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I began my working life shortly after leaving school aged fifteen in 1958. At that time I could have chosen to work in ump-teen coalmines all within easy travelling distance of home. Nearly every town or village within the coalfield had its own colliery; some had more than one and with each colliery employing hundreds of men king coal ruled supreme in the area as the number one employer.
Boys such as myself with less than a Grammar School education were usually destined for a career underground. For instance all the last year boys in the same school as myself ended up at Oakdale Mining Training Centre, not out of choice but mainly because of the lack of other employment opportunities, this trend was repeated throughout the coalfield.
There was a spate of colliery closures during the mid to late 1960's with most of the men being transferred into other collieries. Then came the 80's with Maggie Thatcher's government showing their determination to drastically reduce the size of the coal industry, thereby forcing the National Union of Mineworkers into a year long strike, which was lost.
After the strike pit closures accelerated at such a rate that by the early 1990's there was only one deep mine left in the whole of South Wales.
Nowadays coaling mining is merely a distant faded memory in most minds and of course the young cannot remember anything of the industry that once dominated the area.
It's with this in mind that I decided to create this web site.
Initially my plan was to set up a web site recording all the mines within the Welsh Coalfields. Without hindsight I didn't realise the enormity of such a task. The seemingly endless list of coalmines that were within the area came as a surprise to me. Getting photographs and information about the various collieries is proving to be quite a challenge. It's as if this particular part of our heritage has been secreted away, swept under the carpet. So for the time being there is going to be quite a number of omissions. However my search is ongoing and if further information comes to light I will update the web site accordingly.
Today the valleys show little signs of the industry that once dominated the whole area. The old mine shafts have been filled and capped and the colliery buildings cleared. The land they once occupied is now the home to such as Super- Markets, Playing fields and small industrial parks, employing mostly ex-miners or their descendants. Nearly all of the waste or "slag" heaps have been levelled or landscaped, some just grassed over looking like green pyramids on the sides and tops of the hills.
All so different now to what it was not so very long ago, when valleys of South Wales echoed and vibrated with the thumping of the steam winding engines as they hauled the coal laden cages up from the depths. For then the valleys were vibrant with mining activities. As well as the numerous deep mines sunk into the valley floor there were countless "levels" (small mines) driven horizontally into the hillsides, working the seams of coal closest to the surface.
Hidden too by the passing of the years is the hardship and misery suffered by so many for the benefit of the few. When young children and women were forced by their social predicament to work long hour's underground, in poor conditions for a pittance of pay, with little or no regard given by the mine owners for the safety of the workforce under their employ. Coal production and profits for the mine owners and the shareholders came first. After-all lives were very cheap, if a miner were killed there would be plenty willing to take his place.
This then was the attitude of the "ruling classes" and it was repeated throughout the mining and other industries time after time. One instance of this total disregard for the loss of human life is reflected in a newspaper article written at the time of the Risca Blackvein Colliery explosion of 1860, when 146 men and boys lost their lives. It reported of the "severe financial loss suffered by the mine owner, with the death of 28 pit ponies at an estimated value of £1,000".
I come from a family of several generations of miners. I worked underground as a collier for the best part of thirty years, though you may have gathered by some of my comments that I hold no feelings of regret for the passing of the coal-mining era.
Some ill-informed people might say that South Wales was blessed with an abundance of rich coal seams. But it's my belief that an industry that caused so much destruction of a once beautiful environment and cost the lives of thousands of men, women and children can hardly be called a blessing. It is my opinion that South Wales and the vast majority of its people were in fact cursed with an abundance of rich coal seams.
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