Here, are the stiffening hills, here, the rich cargo
Congealed in the dark arteries,
That hold Glamorgan’s blood.
The midnight miner in the secret seams,
Limb, life, and bread.
– Mervyn Peake, Rhondda Valley
Mervyn Peake’s poem, Rhondda Valley, describes coal mining as the life blood of the Welsh Valleys. Indeed, the rapid growth of the coal industry during the 19th century led to the development of a whole new society in South Wales, with a focus on the local colliery. As such the South Wales coalfields have an important part to play in our understanding of the Industrial Revolution and of the history of Wales and Britain more generally.This significance means that the archival records of the coal industry are also important as primary documentation of South Wales’ heritage. The National Coal Board (NCB) collection at Glamorgan Archives spans the 19th and 20th centuries, documenting the development, changes and decline of an industry synonymous with South Wales, and charting the impact of the collieries on the lives and health of the people who worked in the industry. It is with this in mind that Glamorgan Archives have now begun the ‘Glamorgan’s Blood: Dark Arteries, Old Veins’ project to catalogue and conserve the NCB collection and the records of its predecessors through the assistance of a Wellcome Trust cataloguing grant.
The NCB collection is varied in scope and content, from wage books and large scale colliery plans to photographs and accident report books. All of these records are important in their own way as representations of how the NCB and individual collieries operated. We can discover first-hand accounts of the dangers of working in the mines through entries in accident report books; learn about colliery disasters through official reports and enquiries; and understand more about the provision of healthcare and social wellbeing for miners and their families through records dealing with compensation for industrial illnesses such as pneumoconiosis, and documents concerning the introduction of the pithead baths to improve sanitation for colliers. The records can also show us how the collieries interacted with the workforce through material relating to subjects such as strikes and mineworkers unions. Overall, the variety of records within the collection serve to demonstrate the important, if not always happy, role of the colliery in the communities of South Wales.
Material from and concerning the National Coal Board has been deposited at Glamorgan Archives on numerous occasions since the 1960s, leaving the Archives with over 80 separate deposits of material, all with varying levels of description, from boxes simply titled ‘Miscellaneous material’ to more helpfully categorised boxes with names of specific collieries already indicated. Although researchers can already come into the Archives’ searchroom to view material in the NCB collection, the 225 boxes, 470 rolls and 884 volumes are currently listed in a way that makes the collection hard to navigate and understand as a whole. The ‘Glamorgan’s Blood’ project will provide easier and greater access to the NCB collection through the creation of a comprehensive electronic catalogue (which will be available to search on our online catalogue, Canfod) and the physical conservation of damaged and dirty material.
Work on the ‘Glamorgan’s Blood’ project is now underway, with our team of volunteers already making a brilliant start on the cleaning of the volumes, and research being undertaken by the project archivist to build up a knowledge of the collection and the South Wales coal industry, in order to inform the organisation of the records. If you would like to find out more about the project keep an eye on the blog page and social media for project updates or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.