A cultural and literary history of impairment in the coal industry, 1880–1948

Coalmining was a notoriously dangerous industry and many of its workers experienced injury and disease. However, the experiences of the many disabled people within Britain’s most dangerous industry have gone largely unrecognised by historians. This book examines the British coal industry through the lens of disability, using an interdisciplinary approach to examine the lives of disabled miners and their families.

The book considers the coal industry at a time when it was one of Britain’s most important industries, and follows it through a period of growth up to the First World War, through strikes, depression and wartime, and into an era of decline. During this time, the statutory provision for disabled people changed considerably, most notably with the first programme of state compensation for workplace injury. And yet disabled people remained a constant presence in the industry as many disabled miners continued their jobs or took up ‘light work’. The burgeoning coalfields literature used images of disability on a frequent basis and disabled characters were used to represent the human toll of the industry.

A diverse range of sources are used to examine the economic, social, political and cultural impact of disability in the coal industry, looking beyond formal coal company and union records to include autobiographies, novels and oral testimony. It argues that, far from being excluded entirely from British industry, disability and disabled people were central to its development. The book will appeal to students and academics interested in disability history, disability studies, social and cultural history, and representations of disability in literature.

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.

4 THE SOCIAL RELATIONS OF DISABILITY While disabled people in mining communities worked, sought medical care and received welfare, they also existed in a complex web of social relations. Such social relations were varied and complex, were determined by a broad array of social, cultural and other factors and had profound consequences for experiences and understandings of disability. But just as existing social relations helped influence the experiences of disabled people, so disability brought about new social relations between individuals, groups and agencies

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128 DISABILITY IN THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION 4 DISABILITY, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY The risks of coalmining affected not just the working lives of British miners during the nineteenth century, but also their lives beyond the pit. Many contemporary commentators sought to interpret the experiences of miners and their communities through the prism of their susceptibility to danger in the workplace. For example, in his comparative statistical study of Britain’s ‘dangerous classes’, Tactics for the Times (1849), Jelinger C. Symons calculated that rates of criminality

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

5 THE POLITICS AND POLITICISATION OF DISABILITY Introduction On 22 May 1922, Dai Watts Morgan, MP for the Rhondda valleys in south Wales, described the bitterness felt by permanently injured miners in his constituency to his honourable colleagues in the House of Commons. He outlined in uncomfortable detail their long struggle to receive a level of compensation that allowed a decent standard of living: In no case where [the miners] have been totally disabled for life have they received the maximum of £l a week. Such men, when they meet us from day to day or from

in Disability in industrial Britain

Disability and work in the coal economy 23 1 DISABILITY AND WORK IN THE COAL ECONOMY Thomas Burt’s early memories of mining were haunted by the sight of the mutilated bodies of his fellow workers. Remembering his work as a teenage pony putter in the 1850s, responsible for moving coal underground at Murton Colliery, County Durham, Burt recalled that ‘everywhere, below ground and above, dangers stood thick’. Compounded by the ‘rush and recklessness’ of workers there, these dangers meant accidents were common. ‘Never’, he wrote in his autobiography published

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Disability and welfare 93 3 DISABILITY AND WELFARE Writing to The Times in the aftermath of the Gethin Colliery explosion of 1865, Dr W. Wadham wrote movingly on behalf of the victims of the tragedy – ‘for those who are dead, for those who linger in their agony’ and ‘for the widows and orphans of the first, and the aged and little ones depending for their daily bread upon the now no longer available labour of the latter’. These were people, he wrote, who deserved not philanthropy, but better measures to ensure safety in coal mines. Victims of disasters

in Disability in the Industrial Revolution

1 WORK, ECONOMY AND DISABILITY IN THE BRITISH COALFIELDS The period from 1880 to 1948 witnessed considerable economic, industrial and political change, and the coal industry was situated right at heart of the various transformations that took place. At the start of this period, the economy had experienced a number of decades of growth and Britain’s worldwide economic and imperial pre-eminence was undoubted. By the end of the period, in contrast, Britain had experienced two periods of total war and a prolonged period of economic depression, and had fallen behind

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Disability in working-class coalfields literature

6 SITES OF STRUGGLE: DISABILITY IN WORKING-CLASS COALFIELDS LITERATURE In Lewis Jones’s dramatic retelling of the Tonypandy ‘Riots’ of 1910–11 in Cwmardy (1937), a young communist challenges the authorities to ‘come and work the coal themselves if they want it. Let them sweat and pant till their bodies twist in knots as ours have.’ He knows, however, that ‘[t]hey will do none of these things’, and tells the striking men to take heart, for: While it is true our bodies belong to the pit, so also is it true that this makes us masters of the pit. It can’t live

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the well-being of his family, while the experience of standing in court to hear a judge tell him that he needed to try harder to overcome his impairment – thus constructing his disability as a personal challenge to be overcome if only he were sufficiently determined – would have been damaging to his self-esteem and his sense of himself as a respectable workman. Some comfort might have been derived from the sympathy, moral support and practical help provided by his trade union comrades, but the benefits of this would have extended only so far. On another level

in Disability in industrial Britain