Big Pit National Coal Museum

Big Pit National Coal Museum

Nora no. 5 at the Big Pit

Nora no. 5 at the Big Pit

Big Pit was originally an iron mine, driven into the side of the mountain not far from the surface due to the shallow iron deposits, the level is called Engine Pit Level and can still be seen on the bridge connecting Blaenavon and Garn Rd at coordinates. The Iron Workings are above the Big Pit coal workings, for some time Engine Pit Level was used as an emergency exit for Big Pit whilst it was working, now the River Arch Level is the escape route. Engine Pit Level was driven around 1810 by hand due to dynamite being invented 5 decades later, there are no known records of the iron mine, although none that I can find.There are a few pictures online showing the interior of the Engine Level from the 60's when miners from Big Pit explored the level, finding an old flange-less wheel'ed dram inside, now at a museum. There was also a known Iron Workings shaft, Engine Pit Shaft which existed, information and location of this shaft can be on Industrial Gwent. The Big Pit is part of a network of coal workings established in Blaenavon in the first half of the nineteenth century by the Blanaevon Iron and Coal Company as part of the development of the Blaenavon Ironworks, which means it has some of the oldest large scale industrial coal mining developments in the South Wales Coalfield. The mine was the most important of all the collieries located in Blaenavon


The nearby Coity pit is shown in reports in the 1850s, consisting of two shafts 9 feet (2.7 m) in diameter which were difficult to pump out. Historians disagree about when the Big Pit was first in consistent operation, but it may have been a development of a former pit called Kearsley's Pit mentioned in the company records from the 1860s, which lay at the other end of a geological fault from the Coity pits. A mines inspector report of 1881 is the first to describe a mine called the Big Pit due to its elliptical shape with dimensions of 18 feet (5.5 m) by 13 feet (4.0 m), the first shaft in Wales large enough to allow two tramways. On completion it became the coal-winding shaft, while the older Coity shaft was used for upcast air ventilation. In 1878, the main shaft was deepened to reach the Old Coal seam at 293 feet (89 m). By 1908, Big Pit provided employment for 1,122 people, and by 1923 at peak, there were 1,399 men employed, producing: House Coal, Steam Coal, Ironstone and Fireclay; from the Horn, No. 2 Yard, Old Coal and Elled seams. The peak of production was more than 250,000 tons of coal per year. During the height of production, coal from Big Pit was shipped as far as South America, and also to other points world-wide. Until 1908, when a conveyor became part of the mine equipment, everything at Big Pit was done by man power-including cutting the coal. The mine was one of the first to install electricity and by 1910, fans, hauling systems and pumps were electric powered.


In 1939, pithead baths were installed at the mine; it meant miners no longer needed to walk home dirty and wet, risking illness. The baths were also beneficial to miners' families; women no longer needed to carry hot jugs of water to fill tin baths and children were no longer accidentally scalded during this process. During the Second World War, surface extraction of coal began at Blaenavon in November 1941 using equipment and skilled men from the Canadian Army. On nationalisation in 1947, the National Coal Board took over the mine from the Blaenavon Co. Ltd, which employed 789 men. By 1970 the workforce only numbered 494, as operations had focused solely on the Garw seam, with a maximum thickness of only 30 inches (760 mm). The NCB agreed the development of a drift mine, which by 1973 meant that windings at Big Pit had ceased, with coal extracted close to the refurbished Black Lion coal washery. The Coity shaft was abandoned, with the Big Pit shaft used for upcast air ventilation and emergency extraction. The pit finally closed on 2 February 1980 with a loss of more than 250 jobs;it was one of the last working coal mines in Blaenavon, leaving only the Johnson Mine, closing in 2013 and Blaentillery No.2 Drift Mine closing in 2010.


In 1866, the Brynmawr and Blaenavon Railway opened, with access sidings to the mine workings. The line was immediately leased to the London and North Western Railway, allowing coal to be directly transported to the Midlands via the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway. By 1880, the line had extended south to meet the Great Western Railway at Abersychan & Talywain. Here the line carried on down the valley through Pontypool Crane Street railway station to the coast at Newport, and hence to overseas markets via Newport Docks. In 1922 the LNWR was grouped into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. From World War II onwards, the line saw a variety of GWR locomotives operating from pit to port, with the line losing its passenger operations from 1941. After other pits in the area had closed, the line connection north was closed as a result of the Beeching cuts from 1964 onwards. The NCB paid for the line to be re-extended to Waunavon in the early 1970s, where the drift mine developments accessed the refurbished former Black Lion coal washery. Big Pit Halt railway station which is on the heritage Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway line, adjacent to the museum, officially opened on 6 April 2012, however the line to Big Pit actually opened on Friday 16 September 2011. The line and station opened specifically for tourists visiting the museum.


Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain's leading mining museums. With facilities to educate and entertain all ages, Big Pit is an exciting and informative day out. Enjoy a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine with a virtual miner in the Mining Galleries, exhibitions in the Pithead Baths and Historic colliery buildings. All this AND the world-famous Underground Tour. Go 300 feet underground with a real miner and see what life was like for the thousands of men who worked at the coal face. An award-winning national museum that still retains many traits of its former role as a coal mine, standing high on the heather-clad moors of Blaenafon, the tunnels and buildings that once echoed to the sound of the miners now enjoy the sound of the footsteps and chatter of visitors from all over the world.


Prepare to be lowered 90 metres (300 feet) down the Big Pit mineshaft for the famous underground tour - a captivating journey around a section of original underground workings. Visitors wear the very same equipment – helmet, cap lamp, belt, battery and ‘self rescuer’ – used by miners. Take a seat in the miners Waiting Rooms before embarking on your journey. The attached offices were used by the colliery manager and his senior staff. Most are still used for their original purposes, with the timekeeper’s office restored and the officials’ lodge converted into a first aid room. The area around the top of the shaft, or the ‘pit bank’ as it is usually known, was always a noisy, busy place with men and materials descending the mine and drams of coal brought to the surface. It remains so today, with visitors setting off for and returning from their underground tours. The Tram Circuit nearby is the route taken by the filled drams. Raised to the surface by cage, they ran along the rails and were turned upside down, emptying the coal on to screening belts to be graded into various sizes according to market requirements. The modern Lamp Room is a working area, used to maintain and charge the electric cap lamps used by both visitors and staff. The Big Pit lamp man and his staff also look after that most easily recognised symbol of the coal industry – the flame safety lamp. Today carried only by colliery officials as gas detectors, these lamps were once the miner’s only source of light. Once underground, you will be guided (a 50-minute walk) around the coal faces, engine houses and stables in the company of a former coal miner. Your guide will explain the different ways in which coal was mined and transported, and share some of his own experiences.


The Pithead Baths building houses four exhibition spaces and uses objects and images to tell the story of coal mining in Wales. Themes include children in the mines, health, home life and the mining communities. See how the life and work of a Miner has changed from 1850 to 2000. Learn about the Geology and Uses of Coal, Mining Disasters and Rescue, discover the role and impact of Trade Unions and Nationalisation, and get a closer look at some mining memorabilia. You can see and interact with various buildings and machinery around the Museum site that would have been crucial to the mining operations at Big Pit. The Winding Engine house or ‘the winder’, as it is known, raises and lowers the cages carrying coal, men and materials up and down the shaft. Though the engine is over fifty years old, it has been fully modernised with safety systems and computers controlling and monitoring its operation.


The buildings around The Blacksmiths' Yard are some of the oldest on site, dating from the 1870s. The left-hand wing is the fitting and welding shop which is still used by Big Pit’s blacksmith today. In a working colliery blacksmiths made and repaired anything and everything - horseshoes, drams, rail junctions, pipes, spanners and hammers. Timber and other materials needed to work the mine were stored in the Stockyard. Timber brought in by train would be off-loaded here, ready for use underground. Some of the larger timbers needed to be cut down to size in the Saw Mill, which is still used for the same purpose today. The Mortar Mill is housed in the same building and used to mix the mortar for building work on the surface and underground. The Explosives (or ‘powder’) Magazine was always built away from other buildings in case of an accidental ignition of its contents. It is designed so that any explosion would blow up through the roof or the back wall, away from the main parts of the site. The Fan House, located at the rear of the site, is one of the most important buildings at any coal mine. The ventilation system brings oxygen into the mine, removes or dilutes unwanted gases, dust and fumes and provides a cooler and dryer environment for the miners to work in.


For visitors with mobility impairments, parking is available on each of the three main levels, but to view the mining galleries it is necessary to ascend/descend a fairly steep slope. Although there are ramps between levels on the surface it has been found that a helper is required for every wheelchair user. Please note that some of these ramps are quite long and steep and the climb can be arduous. As the safety of our visitors is our first priority it is only possible for a maximum of 4 wheelchair users to be underground at any one time. As non-approved electrical equipment cannot be taken underground all users of electric wheelchairs must transfer to a manual chair — either their own or one provided by the museum if they wish to go underground. Most of the surface buildings are accessible by wheelchair users accompanied by a helper. The winding engine house can be accessed by an alternative entrance at the side of the building. Wheelchair users are advised to exit Big Pit by the same route as they entered the Museum, i.e. via Reception. This door is closed at 3.30pm, after this time, please ring the doorbell for assistance.


It is possible for visually impaired groups and individuals with helpers to experience a guided tour of Big Pit's genuine underground workings. One of the great joys of visiting an industrial site such as Big Pit is the experience of the noises and smells of the exhibits and demonstrations. Few objects are in glass cases. The Mining Galleries are a surface exhibition explaining the different techniques of modern mining from forming new tunnels through to coal face production. This is done by a walk through simulated mine workings guided by an audio visual presentation. Please be aware that loud noises, flashing lights, and differing light levels and colours are a major part of the presentation. Museum Assistants are happy to allow visitors the opportunity to touch and handle the exhibits to give a full explanation of their role. Handling sessions which include museum objects are available by arrangement with the Learning Officer. Assistance dogs are allowed on site provided they are kept on a lead. Guide dogs for both visually and hearing impaired visitors are welcomed but cannot be taken underground. Drinking water is offered at the point of entry to all dog owners visiting the site and on request in the cafeteria and coffee shop. There are suitably equipped toilets on all three levels of the site. The disabled facilities in the Waiting Room and Pithead Baths are unisex. However, the disabled facilities in the toilets adjacent to the Winder are single-sex. PLEASE NOTE the underground tour lasts about an hour and there are no toilets underground. Both the gift shop and the two catering outlets are accessible to wheelchair users. Baby changing facilities are provided in the toilets in the Pit Head Baths.


Location : Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, Torfaen NP4 9XP

Transport : Cwmbran (National Rail) then bus (30, 31). Bus Routes : 30 and 31 stop close by.

Opening Times : Daily 09:30 to 17:00; Underground Tours 10:00 to 15:30

Tickets : Free

Tel. : 0300 111 2333