A colloquialism for ‘lunch’ in the East Midlands and parts of Yorkshire is ‘snap’. Possibly a reference to the specially-shaped, waterproof ‘snap tins’ that miners used to take their food underground. (Miners in the North East refer to their lunch as ‘bait’). Down the mine, tea breaks were not taken at a specific time as they are in other industries, but twenty minutes could be taken at an agreed time for water and a sandwich.
In the absence of running water, drinks were transported in a metal canteen called a ‘Dudley’. Soiled fingers meant that coal dust and oil mixed with the food and dirty bread-crusts were discarded. The hot working environment limited the type of food that would stay fresh underground: The jam sandwich became a staple ingredient of the pit-man’s diet.
Snap breaks offered a forum for debate, an opportunity for older miners to instruct youngsters on the ways of the world. Life-skills including subjects as diverse as managing money, relationships, fishing, sex and politics.
‘Leg-pulling’ and camaraderie among the men was common practice. A Facebook post from a former mineworker describes how Electricians working on the pit top would secretly solder the snap tins of trainee miners so that they couldn’t be opened. Another miner joked that snap tins in France were ‘over two-foot in length and guaranteed to keep your baton dry’. Joking aside, the snap break played an important role in the socialisation of workers. The ubiquitous snap tin appears in several acclaimed literary works about life in mining communities, including; George Orwell’s ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ (1937) and Barry Hines’ ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ (1968) – which was subsequently made into a feature film (‘Kes’ – Woodfall Films) by Ken Loach
Snap Tin – the movie
The Mining Heritage Team worked with students to create a short film-drama entitled ‘Snap Tin’. The screenplay by Paul Fillingham is based on the book ‘Coal Miners’ by G.A.W. Tomlinson (c1930). Chapter VII entitled ‘Strike’ centres around a snap break in which a trainee miner ‘has his arguments smashed…one-by-one to the amusement of the other men’.
Filmed by Joel Footè, and directed by Dr David Amos, the story is interpreted through unique footage shot underground at Caphouse Colliery, Wakefield (The National Coal Mining Museum for England) and domestic scenes, filmed at the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum, Eastwood, Notts.