and the White City

Kiveton Pit underwent several transformations in the 1950s and 1960s. First and foremost, this was the age of mechanisation, when pit work was transformed by the introduction of new techniques and machinery. Cutters and conveyors had been brought into the Barnsley in 1930 and hand-got work ceased in war time. But now things moved to another level. Particularly for older men, these changes were drastic. Skills, sometimes learnt over decades and passed down through generations, became redundant. This was an age of machines, trepanners, headers, mechanised haulage and much more. Joy loaders and shuttle cars were brought in during April 1945 and Meco Moores and A. B. trepanners in 1950.

There were other changes underground. Harrycrofts Shaft was taken over and used as extra ventilation in 1957, but was filled a little over a decade later – it had rather a chequered history, as Michael Sampson talks about in his book. A drift was driven from the Hazel to the Barnsley, the steepness of which many men still remember, without too much fondness! This was used to take coal from the Hazel to the Barnsley pit bottom, to leave the Hazel shaft just for carrying men. The Hazel Rise was an alternative means of egress (escape in case of emergency) too. Accidents continued underground. George Flowers, a popular local man, was killed in a tragic accident in the early 1950s. George can be seen in the photo archive playing for Kiveton Park Football Club and we will add a picture of him here soon.

Immense changes were taking place above ground. A new, state-of-the-art coal preparation plant was built to process coal coming up from the entire colliery – this meant the end of the separate screens that had been in place since the shafts were sunk. The colliery’s steam engines, that many veterans have told us about were replaced by electric winders. An entire new headgear and pit-bank were constructed on the pit top, transforming the skyline of the pit.

New labour was arriving at the pit. Some of the inward flow was from neighbouring Waleswood – families such as the Coxons re-homed nearer to Kiveton pit where the majority of the Waleswood miners came to work. Men also came from afar. There was considerable movement in 1950s Britain, particularly amongst younger men, following new paths in life, perhaps after national service away from home. Several men came to Kiveton in this way in the 1950s – but the major migration of these years was bigger and much more organised.

Pit officials scoured towns and villages across Northern England and Scotland to find men who would come down to Kiveton to work. In a wonderful interview with Mrs. Miley, who worked in the pit canteen, she told us how she and her husband, who is shown on this page, came down from the North East as part of the ‘international brigades’. The name was apt as the migration of men coming to pits in places like Kiveton was on a par with the size, rapidity and multi-nationalism of the men who had gone to Spain to fight against fascism in the 1930s.

Moving hundreds of miles to work was a major upheaval for these families. It often separated them, at least temporarily. It took time for accommodation to be built and until their houses were ready, as had happened in the 1860s, wives and children stayed ‘back at home’. Houses in the village were packed out with lodgers, we’ve heard of houses on Colliery Road that were crammed with beds. Even Fieldhouse, down on Hard Lane, had new additions of men waiting for their own homes so their families could come to join them. As houses were finished, in the White City, on Norwood Crescent and elsewhere, the men’s families came down and set up new lives, met new friends, joined new churches and got used to new workplaces. The history of these estates is fascinating – Julie Hanks’ insightful study of the White City is available in the library and hopefully from this site soon. Many who lived on the White City remember it as a close community, although they remember a degree of being ‘looked down upon’ from elsewhere in the village. The pre-fabricated homes on the Walesmoor Estate also lasted until much than expected, as shown in this picture of John Wells’ father, proudly photographed in his garden.

The men from the north sometimes found hostility. One former deputy remembers that many in Kiveton wouldn’t say hello to ‘foreigners’ walking down the street. The same deputy remembers being accused of taking the jobs of local people, when confronted by an angry man in the pit bottom.

It would be wrong to think that all Kivetoners were as unwelcoming as this, for we know that this simply wasn’t the case. However, it’s interesting to ponder whether those who were so hostile were descended from families criticised by locals unhappy with the arrival of ‘foreign’ miners back in the 1860s and 1870s. In terms of literally ‘foreign’ miners, it’s noteworthy that Kiveton Park Colliery was one of very few pits where overseas miners, particularly from Poland, weren’t allowed to come to work.

There was an outward migration too. We’ve spoken to several men and women whose families left Kiveton and Wales in the 1950s and 1960s, ending up elsewhere in Britain and all around the world. The story of the Street family who migrated to Australia is told in Dennis Street’s excellent biography, which can be ordered from the publications page.

Other features of the village stand out compared to now. Not least, Arthur Whiteway remembers how much of the village was still fuelled by gas and coal. As an electrician who had first come to Kiveton to work in the Wireworks in 1942 and moved to Kiveton in 1953 to live on Queen’s Avenue, Arthur spent much of his time converting local houses and businesses to electricity. The Colliery had been producing its own electricity since 1908 but in 1956 switched over to the National Grid.