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

DNCB79_8_188

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
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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.

1. DNCB64-18 Strike breaker

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

Maps of the South Wales Coalfield

Glamorgan Archives is pleased to announce two new publications which have been produced to celebrate our 75th anniversary. To coincide with the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike of 1984, two facsimile maps have been printed of the South Wales Coalfield, reprints of the popular maps which were first sold by the Archives in 2000.

Map of the South Wales Coalfield

Map of the South Wales Coalfield

Originally published by the Business Statistics Company in Cardiff the maps date from 1923 and 1927. They are finely detailed and published in colour showing the mineral takings of steam and bituminous seams, anthracite properties, the railways serving the district and the ports of shipment.

Map of the South Wales Coalfield

Map of the South Wales Coalfield

They are available for purchase at £6.00 each or £10.00 for the pair. Postage and packaging within the UK will be charged at £2.00. Please do get in contact if you would like to order a copy of either or both maps.