16 Dec 2015 The art of industrial medicine: Michael Edmonds' mural unveiling at Llandough Hospital - Mike Mantin
[Michael Edmonds' family in front of his mural as it is unveilled at Llandough Hospital, 16 December 2015]
Yesterday saw a re-unveiling of Michael Edmonds' mural at Llandough Hospital, just outside of Cardiff. It is a depiction of the treatment of miners' dust diseases and has adorned our project website and promotional material since the beginning of the project. The astonishing work was made in 1959 and unveiled at a similar (though possibly less rainy) ceremony at the hospital. However, more recent years had seen the mural hidden at the back of the reorganised hospital, hidden by a pipe. It's a credit to the team at Llandough that it's been moved tile by tile to its new place at the entrance, where thousands more patients and visitors will now get to see it.
Unmarred by the rain, Tuesday's ceremony was attended by the family of Edmonds, who died last year. His daughter Jane Edmonds gave a moving speech about how the mural conveyed his "respect for the miners", and former miner and NUM official Mike Jones talked about Llandough's long-standing place in the history of South Welsh mining communities. It felt right to give public space to a piece of medical and disability history through art.
Edmonds' striking and colourful mural is in part a commemoration of the groundbreaking research into the dust disease pneumoconiosis that took place at Llandough in the first half of the 20th century. The hospital housed the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit from 1946, which conducted much-needed medical work into the recognition and treatment of the disease. The technological innovations of the Unit are shown in the mural, panels of which show the use of x-rays and water, the latter also a possible reference to the pithead baths which were installed into collieries from the beginning of the twentieth century.
But the mural is more than just an homage to the hospital's doctors; it speaks to an issue that continues to affect South Wales mining communities today. It shows communities and colleagues working together, pulling out injured friends when they befell one of the many accidents that could be caused in mines. The recognition and compensation of dust diseases was a long fight, especially in South Wales which experienced a much higher incidence of the disease than the rest of the UK. 5.23 of every 1,000 underground workers in anthracite mines in South Wales were certified with dust diseases between 1931 and 1937, compared with 0.06 in the combined other coalfields. Yet coal miners' pneumoconiosis was not scheduled as on the Workmen's Compensation Act until 1942, and compensation claims continued to be a cause for fighting by unions. The effects of dust disease are still felt today by the South Wales coalfield, long after the mines have shut.
Edmonds had a personal connection to the mines from his time as a Bevin Boy, for which he volunteered during the Second World War. He followed passionately the work of the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit and its leader, Dr Archie Cochrane. Talking about the mural and his other paintings of landscapes from the time, wrote about it in his autobiography 'War Underground':
Memories like this cannot be escaped from. They became bound into the fabric of one's later years. Unlike some I did not carry with me the imprint of lung disease nor the blinking of the eyes of nystagmus that I had seen in others. I did not have to experience across a lifetime the sometimes extreme conditions of work, and it is this in particular that causes one to honour this distinguished body of men and their families. Only when a Senghenydd or a Gresford disaster occurred did they come to public attention.
A step has now been made towards this recognition of a largely invisible population. Edmonds' mural can now be seen in its full and preserved state at Llandough Hospital. It's a proper testament to his memory and now makes the hospital a visible, living site of disability and mining history.
 Medical Research Council, ‘Chronic Pulmonary Disease in South Wales Coalminers’, Medical Studies, 1942, p.5.
 Michael Edmonds, War Underground: Memoirs of a Bevin Boy in the South Wales Coalfield (Newport: South Wales Record Society, 2013)