Death on the Warwickshire Coalfield: an examination of the contribution of miners, coalowners and the State to the decline in mining fatalities in the British coal industry in the period of expansion 1840 to 1913
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AbstractAbstract This thesis examines the development of health and safety in the British coalmining industry in the period of rapid expansion 1840 to 1913 through a case study of the Warwickshire coalfield. It will assess the contribution of the miner, the coalowners and the State to improvements to mine safety. Although historians have been attracted to this period of coalfield expansion, they have tended to concentrate upon the complex economics necessary for success or the fractious record of industrial relations, with health and safety marginalised to the periphery. They have also mainly taken their exemplars from the important coal exporting activities of the North-East and South Wales, together with the larger coalfields of Scotland, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. By studying the Warwickshire fatalities and comparing that experience with the neighbouring counties of the East Midlands and national data, this thesis will reveal how local factors influenced safety in the mines. The individual miner had little influence upon mine safety in the period 1840 through to the mid 1870's when the sub-contracting butty system removed owners from the responsibilities of production. The establishment of a permanent Warwickshire Miners’ Association from the 1880’s, characterised by moderate leadership who sought to work closely with employers, gained for the Warwickshire miner superior earnings and conditions of employment, even when compared to neighbouring coalfields in the prosperous Midland Division. This undermines the national caricature of coalowners as brutal capitalists with little regard for their workers or communities where they gained their wealth. The results showed conclusively that it was not the mode of management but the size of the enterprise that was the dominating factor. Fatalities increased in the large deep mines that became more common at the turn of the century and were more susceptible to deaths from falls of coal and men crushed by wagons on the surface. The role of the State was somewhat patchy. Mine Inspectors could recommend that horses employed in oncost haulage should work in shafts rather than chains and that low tension batteries should be used to bring down coal, but owners were free to ignore this advice, with fatal consequences to the workforce. They were more successful in promoting the professionalization of mine management and at the turn of the century legislation was the dominant factor in the adoption of patent explosives to replace the use of gunpowder in Warwickshire mines. This thesis builds upon recent studies by McIvor and Mills which have sought to address this neglect of health and safety in the British coal mining industry. By approaching this through the study of a small coalfield that has largely been ignored by mining historians, it reveals how local factors influenced the contribution of the miner, the coalowner and the State to the problem of accidents and fatalities in the coal industry.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Wolverhampton April 2013