Inside the ‘Pit of Nations’: The untold story of black miners in Nottinghamshire

It didn’t matter where you came from in the mine – everyone was considered family.

This is the story told time and again by generations of Nottinghamshire pitmen.

The camaraderie, respect and sense of brotherhood that kept men safe underground is the social legacy of the industry.

But few books have been written about how this mentality was even able to solve differences below ground which caused divisions above.

Nottingham historian Norma Gregory, is keen to remember what those in the pits went through, but is also working on a special project to document the working lives of black miners in Nottinghamshire.

Although a white-dominated industry, some collieries had an international reputation – Gedling was even known as the “Pit of Nations”.

Gedling, which closed in 1991, had a high percentage of black workers during the 1950s and 60s.

These included people promised work from the West Indies and Dominica, as well as numerous other countries.

And despite racial tension in the UK and Nottingham at the time, somehow life below ground was always about solidarity.

Black and white miners at Gedling Colliery.

Norma has been gathering photos, stories and memories of black miners from the time which will be submitted to the National Mining Museum in Wakefield.

“To us, the project is about their survival stories and their resilience,” said Norma.

“It’s about legacy, I think what’s happened has happened and it’s about sharing those stories and passing them down so young people know that they were the jobs that men had to do.”

As the 1958 Nottingham Race Riots terrorised the streets above, those that were there say the atmosphere in the mines remained similar to that of a community – even at Gedling.

The NUM banner features black and white miners.

Johnson Baptiste started working in the mine in 1961 and was the first black man in the colliery to be elected to the union.

“What is good about the mine, what was so good, is that although the job is dangerous they cared for each other,” he said.

“If anybody got hurt, the union would make sure that this person was looked after properly.”

“If anybody gets hurt, you feel hurt.”

“If anybody gets hurt, you feel hurt,” Johnson adds, showing that the danger of the pit meant that everyone made sure to care for each other.

“You do the job right because the person who’s coming in after you go home for his next shift, you’ve got to make sure that job where he was working was left safe for him.”

Even the banner of Gedling Colliery shows just how accepting and diverse the mine was – to this day it features white and black miners.

For more information about Norma’s project or to share a story visited the Nottingham News Centre Website.


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