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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.

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other hand, if British coalminers were admired for their physical prowess, the acquired diseases and injuries associated with their toils meant that many experienced some degree of impairment. Our evidence shows that rather than leaving the world of work, these ‘disabled’ miners were expected to return to productive employment if capable of doing so. Such workers were valued for their skills and experience, even more so when labour was scarce, such as during strikes. For much of our period, elements of the ‘somatic flexibility’ believed to have enabled disabled people

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

Knowledge, 28 February–1 March 1835, 123–4. 16 John Benson, British Coalminers in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1980), 28–30. 17 George Parkinson, True Stories of Durham Pit-Life (London: C. H. Kelly, 1912), 1. 18 Alan Campbell and Fred Reid, ‘The Independent Collier in Scotland’, in Royden Harrison (ed.), Independent Collier: The Coal Miner as Archetypal Proletarian Reconsidered (Hassocks: Harvester Press, 1978), 57; Robert Colls, Pitmen of the Northern Coalfield: Work, Culture and Protest, 1790–1850 (Manchester: Manchester

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

Miners’ Association came from north-east England, while most of the remainder came from Lancashire and Yorkshire.39 As late as the mid-1860s, only a third of workers in British coalmining were unionised, and most of these were hewers.40 By 1900, despite an impressive upsurge in membership, union density in the industry was still only around three-fifths (59.5 per cent) of the total workforce.41 Despite their prominence in the historiography of coal­ mining, then, unions were not always the conduit through which industrial politics played out in the sector.42 Many

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution
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physical impairment is above all else a ‘problem’ that needs solving. Coalmining not only powered the Industrial Revolution, then, it also shaped emerging understandings and experiences of disability in nineteenth-century Britain that linger on, affecting the lives of disabled people in the present. Consequently, a disability history of British coalmining like this is long overdue. Approach and methodology While disability remains a neglected topic in histories of industrialisation, greater attention has been given to occupational diseases, working-class health and the

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

illegal’.161 Conclusion The histories of British coalmining and medicine are closely interwoven. During the century from 1780 to 1880, coalmining and mineworkers helped shape medicine and the emerging relationship between medical practitioners and working-class patients. The ‘habits and diseases’ of miners became a topic of increasing public scrutiny as the industry expanded, thanks to innovations in public health and evolving research into conditions such as lung diseases. The effects of mine work on different aspects of miners’ bodily health were documented by medical

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution
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), 401–12; John Benson, ‘Coalowners, Coalminers and Compulsion: Pit Clubs in England 1860–80’, Business History, 44:1 (2002), 47–60; John Benson, British Coalminers in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1980), ch. 7. 4 Deborah A. Stone, The Disabled State (London: Macmillan, 1985). 5 John Benson, ‘Coalminers, Coalowners and Collaboration: the Miners’ Permanent Relief Fund Movement in England, 1860–1875’, Labour History Review, 68:2 (2003), 181–94. 6 PP 1842 (381), Appendix to the First Report of the Commissioners. Mines. Part 1

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

Thrift of English Coal-Miners, 1860–95’, Economic History Review, 31:3 (1978), 410–18. 7 ‘The Collier at Home’, Household Words, 15:366, 28 March 1857, 291. 8 Ibid., 290, 291. 9 Jules Ginswick (ed.), Labour and the Poor in England and Wales 1849–1851: the Letters to the Morning Chronicle from Correspondents in the Manufacturing and Mining Districts, the towns of Liverpool and Birmingham, and the Rural Districts, vol. 3: South Wales–North Wales (London: Frank Cass, 1983), 49. 10 For example, John Benson British Coalminers in the Nineteenth Century: A Social

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution