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Images of the Past: Coal Mine Disasters in the Modern Era c. 1900 - 1980 (Paperback)

P&S History > By Century > 20th Century P&S History > Social History > Mining & Miners Photographic Books World History

By Brian Elliott
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: Images of the Past
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 200
ISBN: 9781473858848
Published: 2nd February 2017
Last Released: 4th June 2021



Star Review!

'Brian Elliot's prose is factual rather than emotional, but he does not need to elaborate phrases to show the horror: the illustrations do that all too well. He has done a splendid job in assembling so many remarkable photographs and drawings' - Anthony Burton, WDYTYA? Magazine, June 2017

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Mining disasters attracted the attention of the public and the press during the twentieth century, just as they had done a few generations earlier. This interest was made even more immediate and certainly more graphic through the increasing use of photographic images and film; and the impact of broadcasting via radio and, eventually, television was immense.

The disasters also demonstrated and underlined the tremendous courage that miners had for their comrades, self-less heroism evident on countless occasions.

Although everyday fatalities in mines was far greater, it was the disasters that encouraged those in power to reform the way in which miners had to work underground, especially with regard to safety. And it would be no exaggeration to say that it was the disasters that greatly contributed to bringing the coal industry into national control.

Sadly, for bereaved individuals and families, nothing could really compensate for the loss of one or more of a loved one. The impact of the big disasters, where hundreds of men and boys – one or two generations – were lost, immediately, the impact was massive, and continued to be felt many years afterwards. New and restored disaster memorials bear testimony to the great respect that former mining communities continue to have for their 'lost miners'.

Using many previously unpublished images, and a carefully supportive text, the author provides a detailed overview of mining disasters in the modern era, from the early 1900s to the 1980s. It is the first book of its kind to attempt such a large project in pictorial form – with a Foreword by Ceri Thompson, curator of the Big Pit, the Welsh national mining museum. The book is published at a particularly poignant time, after the recent closure of Britain's last deep coal mine.

I love this kind of book that lets you look back in history, both at some of the major events and the social history.

My father worked for the Coal Board when I was born, albeit is as an Electrician and not on the actual coal front, which was quite a common occupation for where we live in the Midlands so I wanted to know more about what it was like after speaking to him and this book was an eye opener.

I asked him if they still used canaries when he was there, thinking it was a bit cheeky and the answer would be no and I was shocked that he said that they still had them there in case of emergencies!

The number of incidents is not as shocking as I first thought, especially when you consider what they were doing they were probably lucky that safety did develop as much as it did and there were not many more mass scale disasters – after all they were working underground with little access to fresh air and in very confined spaces – a lot could go wrong at any time.

It is 5 stars from me for this one, I really enjoyed finding out more even if the topics were a little hard at time with the injuries and loss of life for some – very highly recommended!

Read the full review here

Donnas Book Blog

Well-illustrated and makes compelling reading.

Evergreen, Summer 2017

... Inevitably the pages are filled with harrowing accounts of catastrophe, where explosions were often so fierce the families were unable to identify their loved ones. But it is also the story of the heroism of many ordinary men, prepared time and again to risk - and all too often give - their own lives to attempt to save their comrades. Brian Elliot's prose is factual rather than emotional, but he does not need to elaborate phrases to show the horror: the illustrations do that all too well. He has done a splendid job in assembling so many remarkable photographs and drawings: The story may be tragic, but it is one that lies at the very heart of the history of coal mining in Britain.

WDYTYA? magazine, June 2017 - reviewed by Anthony Burton

These haunting images, with well-researched facts, figures and timelines providing context, bring the bygone era of 20th-century coal mining to life.

Family Tree, May 2017

I'm old enough to remember the declaration of war by Margaret Thatcher against the miners, and the various battles on British soil as they fought to preserve their industry and to maintain the highest standards of safety in their places of work, probably the most dangerous working environment in the world. I'm old enough to remember the Aberfan disaster which killed over a hundred young children and their teachers. But Brian Elliott's book about mining disasters in Britain during the first eight decades of the 20th century brings back other memories - grim reading, but fascinating, nevertheless.

Books Monthly

Brian Elliott’s unique pictorial history of UK mining disasters is impressively researched. The facts and images speak for themselves and make this chronicle of those tragic events a deeply moving account without sentimentality. It will make an excellent reference book for historians, film and documentary makers and all those with an interest in this subject, especially the families and descendants of the now lost mining communities. Acknowledgement of the suffering and sacrifices that miners endured to enrich Britain’s economy during peacetime and throughout 2 world wars is long overdue. This book goes a long way to putting that right. It should be in every library.

Les Johnson FRBS Sculptor

As featured in

Barnsley Chronicle

The extensive illustrations in this book add to the poignancy of the situations described.

Read the full review here.

Penniless Press

Author article on The Oaks Colliery Disaster as featured in

WDYTYA? Magazine, December 2016
 Brian Elliott

About Brian Elliott

Brian Elliott is a well-known local historian and editor who has written widely about the British coalmining history. Among his recent books on the subject are Barnsley Pits and Pitmen, Yorkshire Miners, Yorkshire Mining Veterans, The Miners' Strike Day by Day, South Yorkshire Mining Disasters (2 vols), Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors and in Pen and Sword's Images of the Past series, Coalminers.

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