Mining in Wales
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Mining in Wales provided a significant source of income to the economy of Wales throughout the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It was key to the Industrial Revolution.
Wales was famous for its coal mining, in the Rhondda Valley, the South Wales Valleys and throughout the South Wales coalfield and by 1913 Barry had become the largest coal exporting port in the world, with Cardiff as second, as coal was transported down by rail. Northeast Wales also had its own coalfield and Tower Colliery (closed January 2008) near Hirwaun is regarded by many as the oldest open coal mine and one of the largest in the world. Wales has also had a significant history of mining for slate, gold and various metal ores.
There had been small-scale mining in Wales in the pre-Roman British Iron Age, but it would be undertaken on an industrial scale under the Romans, who completed their conquest of Wales in AD 78. Substantial quantities of gold, copper, and lead were extracted, along with lesser amounts of zinc and silver. Mining would continue until the process was no longer practical or profitable, at which time the mine would be abandoned. The extensive excavations of the Roman operations at Dolaucothi provide a picture of the high level of Roman technology and the expertise of Roman engineering in the ancient era.
There is evidence of mining in the Blaenavon area going back to the 14th century, and there is evidence of mine workings at Mostyn as far back as 1261, but it is believed to have been practised even as early as Roman times. The coal mining industry burgeoned throughout the Industrial Revolution and into the 19th century, when shafts were sunk to complement the open-cast mining and drift mining already exploiting the ample and obvious coal resources.
During the first half of the nineteenth century mining was often at the centre of working-class discontent in Wales, and a number of uprisings such as the Merthyr Rising in 1831 against employers were a characteristic of the Industrial Revolution in Wales, Dic Penderyn became a martyr to industrial workers. The Chartist movement and the 1839 Newport Rising showed the growing concerns and awareness of the work force of their value to the nation. Although the Factory Acts of the 1830s and resultant Mines Act of 1842 were meant to prevent women and boys under 10 years of age from working underground, it is believed they were widely ignored. To replace female and child labour the pit pony was more widely introduced. Much later, in the middle of the 20th century, mining was still a hazardous enterprise, resulting in many accidents and long term ill-health with many retired miners still suffering from silicosis and other mining related diseases.
Incorporating the existing Coity colliery and Kearsley's pit (sunk in 1860), the Big Pit opened in 1880, so called because it was the first shaft in Wales large enough to allow two tramways. At the height of coal production, there were over 160 drift mines and over 30 shafts working the nine seams in the Blaenavon locality. Big Pit alone employed some 1,300 men digging a quarter of a million tons of coal a year. Large amounts of coal were needed to supply the local ironworks, as it took 3 tons of coal to produce a ton of iron. Blaenavon 'steam' coal was of high quality and it was exported globally. Burning hotly while leaving minimum ash, it was ideal to power the steam engines that drove steamships, Dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy and steam locomotive railways across the world.
However both economics and politics after World War I with its resultant general strike, the 1930s Depression and later Nationalisation and the miners' strike of 1984-1985 took their toll and all the smaller pits were either abandoned or swallowed into Big Pit's encroaching search for new seams. Finally in February 1980 the coal ran out and even Big Pit, then the oldest mine in Wales, had to close.
There are still nine headstocks remaining in Wales, including Big Pit (the metal frame erected in 1921 during the Miners' Strike of that year, to replace a wooden structure).
There is a well-known mining song part in Welsh and part in English.
I am a little collier and gweithio underground
The raff will never torri when I go up and down
It's bara when I'm hungry
And cwrw when I'm dry
It's gwely when I'm tired
And nefoedd when I die
The complete English translation is the following.
I am a little collier and working underground
The rope will never break when I go up and down
It's bread when I'm hungry
And beer when I'm dry
It's bed when I'm tired
And heaven when I die
Big Pit National Coal Museum & other mining museums in Wales
The Big Pit National Coal Museum is located at Blaenavon, and in 2005 it won the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize for museum of the year. It is one of only two remaining mines where it is possible for visitors to journey to the underground workings some 300 ft (90 m) below using the same cages that transported the miners.
Other museums preserving the memories and heritage of the coal mining industry in Wales are at :
- South Wales Miners' Museum near Cymmer
- Cefn Coed Colliery Museum near Crynant
- Rhondda Heritage Park near Trehafod
There has been slate quarrying in Wales since the Roman period, when slate was used to roof the fort at Segontium, now Caernarfon. The slate industry grew slowly until the early 18th century, then expanded rapidly until the late 19th century, at which time the most important slate producing areas were in northwest Wales, including the Penrhyn Quarry near Bethesda, the Dinorwic Quarry near Llanberis, the Nantlle Valley quarries, and Blaenau Ffestiniog, where the slate was mined rather than quarried. Penrhyn and Dinorwig were the two largest slate quarries in the world, and the Oakeley mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog was the largest slate mine in the world. Slate is mainly used for roofing, but is also produced as thicker slab for a variety of uses including flooring, worktops and headstones.
The slate industry in North Wales is on the tentative World Heritage Site list whilst Welsh slate has been designated by the International Union of Geological Sciences as a Global Heritage Stone Resource.
Following the miners' strike, only two deep mines remained working in Wales. Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, had been run by a miner's co-operative since 1994. Due to dwindling coal seams, the colliery was last worked on 18 January 2008, followed by official closure on 25 January. Drift mining continued at Aberpergwm Colliery, a smaller mine closed by the National Coal Board in 1985 but reopened in 1996, until suspended on 3 July 2015. Several other small mines still exist, including the Blaentillery drift mine near to the Big Pit National Coal Museum.
List of mines in Wales
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2008)
- Aberpergwm (anthracite coal, drift mine, active in 2014 with 64 employees  (closed)
- Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd, Pontypridd - work began 1884 and the mine closed in 1966
- Bedwas Navigation Colliery (closed 1985)
- Bersham Colliery (closed 1986)
- Big Pit National Coal Museum
- Blaenant Colliery (closed 1990)
- Cefn Coed Colliery Museum
- Celynen North Colliery in Newbridge
- Celynen South Colliery in Abercarn (closed 1985)
- Coedely Colliery Ttonyrefail (closed 1985); linked underground to Cwm Colliery Beddau (closed 1986)
- Cynheidre Colliery (closed 1989)
- Deep Navigation Colliery, Treharris (closed 1991)
- Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme (still under consideration as of 2013)
- Gresford Colliery (closed 1973)
- Lady Windsor Colliery in Ynysybwl (closed 1988); linked underground to Abercynon Colliery (Closed 1988)
- Mardy Colliery in Maerdy (closed 1990, site cleared and now occupied by Avon Rubber); linked underground to Tower Colliery
- Marine Colliery in Cwm, Blaenau Gwent, merged with Six Bells Colliery in the 1970s, closed in 1989
- Mostyn Colliery (closed 1887 after flooding)
- Nantgarw Colliery (amalgamated with Windsor Colliery in 1974, closed 1986); deepest pit in the South Wales Coalfield when sunk in 1915
- Navigation Colliery in Crumlin
- Nine Mile Point Colliery at Cwmfelinfach (closed 1964)
- Oakdale Colliery at Ty Mellyn in the Sirhowy Valley (closed 1989; linked to Markham and Celynen North)
- Prince of Wales colliery in Abercarn closed 1959. Greatest mining disaster in Monmouthshire, 1878.
- Point of Ayr (closed 1996)
- Six Bells Colliery in Abertillery, site of the Six Bells Colliery Disaster in 1960, merged with Marine Colliery in the 1970s, closed in 1988
- Universal Colliery at Senghenydd, site of the Senghenydd Colliery Disaster; converted to a ventilation facility for Windsor Colliery and then closed in 1988
- Seven Sisters anthracite; closed 1963
- Tower Colliery (closed 1994 and re-opened after an employees' buy-out by Goitre Tower Anthracite in 1995; closed 2008 after exhaustion of the seam, but with plans to build an open-cast mine in its place)
- Windsor Colliery in Abertridwr, Caerphilly; closed 1986
- Wyllie Colliery in the Sirhowy Valley; closed 1968
- Bryntail lead mine (No longer in use)
- Cilcain lead mine (No longer in use)
- Clogau Gold Mine
- Cwmystwyth Mines
- Dolaucothi Gold Mines
- Great Orme copper
- Gwydir Forest various metal mines
- Gwynfynydd gold mine (No longer in use)
- Klondyke mine lead mine (No longer in use)
- Llywernog Silver Lead Mine
- Minera Leadmines (No longer in use)
- Parys Mountain copper mine
- Sygun Copper Mine (No longer in use as a mine)
- Van Leadmine Llanidloes
- Penrhyn Du lead mine (no longer in use)
The theme of Public Service Broadcasting's third album, Every Valley, follows the rise and fall of Welsh coal mining. It was recorded in the former steelworks town of Ebbw Vale, Wales, and released on 7 July 2017.
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- Welsh Coal Mines - all the Welsh pits and their brief histories
- BBC Wales Coal House website
- 42 pages of mining photos compiled by John Cornwell and held on Gathering the Jewels
- Coal Mining in Blaenavon