Welsh Coal Mining Key Facts
The Welsh coalmining industry: a brief summary
Mining of minerals has gone on in Wales since before the Romans, who were attracted to its gold, copper and lead, and it is thought that coalmining also took place during their time.
There is evidence of coalmining in mediaeval times and along with waterpower and canals, it was a major driving force of the Industrial Revolution with both static steam engines in mills, factories and the winding house engines for mining, mobile steam engines to power threshing machines and draw ploughs in the start of the mechanisation of agriculture, and railways.
Cardiff and Barry developed as ports to export coal, and the South Wales mining villages and towns grew up because of the demand for coal. In the First and Second World Wars, collieries were placed under government control and on 1 January 1947 the coal industry was nationalised by the UK government and put in the control of the National Coal Board.
With increasing competition from oil, UK government subsidy of the coal industry diminished by the 1960s and an emphasis was placed on keeping the most productive pits and closing the others.
The coalfields in South Wales Wales extended from Torfaen in the south-east through to Pembrokeshire in the south-west.
There was also in North Wales a coalfield area running from around Wrexham northwards into Flintshire right up to the Point of Ayr where there was a mine and winding house right on the coast with it shafts going underneath the sea. This mine closed in the 1990s and its winding house and any other visible remains were demolished. A similar policy was carried out on most of the other coalmines when they closed.
By the 1990s this was one of only a handful of large working mines that were left, still run by British Coal Corporation (formerly known as the National Coal Board) which ran a support network of regional mine rescue units.
Under the UK government elected in 1992, ownership of these then passed in 1994 into private hands, and Tower Colliery (near Hirwaun in South Wales), which had both a deep shaft (using a winding house to access vertically the deep coal veins, and a drift mine (boring horizontally into a mountain or hill to extract the coal) was run as a miners cooperative from 1994 until 2008. The neighbouring Aberpergwm colliery continued working, supplying coal to the Port Talbot steelworks, until it was mothballed in 2015.
Now only a few small-scale private coal mines remain working, and the major form of producing coal is from opencast mining.
To the present day the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has actively supported miners, and The 1926 UK General Strike lent its support to the NUM which was already on strike. In 1984 to 1985 the NUM had a UK Strike to save the rapidly diminishing number of mines, which diminished further after the strike.
A major legacy of the NUM was that its miners made a donation out of their weekly pay towards the erection and maintenance of Miners Welfare Institutes and in both North and South Wales these were very substantial buildings which were a vital community hub servicing the social and educational needs of the miners and their families, including large theatres and cinemas and libraries.
Sadly several important buildings were demolished at the end of the 20th-century, but seearoundbritain did an extensive photographic survey of these before they were lost, and these can be seen in the photo gallery of this Key Facts, as well as other social buildings and landscape associated with the mining towns and industry. Many of these photographs [which can be enlarged by clicking on them] have still to be added to this gallery.
Mining has always been a dangerous occupation due to the risk of gas explosion and pit collapse, and in Wales there have been 4 major Colliery disasters each of which killed hundreds of people:
· Abercarn, Gwent, in 1878
· Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd, Glamorgan in 1894
· Senghenydd Colliery in Senghenydd, Glamorgan in 1913.
· Gresford Colliery near Wrexham, in North Wales, in 1934.
And at Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil, over 100 people, mainly children, were killed in 1966 when a coal spoil tip collapsed and its slurry moved on to a primary school below it.
In the Tredegar area (in Blaenau Gwent) was a pioneering cottage hospital grassroots health service which was an inspiration for the creation of the U.K.’s National Health Service in 1948 under the Minister Of Health, Aneurin Bevan. Bevan had been a miner and the son of one in Tredegar and had been chairman of the Cottage Hospital Management Committee.
Here is a list of coalmining sites that can be seen by the public today:
in North Wales:
buildings of the Bersham Colliery, South of Wrexham, are now incorporated into the Bersham Industrial Estate.
In South Wales, 4 open to the public:
The Big Pit, Blaenavon, Torfaen (run by the National Museum of Wales, with free admission)
Rhondda Heritage Park, Trehafod, Rhondda, on the site of the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery
Cefn Coed Colliery Museum at Crynant near Neath
The South Wales Miners' Museum at Cynonville at the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre, near Cymmer, north-east of Port Talbot.
Other mining sites in Wales open to the public:
The National Slate Museum, at Llanberis, Gwynedd, North Wales
Llechwedd Slate Caverns, near Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd North Wales
Dolaucothi Gold Mines, ancient Roman surface and underground mines, near Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire
Great Orme Bronze Age mine workings tours, north of Llandudno, Conwy
Sygun Copper Mine near Beddgelert, Gwynedd, underground tours of nonworking mine
Parys Mountain south of Amlwch, Anglesey: has a waymarked trail
Bryntail ruined lead mine below the Clywedog Reservoir Dam near Llanidloes, Powys
Cwmystwyth ruined mines, Cwmystwyth, Ceredigion; can be seen beside a minor road
ruined mines at Nant Bwlch-yr-haearn, in Gwydir Forest, Snowdonia, Conwy, on a minor road. There is a circular "Miners Trail” route marked with information boards.
Minera ruined Lead Mines, now a country park at Minera near Wrexham
Llywernog Silver-Lead Mine Museum, near Ponterwyd, Ceredigion