People vs Progress: The Transition from Coal to Oil in Britain

At the dawn of the 20th century, Britain was the world’s leading industrial power. The first nation to industrialise, dominating a global empire and world trade.  Whilst noblemen had founded these colonies and spread Britain’s influence, the true source of the nations’ power was its’ coal mines, which at their height were producing 257 million tons of coal a year. Coal propelled her trading vessels around the world, gave life to the beating hearts of machines in the factories and powered the hulking warships of her navy.

However, a new fuel was beginning to emerge, one that would completely change Britain and the world forever; oil, the new black gold. It would make the British navy more powerful than ever, yet also more vulnerable, leading it to rely on foreign countries for its fuel due to a lack of oil reserves within British controlled territory. A speech made by Captain Bernard Acworth at the Cardiff Business Club warned against the country’s ‘dependence on oil fuel’ and led to a flurry of opinion pieces in the Western Mail concerning the use of oil over coal for naval ships.

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The extensive collection at Glamorgan Archives offers a window to this pivotal time in Welsh industrial history. Through volumes of newspaper cuttings we can discover the varied contemporary thoughts and opinions on the issue. One such volume shows, amongst many other topics, the discussions surrounding the replacement of coal with oil and hydrogenation.

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Other documents, such as a minute book of the Coal Research Committee, discuss schemes for the production of oil from coal in South Wales, primarily focusing on the feasibility and practicalities of opening plants using the hydrogenation and carbonisation methods to produce light oil (e.g petrol) and heavy oil (crude oil).

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However, this turned out to be fruitless, due to the complexities and high costs of the processes.

The biggest change though, would be to the lives of the hundreds of thousands of miners who would be rendered unemployed for the sake of progress, threatening to wipe out hundreds of small but deep rooted communities that had been providing the nation with coal for generations. Perhaps with this in mind contributors to the popular coalfield publication, Ocean and National Magazine, also spoke about this topic numerous times, with articles that kept track of the debate, never failing to promote the coal industry.

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After 1914, the production of coal began to fall, gradually at first, but decreasing almost every year. Whilst the power stations were still hungry for coal, following the First World War one of the mines’ biggest customers, the navy, began to slip away and more followed as vessels around the world underwent the change. Through documents in the Archives, we are able to chart these changes and see how people reacted then adapted to this new threat.

Adam Latchford, Trainee

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South Wales Coalfield Photographs – Mystery Solved!

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch with information concerning our previously unidentified collection of south Wales coalfield photographs. The response has been incredible and we really appreciate people taking the time to get in touch.

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Public response has enabled us to correctly identify this image as being of Roy Lewis, Face Electrician, D1544/1/16

The collection was transferred to Glamorgan Archives from ON at Fife Archives earlier this year and the photographs depict men working at Abercynon Colliery, scenes taken during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike at Penrhiwceiber coal tips and views of derelict collieries. We had no information about the photographer and some of the people within the photographs were unidentified.

Following the media campaign, we now know that the photographer of the collection is Leslie Price, a former collier at Abercynon Colliery and keen amateur photographer. Mr Price came into the archive last week to talk to us about the photographs and discuss the stories behind the images and his passion for photography.

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Leslie Price, Photographer meeting Louise Clarke, Glamorgan’s Blood Archivist (image courtesy of Matt Murray, BBC)

Mr Price started taking photographs of the collieries in the 1960s. His aim was to tell the stories of the south Wales coalfield and its people. His images were featured in a number of exhibitions in Wales and throughout the UK, including at a mining museum in Fife, hence why they were found in Scotland.

Following responses from former Abercynon Colliery workers and their family members, we have been able to confirm, change and add names to the faces of those shown in the photographs. I am currently collating the information, ready to update the descriptions on our catalogue. Mr Price took these photographs shortly before the closure of Abercynon Colliery in 1988.

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Public response has enabled us to correctly identify this image as being of Terry Northam, Fitter   D1544/1/1

The coal picking photographs were taken by Mr Price at various times throughout the 1984/85 miners’ strike. The scenes were taken at Cwmcynon colliery tip, Penrhiwceiber. Some of the photographs show the derelict pit head baths, also known as the white house. Cwmcynon Colliery closed in 1949. Mr Price has kindly donated a further image from this series of photographs to Glamorgan Archives.

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The Coal Run, D1544/4/18

We would like to say thank you to Leslie for coming into the archive and providing us with the background to his work. We would also like to thank everyone who has been in touch with us. If anyone has any further information about the photographs we would still love to hear from you. The collection can be viewed on our catalogue under reference D1544.

Colliery Closures: The End of Era

The records of the National Coal Board and its predecessors held at Glamorgan Archives show the ups and downs of the coal industry in south Wales. Through financial records we see how large colliery companies such as Powell Duffryn and Ocean Coal were performing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Page from Pit Summaries of Cost of Coal, Ocean Coal Co. Ltd, 1900-1905 (D1400/2/5/1)

Come 1947 and the Nationalisation of the industry we see records showing the huge investment and reorganisation schemes that those in charge of the National Coal Board thought would secure the industry for years to come.

Unfortunately the history books tell us that, contrary to the claim made on the Betws Drift Mine (Carmarthenshire) promotional leaflet, the future was not bright for the coal industry, as less than 50 years after nationalisation the UK coal industry had all but ceased.

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Betws Drift Mine, Colliery Leaflet, Jan 1984 (DNCB/5/1/5/2)

The records held at Glamorgan Archives show us the steps that the National Coal Board took in their decision making when it came to the closure of the collieries. A pit closure register dating 1948-1970 gives information on output, reasons for closure, number of personnel, number of people transferred or retained, estimated redundancy figures, negotiations with the National Union of Mineworkers, notices given to men and pit closure date. This overview of reasons for closure is supplemented by files concerning individual colliery closures, containing closure reports, minutes, correspondence, meeting minutes and profit and loss accounts.

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Page from National Coal Board Pit Closure Register, 1948-1970 (DNCB/67/5/20)

Press releases issued concerning the closure of Ty Mawr/Lewis Merthyr, Coegnant, Brynlliw/Morlais, Britannia and Aberpergwm can be found in the Public Relations department files (ref.: DNCB/5/4/1/1). In addition to this, there is also a public relations file containing briefing notes and correspondence on colliery closures and wage disputes (ref.: DNCB/5/4/2/1) and a file concerning colliery closures, containing various lists of collieries that detail the dates they opened and the date and reason for closure (ref.: DNCB/5/4/2/8).

Following closure, some colliery sites were to be given a new lease of life. A file dating 1977-1987 contains correspondence concerning the fate of Lewis Merthyr Colliery (ref.: DNCB/67/7/45). The file includes correspondence and plans relating to the colliery site along with correspondence concerning the sale of the land and proposals to turn it into a heritage museum. Some of you may have been to the site in its current form as Rhondda Heritage Park.

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Lewis Merthyr Colliery, c.1950 (DNCB/14/1/17)

The closure of the collieries was the end of an era and a way of life for those in the south Wales coalfield. To commemorate this way of life and the end of the industry, souvenir leaflets were published celebrating the achievements of the collieries on the eve of closure.  Examples from Penallta and Mardy Collieries survive within the Glamorgan Archives collection (ref.: DNCB/5/3/4 and DNCB/5/3/5).

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Souvenir Leaflet, Mardy Colliery Closure, 1990 (DNCB/5/3/4)

Our catalogue Canfod provides more information on these items and other records relating to the rise and fall of the coal industry in south Wales. Start your search with the DNCB collection and see where it takes you. The cataloguing of the NCB records is still in progress, so keep checking Canfod for new material http://calmview.cardiff.gov.uk/

Louise Clarke, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Archivist

Glamorgan’s Blood: Colliery Disasters

In October 1913, 439 miners and one rescuer died at Universal Colliery, Senghennydd following an explosion at the colliery. The disaster took place on 14 October 1913 and it remains the worst mining accident in the UK with regard to loss of life. Material within the Glamorgan Archives collection can be consulted to find out more about the responsibilities of the mine’s owners, Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries, following the disaster.

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Statement showing compensation and funeral expenses paid for each individual killed in the Senghenydd disaster, DPD/4/11/2/4.

The papers of Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries are nestled within the Powell Duffryn Collection (DPD). Documents relating to the Senghennydd disaster within the Lewis Merthyr papers include the proceedings of the Home Office Enquiry into the Senghennydd disaster and a transcript of the proceedings at the inquest on the bodies of the men who lost their lives in the disaster. Alongside this printed report is a handwritten statement of money paid to the families of the victims by Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited. This document records the names of all the individuals killed and how much money was provided by Lewis Merthyr to the families of each victim, including details of money provided for funeral expenses and compensation

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Summary statement of compensation and funeral expenses paid by Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited following the Senghenydd disaster, DPD/4/11/2/4.

Another colliery explosion represented within the archives is the Cambrian Explosion which occurred on 17 May 1965. Material under reference DNCB/11/2/1 contains correspondence concerning the Cambrian Disaster Fund, a log of events in the immediate aftermath of the incident, a draft of a letter sent by the chairman of the National Coal Board to the next of kin of those killed in the disaster and funeral arrangements of those who died in the Cambrian Explosion. The official report into the causes and circumstances of the disaster is also held in the archive (DNCB/6/1/4/10).

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Statement Made by Alderman D Murphy, Mayor Elect, launching a disaster fund appeal for the families of the victims of the Cambrian Colliery Explosion, 18 May 1965, DNCB/11/2/1.

Photographs give us an insight into being a rescue man, with images from the National Coal Board glass plate negative collection showing demonstrations of rescue apparatus and group photographs of the team.

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Ynysfeio Colliery No1 Rescue Team at Dinas Rescue Station, DNCB/14/1/3/1

Training like this can be seen in a certificate issued to Thomas John Jones by Brynmenyn Rescue for completing his rescue apparatus training in 1920 (DNCB/67/13/11).

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Certificate issued to Thomas John Jones by Brynmenyn Rescue Station for completing his rescue apparatus training in 1920, DNCB/67/13/11.

The negative collection shows us that a large number of men were also involved in general first aid, through images of Regional First Aid Competitions in the 1950s-1960s.

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Coedely Plant being judged at a First Aid competition in 1968, DNCB/48/4/177.

Another photograph, showing Mr Glenn Thomas, a member of the Mines Rescue Service, with a canary perched on him, reminds us of the vital role of canaries in ensuring the safety of those working underground (D1061/1/43).

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Mr Glenn Thomas, member of the Mines Rescue Service with a canary perched on him, Jan 1981, D1061/1/43

Through the official reports and paperwork we find out about the facts and causes of colliery disasters, but these types of documents do not show the pain the disasters caused the families of the victims. However, other material, such as these words written by Ap Lewis about the Great Western Colliery Disaster in 1893 (D253/2/37) can be used to demonstrate the personal tragedy experienced by loved ones following the news of a colliery disaster:

And like a furious howling gale

The dreaded news went through the vale,

Of the sad strange calamity,

Which took the lives of sixty three.

And rushing thither from all parts,

With gushing tears and heavy hearts

Came wives and mothers seeking they

Who long ere then had passed away

 

Glamorgan’s Blood Preserved on Glass

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The National Coal Board collection at Glamorgan Archives includes a large amount of photographic negatives on both plastic and glass supports.

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The glass plate negatives, approximately 5440 in number, feature a range of subjects, including images of tunnels, miners in action, equipment, pit ponies, medical centres, social events and other varied content.

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As part of the Glamorgan’s Blood project, this photographic material will be catalogued, cleaned, digitised, conserved and re-housed, allowing public access to these images.

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While the majority of the glass plate negatives simply need cleaning prior to digitisation, some display more extensive conservation issues.  A number of the plates are broken or have lifting or highly damaged emulsion (fig.5).  These issues will require more supportive housing solutions or more intensive conservation treatment.

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Figure 5

Undamaged but dirty glass plate negatives require cleaning prior to digitisation and re-housing.  Surface dirt on these items can contribute to long term deterioration and be visible on the digitised image.  It is important that the plates be properly cleaned before any further steps in the preservation process can be taken.

To clean the plates, first an air-puffer is used to remove loose dust and dirt on both the emulsion side and the glass side.  By using this tool, the emulsion side of the plate can be cleaned without risk of abrasion.  Next, cotton wool buds wrapped in fine tissue and dipped in a solution of water and ethanol (50:50) are used to remove dirt and grease from the glass side of the plates.  A final wipe, using a dry cotton wool bud, removes any streaks.

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Figure 6

The cleaned plates are then re-housed in folders made from material up to PAT (Photographic Activity Test) standards.  We use different sized folders for the varying plate formats to ensure a good fit (fig.6). The original packaging for these items was glassine envelopes, which is a type of highly calendared paper often found used for the storage of photographic negatives. Glassine is an inappropriate storage material as it yellows over time and can damage the photographic emulsion (fig.7).

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Figure 7

Once cleaned, the plates are scanned and a positive image is created.  This will then be added to the Archive’s catalogue.

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Figure 8

Broken glass plate negatives require housing which both supports the fragments but also keeps them separate to ensure the delicate emulsion is not damaged through abrasion between the glass shards.  The new housing incorporates cushioning plasterzote foam within an un-buffered card enclosure.  This new enclosure allows the negative to be safely stored and, if necessary, viewed without removing the individual shards (fig.8 & 9).  This simple housing solution can provide either temporary or long term storage, allowing for further repair treatment to be carried out in the future.

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Figure 9

The broken negatives will also be scanned and digitised, reducing the need for handling while at the same time ensuring public access to these wonderful images.

Stephanie Jamieson, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Conservator

“Get your butty to wash your back”: Pithead Baths in the South Wales Coalfield

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DNCB/79/8/188: Three unidentified Colliers, Caerau Bath Opening, 6 Mar 1954

As the Glamorgan’s Blood project continues, material concerning the colliery pithead baths comes to light within the Glamorgan Archives collection.

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DNCB/66/197: Pithead Baths, Treharris, General view of the pithead baths, c. 1921

The introduction of pithead baths from the 1920s onwards was a huge benefit to those working in the south Wales coalfield. Before the pithead baths, miners would return home from work in dirty clothes, wet from water in the pit and sweat, increasing the hazards of mine work by adding the danger of contracting illness. The introduction of the pithead baths offered some protection against these types of ailments, with showering and changing facilities allowing miners to return home in clean and dry clothing. 1

Washing at the pithead baths also meant that miners were not having to wash at home in the family sitting room, a task that often required the miner’s wife to prepare the miners’ bath and clean and wash his dirty clothes, tasks that brought coal dust and dirt into the family home. The preparation of the bath water was also dangerous to the miner’s family as:

…many children were badly scalded – and often died – as a result of falling into prepared bath water or upsetting water which was being boiled in readiness for the bath. One south Wales coroner claimed that he conducted more inquests into the deaths of children who were scaled than he did into miners who were killed underground. 2

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DNCB/66/3: Penallta Miner bathing, c.1930

One of the main areas of the National Coal Board collection concerning the Pithead Baths is the colliery building plans collection. As part of the Glamorgan’s Blood project the archivist and project conservator are currently working simultaneously to catalogue the material and assess it for conservation treatment and storage requirements.

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DNCB/1/4/2/10: Abercynon Pithead Baths, Apr 1950

The wide range of sizes, processes and materials present in this collection pose a variety of conservation issues and requirements in terms of storage, access to the material and long term preservation. The plans for the pithead baths in the NCB collection display a variety of different techniques and processes for producing architectural drawings.  Diazotypes, blueprints and pencil and ink drawings appear most frequently on a range of substrates.  Examples of wash-off prints, gel-lithographs and silver halide prints also appear in this collection, displaying different conservation issues.  The most pressing conservation challenge is the heavily degraded acetate support used as both a tracing material and as a negative to create duplicate plans, appearing in this collection as a base for both pencil and ink drawings and diazotypes. The majority of these acetate plans display advanced plastic deterioration in the form of embrittlement which has caused them to crack and shatter, making them impossible to produce in the searchroom.  Digitisation of these plans will be the only way to make them accessible, as options are limited in terms of conservation treatment and long term preservation of this type of material.

 

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DNCB/60/65/4: Example of a Shattered Plan, Acetate, 1951

The plans show the pithead bath facilities from collieries across south Wales, dating so far from between the 1930s-1970s. Through floor plans, site plans and elevations researchers will be able to see what facilities were on offer to colliery workers, including separate clean and dirty entrances and locker rooms, shower facilities, boot cleaning areas, medical treatment centres and canteens. On nationalisation these facilities became ‘a necessary piece of equipment for production’ and the plans and other material within the Glamorgan Archives collection will ensure that these buildings, now mostly vanished from the south Wales landscape, are recorded for future generations.

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DNCB/1/4/13/2-3: Perspective Views of Cwm Colliery Pithead Baths, Jun 1952

Louise Clarke, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Archivist

Stephanie Jamieson, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Conservator

  1. Evans, Neil; Jones, Dot, ‘A Blessing for the Miner’s Wife: the campaign for pithead baths in the South Wales coalfield, 1908-1950’, Llafur : Journal of Welsh Labour History, p.7
  2. Evans, Neil; Jones, Dot, p.6

The Miners’ Strike, 1984/5

As cataloguing continues on the Glamorgan’s Blood Project, the variety of material within the collection becomes more apparent, from fatal accident reports to records on the colliery closure programme. One of the latest set of records to be catalogued concerns the miners’ strike of 1984/5. The strike was a turning point in the history of the South Wales and UK Coalfields and the politics and ethics of the strike divided colleagues, friends and families.

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Front page of ‘The Miner’, Saturday 2 November 1929 showing a photograph of police escorting the only three men working at Blaengarw during a non-unionist dispute.  This photograph was used as a poster – ‘A Strike Breaker is a Traitor’ – by the NUM South Wales Area during the 1984-85 strike [DNCB/64/18]

The papers of the National Coal Board held at Glamorgan Archives can be used to demonstrate the impact of the strike on all parties: the National Coal Board itself, those on strike and those who chose to return to work before the strike ended.

The effects of the strike on the National Coal Board can be seen through papers such as memoranda concerning safety and maintenance of mines during the strike period and papers concerning financial losses during the strike. Papers relating to priorities that would need to be addressed on resumption of work, such as supply of work clothes, stocking of canteens and repair of boilers in the pithead baths, show the physical effect of the strike on individual collieries and the work needed to get back to full production levels. Circulars issued nationally and locally show the techniques that the National Coal Board were using to try to get people back to work, with circulars issued to the miners by Philip Weekes, Area Director and by individual colliery managers.

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Front page of Coal News, Mar 1985. Statistics on miners returning to work used to encourage those still on strike to return to work [DNCB/67/1/17/18]

The views of striking workers can be seen through copies of correspondence with the NUM concerning strike negotiations and the National Union of Mineworkers’ terms. Pamphlets within the collection give a vivid impression of the beliefs of the striking miners, with strong, emotive language being used to present the NUM’s viewpoint, in posters such as that titled ‘A Strike Breaker is a Traitor’.

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National Union of Mineworkers leaflet detailing reasons why the strike should be supported [DNCB/67/1/32]

Correspondence with the NUM also demonstrates their efforts to request amnesty for miners dismissed during the strike for strike related practices, with lists showing actions by strikers, numbers of cases that could have led to dismissal and numbers of re-instated and re-engaged miners.

The records also show the views of those not in favour of the strike, through letters sent to the NCB by individuals and colliery workers, and anti-strike pamphlets. For those who chose to return to work before the end of the strike, correspondence within the collection offers us an insight into the mental and physical abuse that some miners went through after returning to work. More than one miner describes being ‘sent to Coventry’ by his fellow workers and there are records of incidents of threats to individuals, their families and property. The treatment of these men prompted many to seek transfers to other collieries or to request voluntary redundancy.

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The Working Miners’ Newsletter, published by the Democratic Working Miners of the NUM [DNCB/67/1/17/1]

Overall these papers give an insight into a tough and pivotal time in the history of the South Wales Coalfield. Viewing these papers alongside other material in the Glamorgan Archives collection, such as (but not limited to) papers of the South Wales Women’s Support Groups (DWSG); papers of Councillor Ray T Davies, treasurer for the Miners’ Strike Support Group (D316); the 1984/5 diary of William Croad, a Senior Management Official, at Lady Windsor Colliery, Ynysybwl (D1174/1); Aberdare Miners’ Relief Fund Records (D1432), and press cuttings on the strike within the South Wales Police Constabulary Records (DSWP/49/7), will enable research to be undertaken into all aspects of the strike.

Louise Clarke, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Archivist