Big Pit National Coal Museum

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Big Pit: National Coal Museum
Pwll Mawr: Amgueddfa Lofaol Genedlaethol
Big Pit Mining Museum.jpg
Established 1983
Location Blaenavon, Wales
Coordinates 51°46′21″N 3°06′18″W / 51.7724°N 3.1050°W / 51.7724; -3.1050
Visitors 155,631(2010)[1]

Big Pit: National Coal Museum (Welsh: Pwll Mawr: Amgueddfa Lofaol Genedlaethol) is an industrial heritage museum in Blaenavon, Torfaen, South Wales. A working coal mine from 1860 to 1980, it was opened to visitors from 1980 under the auspices of the National Museum Wales. The site is dedicated to operational preservation of the Welsh heritage of coal mining, which took place during the Industrial revolution.

Located adjacent to the preserved Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway, Big Pit is an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, and located close to the World Heritage Site in Blaenavon.

History of the working pit[edit]

The site has some of the oldest large scale industrial coal mining developments in the South Wales Coalfield, with workings dating back to 1810 on the Coity Mountain.

The nearby Coity pit had been driven in 1840, but was a then traditional circular single tramway 12 feet (3.7 m) in dimension. The new main shaft was sunk in 1860, named "Big Pit" due to its elliptical shape with dimensions of 18 feet (5.5 m) by 13 feet (4.0 m), the first shaft in Wales large enough to allow two tramways. On completion it became the coal-winding shaft, while the older Coity shaft was used for upcast air ventilation.

In 1878, the main shaft was deepened to reach the Old Coal seam at 293 feet (89 m). By 1908, Big Pit provided employment for 1,122 people, and by 1923 at peak, there were 1,399 men employed, producing: House Coal, Steam Coal, Ironstone and Fireclay; from the Horn, No. 2 Yard, Old Coal and Elled seams. On nationalisation in 1947, the National Coal Board took over the mine from the Blaenavon Co. Ltd, which employed 789 men.

By 1970 the workforce only numbered 494, as operations had focused solely on the Garw seam, with a maximum thickness of only 30 inches (760 mm). The NCB agreed the development of a drift mine, which by 1973 meant that windings at Big Pit had ceased, with coal extracted close to the refurbished Black Lion coal washery. The Coity shaft was abandoned, with the Big Pit shaft used for upcast air ventilation and emergency extraction.

The pit finally closed on 2 February 1980.


Big Pit Halt railway station with the museum in the background

In 1866, the Brynmawr and Blaenavon Railway opened, with access sidings to the mine workings. The line was immediately leased to the London and North Western Railway, allowing coal to be directly transported to the Midlands via the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway.[2] By 1880, the line had extended south to meet the Great Western Railway at Abersychan & Talywain. Here the line carried on down the valley through Pontypool Crane Street Station to the coast at Newport, and hence to overseas markets via Newport Docks. In 1922 the LNWR was grouped into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. From World War II onwards, the line saw a variety of GWR locomotives operating from pit to port, with the line losing its passenger operations from 1941. After other pits in the area had closed, the line connection north was closed as a result of the Beeching cuts from 1964 onwards. The NCB paid for the line to be re-extended to Waunavon in the early 1970s, where the drift mine developments accessed the refurbished former Black Lion coal washery.

Big Pit Halt railway station which is on the heritage Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway line, adjacent to the museum, officially opened in 6 April 2012,[3] however the line to Big Pit actually opened on Friday 16 September 2011.[4] The single track line and station opened specifically for tourists visiting the museum.


On 11 December 1908 three men were killed in an explosion. On 7 April 1913, another three men lost their lives in a localized fire that included a fireman, the face manager, and the under manager.

History of the National Coal Museum[edit]

Preserved Andrew Barclay Sons & Co. locomotive Nora No.5 at Big Pit

The mine reopened for visitors in 1983. On 1 February 2001 it became incorporated into the National Museum Wales, and was initially known as the National Mining Museum of Wales, it has since been renamed to become Big Pit: National Coal Museum.

Big Pit as a tourist attraction[edit]

Purposefully preserved as an operational attraction, the site was redeveloped in 2003, with design work from TACP/Brooke Millar Partnership. Hence, Big Pit is not a sanitised Disney-style "theme park." The pit props and steel bands are not for show, but to hold up the mine roof. The water flowing down the tunnel towards the cages is real, apart from the fact it now flows down a channel rather than over the miners feet. As a result, in 2005 it won the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize.


The pit is covered by HM Inspectorate of Mines regulations, similar to that of a working pit. Visitors wear a plastic hard hat, safety lamp, and a battery on a waist belt which weighs 5 kilograms (11 lb). Visitors must also carry on their belt a rebreather, which in case of emergency will filter foul air for approximately one hour, giving a chance for survival and escape.

Before taking the 50 minute underground tour 90 metres (300 ft) below ground, contraband must be surrendered, such as anything containing a dry cell battery from watches to mobile phones. The dangers of the mine are real, the safety posters on the stages of Carbon Monoxide poisoning serve as museum pieces and as real reminders of the dangers underground. Automatic gas monitoring systems are discreetly positioned around the tunnels, as are emergency telephone systems. Some safety beams were monitored around the area.

Popular culture[edit]

Big Pit winding tower

The cover of the Manic Street Preachers album National Treasures – The Complete Singles shows the Big Pit winding tower.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]