Local History Month 2017: Using the Library to Research


Since Local and Community History Month 2016 (blog here), the Miners’ Library has continued to utilise its collections to engage with both local and wider communities. Whether that’s lending Paul Robeson items to Jazz Heritage Wales for their 2016 exhibition in Swansea Museum, offering props and audio clips for Pain in the Arts‘ Spanish Civil War show or providing banners for MadeInRoath to complete their Red Route, we enjoy and encourage projects that allow us to support the community and showcase our collections.

The purpose of this month’s blog is to demonstrate that the Miners’ Library can be useful for those interested in local history. All students with Swansea University can borrow books from us and all members of the public are welcome to visit and peruse the collection. Members of Swansea Council Libraries are welcome to sign up here via the LibrariesTogether scheme – more information here.

For example, those interested in learning more about the Gower could use our online catalogue (www.ifind.swan.ac.uk) to find books, pamphlets and dissertations on that subject. Once you’ve followed the link, ensure the ‘Books & More’ tab is selected and search for your chosen area. It sometimes pays to be more specific although, if you’re just beginning to research, feel free to use  broader terms.


You can filter your search – by date, by author, by location – on the left hand side. If you want to see items only available from the Miners’ Library, be sure to narrow your search by clicking on the option seen below.


All the results now shown will be those available at the Miners’ Library.


The call number for the book – e.g. DA143. G5 > INT for the 2nd book – can be used to locate the book on our shelves. Staff are happy to help you find them.

Our oral history collections (the subject of this blog) also offer a fascinating insight into local history. Using the http://www.agor.org.uk/cwm website allows you to search through the South Wales Coalfield Collection and selecting ‘Audio’ will bring up any interviews we have that are relevant to your search terms. For example, a search for Swansea brings up an interview with Harry Stratton, discussing Swansea after World War II, Bessie Hopkins, discussing life as a domestic in the Uplands, and many more.

For those interested in topographical history, we also hold a number of maps of local areas. These chart the shifting industrial landscape of South Wales and can be viewed by asking a member of staff.



International Women’s Day: Amy Dillwyn

‘This is the story of an exceptional woman’.

So begins David Painting’s biography Amy Dillwyn, which charts the life of a Victorian lady, author, industrialist, teacher and early feminist. This book, along with the work of Dr. Kirsti Bohata and The Life and Fiction of Amy Dillwyn Project, remains the most authoratitive source on the life of a fascinating and unconventional woman. Amy lived in Hendrefoelan House for a large portion of her life – the building which once housed the Miners’ Library – and we now occupy their coach house. This connection between the Dillwyn family and the Library remains strong and International Women’s Day presents a timely opportunity to celebrate the life of an ‘exceptional’ woman and her legacy.

Amy was born on May 16th 1845 to parents Lewis Llewelyn and Elizabeth Dillwyn. She had three siblings, sisters Mary and Sarah and brother Henry. Her father was Liberal MP for Swansea from 1855-1892 and owned the Dillwyn Spelter Works. It was this Works that Amy saved upon the death of her father. Forced out of her home by hereditary laws, she managed to turn the failing business around and save 300 jobs. Such an exceptional act of leadership and discernment would make Amy a local hero for several generations.

Amy’s career as a novellist saw her engage with the class system, social unrest, unrequited love and early feminist concerns. The Rebecca Rioter (1880) explores an iconic moment in Welsh history and the social unrest which provoked it. A Burglary; or Unconscious Influence depicts an upper class woman with a love of nature struggling against her ‘coming out’ into aristocratic society. The backdrop of a robbery and wrongly accused suspect complements the wider issues of societal expectation and class assumptions that underlie the text.  Honno’s reissuing of these novels has allowed them to circulate among a wider readership.

Amy never married, having tragically lost her fiance shortly before their wedding. This, along with other ‘unconventional’ aspects of Amy’s personality, habits and attire, has led to speculation about her personal life.  ‘The Life and Fiction of Amy Dillwyn’ project has the following to say on Amy’s identity:

 ‘When in 1872 Amy Dillwyn began to refer to her friend, Olive Talbot, as her ‘wife’ in her private diaries, the term ‘lesbian’ was not available. In later life Dillwyn would come to relish what she called her ‘difference’ which she accentuated by her unconventional dress, her habit of smoking a cigar in public and her outspoken independence.’

As this quotation implies, attaching modern terms for gendered and sexual identity onto Amy Dillwyn risks appropriating her into a category that bears little relevance to the historical context in which she lived. However, it is undeniable that Amy Dillwyn pushed against the conventions of her time, making her an inspirational figure for the feminist and gay/lesbian movements of the twentieth century.

Efforts continue to highlight the achievement of Amy’s life and place her within a context of emerging feminist tradition. As well as her blog (https://amydillwyn.wordpress.com/), Amy also tweets from beyond the grave – @DilwynAmy. Her support for both the Miners’ Library and numerous political causes is proof that death has not curbed her passions for education, women’s rights and social justice! ‘The Life and Fiction of Amy Dillwyn’ project will culminate in a book written by Dr. Bohata which ‘presents an in-depth study of an important lesbian figure and uses personal papers to revise the suppressed biography of Amy Dillwyn’.

The Miners’ Library holds copies of Painting’s biography, several of Amy’s novels and a DVD documentary about her family.


My experience volunteering at the South Wales Miners Library so far…

Tucked away in the far reaches of the Hendrefoelan Student Village lies the South Wales Miner’s Library, by far underrated and overlooked by the many occupants of both the Village and Swansea University. I myself can be accused of ignorance when it comes to knowing the existence of this quaint hidden gem. The Miners Library offers a tranquil and peaceful working environment, with warm and welcoming staff always on hand to help you find a certain book or answer any queries you may have.

However, ignorance does not diminish the activity that occurs here, as the library hosts all kinds of enterprise, from modern language classes to other specialty courses (and even being used as a filming location by Sky Arts!), receiving a constant hive of attention, despite being off the main campus location.

img_20161128_114806789Being passionate about literature and a lover of all things History, I am in my element here and I have been able to experience life on the other side of the issue desk – something I used to only dream about! – learning and developing skills typical of a Librarian (as well as drinking lots of tea!). I think many people (including myself) underestimate all the hard work and effort our librarians do, and my time here has taught me to appreciate the work they put in and the niche organisation that is required in a library, as well as providing an escape from the busyness of university life.

Volunteering here, as a native Englishwoman, has also given me an insight into aspects of Welsh history I never really contemplated. Something I have been working on img_20161128_114753436includes organizing donations and archives in the SWML collections, managing material such as pamphlets, newspaper clippings, posters and leaflets associated with Co-op Societies in South Wales. It was especially interesting to see guides and rule books which dictated how members should act and directing how employees should be treated; in particular, what was required of a woman in the role of secretary!

Another part of the library I got to experience in my first semester here was a locked room, out of sight from the usual visitor. This room plays host to a wealth of literature, documents, posters and archived material, posters from old exhibitions and even old Halls of Residence signs from Clyne Gardens, where one of my friends parents used to live when she was at Swansea University! There was one room which housed thousands of antique books from Miner’s Institutions and private collections, and as soon as you opened the door the smell of aged paper hit you like a tidal wave. Such an extensive collection give you an insight into what topics and subjects interested the workers, and the majority of books were of a historical, political, or religious nature. I was able to gain an understanding of the importance of archiving for the storage and maintenance of books and old manuscripts, which is paramount to special collections such as these. It’s a shame all this material is hidden away and tucked out of sight because there isn’t enough space on the shelves – I could have stayed in there all day!

Thankfully, I am able to return to the library for the current semester to continue to wonder at the extensive materials stored here, and build upon my skills as a librarian. img_20161128_114850264_hdr

by Silke Davison, 3rd Year Classics student.

A Celebration of the Life of Terry Thomas


Many thanks to Tom Hansell, of the Appalachian State University, for permission to use the photographs in this post.

A Celebration of the Life of TERRY THOMAS

(Vice President, South Wales Area NUM, 1983-1989)


Gorseinon Workmen’s Club,

Brighton Road, Gorseinon,

Swansea SA4 4BN


Friday 20 January 2017 at 3pm

Chair: Eric Davies

Tributes from:  Hywel Francis, John Gaventa, Neil Kinnock, Eluned Morgan and Wayne Thomas

Music:  Pontarddulais Town Band

With special thanks to Mrs Christine Smith and the whole family who agreed to hold this celebration of Terry’s life; the Pontarddulais Town Band; the Gorseinon Workmen’s Club and the NUM (South Wales Area).

It would be very helpful to the organisers if those intending to be present could contact Siân Williams, Librarian, South Wales Miners’ Library on 01792 518603 or miners@swansea.ac.uk

Eluned Morgan, AM for Mid & West Wales, aptly described Terry Thomas as ‘one of the key movers and shakers of the Labour Party in Wales during the 70s, 80s and early 90s’.Terry, who passed away in 2016 aged seventy eight, certainly had a long and distinguished career that spanned numerous organisations and unions. This post draws attention to the achievements of Terry’s life, includes several tributes from the world of politics and highlights his close relationship with the South Wales Miners’ Library from its very early days.


Terry was the Vice-President of the South Wales NUM between 1983-1989, occupying this role during one of the most tumultous and traumatic periods in the history of Welsh industry. Terry experienced the hardships of the 1984-5 strike, describing its defeat to the New Statesman as a ‘defeat for the working class, a defeat for us all’. Terry was instrumental in getting the miners back to work, proposing the resolution that eventually passed. In the same interview, he summarised his reasons for doing so:

The men returned to work not because they had stopped believing in what they were fighting for . . . Houses were being repossessed, marriages were breaking up, the kids were going without, and there was no end in sight. We were not now picketing steelworkers to try and stop coal or steel. We were picketing people who had stood on the picket lines with us for a whole year. Proud, strong miners crying because they were going back to work. We had no right to demand that they continue with the strike.

Terry worked as the political officer for the GMB in Wales after the strike, another role suited to his socialist principles. His commitment to the Labour Party continued; Eluned Morgan describes the tireless work he undertook leading up to the 1997 Labour win and describes him as ‘instrumental in knocking heads together in the party to deliver the Assembly for Wales’.

Following Terry’s passing, tributes emerged from across the political spectrum.Hywel Francis had the following to say about Terry’s career, his commitment to education and his special relationship with the South Wales Miners’ Library:

Terry Thomas was my friend and comrade for over forty years. Whilst he was well known in public life through his leading roles in the Labour Party, the NUM and latterly the GMB, my fondest recollections of him are for his outstanding commitment to improving the educational opportunities for working class men and women.From its creation in 1973, Terry was a keen supporter of the South Wales Miners’ Library – both in its historical and educational work. He was part of the first cohort of young miners which I taught in day release and residential courses at the Library in the mid 1970’s and over the years encouraged other young miners to improve themselves through education.He remained loyal to the very end attending Family History and other classes.

Neil Kinnock emphasised Terry’s passion for education and his dedication towards it :

He was the last of a bright, generous, instinctively socialist, wise, kind generation. He came to my WEA classes in 1968 and we were comrades from then on (despite a few tussles!)Labour owes him huge political debts . Terry said “I didn’t work for reward.” That made him bigger in my view.

Similarly, Glenys Kinnock focused on Terry’s warmth and personality:

Terry was a dear friend who was a strong and very effective member of our Party. He will be sorely missed by all of us who who loved his cheeky humour and his relentless work for justice and his relentless work for justice and his fellow workers. He was someone who will be remembered by all of us who were privileged to know him, and to have had his friendship.

Terry was remembered with articles in The South Wales Evening Post and BBC News, a reflection of the esteem in which he was held.



On the 21st of October 1966, a colliery spoil tip collapsed above the village of Aberfan. The tip began sliding down the hill, destroying farms and houses before it reached the Pantglas Junior School.  2016 marks fifty years since the tragedy, which caused the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults. There are many elements to Aberfan and its aftermath – personal stories, political and social injustice, international responses – and the repercussions can still be felt today. For anyone interested in learning more about it, here are recommendations from our collections.

We hold a copy of Gaynor Madgwick’s Aberfan: Struggling Out of the Darkness, a personal account of the catastrophe from a child’s perspective. Gaynor was eight years old when the disaster happened and she describes the day in vivid detail. There are other personal accounts in our oral history collection. These include Joan and Cyril Vaughan. Joan was a member of the Aberfan Young Wives Group and Cyril the Chairman of the Community Association. Their interview offers an insight into the ways that the community grieved and adapted following the tragedy. We also have the recorded memoirs of Howell Williams, a teacher at Pantglas Junior School. The pamphlet Aberfan and the Teachers specifically examines the role of teachers during and after the tragedy, paying tribute to those killed on the day and those who supported the community afterwards.

Is it still raining in Aberfan? is a history of Aberfan from the nineteenth century onwards, combining historical accounts with individual narratives. While it does devote a large section to the disaster (including interviews with survivors, parents and local figures), the book functions as a general history of the village, showcasing other elements that are often overshadowed. Another valuable historical text is Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community News 1972-2001. This compilation of newspaper clippings spans the twentieth century. It lays out the political wrangling that begun during the tribunals: the shifting of blame, the callous attitude towards the community and subsequent arguments regarding funding allocations. Copies of the tribunal are also available to view.  For literary responses to the disaster, we hold a copy of Aberfan – Our Hiraeth. This poetry and prose collection features numerous local contributions.

We have prepared a small display which highlights some of the Aberfan related items in our collection. Please feel to visit and browse the display or to get in contact if you require any further information.




September: Intro to DACE

The South Wales Miners’ Library is also the Adult Education Library. We are the Subject Support team for DACE students, offering assistance with searching the catalogue, locating articles, referencing queries and using Turnitin. More information on this, alongside numerous resources and links, can be found on our new Libguides pages. While SWML provides the Library support, the DACE admin team are there for course-related, financial and other administrative queries.

As September will see new students enrolling as well as older ones returning, we thought it would be a good idea to ask the DACE admin team to write up a short blog which provides some facts about who they are, what they do and how to keep in touch with them.

Welcome to the Department of Adult Continuing Education! (DACE)


Every year, around 2,000 students pass through DACE.  Some students pursue subjects with a specific aim in mind, such as a change in career or a new academic course of study while others develop completely new interests.  Whatever the reason, you are assured of a really diverse group of adult students with different backgrounds who come from all walks of life. Furthermore you are also assured of a warm welcome from a highly committed and enthusiastic group of tutors.

Our wide range of courses at DACE has been designed to be flexible with clear opportunities for progression underpinned by a broad range of support to enable you to reach your potential and succeed.

Academic Study Support

At DACE we recognise that adult students need to have flexibility in the way that they study.  Whatever their individual situation – whether they are keen to update their writing skills or want to develop new learning strategies to support their studies, we have something to offer.

New students often require support and encouragement before embarking on Higher Education.  Whether students study on campus or in the community there is a wide variety of learning resources to help them make the most of their learning experience, from study skills workshops to one-to-one support sessions or online resources such as the Assignment Survival Kit.  ASK at www.swansea.ac.uk/iss/libraries

Furthermore, the STAR Handbook provides advice on how to develop effective strategies for studying. It has been designed to identify and develop the specific academic skills students need to succeed, such as essay and report writing, preparing a presentation, time management, grammar and punctuation and referencing.  Click on the link to view the STAR HANDBOOK

Library Support

A DACE student’s first contact with library and information support is often the South Wales Miners’ Library (SWML), located on the Hendrefoelan Campus.  The library provides support for all students enrolled on DACE courses.  DACE students with a valid student library card can also use the Library and Information Centre on the main University campus.

Advice and Guidance Support

At DACE we also offer a free and impartial careers and educational advice and guidance service for students.  To book an appointment for a face-to-face meeting or to speak with an adviser, please ring  01792 602211.  You can also email any questions to Jane Lingard at j.lingard@swansea.ac.uk

For news, details on forthcoming events and modules and other useful information check our website www.swansea.ac.uk/dace/

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook Facebook https://www.facebook.com/dace.swansea

And follow us on Twitter Twitter https://twitter.com/DACE_SwanseaUni

Spanish Civil War 2016: Oral History

Oral History Collection_ Spanish Civil War.png

July 2016 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. The Miners’ Library has a varied collection on the conflict in which Welshmen (many of whom were miners) joined the International Brigade in Spain to fight with the People’s Republic against Franco and his Nationalists. As well as the soldiers, Welsh medical personnel volunteered to treat the wounded, while communities at home campaigned politically, organised aid and welcomed refugees.

Our Oral History tapes and transcripts form a key part of our  Spanish Civil War collection. A quick search at http://www.agor.org.uk/cwm/ returns dozens of interviews with people who experienced, directly or indirectly, the events and repercussions of the conflict.

The Coalfield History Projects of the seventies secured a number of interviews with those who fought, documenting their experiences of leaving communities in South Wales behind and travelling to Spain to wage a war against fascism. These stories offer an insight into the motivations of these working men in their decision to fight.  Michael O’ Donoghue (AUD/3) states his reasons plainly:

Well this main issue there was supporting a Republican Government and a legal government, voted in power the same as the Labour Party had been voted here in this country, and then when they tried to overthrow it well that was the point, that was the main issue as far as I was concerned…

Leo Price (AUD/250) discusses the journey from the Welsh coalfields to Spain, with a stop-off in London:

We had our fare to Paddington, and we were told to go from there to Pentonville Road – I forget what station it was now. And we called at a house there, then we were told to go to a house in Poplar. We went to that house in Poplar and they gave us a bit of grub and one thing and another. Then we went to King Street and they gave us tickets…

The perils in Spain were evident immediately. Edwin Greening (AUD/531-2) recounts a particularly dangerous incident:

So we waited there and the shelling started, the shells went over our heads and then down into the valley…[and Morris said] “Come on we are getting bloody out of this”…But I’d forgotten my overcoat…so I ran back for my overcoat through the hail of bullets…

Not all of the audios relate purely to the military narratives of International Brigade soldiers. Other oral histories offer alternate perspectives: Mr. and Mrs. Duenos (AUD/200), for instance, were a Spanish couple already living in Abercraf when the War began. They fundraised and aided refugees, going as far as Southampton to welcome and help the new arrivals. Maria Fernandez (AUD/439) and Leandro Macho (AUD/251) also offer accounts of Spanish people living in Wales at the time of the conflict.

For further information, or to listen to any of our interviews, please ask a member of staff.