Event Archive

Presentation: "Neither a Sick Man nor a Whole Man": Disability and Employment in the British Coal mines, 1880-1948

Wed 2nd September - Sat 5th September 2015

European Association for the History of Medicine and Health 2015 conference, Cologne, Germany


Mike Mantin will present at the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health 'Cash and Care' conference in Cologne, 2-5 September 2015. 



Coalmining was one of the most dangerous and difficult industries in Britain, killing or permanently injuring an estimated quarter of a million miners between 1850 and 1950. Although major disasters were more commonly reported, everyday injuries in the mines were far more common, and workers caught in them regularly experienced disability for the rest of their lives. Although a large amount of miners never worked again, many returned to the mines. Utilising administrative sources both from within the coalmines and nationally, as well as newspapers and trade periodicals, this paper looks at the situation facing disabled miners who returned to work, and how it was affected by economic  factors both personal and industrial.


A minority of disabled miners returned underground, but took part in ‘light work’ on the surface such as picking coal or staffing equipment rooms; these were often significantly lower in pay and status, caused major changes for workers’ personal economic situations. Moreover, they were subject to major uncertainty in times of economic difficulty for the industry. As the industry declined in the years after World War I, disabled miners’ jobs became ever more vulnerable, and if their pit closed then the chances of finding alternatives were slim. Those who did continue their ‘light work’ often ran into major difficulties continuing any form of compensation. The process of medical certification, work and loss of work created a subtle form of dehumanisation for those in the process, encapsulated by an MP’s declaration in 1934 that those taking part in the cycle were ‘neither a sick man nor a whole man’.