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.
WORK, ECONOMY AND DISABILITY
IN THE BRITISH COALFIELDS
The period from 1880 to 1948 witnessed considerable economic, industrial
and political change, and the coalindustry 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
process, it re-evaluates the relationship between ‘disability’ and work in
industrialising Britain and suggests that popular ideas about the impact of the
Industrial Revolution on disabled people’s lives that emphasise their exclusion
from work need re-thinking.2
The nature and conditions of mine work
Mineworkers’ experiences in the coalindustry were shaped by the differing
economic trajectories and geologies of the specific coalfields in which they
worked, as well as the significant cultural differences between them. The most
glaring of these, particularly in the
attention to their agency and the extent to which they were able to bring their
influence to bear on these political and industrial matters.
Industrial relations, coal-mining and disability
The politics of disability in mining communities and within the industry as a
whole occurred within a distinctive context, and some understanding of the
DIS ABILITY IN INDU S TRIAL BRITAIN
broader aspects of industrial relations in the coalindustry is first necessary.
In a British context, the industry was arguably characterised by some of the
stormiest and bitterest
social reformers which revealed the ways in which the health and occupational
illnesses of colliers compared with those working in other sectors of the
industrial economy. This work drew attention to the manifold causes of illness
and incapacity in mine work beyond the accidents that prompted government
inspection, suggesting a much wider experience of disablement in the coalindustry.
This chapter charts and explains this growing interest in the bodies of
mineworkers, placing it in the context of broader campaigns for public health
and industrial reform. Focusing in
Houghton-le-Spring constituency in 1885. Though defeated in 1886, he won
Mid-Durham (on the death of William Crawford, a second miner’s leader) in
1890 on a Home Rule platform. He held the seat subsequently, being unopposed
in 1906. Wilson was thus emblematic in a more practical way: in terms of miners’
direct and successful involvement in local Liberal politics. By 1885, the DMA
had already established its Political Reform Association, in response to fears that
the Conservatives would increase the national debt and thereby damage the coalindustry.34
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.
The coalindustry has a central place in the economic, political and industrial
relations history of modern Britain. No industry compares with its fundamental
role in providing so much employment, generating as much economic activity
and giving rise to trade unions and a powerful Labour Party that were to play such
significant roles in British politics and the evolution of the British state. Another
important characteristic of the coalindustry now needs to be recognised: it is
clearly crucial to the modern history of disability in Britain. No other
workplace to men, women and children with impairments? And what does a study of the Industrial Revolution that foregrounds
the experience of disabled people contribute to our understanding of work and
its politics in the past?
This book attempts to answer these questions by examining perceptions
and experiences of disability within the context of the British coalindustry
and Britons’ responses to people in mining areas who today might be labelled
‘disabled’. Coal provides a compelling case study for exploring occupational
impairment in industrialising Britain. Coal was
, however, Eaves’ case is rather mundane.
These kinds of accidents and injuries were daily occurrences in the British coalindustry, while the contestation of compensation cases in the courts was similarly
an everyday reality in mining communities. The everyday and mundane nature
of the case, however, is precisely the point, and it illustrates many of the major
themes of this study of disability in industrial Britain.
In the first place, Eaves’ case highlights the centrality of the compensation
system to the understandings and experiences of disability in coalfield