RHONDDA IMAGES BY ISABEL ALEXANDER
Edited with an introduction by Peter Wakelin
Part of the Modern Wales series.
Miner’s Day is a testament to coal mining communities in the mid-twentieth century. First published by Penguin Books as a slim paperback in 1945, it married a reflective text by Britain’s outstanding miner-writer, B. L. Coombes, to illustrations by the artist Isabel Alexander.
The original text is now republished in a generous new format with a substantial introduction and the full wealth of images that Isabel Alexander made in an extended project to document people and places in the South Wales coalfield – a unique addition to the visual representation of mining communities.
Bert Coombes in words and Isabel Alexander in images each aimed to reveal the layered reality of coal-mining communities to a distant public. They documented both work below ground and devastated environments above. They described the lives not just of working men but women, children and older people too. They saw poverty and despair but also love, hope and even humour. The South Wales they captured echoes similar communities across the world and evolving global challenges to health, work and environment. Miner’s Day is as relevant now as it was in 1945.
B. L. Coombes (1893-1974) escaped rural poverty in Herefordshire by migrating like thousands of other young men to the mines. He began writing in his 40s, becoming a prolific author of short stories, dramas, journalism and commentary while continuing to work underground. His influential 1939 autobiography These Poor Hands was a bestseller translated into several languages. His memorable story ‘Twenty Tons of Coal’ has appeared in numerous anthologies.
Isabel Alexander (1910-1996) studied art at Birmingham and the Slade. She produced socially-engaged documentation of the lives of working people, vibrant landscapes and seascapes and abstract paintings. Her widely admired Puffin book The Story of Plant Life, which she wrote and illustrated, was published in 1946. Later she lectured in art education and had over 30 solo exhibitions. Isabel Alexander: Artist and Illustrator by Janet McKenzie was published in 2017.
Peter Wakelin, formerly Director of Collections at the National Museum of Wales, has researched both industrial and art history. His previous books include War Underground, the memoir of Bevin Boy Michael Edmonds, Blaenavon Ironworks and World Heritage Landscape and monographs on the artists Charles Burton, Roger Cecil and Falcon Hildred.
Coombes and Alexander each had a passion to show the real life of coal-mining communities to a wide public … Many of its particularities, literally hidden below ground, were unimaginable to outsiders who had never contemplated what it might be like to spend the day in darkness, to labour in a space no higher than a dining chair, to bear the daily crush of fear that a husband or father might not come home from work, or to suffer injustices of wage cuts, industrial disease and injury.