Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Llanhilleth Colliery, Blaenau Gwent

The coal seams are layers within the earths crust formed from fossilised plants etc.   The South Wales coalfield is basin-shaped with the layers close to the surface or even visible around the edges and deeper and less accessible towards the centre.   Each layer was given a name.   The coal was of differing qualities and structures, so were suitable for different purposes:   house coal, steam engines, etc.

The 'Old Coal' at Llanhilleth pit was worked by heading and stall, leaving pillars of coal to support the roof as the tunnel progressed. It was brought up the No. 1 pit until 1949, after which all work was concentrated in No.2 pit. The main seams worked were:

Big Vein
Black Vein
Meadow Vein
Old Coal.

Throughout the nineteenth century, mines were privately owned. The industry held huge rewards for those with licences to sink shafts or expand existing mines. Some owners became members of the gentry, and many more became extremely rich. These mines were originally created to produce fuel for the production of iron. Gradually it became important in its own right.

Painting by Harry Williams of Llanhilleth

Due to the geography of the Ebbw Fach Valley, the pit, its transport links and workers’ housing filled the valley alongside the river, leaving no space for other industry.   (With the closure of the mines, this lack of alternative work was disastrous.)   There was very little alternative for young lads growing up in the area, but to follow their fathers, and brothers and go down the pit.

Some were lucky enough to work in the local shops and cinema, but very few in comparison to the numbers who went down in the cage to work amidst the dense clouds of coal dust.  One enterprising teacher brought shorthand intothe classroom, in the hope of breaking the family tradition.   Men in their eighties still remember the symbols they were taught, but also remember their lifetime of work underground.   The early mines were primitive and had very little ventilation and no electricity.   

The shafts at Llanhilleth Colliery are as follows:

No. 1 Pit opened 1850            closed 1946
No. 2 Pit opened 1891            closed 1969 (The estimated life of the pit was 50 years, and it lasted just over 78 years.)
Mine workings have been documented at Llanhilleth as early as 1802. The first shaft was sunk by Walter Powell, to the Tillery seam, around 1860-70.     Unfortunately it closed in 1969.

In 1913, 99 per cent of coal was hewn by hand.

Between 1850 and 1920, 3179 miners died in South Wales.  (Thomas, Viscount Tonypandy, 1986)
Abertillery & District History 2000 by Abertillery District Museum Soc, compiled by Don Bearcroft.

1947 saw the Nationalisation of the coal mines.   In 1961 Llanhilleth, along with Cwm, Waunlwyd, and Six Bells formed part of the National Coal Board's 'Crumlin Group.'
Abertillery & District History 2000 by Abertillery District Museum Soc, compiled by Don Bearcroft.
The Industrial Development of the Ebbw Valleys 1780-1914 by John Elliott, ISBN 078318908

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