Eulogy to the Coal Industry
Eulogy to the coal industry
The Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture was once again in the capable hands of Society President Mr Phylip Jones. He explained at the outset to his talk that the recent closing of Kellingley Colliery in England had brought down a metaphorical curtain on deep mining in the UK and that had caused a change of topic for his deliberation. He therefore turned his attention as to the role of coal in Resolfen.
The earliest reference to coal mining regards the early workings of the monks of Neath and Margam Abbeys in 1249. Small scale working of outcrop coal was demanded by the religious buildings and also the manor houses of the area. He noted that the word “pit” was wrongly used nowadays, since that involved sinking a hole by means of a gin deep into the ground. The geology of the area meant majority of coal working in the Resolfen area entailed driving levels or drifts into the mountainside. In early days, the working of coal was curtailed by the availability of daylight in the tunnel,however technical advances in lighting and pumping meant that the drifts/levels became deeper and more extensive. Today, subsidence caused by sink holes is a common occurrence in the area and recently occurred in Cimla Road, Neath where a 12’ deep hole appeared a week or so ago. Phylip also referred that in south Wales the workers were known as “colliers” as against miners, showing the product that was being produced and he also stated that the NUM’s Welsh translation refer to “Undeb y Glowyr”. By the Census of 1841, there were more men registered as colliers in Resolfen than agricultural workers so ushering in a new industrial society ( Britain as a whole did not reach this point until 1851 Ed.)
A selection of coal industry life in Resolfen including a possible works "parliament", pit head baths and pit ponies up for the summer break in production.
The opposite side of the valley along Hirfynydd also saw coal working in Tweedle and Ynysarwed Collieries. Many levels peppered the hillside and a dram road carried “journeys”, of drams to the screens at Abergarwed. Phylip referred to the eclectic Welsh names of many of the levels contributing to the various collieries in the area with their derivation unclear in many instances – lefel yr Offis, Lefel Pantygeifr, Lefel Uchaf etc. More substantial collieries were opened at Ffald-y- Dre and Blaen Cwm also in Cwmclydach.
Phylip made the important comment that the colliers themselves came from all over Wales and beyond. They were ‘cultured’, as against formally educated and as in many collieries the workplace was also a place of learned discussion with one level referred to as “the College” which says its own story. The men inhabited a brutal if highly skilled world yet had a thirst for knowledge which led to the building of the Reading Room, Welfare Hall and Chapels in the area.
The only pit in the area was Glyncastle Colliery, sunk in 1873/4 by the Cory and Yeo Company. The shaft was 550 yards deep and the company made a fortune from the coal leading to the development of Dyffryn House in the Vale of Glamorgan. Two terraced streets in Resolfen still carry an echo of the contribution of Cory brothers.
Phylip concluded his talk by referring to some of the working practices of “endless ropes”, hauliers, rope smiths on the four miles of rope, the practices of driving headings and cutting of timbers – all now a distant and fading memory. The collieries were mostly shut in the early 1960s though some small scale working carried on into the 1990s.
Mr Gwyn Thomas, as an ex collier himself, thanked Mr Phylip Jones for a most illuminating and enjoyable talk. Another former underground worker Mr John Watson also gave several anecdotes of his own experiences.