Physical impairment in British coalmining, 1780–1880

This book sheds new light on the human cost of industrialisation by examining the lives and experiences of those disabled in an industry that was vital to Britain's economic growth. If disability has been largely absent from conventional histories of industrialisation, the Industrial Revolution has assumed great significance in disability studies. The book examines the economic and welfare responses to disease, injury and impairment among coal workers. It discusses experiences of disability within the context of social relations and the industrial politics of coalfield communities. The book provides the context for those that follow by providing an overview of the conditions of work in British coalmining between 1780 and 1880. It turns its attention to the principal causes of disablement in the nineteenth-century coal industry and the medical responses to them. The book then extends the discussion of responses to disability by examining the welfare provisions for miners with long-term restrictive health conditions. It also examines how miners and their families negotiated a 'mixed economy' of welfare, comprising family and community support, the Poor Law, and voluntary self-help as well as employer paternalism. The book shifts attention away from medicine and welfare towards the ways in which disability affected social relations within coalfield communities. Finally, it explores the place of disability in industrial politics and how fluctuating industrial relations affected the experiences of disabled people in the coalfields.

Open Access (free)

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores the history of disability within communities where some degree of bodily damage was the norm rather than the exception, where injuries, diseases and ailments were accepted as daily occurrences. Beginning in 1780, just before the expansion of the Great Northern Coalfield in north-east England, the book addresses the processes of industrialisation related to coalmining and their implications for conceptions and experiences of disability. It takes a cultural approach to disability in industrial society that focuses on the meanings of impairment rather than quantification. The book focuses primarily on physically disabling and chronic conditions that had an occupational basis in coalmining, such as amputation, mobility impairment, visual impairment and chronic illness, such as respiratory disease, which caused progressive 'debility'.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

The expansion of the coal industry was widely associated with growing risks to mineworkers, but the exact scale of injury or disablement is difficult to document in an era where reporting of non-fatal accidents was patchy and where there was little consensus on what constituted a 'serious injury'. This chapter examines the nature of mine work and the development of mining in the nineteenth century, paying special attention to the factors that enabled injured workers to participate in the working life of collieries and the extent to which they did so. To understand perceptions and experiences of disability during industrialisation it is necessary to examine the nature of 'industrial work' in all its forms. Finally, the chapter examines the experiences of injured or impaired miners in more detail to reassess the relationship between 'disability' and the industrial workplace.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

Focusing in particular on the services provided through workplace 'sick clubs', this chapter examines the development of medical responses to sickness and injury in and around coalmining communities in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. 'Disease' and 'disability' overlapped in medical perceptions of the health of miners. The chapter examines relationships between doctors and coalminers within coalfield communities and asks what medical treatments were available to those who worked in the coal industry. Mining companies and friendly societies subscribed to hospitals and used their rights as subscribers to obtain medical care for sick and injured mineworkers. From a disability perspective, recent work has also challenged a rapid and wholesale shift in the 'medicalisation' of impairment during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The chapter highlights areas where the authority of medical practitioners could be called into question.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution
Open Access (free)

This chapter focuses on the general (non-medical) support available to sick, injured and impaired mineworkers, and the social and cultural principles that underpinned it. It explores where disabled miners and their families stood within the matrix of welfare expectations and provisions, and how this affected their ability to secure assistance in times of need. The chapter examines mineworkers' experiences of the different strands - domestic, public and voluntary - that constituted the patchwork of care and assistance available to them. As the nineteenth century wore on, the problem of how to effectively support the long-term welfare needs of disabled coalminers and their families attracted other solutions. The permanent relief fund aimed to support the victims of serious accidents, such as where limb amputation had taken place or where men had received spinal damage 'whereby not able to work any longer'.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

This chapter examines how social relations in mining areas were shaped by disability and asks how the lives of men, women and children were affected by impairments or chronic illness - whether their own, or those of family members. Despite significant research on evolving patterns of home life, leisure and religion in the coalfields, there has been little attempt to examine how social and familial relations of miners, and their emotional or spiritual attachments, were affected by illness or impairment. The chapter contributes to the understanding of coalfield life by situating the disabled miner within three distinctive, but overlapping settings: in the community; at home; and in the religious activities of mining areas. It explores the ways in which impairment became visible in these settings and how the norms and values associated with these arenas both delineated the experiences of disabled mineworkers and were challenged, modified and redrawn after disablement.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

Exploring both local and national campaigns, this chapter examines the ways in which unions took up the cause of disabled miners and provided their own systems of support. It also examines the political agency of disabled miners themselves and explores their experiences of industrial conflict. This chapter asks how seriously labour leaders and employers took the needs of disabled workers. Both sides frequently proclaimed they had the best interests of disabled workers at heart. Disabled miners and their families - like inhabitants of mining communities more generally - undoubtedly faced increased hardships during strikes. The chapter presents evidence that industrial disputes may have presented disabled mineworkers with opportunities that some chose to exploit. While the Employers' Liability Act of 1880 set a precedent for subsequent and more comprehensive compensation legislation in the immediate aftermath of its enactment, provisions for disabled miners still rested primarily on local, voluntary initiatives.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution
Open Access (free)

Disability was essential to the Industrial Revolution, but historical experiences of disability are far more complex than previously argued. Disablement may also have provided an opportunity for some to escape a dangerous and physically demanding workplace. The development of industrial society is important to the history of medical and welfare responses to disablement. The physical toll of coalmining affected how miners were viewed by others and how they saw themselves. The dangers of mine work meant that British coalminers were among the first occupational groups to receive dedicated medical care, first via surgeons funded through colliery 'sick clubs' and later on through specialist institutions aimed at supporting recuperation. During this period, mining communities were increasingly viewed as profitable medical markets, for both orthodox and irregular practitioners. Medical experts played an increasingly important role as the gatekeepers to welfare services, but their authority was sometimes challenged.

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution