An Nottinghamshire Miners' Association Badge With A Very Puzzling Design.

 An example of an N.M.A. membership badge depicting the enigmatic "kneeling miner" design (Actual size 32 mm dia.)

As a metal detectorist I have built-up a reference collection of nearly eighty different Nottinghamshire Miners' Association (N.M.A.) badges or checks. All of these I have found in the villages near to where I live in Nottinghamshire.

Several of the N.M.A. badge designs known feature typical symbols of fraternal solidarity and unity. Such symbols include shaking or clasped hands plus the lesser known image of an open palm holding a heart. Without a doubt the most puzzling of all the N.M.A. badge designs is that illustrated above. This is particular badge design is usually referred to by collectors as the "kneeling miner" type. It depicts the figure of a man kneeling and holding what could possibly be a pit prop. The significance behind this enigmatic badge design, which probably dates from the first quarter of the twentieth century, now appears lost.

Can anyone throw any light on exactly what this badge depicts and what its significance may be in relation to the N.M.A. or early mining trade unionism?

Submitted By : John Gough.
Date: January 2004.

Recently a fellow collector brought my attention to a very good condition example (see below) of this particular type of NMA badge which I had previously only known from metal detector finds. The excellent condition of this particular example probably makes it the best known specimen of its type. The badge in question allows details that have hither to never been clear to be clearly visible for the first time.
What had been assumed by most to be a "pit prop" under the kneeling man is in fact a bundle of sticks or rods. The figure itself appears to be bear chested and bear legged and may not necessarily be a miner at all. The inference on the badge of there being both a floor and a horizon suggests that the scene is not necessarily pictured in an underground setting.

Submitted By : Mark Smith.
Date: October 2005.


I recognise the symbolism of the bundle of sticks as being a well known reference to the trade union doctoring of "unity is strength". The symbolism is derived from one of Aesop's classical fables - "The Bundle of Sticks" which recounts the following tale;

An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a faggot of sticks, and said to his eldest son: "Break it." The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the Bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. "Untie the faggots," said the father, "and each of you take a stick." When they had done so, he called out to them: "Now, break," and each stick was easily broken. "You see my meaning," said their father. Union gives strength.

Submitted By : Jim Tatters & Mike Shaw.
Date: October 2005.


To further endorse the answer given in the above reply I can confirm that the symbol of the "bundle of sticks" was used on several miners' lodge banners in County Durham at least between the 1870s and 1930s. It was a common and favourite theme which appeared in the Tutill's (the famous union banner makers) design catalogues over this  period and would have had a well known and instantly recognisable meaning to most union members and organisers of the period.

An standard trade union banner design taken from one of Tutill's catalogues depicting the "Bundle of Sticks" fable.

The following is taken from Norman Emery's book "Banners of the Durham Coalfield" under his discussion of standard and common banner theme designs;

"UNITY IS STRENGTH" - The bundle of sticks image, commonly found on the reverse side of banners, is taken from Aesop's 'Unity is Strength' fable.13 Although this Greek story was written around the mid-sixth century BC, the banner illustration generally shows the figures as Anglo-Saxons. A Germanic style chieftain is normally shown seated in an elaborate chair or throne on the right side of the painting. He is usually shown as either a venerable figure with a long beard, or a warrior, with his sheathed sword lying close by him. In front of him, on the far left, a young man dressed in a tunic and furs kneels and attempts to break a bundle of sticks over his knee. Meanwhile, in the centre of the scene, a young boy is shown triumphantly breaking a stick. Variations on the standard form are found. On the Trimdon Grange banner, the small boy was dispensed with and the young Saxon continued his attempts to break the bundle, while an old man, sitting on a step and dressed in more Biblical costume, snaps one of the sticks. Butterknowle updated the figures, showing the old man, in fact John Wilson, dressed in a black frock coat, while the young man and boy are in work clothes. The fable's symbolism of strength in union was reduced to its most basic form on an early Tursdale banner, where a single workman is shown attempting to break the bundle of sticks.

It sounds like the latter mentioned design for the DMA's Tursdale Lodge may have depicted a similar image to that on the well known NMA badge under discussion.

Submitted By : John Gough.
Date: October 2005.


An obscure N.M.A. badge is listed in the third edition of John Hammond's book of Trade Union Badges. As yet I don't think anyone (including John Gough, who has studies these badges for years) has been unable to confirm the existence of this type in any private or public collections. Some believe it may even be a spurious listing as may have been possible as Hammond worked of other peoples reports and notes and didn't necessarily see everything he catalogued. This additional badge is very scantily described by Hammond as being round, brass and depicting a tubular cain and lath bundle. Could this also be a further reference to the "bundle of sticks" fable I wonder? The above replies certainly put things in a new light.          
Submitted By : Mark Smith.
Date: October 2005.

Out of interest I wander if the makers of the following WORCESTER CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY LIMITED copper farthing token were also responsible for the manufacture of the NMA badge? The pose and style of the kneeling figures in these two pieces are strikingly similar to each other.

Obverse of a co-op farthing depicting the "Bundle of Sticks" fable together with motto "Unity Is Strength".

Submitted By : Mike Shaw.
Date: October 2005.


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