Georgia Newmarch

All that is Dirty melts into Air: Perceptions of Coal Power, 1947-1974

Raw coal deposited a residue on the hands of face-workers in the colliery. Within the home, it left a waste product that needed to be removed from the hearth. As such, coal in its raw form came to be considered as dirty, a product unwelcome and unwanted.

This presentation will chart the public perception of coal from nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947 to 1972, when the first union backed coal strike since 1926 occurred. As technology outpaced politicians’ visions of an industrialised nation, public information films, publicity departments and lobbyists were increasingly appealing to central government. This apparatus sought to fight against the idea that coal was unclean and inefficient. Within coal culture, there was a marked dichotomy between the power that brought energy, in the form of heat and electricity, as well as the ability to control and influence policy and communities. Coal was a material that created both. Changing ideas in the post-nationalisation generation about the nature of the everyday in the new Welfare State meant that technologies that enabled the everyday to be visualised and become material were used as tools by the government to work ideas of order into the cultures of the coal mining industry. As such, this presentation speaks to this theme by focusing on public information films and visual cultures surrounding coal.


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