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26 Apr 2013 Reflections on the Price of Coal Roadshow at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea - Steph Mastoris

 

It is just over a month since the project’s Price of Coal Roadshow took place at the National Waterfront Museum in the centre of Swansea. This day-long event was the first big opportunity for the project team in Wales to explain and contextualise their work to the public, and I feel it was a resounding success. 

As the Head of the museum my role was one of host, to help all aspects of the event run smoothly, and thanks to my colleagues here – especially the IT technicians – a wide variety of presentations, historic films, performances and readings all went according to plan. The Welsh project team comprise people not only with a deep knowledge of their subject, but also great enthusiasm and commitment to engage with the public at large to raise the profile of this under-researched subject. As a result, there were almost too many things to pack into the six-hour programme.

 

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[Robert Strafford and Roland Emmanuel perform 19th-century mining ballads]

 

At the heart of this programme were a number of fascinating short presentations that included an explanation of the role of the South Wales Miners Federation as a disability organisation, and accounts of the human impact and experience of disability by miners in the first half of the twentieth century. To frame these, there was an excellent brief introduction to the history of disability, the sources available and the way in which this information is still relevant to disabled people today. However, what particularly impressed me was the way in which these presentations were supported by a range of other media. For instance, several historic films were shown that dealt with mine safety, accidents and rehabilitation. One of these was then elegantly deconstructed by the Project’s leader, Professor Anne Borsay to explain the sub-texts and attitudes towards disability in the late 1930s and during World War Two. Furthermore, there were also performances of nineteenth-century mining ballads and readings from literary and historical texts. These, in turn were complemented by a panel discussion about a number of aspects of fighting for compensation, led by Hywel Francis MP.

 

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[Verdun Price (former lodge secretary, Coegnant Lodge), Terry Thomas (former NUM South Wales vice-president) and Hywel Francis MP discuss 'Fighting for Compensation']

 

Throughout the day around ten organisations ran information stalls in the museum’s main hall that were well supported by the 1,200 or so visitors that attended the event. Again, both historical and current information was on offer and thanks to colleagues from The People’s Collection Wales those attending could record their own memories, photographs and artefacts for posterity.

As a branch of Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales, the National Waterfront Museum aims to explain the human story of industrialisation in Wales, and the Price of Coal Roadshow was a perfect fit for our mission. This was aptly noted by the former Assembly Member, Professor Andrew Davies in his eloquent speech at the official opening of the day, and I would like to echo his thanks to the whole project team for organising and contributing to a very thought-provoking event. I am looking forward very much to working with them again on the museum exhibition that will be displayed here in 2015, as the project reaches its climax.

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