Voices from the recent past
This month’s speaker was Mr Ceri Thompson, a curator of the National Museum of Wales with responsibility for the coal industry. Mr Thompson is based at Big Pit Museum in Blaenafon and recently appeared on the BBC programme “The Story of Wales”. He explained that he had entered the coal industry at Cwm Colliery, Llantwit Vardre on leaving school and had been a miner for some sixteen years. Following the coal strike of 1984-5 he had left the industry and had studied at Coleg Harlech, and later at University College Cardiff under Professor Dai Smith. He expressed a wish to be a museum curator rather than taking the usual route into teaching, and eventually had a job at Blaenafon (having been interviewed by his former timber boy!). Mr Thompson explained that as Big Pit was now part of the National Museum it needed to be more than an “underground experience plus exhibition”. It was to this end that the museum had undertaken a project to compile a series of “peoples’ histories”, noting the shared experiences of generations which were rapidly being lost from common memory.
Some twenty people are interviewed annually and the context in which these people have contact with the coal industry is very varied. Mr Thompson then related some of the strands to the audience accompanied with readings of their recollections. These included the Bevin Boys, the Poles (which was a euphemism for any eastern European worker), workers at the point of nationalisation in 1947, strikers from the 1985-5 strike, Aberfan, the Gresford disaster (1934) and ancillary workers in the industry. Other aspect such as beauty queens and the ways of breaking “stay down strikes” by management was also discussed. A link to Resolfen was made in that one of the recollections was that of a worker at the Glyncastle screens in Resolfen.
Mr Trefor Jones, deputising for Mr Gwyn Thomas who is still in hospital, thanked Mr Thompson for a wonderful talk which mixed the formal and the informal. He also made the point that few of our present membership has worked in the mines and to some it really is history. To this end the Society had compiled the highly popular “Resolfen Recalled”.