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Kent miners : stability and change in work and community, 1927-1976

Goffee, Robert (1978) Kent miners : stability and change in work and community, 1927-1976. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94375) (KAR id:94375)


Despite a voluminous literature the social history of the British coalminer is incomplete. Traditional union histories are marred by a partisan approach, neglect of valuable source material and ignorance of social life beyond the committee room. Classic sociological accounts, on the other hand, are rarely placed in context through reference to time or place and tend to over-emphasise the deterministic influence of industrial and class factors upon social relationships and behaviour. A more balanced and sociologically informed history needs to place more emphasis upon the 'rank and file' miner and his attitudes, values and beliefs. Furthermore, the implications of the pattern of labour mobility associated with coal extraction must be fully explored. Coal is ultimately an exhaustable resource and therefore miners must either move from declining collieries and coalfields to those which are expanding or remain and find work elsewhere. What are the implications of this movement for social relationships and behaviour?

An answer to this question is sought through an examination of the experiences of a group of miners and their sons associated with one particular colliery (Snowdown) during two contrasting phases in the history of the coalfield. Their (tape recorded) oral accounts, together with other evidence, give insight into the social processes associated with the 'cycle' of coal extraction.

In the first period (1927-1939) unemployed miners migrated to Kent from all over Britain. Many of these men were young and impoverished and had left for Kent in desperation. Their move was characterised by a reluctance (to leave home) and a limited objective (to find work). This can help to explain the failure of a high proportion of migrants to settle in Kent and the subsequent delay in the development of stable social relationships. Moreover, these factors were conducive to division and conflict in and beyond the colliery as was evident in the operation of a form of subcontracting (the 'butty system'). The diversity and complexity of this system itself fuelled internal cleavages and encouraged an unstable and divided work and community environment.

In the second period (1957-1976) the Kent collieries were threatened by contraction and closure and established work relationships were disrupted by extensive mechanisation and altered payment systems. A considerable number of men left the industry - although not the area - and some of their sons never entered. However, as Snowdown Colliery began to decline the population dependent upon it matured into a stable, homogeneous and close-knit community. In this context values and patterns of behaviour traditionally associated with mining communities persisted and bound miners and non-miners together in an 'occupational community' which included those who were no longer employed at the colliery.

The contrast between these two periods of expansion and decline gives some indication of the gaps which remain in the social history of the miner and the mining community; more extensive use of the first hand account may help future investigators to fill them.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94375
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Economics
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2023 09:20 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2023 12:09 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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