COAL HERITAGE OF WALES
Snippets from ‘Tareni Colliery’
Peacock Seam, Red Vein, Big Vein, mined in the Swansea Valley by The Tareni Colliery Coal Company. Read about the history of Tareni Colliery and of the company that sank the pits to reach the fabulous anthracite coals that lay up to one thousand feet beneath Mynydd Marchywel and Mynydd Alltygrug. Tareni Colliery publication, 288 pages, 150,000 words, 190 images, and thirty interviews is the story of 100 years of coalmining in the mid Swansea Valley area and of the people who worked in the pits sunk by the company.
The story of Tareni Colliery is much more than the history of one coalmine. This publication is the history of the company that sank those mines, The South Wales Primrose Coal Company Ltd, and of its foundation in the 1850’s from the original Primrose Colliery at Rhos and of its sinking new pits and opening new drift mines in the search for high quality anthracite coals in the badly faulted and geologically disturbed region of the mid Swansea Valley area.
This is also the story of the miners who cut the coals, of the hauliers who brought the coals to the surface, of the men who operated the washeries to clean and grade the coals, the blacksmiths who maintained the equipment at the mines, and of many other colliery workers who contributed to the operations in winning the coals, but also of the miner’s families, people who made the communities of Godre’r Graig, Rhos, Cilmaengwyn, Ystalyfera, Pant-teg, and many other villages and towns of the Swansea Valley coalfield. Follow the miners’ trails of The South Wales Primrose Coal Company and of The Tareni Colliery Company in this fascinating publication.
Tareni Colliery, The Mine, The Miners and Their Communities: A History of a Mining Enterprise in the Swansea Valley. ISBN: 978-1-5272-0129-3.
Price £30.00 p&p £4.95, available from Clive Reed 01792-830782, or email email@example.com
Cilybebill Coal Mining History
The publication Tareni Colliery is more than the history of this one mine. It is the coal mining history of the parish of Cilybebill and the communities of Rhos, Gellinudd, and Alltwen and of the vast mining enterprises that worked coal in Mynydd Marchywel over a 150-year period from the early 1800’s up to the late 1940’s. This mining heritage details the separate coalmines, the companies that operated them, the legal leases taken out to establish the mines, the various Royalties payable to the landowners for each type of coal brought to the surface, ie. Five pence per ton for Red Vein coals, six pence per ton for Peacock coals, and the additional cost of wayleaves for crossing the landowners land which was payable at an additional one penny per ton of minerals mined such as coal or fireclay.
Swansea Valley July 1911 – The Tareni Colliery dispute. This was one of the most violent and brutal episodes of the coalmining history of the Swansea Valley. It is a story of social unrest, police brutality, miners’ brutality, rioting, lock-outs, battles in the streets, and of starving children whose parents could not afford food for their families. This account informs the present generations of how their forefathers and mothers fought for a living wage and the right to work. This story has been largely forgotten because it happened over 100 years ago and it has also been overshadowed by other similar bitter industrial strikes at the Rhondda Valley and Cardiff docks. The Tareni dispute involved the entire communities of Godre’r Graig, Ystalyfera, and every village around the mine. This is a political and social history involving national government, local councils, trade unions, police and civilians. Extract from Tareni Colliery – “On Wednesday morning everything was quiet, and it would have been difficult to say that anything abnormal had occurred perhaps for the presence of about 100 policemen who had been conveyed to the colliery by taxi-cabs, and motor cars from various areas of Glamorgan. In our conversation with one of those who witnessed the greater proportion of the trouble, our representative was informed that evidently the police had gained considerable experience during their stay in Tonypandy. Many of the police engaged, if not all had spent some time in the Rhondda. It is expected that several questions will be asked in the House of Commons in connection with the affair”.
Thousands of horses worked in the mines of South Wales from the 18th century up to the late 1980’s,with the last pit ponies working in the Swansea Valley retiring from Pen Twyn mine at Godre’r Graig c1983. Tareni Colliery, The Mine, The Miners and Their Communities. A History of a Mining Enterprise in the Swansea Valley tells the story of pit horses at Tareni Colliery as told by colliery blacksmith Alan Turner who made shoes for the horses at Tareni. To most people the term pit pony implies a small strong horse that was used to haul drams of coal out of a mine. That was the case in most of the mines in the UK, but at Tareni Colliery it was very different. Alan Turner said that the horseshoes he made were for shire horses, not ponies. Shire horses were employed at Tareni Colliery to haul the drams underground because of the steepness of the roadways in the coal seams underground, which were as much as forty-five degrees slope. No pony could possibly haul one and a half tons or more of coal and dram up slopes of that steepness, but a shire could and did. The pit horses usually came to the surface at Stop Fortnight, the miners’ annual holiday, when the horses enjoyed fresh grass, sunshine, and fields to run about in.
Cwm-Nant-Llwyd Mines – Cilybebill
This deep mine (600 feet deep) was sunk and owned by The South Wales Primrose Coal Company Ltd with work commencing in the early 1860s. Several drift mines were also opened on the surface of the leased area. The technology of transporting the coal from Cwm-Nant-Llwyd Colliery down to the main line railway at the foot of the mountain was ingenious and a marvel of its times. A brilliant railway engineer devised the complicated surface railways; self-acting winding drums to lower the drams of coal down the mountainside and to raise the empty drams back to the higher level and to the mine for refilling. A substantial amount of this railway technology is still extant (2017).
The Dust (Mining)
Dust was a killer for the men who worked in the extractive industries both underground and on the surface. To many of the coalmining families, the terms generally used was Silicosis, or sometimes Pneumoconiosis, but both types of illness were encountered in large volumes, and more so as coalmines became more modernised with the introduction of coal cutting equipment such as chain cutters, pneumatic boring drills, pneumatic picks, and conveyor belts to transport coal instead of drams and horses. Even on the surface of the mine the men were not immune to the killer dust, especially those working on the coal screens where large volumes of coal dust were thrown into the air by the action of the shaking equipment to sort out the grades of coal. When researching Tareni Colliery I interviewed former miners who had only worked at the mine for just five years; yet they said they had “the dust” and had difficulty in breathing, and I also interviewed mining families whose parents had suffered greatly with that killer disease. The stories of Tom Williams, Jackie Myers, Phillip Lewis, Iorworth Davies and George Francis are a salutary reminder of the price paid to heat our homes in the past.
The stories of miners employed at Tareni Colliery and who suffered with “the dust” are instructive and take the readers back to another time of British industry when Health and Safety was not so rigorously employed as at present.
Godre’r Graig Cemetery
This sits on a hillside site at Godre’r Graig overlooking the former Tareni Colliery. The views today are of wooded mountains, with a number of former colliery waste tips still extant and ruins of colliery buildings high on the mountainside opposite, but it is still part of the local communities. J.D. Brazell has a prominent gravestone overlooking the mine where he worked, but close by is the grave of another noted local person “Llaethferch”. This was the pseudonym of Mary Ann Francis for her entries in the eisteddfods. Her grave has a prominent pink marble column with Welsh inscriptions “Dial un mor hwawdl oedd yn fywydd y tyrfaoedd”, which translates into English as “Someone so well-known among the artistic masses”. Mary Ann won over 300 awards at eisteddfods across south Wales including Champion Welsh Recitation First Prize 1914 at Porth, Champion Recitation at Llanbradach 1910, and a crown at Ystrad-Rhondda eisteddfod in 1919. She died of influenza in 1922 aged just thirty-four years.
Godre’r Graig and coalmining history
Godre’r Graig was the official address of the Tareni Colliery Company who mined anthracite coals under the mountains of Mynydd Alltygrug and Mynydd Marchywel. Vehicle access to Tareni Colliery was via the main road through Godre’r Graig and down the serpentine road constructed by the colliery company c1902/03. This road followed the course of an ancient farm track down the glacial moraine known as the Gnoll. An additional route was provided for miners walking to the mine and which consisted of a series of steps down the moraine to the valley floor, and which were known in the community as the “miner’s steps”. Thousands of miners walked this route to work between 1903 and 1949. Many of the houses in Godre’r Graig, Cilmaengwyn and Pant-teg were constructed for colliery workers.
Tareni Colliery was a pit that was modernised several times over its life span of about forty-five years. The Sale Catalogue of the mine in 1928, on the bankruptcy of the owning company, lists all the equipment installed at the mine, at both the Tareni and the Gleision pits and whether it was use or not. It lists the manufacturers of that equipment, the date of manufacture, its power source, capacities, and any information that might be use to a prospective purchaser of mine equipment. That catalogue was invaluable in writing the history of those mines. Among the equipment described were the Lancashire boilers, compressors, air receivers, numerous haulage engines, mining lamps, both oil and electric and their charging equipment, colliery trams, rolling stock, fitting shop machinery, blacksmith shop, carpenters shop, stables for the horses, conveyor belts, coal washeries and screens, and the mining leases with dates of leasing land to mine coals, and types of coal available for mining
Coal mining heroes
The stories of many of the miners who worked at Tareni Colliery are recorded in the publication Tareni Colliery using the words and terms for the tools and equipment used by the miners as spoken during the interviews. Many of the men who were miners considered themselves ordinary workers just carrying out an ordinary job such as cutting coal, pit sinking, timber working, hauling and smithing. But working in a deep dusty anthracite mine in the badly disturbed geology of the Swansea Valley region was no ordinary job. Many of the miners were very political and because of that Tareni Colliery was considered to be a Marxist pit. Among the miners who were in the political field was J. D. Brazell. His whole life history from working at Tareni Colliery in 1905, his family life, and his work as a local councillor are recorded here. When J.D. Brazell passed away in 1935 his funeral cortege was over one mile long and extended from his home in the Varteg, Ystalyfera to his grave at Godre’r Graig cemetery overlooking Tareni Colliery and was led by a marching band at its head. This funeral cortege was the longest ever recorded in the Swansea Valley and was a tribute to a much-respected man and a mining comrade. The miners erected a large black marble column over his grave, a symbol of the coal he worked. This place should be a pilgrimage site for those interested in the social life of the past and of one man’s fight for justice for the communities he served.
Anthracite coal was essential in the production of nickel metal, which was one of the new wonder metals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The nickel ore refined in South Wales was mined in Canada, but was processed into nickel at the world’s largest nickel refinery at Clydach in the Swansea Valley and which consumed over 140,000 tons of anthracite coals annually in the refinery, which was only seven miles from Tareni Colliery and linked to it directly by main line railway. The Mond Nickel Company owned Tareni Colliery from 1928 to 1947, but had a vested interest in the mine before that time. Read more about the construction of the nickel refinery, the refining processes and the many uses of nickel such as armour plate for warships, in coinage, in the motorcar industry and in telecommunications.
The pit props used at Tareni Colliery and in the Swansea region came from a variety of sources. Swansea timber importers Thomas and Son imported Baltic, Norwegian and Newfoundland pit props into the port of Swansea, which were then distributed via the Swansea Canal and the Swansea Vale Railway to the numerous coalmines that required them. G. Leonard David and Company advertised themselves in 1916 as pitwood merchants supplying timber to several Swansea Valley collieries. Among the later importers and distributors of pit props to Tareni Colliery (1923) was the firm of E. William Cooke and Company who had a seat on the Board of the Company and that gave them direct access to the managing directors. At an earlier date local Swansea Valley businessmen purchased standing pitwood trees in the Afan Valley and sold those on the colliery proprietors in the Swansea region. Others purchased timber from Brittany or from sources closer to home such as from the Kilybebill Estate. A fascinating account of the size and types of timbers used underground is documented in Tareni Colliery.
Railway infrastructure at Tareni Colliery
The South Wales Primrose Coal Company Ltd and Tareni Colliery obtained coal wagons (mostly rented), and locomotives (purchased), from several manufacturers in the UK to transport its output of coal to purchasers in the UK. To the Kent hop fields, the Mond Nickel Refinery at Clydach, to Swansea for export, and to local industries in the Swansea Valley. The combined coal waggon fleet for the South Wales Primrose Coal Company, Tareni Colliery, Cwm-nant-llwyd Colliery, Waun Coed Collieries, and the other smaller mines in the group was in excess of 600 wagons. That required considerable railway sidings at the pits in addition to a small fleet of locomotives to move the wagons around the yards.
South Wales Coals (Swansea District) Anthracite
Anthracite Rubbly Culm
Anthracite Billy Duff
Anthracite Screened Cobbles
Anthracite Red Vein coal suitable for central heating, lime burning, carbide manufacture and horticultural purposes.
Anthracite Big Vein coals suitable for malting hops to produce beer.
Composition of the coals: Ash four to six percent, volatile matter six to eight percent, and calories 7,900 to 8,150. Fixed carbon content eighty-six and a half percent, water two percent.
Swansea Canal and coal carrying
The completion of the Swansea Canal from Swansea to Hen Noyadd (later to be named Abercraf) in 1798 was responsible for the creation of the vast majority of the industries that developed in the Swansea Valley pre 1861. Twenty-two coalmines were sunk along the canal corridor or in the tributary valleys and by the 1890s over 400,000 tons of coal were carried annually along the Swansea Canal. The South Wales Primrose Coal Company, the owners of Tareni Colliery at a later date, and of a further five pits in the area came into being prior to the construction of the Swansea Vale Railway, later to be the Midland Railway. The collieries used the Swansea Canal extensively to convey coals from their mines to industries in the Swansea Valley and down to Swansea Harbour for export abroad. The Primrose Coal Company had extensive riverside wharves between the Swansea Canal and the River Tawe above the North Dock at Swansea. Barges would lie up in the canalside docks adjacent to the Swansea Canal to have their cargoes of coal unloaded and stockpiled at the company’s yard prior to it being trammed to ships waiting at the river wharves.
Ynysgeinon Colliery (in the upper Swansea Valley, adjacent to the Tareni Colliery site) was another deep mine working coal from below Mynydd Marchywel, but in the period 1819 and 1861. The Swansea Canal Navigation Company Toll Books (PRO Rail 876/11) gives an indication of the coal mined from this mountain by this one colliery. The average output carried by canal barges in the period c1820-1850 was 6,600 tons per annum. That increased to 44,000 tons per annum in the 1850’s. During its working life between 1819 and 1861 Ynysgeinon Colliery produced 638,000 tons of coal, which was all transported by canal barges to Swansea. The coal was all worked by the pillar and stall method of working.
Every community, village and town in the Swansea Valley and the adjacent tributary valleys owes their existence to the Swansea Canal and the industries that developed along its corridor such as coal mining, iron production, and other industrial concerns.
This publication is the result of a five-year research project into coalmining in the mid Swansea Valley between Pontardawe and Ystalyfera, but is mostly a history of the South Wales Primrose Coal Company Ltd and of Tareni Colliery in particular, and covers one hundred years of coalmining in Rhos, Alltwen, Cilybebill, Ynysmeudwy, Godre’r Graig, Cilmaengwyn and Ystalyfera. This is the story of the miners who worked at the pits, and of their families who endured so much hardship and what we would now say were poor living conditions. Yet, in all of that there grew communities, pride, and togetherness. Tareni Colliery illustrates the lives of those families growing up and living in a landscape of coalmines, colliery waste tips, quarries, heavy industry, ill health, but also among affluence and richness of the works owners and the landed gentry. Tareni Colliery is a time capsule of ordinary people’s lives and work. These are their stories.
Read more in Tareni Colliery, The Mine, The Miners and Their Communities. A History of a Mining Enterprise in the Swansea Valley. ISBN: 978-1-5272-0129-3.
Price £30.00 p&p £4.95, available from Clive Reed 01792-830782, or email firstname.lastname@example.org