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Richard Burton Archives: Disability History

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg

Sources for the History of Disability

Records in the Archives can be a useful resource for the Matron and 4 amputee miners on crutches outside rest homerepresentation of people with disabilities, ill-health and mental health conditions. They can give insight into hidden histories, the use of language, and how things have (or haven't) changed.

This guides covers some examples from:

  • South Wales Coalfield Collection
  • Raissa Page Collection 
  • Literature and theatre collections

Researchers for the Disability and Industrial Society project explored the South Wales Coalfield Collection as part of the collaborative project which investigated industrial injuries and diseases in three British coalfields between 1780 and 1948. 

Porthcawl Miners' Rest Home: photograph of the matron and four patients (Ref. SWCC/PHO/NUM/6/7)


7 members of rescue team in a room holding equipment

Photograph of members of a rescue team wearing their breathing apparatus and displaying their working tools (Ref. SWCC/PHO/COL/101)

Photographs of colliery rescue teams in the South Wales Coalfield Collection (Ref. SWCC/PHO/COL) show developments in the specialist safety equipment used by pit rescue teams, such as breathing apparatus, stretchers, helmets, and ambulances. Competitions between rescue teams were often held at local galas and fetes. 

Accidents and Disasters

Significant disasters occurred in the South Wales Coalfield, leading to serious and fatal injuries. Records in the collection detail official enquiries; medical reports; compensation claims; personal papers showing the affect on families and communities; and poems in memorial. 

  • Universal Colliery Explosion, Senghenydd- 
    • memorial cards c.1913 (Ref. SC/227)
    • commemorative serviette presented to Morris Roberts, a member of the Senghenydd Rescue Team. Includes a memorial poem to the miners who lost their lives (Ref. SC/372)
    • minutes of the enquiry, 1914 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/3/7/1)
    • anonymous poem about the explosion- 'Tanchwa Echrydus Yng Ngolfa yr Universal, Senghenydd', c.1913 (Ref. SC/388)
    • documents regarding Senghenydd Relief Fund (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/3/7/4-8)
  • 'Recitation' - poem about the Rhosamman Colliery disaster by Willie Lowe, the 'Ocean Poet', 1924 (Ref. SC/551)
  • Memorial poem by Daniel Davies for Dafydd Lewis, John Taulman, Thomas White, Thomas Bowen and Morgan Saunders, relating to their death in an explosion at Broadoak Colliery (Ref. SC/435/2)
  • Ferndale Lodge medical reports on injured workmen,1907-1931, 1936 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/L/33/67)
  • Photograph (printed sketch) of Abercarne Colliery after the explosion in September 1878, showing families rushing to the scene of the disaster (Ref. SWCC/PHO/COL/3)
  • Photographs of the aftermath of the landslip at Aberfan, 1966 (Ref. SWCC/PHO/TOP/1/4)

Printed poem.

Poem ‘Calon Drom’ [Heavy Heart] about the explosion at Universal Colliery, Senghenydd. c.1913 (Ref. SC/388) 

Raissa Page

Self-taught photographer Raissa Page used documentary photography to capture the lives of marginalised groups at times of social change during the 20th century. She was a founder member of the trailblazing all-female FORMAT Photographic Agency in the 1980s. The collection consists mainly of photographic prints, negatives and transparencies produced between 1977 and 1993.

The collection (Ref. DC3) is a significant resource for the history of disability, medicine, social work, mental health, and ageing. Raissa Page's photographs capture disability in a range of ways, including;

  • Images of those with a disability in a range of settings including children, day centres and riding for the disabled (Ref. DC3/26
  • Images relating to physical health. Includes images of hospitals, nursing staff and doctors (Ref. DC3/28)
  • Images relating to those living with poor mental health and their care. The agency descriptions on the rear of the prints show how language use around such areas have changed even over a relatively short period of time (Ref. DC3/30

You can find out more about this photograph here through the response of Professor David Turner, Department of History, Swansea University. 

Back of man in wheelchair outside, between hospital buildings

“Early morning, an ‘aimless walk’ in the grounds of the hospital....” (Ref. DC3/30/1/213)

Photograph by Raissa Page. Protected by copyright. Not to be reproduced without permission, please contact Richard Burton Archives 


The Portable Theatre Collection (Ref. LAC/106/E) includes several silk playbills which reveal issues that were common in coalfield communities. This one, by Ebley's Olympic Theatre, highlights the important role played by district nurses in a pre-NHS South Wales coalfield (Ref. LAC/106/E/22).

Silk playbill advertising theatrical performance.

Silk playbill created by Ebley's Olympic Theatre for a performance at Mountain Ash on 21 April 1892, for the benefit of district nurses (Ref. LAC/106/E/22) 

Literature and drama

Cover of book entitled 'Flame and Slag'.Disability appears in different ways in coalfield literature. Some examples from our collections include- 

  • Ron Berry Collection (Ref. WWE/1)
    • 3 typescript drafts of The Disabled (Ref. WWE/1/4/20)
    • Proofs of the novel 'Flame and Slag'- 'a richly comic story about insular people in a decaying environment' Set against the tragedy of Aberfan, one of the main characters Rees is injured in a pit accident (Ref. WWE/1/1/1
  • B.L.Coombes, 'These Poor Hands: The Autobiography of a Miner Working in South Wales' (Ref. SWCC/MND/14/1/4/2)


Black and white view of Porthcawl rest home on top of hill

View of Porthcawl Miners' Rest Home, 1920 (Ref. SWCC/PHO/NUM/6/6)

Miners recovering from accidents and illnesses could find a place for convalescence at 'Rest' homes at Porthcawl and Talygarn, and elsewhere. Entry would be obtained by tickets supplied by a subscribing organisation, such as a trade union, welfare association, or Co-operative Society. Applicants could request tickets for themselves or their dependents (but not children), although entry was not guaranteed. The criteria for acceptance was based on convalescence and rest; people who were seriously ill, or had infectious diseases, would not gain entry. Residents usually stayed for a week or two, and were subject to strict rules regarding their daily routines and behaviour. 

  • Photograph of patients at ‘The Rest’ Convalescent Home, Porthcawl, c.1920 (Ref. SWCC/PHO/NUM/6/6-9)
  • Photographs of Talygarn Miners' Rest Home (Ref. SWCC/PHO/NUM/6/10-15), including opening ceremony in 1923 (Ref. SWCC/PHO/NUM/6/10) and miners in the gardens, playing bowls, and exercising in the gym (Ref. SWCC/PHO/NUM/6/12)
  • Register of patients for Talygarn Rest Home, 1924-1936 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/3/5/31)
  • Material relating to the creation of 'A Time to Heal' a film by Derrick Knight, concerned with the rehabilitation of injured miners and is based on miners in Talygarn. Includes photographs of miners' rehabilitation (Ref. SWCC/MND/52)
  • Caerau Lodge medical certificates regarding rest homes, 1909-1933 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/L/19/116)

Printed constitution and rules.

Constitution and rules for 'The Rest', Porthcawl, 1898 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/COP/7/69)


Injured or disabled miners in need often drew on voluntary or state assistance, or a combination of both. The South Wales Coalfield Collection includes records of welfare associations, friendly societies, miners' medical schemes, and other sick funds (Ref. SWCC/MNA/I and SWCC/MNB/I). These largely relied on community donations and subscription funds. Relief money could be paid to members and their families, and some schemes provided medical supplies and services, e.g. artificial limbs. 

  • Saint David's Unity of Ivorites (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/I/34) including-
  • Lily of the Valley Lodge of the Unity of Oddfellows, Ystrad Rhondda, health certificates, 1899, 1930, 1950 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/I/19/3)
  • Deed of Trust and Scheme of arrangement for Senghenydd and Glynea Explosion Fund, 1913, 1914 (Ref. SWCC/MNB/PP/2/27)
  • Maesteg Medical Fund, balance sheets 1925 and 1947 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/I/22)
  • Abercrave Colliery Sick Fund minutes 1909-1952; rule-book (in Welsh) c.1920 (Ref. SWCC/MNB/I/1)

Printed rules for Artificial Limb Fund, Maesteg Dictrict of the South Wales Miners Federation

Rules of the Artificial Limb Fund, Maesteg District, South Wales Miners' Federation, 1928 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/3/8/7) 


Records in the South Wales Coalfield Collection give an idea of how legislation for compensation for industrial injury (e.g. The Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1897) helped to provide financial support for disabled mineworkers.

  • South Wales Miners' Federation Rhondda No.1 District, Guide to Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1906-1923 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/3/8/10a)
  • Caerau Lodge compensation books containing notices of injuries and claims for compensation, 1902-1949 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/L/19/121/187)
  • Minutes of evidence presented to the Royal Commission on Workmen's Compensation on days 8 to 12 of the inquiry, including discussion of silicosis, 1936 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/PP/34/11)
  • Miscellaneous papers re Poor Law Relief claims 1932 and Dowlais District contributions to the Federation Compensation Insurance Fund 1937 (Ref. SWCC/MNA/NUM/L/D/27)

Sources at Swansea University

Banner with motto 'Help in time of need', over illustration of man in bed with people nearby.

Miners' banner "Help in time of need": South Wales Miners' Library

Sources elsewhere

Artwork for Legacy of Longfields project, title surrounded by handprints

  • Legacy of Longfields- 2018 Heritage Lottery Funded project to examine and share the heritage of Longfields Association, a pioneering disability charity established in Swansea in 1952. Digitised yearbooks available via People's Collection Wales
  • The National Archives- guide for searching for records relating to disability history
  • The Disability Archive UK- provide disabled people, students and scholars with an interest in this and related fields, access to the writings of those disability activists, writers and allies whose work may no longer be easily accessible in the public domain
  • Wellcome Library- subject guides for themes relating to health and medicine.
  • The Wellcome Collection: In My Own Words- platform for people with disabilities to share their priorities, their concerns and their lived experiences of health through stories as told by them.
  • Office for National Statistics- includes reports and data sets relating to disability
  • British Library- collections of oral histories of disability and personal and mental health