Labour History Review

Death Underground: Mining Accidents and Memory in South Wales, 1913–74

Labour History Review (2016), 81, (3), 187–209.

Abstract

This article examines individual and collective memories of pit disasters and other deaths underground within the south Wales coalfield. It argues that – despite often symbolizing mining communities in popular culture and the wider public imagination – big mining disasters were largely absent from the coalfield’s collective memory, occluded by smaller, more frequent workplace accidents. This surprising absence is explored through an analysis of 200 oral history interviews, recorded with men and women from Welsh mining communities in the 1970s, which are compared and contrasted with the public representations of pit disasters created by the miners’ unions, political parties, and in novels and the press. This analysis suggests that the absence from memory of historic pit disasters can be explained partly through the miners’ actual experiences working underground, partly as a reaction against the way such tragedies were covered in the national press, and partly through the nature of the mining communities’ collective memory and the way in which those communities conceptualized time. It also argues that an awareness of the dangers of working underground was a fundamental part of the miners’ occupational identities, and heavily influenced attitudes within the mining communities of south Wales.

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Author details

Selway, David