South Wales Miners Federation (SWMF) Register of Deaths in the South Wales coalfield between 5 January 1934 and 17 January 1941.
This is a letter written by Dr Glen Jenkins to the Editor of the Glamorgan Family History Society's journal in March 2006
It relates to an index of the above Register of Deaths compiled by him and now held by the Library and Information Services, University of Wales Swansea
"I noted in the March 2006 Journal (No. 81) that you have recently published 'Glamorgan and Monmouthshire Mining Accidents 1933-34'. I have been interested in mining deaths for some time particularly since my wife's grandfather John Talfryn Lewis died at 33 years of age in an accident at Cwmaman Colliery on 17 May 1933. His elder brother Lewis Lewis having previously been killed on 1 October 1910 aged 19 at the same colliery. The statistics, while important, do not reflect the horror of the mining industry experienced by our ancestors. While the official records give one picture, in Lewis Lewis' case, for example, his body was brought home to his mother and placed unceremoniously on the kitchen table. Many families experienced this slaughter of the innocence in the mining industry in the South Wales valleys. Few were compensated for these accidents, many of which were avoidable.
It was with these thought in mind that some years ago with the permission of the Archivist at Swansea University I indexed the South Wales Miners Federation (SWMF) Register of Deaths in the South Wales coalfield between the 5 January 1934 and 17 January 1941. The Register was commenced in 1934 at the time of the reorganisation of the SWMF when eight new numbered Areas replaced the previous nineteen Districts. The Areas were:
Anthracite and Western Districts
Afan Valley District and British Rhondda Lodge
Garw, Ogmore and Gilfach, and Maesteg Districts
Rhondda No. 1 and Pontypridd Districts (exc. Abercynon Lodge)
Aberdare (exc. British Rhondda Lodge), Taff and Cynon, Merthyr and Dowlais District, and Abercynon Lodge
Rhymney Valley and East Glamorgan Districts
Tredegar Valley and Ebbw Vale Districts
Monmouthshire Western Valleys, Blaina and Eastern Valleys Districts
The Register is likely to have come from the Compensation Department that was set up under Evan Williams at the time of reorganisation to seek compensation for those injured or killed in the coal mining industry. It is not clear why the Register finishes in January 1941 but it may have something to do with Evan Williams becoming General Secretary of the SWMF in 1941 on the death of Oliver Harris and new procedures were introduced at that time.
The Register includes 769 deaths in total, a large number of which are death by accident in the coalmines of South Wales during this period and further information on these can be found elsewhere such as the GFHS publication. However, the register includes the names of 103 miners who died of silicosis. Silicosis became compensatable in 1929 but obtaining compensation was difficult until the Silicosis Orders in 1934. Francis and Smith (1980:439) state;
Obtaining compensation remained difficult until the 1934 Silicosis Orders provided compensation for any workman who was certified as suffering from silicosis and had been working underground within three years of certification. The struggle for compensation continued to be a problem, owing to the legalistic resistance by coal owners (notably that of Tirbach Colliery in the Swansea Valley, a case which the SWMF lost in the House of Lords in 1934). To highlight this a 'Silicosis Pageant' was organised by the SWMF in the Amman Valley on May Day 1939.
The continuing difficulties of obtaining compensation for workmen afflicted with the disease is recorded in the Register and reflects the success or not of the SWMF's Compensation Department during this period.
All attempts have been made to record as accurately as possible the names of the deceased and the collieries in which they worked but as with all indexing errors may occur. It is therefore recommended that this index be used only as a finding aid and that the original Register be consulted. Where difficulties have arisen in reading the hand-written register a '?' is placed at the end. Where necessary the names of the collieries have been corrected to provide a uniform spelling in the index e.g. PD becomes Powell Dyffryn. Certain numbers in the series are missing and where names have been crossed out, these have not been included. In some cases, errors arose in the Register itself (a) the information was illogical and were therefore noted e.g. date of accident coming after date of death, or (b) information was placed in the wrong column where it has been left as recorded. It should also be noted that the detail of information varies from one individual to another and in some cases only the name is recorded.
Francis, H. and Smith, D. (1980) The Fed: a history of the South Wales Miners in the twentieth century, London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Details in the index includes No, Date Recorded, Area, Name, Address, Company and Colliery, Date of Accident, Cause of Accident, Nature of Injury, Date of death, Cause of Death, Notes. There is also an additional column on the amount of compensation awarded but relatives will have to consult the original documents to find this information.
For those readers who have interest in the index and would like further information, please contact the Archivist, Elisabeth Bennett, at:
Library and Information Services
University of Wales Swansea
Swansea SA2 8PP
Tel 01792 295021; email e.a.bennett[at]swan.ac[dot]uk
Dr Glen Jenkins
17 March 2006"