Glamorgan’s Blood: Health and Welfare Records in the Coal Industry Collections – Mining Disasters

The current cataloguing and conservation of the National Coal Board and pre-vesting colliery company records held at Glamorgan Archives has been made possible by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant. The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health and as such one of the project’s main aims has been to improve access to records related to medical and welfare issues. In this series of blog posts project archivist, Louise Clarke, highlights some of the types of material that you are able to find on this topic within the coalfield collection.

Disasters

It is often the large mining disasters that we most closely associate with death in the coal industry. One such disaster was that at Universal Colliery, Senghenydd, which occurred on 14 October 1913. The explosion, and subsequent release of poisonous gas, killed 439 miners, making the Senghenydd pit disaster the most lethal and tragic mining disaster in British history.

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Statement showing details of compensation paid, 1915 (DPD/4/11/2/4)

As part of this project, a small number of items relating to the Senghenydd disaster have been catalogued, including a statement showing details of compensation and funeral expenses paid by the owners of Universal Colliery, Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries. This statement lists each individual killed in the disaster, gives details of their name, occupation and age and notes whether they had any dependents.

Other items within the National Coal Board collection relating to the Senghenydd disaster include the minutes of the inquiry into the disaster, inquest proceedings and photographs which appeared in newspapers and as postcards within days of the tragedy.

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Photograph of the funeral of the victims of the Senghenydd disaster, 1913 (DNCB/14/1/2/3)

Caerphilly War Memorials

In the years following the end of hostilities in the First World large sections of the population had the painful experience of dealing with the loss of loved ones killed in action. This grief was particularly acute when we consider that the majority of the causalities were young men in the prime of their lives. Due to the enormous number of soldiers killed, in Great Britain approaching one million, the government and military authorities deemed that the repatriation of bodies was impractical. The casualties of war were therefore remembered across on war memorials across the country.

War memorials took many forms; national, such as those in Whitehall in London and in Cathays Park in Cardiff; and local memorials dedicated to those lost from cities, towns, and villages across the country.  There were also memorials to particular groups, including individual sporting teams, church congregations, former pupils at individual schools and many other groupings.

At Glamorgan Archives we have in the collection records relating to the erection of a number of memorials in the county. This short piece will discuss the memorial at Caerphilly, and also make reference to those less than three miles away at Senghenydd and Llanbradach.

As was the case with the erecting of many memorials, the organising committee reflected the structure of the local society, namely local political parties, church groups, trade unions, ex-servicemen and dependent widows. In the case of Caerphilly, the diversity of the interested parties did leave potential for controversy, which to some extent did occur. Civil organisations tended to favour a memorial which provided a facility for the greater community, with such proposals in various Welsh towns including public memorial halls, libraries, and a swimming pool.  In Senghenydd, the memorial took the form of clock tower located on the main square.

In contrast to the proposals of civil organisations, military bodies argued that the memorials’ should reflect the sacrifices made by solders and be either a comrades club for ex servicemen to meet, or a permanent memorial such as was finally erected in Caerphilly.

An indication of the debate surrounding the form of the memorial in Caerphilly can be found within local authority minutes and collected newscuttings (ref.: D163/U/4).

John Arnold, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer