01 Jun 2015 Disability history in the Richard Burton Archives - Katrina Legg


The Disability and Industrial Society project has enabled some of the collections at the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University, to be re-examined and this blog post aims to give a quick glimpse into the types of material that is held and what these documents can reveal. Medical Records for the South Wales Coalfield c.1890-1948: An Annotated Guide to the South Wales Coalfield Collection by Anne Borsay and Sara Knight [1] gave an detailed insight into the documentary, oral and visual aspects of the South Wales Coalfield Collection (SWCC), and this has been invaluable in identifying relevant material, but it is important to consider material outside of the SWCC too.


Records from different organisations within the SWCC can provide a broad insight. The Archives holds records of the South Wales Miners’ Federation later known as the National Union of Mineworkers (South Wales Area), political parties including the Newport Constituency Labour Party, co-operative societies such as Ton Co-operative Society, and friendly societies including the Glais Friendly Society. The SWCC reveals how the unionisation of mineworkers contributed to developments in underground and aboveground health and safety as well as the mechanisms for recovery and rehabilitation of those injured, together with support for their dependents. Photographs of colliery rescue teams show developments in apparatus and the more formal standing of rescue teams; minute books detail debates about the establishment of institutions for miners to convalesce, such as ‘The Rest’ a convalescent home founded in Porthcawl; and the register of patients for Talygarn Convalescent Home give some information about the process by which individuals received admission and the numbers who attended between 1924 and 1936.


rescue rs.jpg

[Photograph of members of rescue team wearing their breathing apparatus and displaying their working tools. Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University. Click photo for larger image.]


In addition the archives of individuals reveal further details about life in the coalfield and range from single items from former miners to the parliamentary papers of leading politicians. For example, a section of the papers of S O Davies (MP for Merthyr Tydfil) relate to the mining industry and his interest in ‘the need to award enhanced compensation to former miners who suffered from dust-related diseases’, [2] such as his role in the 1966 ‘Bill to amend the National Insurance Acts … in respect of industrial diseases’. Other documents can enhance the picture such as material relating to 'Out of the Dust' by Horace Morgan, a play based on the subject of pneumoconiosis and performed by The Ystradgynlais Welfare Arts Club at the Dolphin Theatre, Brighton in 1948, the Albert Hall, Llandrindod Wells in 1946 and the London Welsh Association in 1947. As well as programmes there are also newspaper cuttings and a magazine article with photographs of scenes from the play. [3]


Theatre rs.JPG

[Silk playbill advertising a benefit performance by Ebley’s Olympic Theatre at Mountain Ash
Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University. Click photo for larger image.]


Beyond the South Wales Coalfield Collection there are other items in the Archives that contribute to developing a picture of disability and industrial society in south Wales. The Portable Theatre Collection [4] has a fascinating range of material, including several silk playbills that highlight issues that were common in coalfield communities. In April 1892 a performance of ‘Faith, Hope, & Charity! Or, The Widow’s Prayer’ was given in Mountain Ash as a benefit of the district nurses; the playbill states that these ‘deserving women’ worked in the district where ‘ACCIDENT and DEATH hourly hoves around the working collier’. [5] In addition to supporting health institutions and organisations benefit performances were also given to respond to disasters, such as that given on 31 August 1897 at the Town Hall, Maesteg for ‘the sufferers from the Garth Colliery Accident’. [6]


The Richard Burton Archives are open to everyone. If you’re interested in finding out more about our collections or would like to make an appointment to visit please contact us.


Katrina Legg is an archivist at the Richard Burton Archives.

To find out more, visit Richard Burton Archives, Library and Information Centre, Swansea University, email the archives, follow them on Twitter @swanuniarchives, or visit their website.



[1] Medical Records for the South Wales Coalfield, c.1890-1948: An Annotated Guide to the South Wales Coalfield Collection, Anne Borsay and Sara Knight (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007)

[3]  SC818

[4] LAC/106/E

[5] LAC/106/E/22

[6] LAC/106/E/21