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Miners Above Ground

What miners got up to in their leisure hours, as seen by Mining Review

Main image of Miners Above Ground

Although the primary purpose of the long-running Mining Review newsreel (1947-83) was to disseminate news about the activities of its sponsor, the National Coal Board, most editions also featured a lighthearted additional item that put miners' personal lives and hobbies under the spotlight. Individually, these items rarely ran for more than a couple of minutes, but they collectively add up to a wide-ranging, sociologically fascinating portrait.

The second edition of Mining Review (1/2, 1947) set the tone, with a lively look at the rowdy annual Workington street football match. Team games would loom large in the newsreel's coverage, not least because many big names in football and rugby had a mining background, such as Freddie Trueman ('Yorkshire Express, 6/10, 1953), Ken Jones (9/8, 1956), Johnny Schofield (13/5, 1960) and Arthur Holland (17/10, 1964). Indeed, 'Talent Scout' (2/5, 1949) showed the process by which they were selected for a sporting career (which paid a pittance at the time, so mining and sporting careers had to run concurrently). Individual football matches were covered in 'Crook Draws' (5/9, 1952), '12X' (6/5, 1953), 'Winged Victory' (7/7, 1954), 'Yorkshire 0-2' (12/5, 1959) and 'The Crowd Roars' (17/10, 1964), rugby in 'Welsh Rarebit' (3/7, 1950), 'Another Try' (3/10, 1950), 'Late Night Final' (4/11, 1951), 'Over Men' (13/1, 1959) and 'Try-Try-Try Again' (14/5, 1961) and cricket in 'Country Club' (3/2, 1949), 'Valley Match' (9/1, 1955) and 'Saturday Innings' (13/11, 1960). Less common team games were also celebrated, including ice hockey ('Coal on Ice', 1/7, 1948), baseball ('Home Run', 5/11, 1952), netball ('Netball', 8/10, 1955; 'Net Results', 18/11, 1965), roller hockey ('Crock'n'Roll', 10/11, 1957), quoits ('Ringtime', 13/12, 1960), bowling ('On the Mat', 18/12, 1965), curling ('Roaring Game', 19/5, 1966) and the traditional South Yorkshire game of 'Nipsy' (6/2, 1952).

Boxing was also a popular pastime, celebrated in fourteen items. The NCB ran its own amateur boxing championships, as featured in 'Miners With Gloves On' (1/8, 1948), 'Sparring for Wembley' (2/7, 1949), 'Mixing It' (3/6, 1950), 'Knockout' (4/7, 1951), 'The Last Round' (4/10, 1951), 'Out Cold' (6/8, 1953), 'Boxing: National Finals' (8/11, 1955), 'Knocked 'Em in the Old Ford Road' (9/10, 1956), 'Ringside' (11/10, 1958) and 'Final Night' (17/9, 1964). 'Eddie Thomas' (4/8, 1951) tracked the career of a former NCB champion turned European title-holder, 'Merthyr Boy' (14/11, 1961) saw featherweight champion Howard Winstone returning to his roots (Winstone was later congratulated in 'Well Done', 15/11, 1962) and 'The Fighting Harveys' (15/10, 1962) portrayed five mining brothers who also boxed in their spare time. Miners also indulged in wrestling ('Free For All', 6/4, 1952), fencing ('Young Blades', 3/8, 1950; 'Touché', 12/11, 1959) and martial arts such as judo ('Judo', 11/11, 1958; 'Way of Gentleness, 15/12, 1962; 'Tuesday at 7.30', 18/3, 1964), karate and kendo ('Oriental Touch', 19/9, 1966).

Other featured sports included aerial antics ('Sky Shift', 12/3, 1958; 'Flying Spark', 19/12, 1966), archery ('Bow', 8/1, 1954), billiards ('Champion Amateur', 5/3, 1951; 'Lucy's Table', 18/9, 1965), cycling ('Miners On Wheels, 3/4, 1949; 'Riding High', 8/12, 1955; 'Feet', 18/8, 1965), darts ('Double Tops, 14/3, 1960), golf ('Tee Boy', 5/5, 1952; 'Club Meeting', 6/1, 1952; 'Clubmen', 18/10, 1965), long-distance walking ('Miner On Foot', 13/9, 1960; 'The Limburg Walk', 16/2, 1962), motorsports ('Mining Motorists', 11/12, 1958), rifle shooting ('Marks Manager', 11/3, 1957), rock climbing ('Stonework Over Easter', 4/9, 1951; 'Outward Bound', 6/12, 1953), roller skating ('Rolling Miner', 13/10, 1960), swimming ('Pithead Baths', 2/1, 1948; 'Splash', 4/2, 1950; 'A Time to Dive', 12/2, 1958), weight training ('Nailbreaker', 11/8, 1958) and assorted water sports including rowing ('Miners Off-Shore', 4/3; 1950), canoeing ('Olympic Possible', 5/10, 1952) and even waterskiing ('Sea Ski', 20/3, 1966).

Mining Review's athletics stories paid much attention to Olympic silver and bronze medallist Dorothy Hyman, a NCB tracer in her day job - she featured in 'Plan For Speed' (13/3, 1959), 'Silver and Bronze' (14/2, 1960) and post-retirement in 'She' (22/5, 1969), where she's shown putting younger colleagues through their paces. Other profiled miner-athletes included Arthur Rowe ('Big Shot', 12/7, 1959), Fred Norris (12/10, 1959), John Whetton (22/1, 1968) and paraplegic Michael Shelton ('Tokyo Gold', 18/5, 1965), winner of a gold medal at the 1965 Paralympics.

Frequent coverage of traditional field sports of the hunting, shooting and fishing variety demonstrate that they were by no means exclusively upper-class pursuits. An untitled item from 1st Year No.6 (1948) depicted hound trails in Cumberland, a theme followed up in 'Fox Hunt' (4/12, 1951), 'Horse Shift' (17/6, 1964) and 'Hunting Country' (19/8, 1966), while 'Shotfirer' (11/8, 1958) portrayed a miner who turned his love of shooting into a pest disposal service. On the water, 'Where's The Catch?' (3/3, 1949) recorded an NCB angling competition, 'Sammy Roan' (9/12, 1956) celebrated a champion paraplegic angler, while 'Miners At Sea' (19/1, 1965) and 'White Collar Job' (19/7) looked at miners from Yorkshire and Kent who go fishing offshore. More benign animal-related hobbies included races involving dogs ('Hare and Hounds', 2/9, 1949; 'Whitehaven Whippets', 15/7, 1962), horses ('Pitmen's Derby', 2/12, 1949), and pigeons ('Coo!', 1/11, 1948), while miners also bred mink ('Mink', 8/4, 1954), collies ('Colliers' Collies', 11/5, 1958) and pigeons ('Coal Birds', 16/10, 1963), or simply looked after injured animals ('Bird Watchers', 14/4, 1960).

Performance-based activities included amateur dramatics ('Forthcoming Attractions', 2/6, 1949; 'Rose Marie', 8/12, 1955), circus skills ('Big Top', 3/9, 1950), stage magic ('Bretby Magic', 16/7, 1963), with music looming particularly large. Traditional miners' brass bands were depicted in 'Up for the Cup' (4/4, 1950), 'Brass' (7/9, 1954), 'Top Brass' (8/6, 1955). Miners also sang folk songs ('The Miner Sings', 4/9, 1951), entered jazz competitions ('Jazz', 9/5, 1956), rang bells ('Campanologists', 14/12, 1961), played bagpipes ('Skirl', 15/1, 1961), sang in choruses ('Messiah', 16/2, 1962) while dancing miners could be seen in the chorus of Sadler's Wells ('Sadler's Welsh', 7/10, 1954), in clogs ('Clogged', 14/12, 1961), dance bands ('Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow', 20/7, 1966) and most memorably in tutus ('Balletomines', 7/12, 1954). Music-related holiday activities were featured in 'Miners' Music' (15/2, 1961) and a look at the work of the Annual Workers Musical Association Summer School (27/2, 1973).

Leisure activities in general were frequently featured, including an entire edition (2/12, 1949) devoted to the subject of visits to Butlin's and Blackpool and cruising on the Thames. Other group visits were made to a holiday camp ('Free Week', 6/1, 1962), Blackpool ('Autumn Outing', 10/4, 1956), Skegness ('Week-End Off', 11/2, 1957) or a camp for paraplegic miners ('Holiday on Wheels', 16/2, 1962). In quick succession, 'In the Sun' (17/1, 1963) and 'Time in the Sun' (17/4, 1963) visited Italy (cheap holidays abroad were on the increase), though miners also enjoyed themselves at home in assorted events ('Tramp's Ball', 6/11, 1953; 'Sack Race', 7/2, 1953, 'Beer and Skittles', 8/2, 1954; 'Barn Dance', 9/9, 1956 and 'The Old Pheasant', 11/9, 1958). Much stress was also made on activities laid on for miners' children, including quizzes ('Coal Quiz Kids', 1/9, 1948), Christmas parties ('But Once A Year', 10/6, 1957) children's galas in Scotland ('Jewel Coronation', 2/1, 1948) and Ashington ('Children's Day', 12/12, 1959) and day trips on the Bluebell Railway ('Bluebelling', 15/5, 1962), while the kids could learn horse riding ('Mounted Minors', 13/4, 1959), roller skating ('Rink'n'Roll', 11/9, 1958) and even sword dancing ('Winlaton Sword Dance', 8/5, 1955).

But Mining Review also celebrated more sedate, domestic pastimes. Miners made model trains ('Special Train', 6/4, 1952) and model mines ('Model Man', 11/4, 1957; 'Mini-Mines', 17/11, 1964), played chess ('Chess', 19/11, 1966), communicated via amateur radio ('Ham', 8/12, 1955), listened to jazz ('Downbeat', 9/7, 1956) made embroidery ('Stitch In Time, 13/5, 1960), wrote plays ('Play Boy', 15/6, 1962) and poems ('Harry Haines', 21/3, 1967), baked cakes (' Piece of Cake', 7/1, 1953), grew vegetables (' Lure of the Leek, 15/4, 1961) and occasionally won the pools ('The Jackpot', 5/7, 1952). As Lee Hall's play The Pitmen Painters suggests, by far the most popular indoor hobby was painting, usually on canvas ('The Art of Mining', 13/4, 1959) but also on mining canteen walls ('Art', 8/6, 1955) and even eggs ('Egg Man', 18/1, 1964). Individual artists profiled included Norman Cornish ('Pitman-Painter', 16/5, 1963) and Tom McGuinness - the latter, perhaps the most celebrated miner-painter, received two eponymous profiles in 1966 (19/10) and 1972 (25/9), the latter on the eve of his first London exhibition.

When Mining Review was renamed Review in 1972, an unfortunate by-product of the editorial decision to switch to single-story editions was that with very few exceptions (notably 'Art and Mining', 30/11, 1977, a look at the art to have emerged from the industry itself, or the colourful 'Band Fever', 32/1, 1978, about the Junior Jazz Bands of the Midland coalfields), they tended to deal with weightier subjects. But the newsreel's first twenty-five years comprise an extraordinary collective portrait of ordinary lives, doubly valuable for the fact that these communities are mostly long vanished.

Michael Brooke

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 1/11: Coo! (1948)Mining Review 1/11: Coo! (1948)

Item about a miner and his pigeons

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 1/2: Workington Football (1947)Mining Review 1/2: Workington Football (1947)

Traditional street football in the Cumbrian coastal town

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 1/5: Durham Miners' Gala (1948)Mining Review 1/5: Durham Miners' Gala (1948)

Coverage of the 1947 event

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 1/7: Coal on Ice (1948)Mining Review 1/7: Coal on Ice (1948)

Miner Tom Syme represents Britain in Olympic hockey.

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 1/9: Coal Quiz Kids (1948)Mining Review 1/9: Coal Quiz Kids (1948)

Tommy Handley presents a prizegiving ceremony

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 10/11: Crock'n'Roll (1957)Mining Review 10/11: Crock'n'Roll (1957)

Roller hockey at Herne Bay, with miners on the team

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 13/4: Mounted Minors (1959)Mining Review 13/4: Mounted Minors (1959)

The Banwen Pony Club practice for the Horse of the Year Show

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 13/4: The Art of Mining (1959)Mining Review 13/4: The Art of Mining (1959)

A miners' art group in Ashington meets to discuss their latest works

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 2/12: Beside the Sea (1949)Mining Review 2/12: Beside the Sea (1949)

A miner and his family take a trip to Blackpool

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 2/12: Holiday Camp (1949)Mining Review 2/12: Holiday Camp (1949)

A miner and his family visit Butlin's in Filey

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 2/5: Talent Scout (1949)Mining Review 2/5: Talent Scout (1949)

A profile of Rotherham football scout Joe McGuire

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 20/10: Track Rod (1967)Mining Review 20/10: Track Rod (1967)

Walter Brown, mining engineer and stock car racer

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 25/9: Tom McGuinness (1972)Mining Review 25/9: Tom McGuinness (1972)

Newsreel about an art exhibition by miner Tom McGuinness

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 7/12: Balletomines (1954)Mining Review 7/12: Balletomines (1954)

Burly Yorkshire miners form a ballet-dancing troupe for charity

Thumbnail image of Mining Review 7/12: Tamworth Gala (1954)Mining Review 7/12: Tamworth Gala (1954)

The first-ever Tamworth Miners' Gala

Thumbnail image of Review 32/1: Band Fever (1978)Review 32/1: Band Fever (1978)

The Juvenile Jazz Bands of the Midland coalfields

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