South Wales Miners' Museum Pithead

S. Wales Miners' Museum Pithead

South Wales Miners' Museum Gallery

S. Wales Miners' Museum Gallery

The South Wales Miners' Museum is a museum of the coal mining industry and its workforce in the South Wales coalfield. It is located at Cynonville within the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre in the Afan Forest Park, near the small village of Cymmer in Port Talbot. The South Wales Coalfield extends across parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen. It comprises a fully exposed synclinorium with a varying thickness of Coal Measures (Upper Carboniferous / Pennsylvanian) deposits with thick, workable seams in the lower parts and generally thinner and sparser seams in the upper parts, together with a development of sandstones (Pennant Sandstone). See also the Geology of South Wales. These sandstones have been much used in building construction (including the characteristic terraces of former miners' houses) and give rise to bleak uplands rising 300–600 metres above sea level between the steep-sided valleys in which most deep mines were developed. The coal generally increases in grade or "rank" from east to west, with bituminous coals in the east, and anthracite in the west, mostly to the north and west of Neath. The Rhondda Valley was particularly known for steam coals which fuelled steamships of the 19th and early 20th centuries.


4 Chapel Row is a strong example of a skilled ironworker's’ cottage. The architectural style is consistent with prevailing construction norms of the day. The cottage is a typical two storey house located in a terraced row with exterior features such as a continuous slate roof, small pane windows and pale quoins. Much of the materials used in the construction of the cottage came from nearby areas. In the valleys above the area, located in the Brecon Beacons, many natural resources could be found such as limestone, ironstone, sandstone. These locally sourced materials were used to construct the cottages, which were then leased to Crawshay family workers.


Coal fuelling of Royal Navy ships was increasingly challenged from 1904 when strategists including Admiral "Jacky" Fisher and, later, Winston Churchill successfully argued for oil-firing of the steam engines in new ships. This trend, which was later extended to railway locomotives, was a factor in the economic hardship which struck the coalfield after the First World War. Coal workings were over-expanded in the late nineteenth century, but the Welsh coal owners had failed to invest in mechanisation. By the inter-war period the South Wales Coalfield had the lowest productivity, highest costs and smallest profits in Britain. Hardship continued through the 1926 general strike, the great depression of the 1930s, World War II and thereafter. The 1937 novel The Citadel and the 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley (later filmed, with a wildly inaccurate "colliery village") describe such hardship, as do the poems of Idris Davies the miner, teacher and poet of Rhymney. New collieries, particularly in the western part of the coalfield where anthracite is found, were developed into the 1960s by the National Coal Board (for instance, Cynheidre Colliery No 1 shaft, at 798 yards deep was sunk in 1954/6). Following the general collapse of the UK coal industry, most pits closed during the 1980s, with factors such as exhaustion of reserves and geological complexity adding to their problems. The last deep mine, at Tower Colliery on the north crop, ceased mining in January 2008. However, a few small licensed mines continue to work seams, mostly from outcrop, on the hillsides. Although some areas of the coalfield are effectively worked out, considerable reserves remain. However, the geological difficulties, which resulted in the closure of (for instance) Nantgarw colliery, make the cost of significant further extraction high. The coalfield experienced a late-stage development when opencast mining was commenced on a large scale, mostly on the gently-dipping north crop. In addition, old tips were reclaimed for their small coal content, which could be burned in power stations such as nearby Aberthaw. Most of the old sites have been filled and landscaped, but new operations continue. Following the Aberfan disaster of 1966, when a coal-tip slurry flow buried a school, mine-waste tips, which had been piled precariously on hilltops in many cases, were extensively regraded and reclaimed. This work continues. Landslipping of the steep valley slopes, and subsidence caused by the coal extraction, have also posed problems.


As the mines and other industries rapidly expanded throughout the coalfield, nearby towns also expanded to meet the demand for labour. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the development of ironworks saw the population of the northern part of the coalfield saw the population explode. Merthyr Tydfil's population increase from 7,700 in 1801 to 49,794 in 1861, made it the largest town in Wales. As Cardiff and other ports in South Wales grew to meet the demands for exporting iron, steel and coal in the later part of the nineteenth century, previously sparsely inhabited valleys suddenly increased in population. The Rhondda valley grew from less than a thousand people in 1851 to more than 150,000 in 1911. Between 1881 and 1911, Glamorgan became the most industrialised part of Wales and saw inward migration of more than 330,000 people from elsewhere in Wales, neighbouring parts of England and further afield. By 1921 the coal mines were employing 250,000 men, but this was the peak and in subsequent decades the overseas market began to shrink. By 1930 employment in the mines was half of that in 1920 as mechanisation increased leading to a net loss of 314,000 people between 1921 and 1935. The South Wales coalfield was notorious for the number of fatal accidents in the 19th century. The Risca Black Vein colliery had many fatal accidents to the extent that it became known as the "death pit". The two biggest accidents at the Black Vein pit were in 1860, when 146 and 1880 when 119 lives were lost.


The museum, which re-opened in 2008 after rebuilding, features a recreation of a tunnel where models of children can be seen crawling though the space underground. There is also a realistic stable with a miner, his pit pony and trailer. Outdoor exhibits include a blacksmith's shop, a lamp room with Davy lamps, a pithead wheel, a haulage engine and coal dram. Access around the Museum and the Visitor Centre is suitable for wheelchair users. Disabled toilets are located in front of the museum entrance. If you need more information please contact them for further advice. Audio guides are available free of charge in both Welsh and English to take you on a step-by-step tour of the museum. Wind up powered audio u-turns, in both Welsh and English, are housed within both the Engine House and Lamp Room. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : South Wales Miners' Museum, Afan Forest Park, Cynonville, Port Talbot SA13 3HG

Transport : Port Talbot (National Rail) then bus (23). Bus Routes : First Cymru 23, 32 and 36 stop outside.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 16:00

Tickets : Adults £3.00;  Seniors/Children (5 and over) £2.00

Tel. : 01639 851833