‘Rats!’: The Steel Company of Wales Bulletin as a Historical Source

Of all the occupational hazards and discomforts associated with working in the steel industry rodent infestation may not be the first thing that comes to mind. In September 1950, however, the ‘alarming increase in the number of Rats in all three [Port Talbot] works,’ forced the plant’s managers to take the unprecedented step of employing ‘a qualified rat catcher’ to deal with the problem.

The announcement also comes with the timelessly sage directive that, ‘the extermination of rats is not the duty of the rat catcher alone.’

ImageThe Steel Company of Wales Bulletin, September 1950

This pronouncement is taken from The Steel Company of Wales Bulletin, a company newsletter that ran from 1948 to 1955 (in that year it was superseded by the company’s first comprehensive newspaper, The Dragon).

Covering most aspects of working life relating to the Port Talbot Works (as well as the Trostre and Mellingriffith tinplate works), The Bulletin came into being due to, ‘a demand for a Regular News Bulletin in the Company, the aim of which should be to try to assist everyone in the Works to know what is going on.’

Although limited to a single information sheet, The Bulletin can offer a revealing insight into the workplace culture of the Port Talbot steelworks during a crucial period in its history.

As the mouthpiece of the plant’s employers, it also evidences contemporary managerial concerns and goals and the ways they sought to negotiate them with their employees. Celebrations of production achievements and sporting results are, therefore, accompanied with condemnations of workplace vandalism and exhortations for greater cleanliness.

Most strikingly, however, The Bulletin provides vivid evidence of the varied social and sporting life that developed around the Port Talbot Works and thrived in the immediate post-war era. This was, no doubt, significantly due to the company’s own welfare initiatives, which were pursued with a renewed zeal after the Second World War.

The November 1952 issue of The Bulletin was mostly given over to celebrating the opening of the Steel Company of Wales’ new club house at Margam: ‘there can be few Works Sports Club-Houses which can compete with it.’ Other issues feature notices of annual departmental dances and outings as well as congratulatory appraisals of new welfare facilities; a new canteen at the Margam works, for example, was described as ‘steam heated and extremely light and airy’ and ‘ample evidence that the employees at Margam are not being overlooked in the important matter of modern Welfare facilities.’

Company newspapers and magazines are often overlooked as historical sources but, as The Bulletin demonstrates, they have much to offer historians interested in the history of British welfare, workplace culture and industry more generally.

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