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

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“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

Davies the Ocean: 130 years since the incorporation of the Ocean Coal Company Ltd.

David Davies, often cited as the first Welsh millionaire, was responsible for the development of railways within Wales and was also the man behind the creation of Barry Docks. Alongside these enterprises, he also found success as a colliery owner, earning the nickname “Davies the Ocean” for his development of the Ocean Coal Co. Ltd, which was incorporated 130 years ago in April 1887.

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David Davies [DCOMC/30/3/78]

Davies entered the coal mining business in the 1860s, first hitting coal in April 1886, 15 months after the sinking of his first colliery, Maindy Colliery in Ton Pentre, Rhondda. In 1867 David Davies & Company was formed and new sinkings continued in the Rhondda for the next ten years. Davies won a worldwide market with his Ocean Steam Coal and his collieries continued to be a success. The whole enterprise became the Ocean Coal Co. Ltd, incorporated in 1887, with Davies controlling the main portion of the capital.

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Extract from Park Colliery annual return for the year 1889 [D1400/2/2/1]

Records of the Ocean Coal Co. Ltd survive at Glamorgan Archives and have recently been catalogued as part of the Wellcome Trust funded Glamorgan’s Blood project. The records span the date range 1889-1944 and can be used to provide insight into the running of the financial side of the business through records such as annual returns and pay books, and the practical side of the business through illustrated volumes depicting sections of the coal face. The records can also be drawn upon to give a glimpse into working conditions, with accident and compensation records providing first-hand accounts of the dangers of the mining industry through entries relating to the Ocean Coal Collieries Maindy, Park, Dare, Western, Eastern, Garw, Lady Windsor, Deep Navigation and Avon.

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Geological cross section showing the working face at Park Pits [D1400/4/2/1]

Paybooks and accident and compensation registers provide an insight to the lives of those working at the coal face, but an understanding of the people involved at the higher level of the coal industry can also be gained from a volume of royalty and wayleave payments within the collection. Royalties and wayleaves were the payments made to the owner of the land being worked by the colliery company and the volume gives an indication of how much money individuals received simply for the use of their land. Contrasting this volume with the colliers’ paybooks and accident and compensation registers within the collection serves to highlight the difference that existed at each end of the pay scale.

The collection also contains Special Rules issued to the Ocean Collieries Coal Co. Ltd. under the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1887, which demonstrate how the government were legislating the mining industry in the late 19th century. These documents show the relationship between the individual Ocean collieries and the H M Inspector of Mines, and they also tell us something about the Ocean Coal workforce. The documents are written in both English and Welsh, indicating that a proportion of the workforce were Welsh speakers only. The fact that the company had the documents published bilingually shows that they understood this and were keen for the whole of the workforce to adhere to the rules.

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A page from the Special Rules issued to the Ocean Collieries Coal Co. Ltd. under the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887 showing bilingual content [D1400/4/3/2]

The records of the Ocean Coal Company Ltd are an important resource for David Davies’ success as a coal magnate and as a primary source for workings of the coal industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The Ocean Coal Company Ltd’s records, and those of its predecessor the David Davies Company, are now available to view on our catalogue, Canfod. See references D1400, D1402 and DX316 for detailed listings of the records that the Archives holds.

Glamorgan’s Blood: Dark Arteries, Old Veins

Here, are the stiffening hills, here, the rich cargo
Congealed in the dark arteries,
Old veins
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.

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‘Pride of the Valleys’ [DNCB/64/60]. New communities developed in south Wales with a focus on the local colliery. Between 1901 and 1911 south Wales absorbed immigrants at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world except the USA.

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.

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‘Pneumoconiosis, The Deadly Dust’ [DNCB/64/53]. Once catalogued, the NCB collection will enhance the possibilities for research into the health and social welfare of the mining communities of south Wales.

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.

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Current finding aids for the NCB collection are difficult to navigate and limit access to the collection

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.

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Our NADFAS volunteers have already begun the huge task of cleaning items from the NCB collection

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 glamro@cardiff.gov.uk.