Behind the Coal House
The November meeting was rather unusual in that it featured Hywel and Rose Griffiths, one of the families in the BBC living history series “The Coal House at War”. Rather than being a lecture, the nature of the evening was an interactive session of questions from members regarding their experiences in the programme, which is now being re-shown on BBC 2 Wales.
Hywel and Rose Griffiths with Mr Gwyn Thomas
Hywel explained that the family had initially applied to be in the series following the imploring of their grandson after the initial “Coal House” series in Stack Square, Blaenafon. The process of getting accepted was rather drawn out and involved aptitude tests and interviews including a session at Cwrt y Collen Army Camp. The Griffiths’s did not expect to be successful since Hywel was already a trained collier, however they were eventually chosen.
Sharing the speaking duties, Rose explained that the experience was a total immersion in the life of the 1940s and the privations of war. What you saw was largely as it was during the series, though they were a little disappointed that certain sections had been omitted especially the family singing in the evenings. Some conditions had been contrived especially electricity cuts and air raid which meant that they had slept overnight in a very cold and draughty hall. The rations were also authentic and even the occasional resort to the black market happened during the series. Life was genuinely hard and the Bevin Boys in particular had found it tough going , relying on her for cooking , cleaning and washing.
The scenes in the colliery were real and conditions were certainly very bad. Hywel explained that despite his bad cough he had been deliberately kept on the surface in order that he had not made it easier for the other “colliers”. His altercations with Mr Blandford ( who apparently in real life was not qualified to work on the coalface) were also contrived for the camera on occasion. It was also rather hectic with Hywel having to go to the Home Guard practice immediately after returning from a long shift in the pit.
Some of the more amusing ( but unseen) experiences during the filming involved chamber pots leaking through floorboards, a reprieve for the house rabbits, soap rationing and the unpleasant routine of visiting the “ty bach” in the middle of the night. However, the experience had been life changing and the family still felt emotional regarding their time in Stack Square. Following the talk the members were able to see a scrapbook of the material used by the BBC in producing the programme. The attention to detail was extremely impressive.
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Hywel and Rose Griffiths for a most pleasant and memorable evening.
1. Prior to the beginning of the meeting, Mr James Williams of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council addressed the Society on a new source of funding under the Fforwm Wledig scheme. This will allow organizations to access funds for projects of up to £8,000 and is certainly to be considered in our future activities.
2. Mr Gwyn Thomas presented a framed photograph donated to the Society by Mr Howard Rees featuring the Blaengwrach and Resolfen joint Burial cemetery ( see previous posting - plus ca change). The plaque featured his grandfather Dick Geary. An invitation had also been given to the Society to visit the excavations at Rheola House.