The Industrial Heritage
The National "Big Pit" Mining Museum of Wales is in Blaenavon in
South Wales and dedicated to the Welsh heritage of coal mining.
The mine reopened for visitors in 1983. Big Pit is adjacent to the preserved
Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway.
Welsh Coal Mining
Welsh coal had been known
since Roman times and small iron works had long dotted the landscape but the
new demands of
The two south eastern
counties of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire contained
abundant seams of coal and iron ore in their valleys. The market for coal was
originally dominated by the demands of the iron trade but new collieries were
opened as new markets developed and by the 1830's more
coal than iron was being carried by canal barge down to the ports of
In 1870 coal production exceeded thirteen million tons and about half of this, now carried by the railway system, was destined for the export trade.
Immigrant workers flocked to
the mining areas in search of work. They came from
The miners and their families faced a grim existence. Thousands of miners died as a result of roof falls and underground explosions. Fathers often perished alongside their sons. The nation gradually became aware of the horrible conditions endured by the mineworkers and in 1842 the employment of women and young children in mines was forbidden. Government commissioners had found that children as young as six years of age could be found working twelve hour shifts underground. Younger children were used to control ventilating systems while older children and women hauled the coal from the face to the bottom of the mine shaft. The owners took little heed of the law, however, and a female worker was killed underground as late as 1866.
Above ground, overcrowding
and insanitary conditions led to outbreaks of
cholera. In 1849 there was an outbreak in Merthyr, Dowlais and Aberdare which
claimed more than 800 lives. Even as late as 1922, Aberdare had the highest infant mortality rate in
In 1873 the Coal Owners Association was founded. A sliding pay scale was soon devised - if world prices for coal fell, miner's wages were lowered to protect profits. This led to tremendous hardship and unrest. The inter-war years saw a serious decline in the coal industry. Half of the pits closed in the 1930's and the years following the second world war saw a further gradual decline.
There follow short notes on
locations once known around the world for the part they played in the world's
first industrial revolution. Here in
The Price for Coal
Aberfan. The Merthyr Vale colliery began to produce coal in 1875. Spoil from the mine workings was piled close to the village which had grown nearby. Tipping went on until the 1960's. The industry was by now nationalised but even the National Coal Board failed to appreciate the true nature of the monster they helped to create. In October of 1966 heavy rain made the giant tip unstable. The recent dumping of small particles of coal and ash known as tailings seems to have been partly responsible. A thirty foot high black wave tore across the Glamorgan canal and swept away houses on its path towards the village school. One hundred and fourteen children and twenty eight adults were killed.
Risca in Monmouthshire lay 900 feet above a seam of high grade coal known as the Black Vein. This coal was responsible for the many explosions and 142 men and boys were killed by one of these in 1860. The New Risca Colliery was opened in 1878 and thought to be safer but in 1880 an explosion caused another 120 deaths.
Senghenydd. Experienced one of the worst coal mining disasters in 1913 when over 400 men lost their lives. The incident led to a government inspired inquiry.
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