The first attempts to establish a miners union within the Nottinghamshire Coalfield occurred in 1844. It failed to gain recognition from the Coal Owners and collapsed only a year later in 1845. Despite this, the embers of Unionism lingered on in certain areas of the Nottinghamshire Coalfield such as at Cinderhill Colliery.
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By 1863 support for a local Miners Union had sufficiently increased again to warrant the formation of the “Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Miners Association”. This union comprised of miners lodges located throughout the two adjacent Coalfields. Despite various strikes and lockouts this dual Miners Union appears to have still been in existence when in 1880 the Derbyshire Miners Association was formed, and then in 1881 the Nottinghamshire Miners Federation came into being.
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In December 1885 the Nottinghamshire Miners Federation was reorganised, and re-established itself under the new name of the Nottinghamshire Miners Association (NMA). Under the rules of this re-formed Miners Union the powers of the individual Colliery lodges or branches were reduced with the majority of control and decision making being vested in the Association’s Central Executive Committee.
In 1886 the membership of the re-formed NMA had diminished to as few as 500 men with only 11 branches remaining throughout the entire Nottinghamshire Coalfield. Consequently funds became desperately low and Mr Hopkin, the Association’s first agent, could not be paid. In the Autumn of 1886 Mr. Hopkin resigned.
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William Bailey became the full time agent and secretary of the NMA in 1886. Under his able and respected leadership the Union’s membership grew from a mere 500 to 19,030 in 1895. This figure represented almost 84% of the total workforce (underground and on the surface) in Nottinghamshire. The HM Inspector of Mines for the Nottinghamshire Coalfield in 1895 recorded that there were 22,758 workers of which 4,707 were surface workers.
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In 1891 the NMA issued badges to paid up members at Annesley, Bestwood, Hucknall, Linby and Newstead Collieries in an attempt to persuade non Union members to join. From the beginning of 1892 a member of the Union was required to wear a badge that denoted he was a paid up member of the NMA. At some pits members of the Union refused to ride in the cages with men who were not wearing the current design of membership badge. At some of these collieries NMA members would ride on the top deck of the cage and empty their full bladders on non members on the bottom deck. This attitude to non paid up members was again promoted by the NMA in its “Back to the Union” campaign which was started in 1922.
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William Bailey was a respected leader plus a tremendous driving force in the evolution of Mining Trade Unionism within the Nottinghamshire Coalfield. He was born the son of a British soldier in the garrisoned island of St. Helena. William came to England at the age of 9. He entered the Nottinghamshire Coalfield in his early teens and ultimately became the Check Weighman at Norwood Colliery. He lost his position at Norwood after an industrial dispute in 1884 and soon after moved on to become the NMA’s second secretary and agent. He maintained these roles together with those of both a local Councillor and Methodist Preacher until his untimely death at the age of 45 on the 26th July 1896.
It is possible that at least one of the two known types of NMA badge which bear an embossed representation of William Bailey’s signature was issued in the year of his death as a form of respect.
Several Nottinghamshire Colliery NMA branches issued badges under the umbrella membership of the NMA.
Known types of these include examples from Wollaton Branch, Cinderhill Colliery, Hucknall Top Pit Branch and Linby Colliery. Many of these badges have been found by people using metal detectors, usually from fields or places where people used to gather near former coal mining communities, especially Hucknall, Linby and Kirkby. It is believed many of these badges were lost at these large NMA meetings.
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The earliest dated NMA badges are both clover shaped and dated from 1896 and 1897. An earlier badge was produced in 1895. Another badge carried the motto “Minimum Wage”. This may well have been issued for use in 1912. This being the year of the well known National Miners Strike which was aimed at establishing a minimum legal miners wage.
It is generally believed that new designs of NMA membership badges were introduced to mark successive financial membership periods. This would certainly explain the reason why so many different numeric and alphabetic designs are known.
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In December 1899 it is recorded that membership of the NMA stood at 16,275. This represented an increase of 1,500 new members during the financial year. The expenditure for badges in that same year is known to have amounted to £118 which works out at less than 2d per badge. It is not known when the NMA ceased the tradition of issuing membership badges, the last known NMA badge bears the date of 1925 – 1 year before the General Strike of 1926.
After 1926 the NMA started to rapidly lose members to the breakaway Nottinghamshire & District Miners Industrial Union, (otherwise known as the Spencer Union), which emerged after the General Strike of 1926. By the time of the final reconciliation and merger of these two rival Unions in 1937, under the title of the Nottinghamshire Miners Federation Union (NMFU), the NMA was a mere shadow of its former early 20th century self. This new united Miners Union was to have only a short existence being ultimately replaced in 1945 by the Nottinghamshire Branch of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
Some of the above are extracts from “An Introduction to Nottinghamshire Miners Association Badges” – part two – “A brief History of the NMA”.