Conserving miners’ history for all to see, thanks to new grant for archives

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The fascinating history of the South Wales Miners’ Federation, so important in the story of modern Wales, is now to be conserved and made available for all to see for the first time, thanks to funding awarded to the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University.

The project will fund the conservation and digitisation of records created by the mining trade union, the South Wales Miners’ Federation (SWMF), which was formed in 1898.  The records cover the years 1899-1934, which includes the First World War, the 1926 General Strike and the economic depression of the 1930s.  They are therefore significant to the history of industrial relations and the wider effect on the political, social and economic history of Wales and the rest of the UK.

South Wales Miners Federation recordsPicture: the volumes containing the records in the Richard Burton Archives, before conservation work begins

Subjects of the documents include:

•    evidence provided by women on the increased cost of living during the First World War;
•    regulations on the release of coal miners from the Army;
•    a protest about the use of Chinese ‘slave labour’ by Transvaal mineowners;
•    details of negotiations at local level with a view to arranging the end of the dispute of 1926;
•    investigations into the administration of poor relief;
•    notes on the organisation of campaigns against non-unionism.

Funding of £18,456 for the project has been awarded in a partnership between the Welsh Government via CyMAL: Museum Archives and Libraries Wales and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT).

South Wales Miners' voting form Picture: a voting form from 1918 asking members of the SWMF if they approved miners being drafted for military service

Until now, it has not been possible for people to consult the volumes because of their fragile state. The project will involve work by specialist conservators who will deconstruct the volumes and clean and repair each document.

After this, the documents will be digitised, but the original volumes will be available for those who wish to see how they were constructed.

Experience from past enquiries identifies great opportunities for future use. There is potential use within ongoing First World War commemorations, learning and teaching at Swansea University, academic research and community projects, and by anyone interested in the political, social and economic history of South Wales.

Elisabeth Bennett, Swansea University Archivist, said:

“We were fascinated by the wide range of subjects these documents cover, from the effect of the First World War on coalminers to protests about the use of Chinese slave labour in the Transvaal.

Now we’re really excited that people will be able to explore these previously inaccessible documents.  The work will ensure their long term preservation and digitisation will make them more widely available.”

Wayne Thomas, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (South Wales Area), the successor to the SWMF, said:

“These archives are important because they date from the early years of the South Wales Miners’ Federation. We are very pleased that this conservation work will increase access to them and ensure their long-term preservation.”

Richard Burton Archives - open to all