Industrial expansion between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries produced injury and disability on a significant scale. As a speaker in the 1905 parliamentary debate on the Coal Mines Employment Bill stated, while mining resulted in around 1000 deaths a year, ‘beyond that 10,000 disfigured and crippled men come up from the collieries to rely on casual labour for their living’. But while historians of occupational health and disability have begun to document the incidence of accidents and diseases in the industrial workplace, much work has focussed on accidents that resulted in incapacity to work rather than those which left lasting damage to physical appearance. This contrasts with a significant body of work on the facial injuries suffered by soldiers in conflicts from the nineteenth century onwards, which has examined the expansion of support to veterans in the form of pensions and rehabilitation.
This paper outlines various approaches to ‘disfigurement’ in the industrial age, exploring in particular its relationship to disability. Taking its title from J. T. Arlidge’s discussion of bodily features as signifiers of occupational identity in The Hygiene, Diseases and Mortality of Occupations (1892), it will also explore more widely the role of facial features in discussions of working populations as a means of marking out differences between trades and as a focal point for discussions of worker health and wellbeing.