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Working-Class Lives: South Wales and Tyneside

The impact of the Slump was far from even, with regions like the South of England and the Midlands recovering quickly from the mid-1930s. By contrast, areas of Britain that relied on traditional industries such as coal, steel and shipbuilding continued to suffer high rates of unemployment and crushing poverty. Outside of Scotland the most devastated of the so-called ‘Distressed Areas’ were the coalfields of South Wales and the mining and shipbuilding communities on Tyneside. In some small towns and villages as many as nine out of ten men were out of work.

Unemployed Workers’ Demonstration, Trealaw, South Wales, Edith Tudor-Hart, 1935 − © Photograph by Edith Tudor-Hart

Shipfitters, Tyneside, Edith Tudor-Hart, 1937 − © Photograph by Edith Tudor-Hart

Tudor-Hart accompanied her husband to South Wales in 1935 when he went to work in the coalfields as a doctor. She also photographed extensively on Tyneside in 1937. Her images, notable for their quality of sympathetic exchange with those she photographed, provide a rare insight into working-class communities during a period of terrible hardship. Tudor-Hart’s photographs were subsequently included in photo-essays about the role of Government in improving the well-being of devastated communities. However, it was only with the stimulus of the war economy that Britain’s traditional industries, and the people they supported, again began to flourish.