Mining the seams: exploring Derbyshire and Warwickshire’s coal archives

Archivist Sarah Chubb reports on a workshop exploring newly catalogued records for the coal mining industry in the Midlands, and at ways these might be developed and made easier to access and use.

Over the past two years, Derbyshire Record Office and Warwickshire County Record Office have been conserving and cataloguing their coal collections for the Mining the Seams project, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Mining the Seams is a successor to the Miners’ Health and Welfare project at Derbyshire Record Office, also funded by the Wellcome Trust, which catalogued the archive of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Derbyshire Area and its predecessor, the Derbyshire Miners’ Association, a substantial archive stretching over 215 shelves.

The collections that the Mining the Seams team have been working on are:

  • The Warwickshire Miners’ Association, which comprises 17.5 shelves and dates from 1837 to 1998;
  • National Coal Board (NCB) for Warwickshire, which dates from 1696 to 1994, covers 51 shelves and includes the records of the Midland Colliery Owners Mutual Indemnity Company Ltd (MCOMIC); and
  • NCB for Derbyshire, which dates from 1703 to 1993 and takes up approximately 160 shelves
Image shows lists of names and other information about employees. Not readable - for illustration only.
Ormonde Colliery register of insurable employees, 1933-1950 (Derbyshire Record Office NCB/A/BUT/3/2/7), before conservation. Click for larger image.

The collections merited funding from the Wellcome Trust, not just because they tell the economic and social history of the coal industry in two Midlands counties, but because they hold a wealth of information about occupational health, accidents and disease.

The material includes accident books and reports, compensation records, local and medical appeal tribunal casefiles, and records of rehabilitation centres and convalescent homes. Datasets created from the MCOMIC accident account books, and NUM Derbyshire Area local and medical appeal tribunals can be explored and downloaded from the Mining the Seams website, with Derbyshire’s Butterley Company Workmen’s Compensation Act forms to be added shortly.

Warwickshire completed its cataloguing and conservation in March 2021, and cataloguing at Derbyshire is now ending, although conservation work won’t be complete until March 2022. To celebrate the near completion of the project, Derbyshire Record Office held an online workshop in October 2021 to raise awareness about these newly catalogued collections, and to pose the question: what next? The speakers at the workshop were:

  • Laura Orris from Warwickshire County Record Office, giving a presentation on Warwickshire’s coal collections;
  • Sarah Chubb, Neil Bettridge and Danielle Burton from Derbyshire Record Office, who gave an overview of the NUM and NCB collections at Derbyshire;
  • Charlotte Berry of the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, who talked about their forthcoming Wellcome Trust funded project to bring in, conserve, catalogue and digitise the archive of the NUM national headquarters; and
  • Dr Ben Curtis of the University of Wolverhampton, who gave a national perspective, talking about occupational injury, health and disability in the South Wales coalfield.

In all, Warwickshire and Derbyshire now have more than 440 shelves of coal archives which were previously largely inaccessible and are now open for research. We were heartened by the interest and attendance at the workshop, which included academics, students and others with an interest in coalmining.

Coal miners working underground
Daw Mill 64’s, 1974, National Coal Board, (Warwickshire County Record Office CR3418/U/1)

After the presentations, a round table discussion went on to have a wide-ranging discussion about how we can use and build on the resource created by Mining the Seams. Discussion centred around:

  • How we can make it easier for students to be aware of the collections at Derbyshire and Warwickshire and use them for research. Can we, for instance, produce guides that would help students to identify a topic to research and records they can use for that topic? Are there ways we can link with the employability agenda at universities to encourage students into the archives?
  • Should we be trying to reach out to ex-mineworkers and their families who went on to university and could themselves contribute to research and writing about the coal industry?
  • Can we encourage comparative research beyond the coal industry, eg by connecting the health and safety information held within our coal records with that in other comparable industries, such as the railways?
  • How do we capture living memories of mineworkers, their families and communities, before it is too late? Do we need to consider instituting our own oral history programmes or can we work with other organisations to ensure these histories are preserved?
  • What about personal and business records that are held within the community? As the industry collapsed, its history was sometimes saved by former miners and local history enthusiasts and is now held in people’s houses. As time goes by, these important records are at risk of being lost, so an active collecting programme is needed.

Some of these issues we can address ourselves, but for others we will need funding and/or partnerships to take them forward. We are, however, determined that as the Mining the Seams project draws to a close, this will mark the beginning, not the end, of activity around coal mining archives in Derbyshire and Warwickshire We are fortunate, too, that as the Modern Records Centre starts its new project to rescue and catalogue the national NUM records, there will be continuing opportunities to build interest, information and networks for the Midlands and its coal collections.

Recordings of presentations, and the presentation slides with links to catalogues and other web resources are available on the Derbyshire Record Office blog and you can get more information about the Mining the Seams collections, by contacting: record.office@derbyshire.gov.uk and recordoffice@warwickshire.gov.uk.

Sarah Chubb is Archives and Local Studies Manager, Derbyshire Record Office.