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.
other hand, if Britishcoalminers 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
Knowledge, 28 February–1 March 1835, 123–4.
16 John Benson, BritishCoalminers 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:
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 Britishcoalmining 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
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 Britishcoalmining like this is long
Approach and methodology
While disability remains a neglected topic in histories of industrialisation,
greater attention has been given to occupational diseases, working-class health
The histories of Britishcoalmining 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
John Benson, ‘Coalowners, Coalminers and Compulsion: Pit Clubs in England
1860–80’, Business History, 44:1 (2002), 47–60; John Benson, BritishCoalminers
in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1980), ch.
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
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 BritishCoalminers in the Nineteenth Century: A