The Monmouthshire Iron and Coal Company were the first to sink pits at Abercarn in 1836, these were used to feed their iron works at Abercarn. The pits were approximately 160 feet deep and to the No.1 Rhondda seam. Six pits were originally planned but only two were completed. This company was soon in financial difficulties and the pits were closed in 1839. They were re-opened in 1845 and called the Abercarn and Gwythen Collieries by their new owners the Abercarn Colliery Company who invested £250,000 into the venture and employed around 1,000 men. In 1850 this company constructed a ‘modern’ group of houses called the Ranks these houses had unknown facilities such as outside toilets and a communal washroom, and were two up and two down. The standard of hygiene at the Ranks was good enough to withstand a cholera epidemic which swept the area. In 1859 this company sold out to the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company (Darby, Brown & Co) who sank new pits to the Middle and Lower Coal Measures striking the Nine-Feet seam in 1863. In 1878 the manager was C. Pond.

The first explosion at Abercarn Colliery was on the 2nd of August 1872 and resulted in one death, it appears to have happened in a seam called the No.3 (Rhondda?) and not the Black Vein. The second explosion at this colliery was during the sinking of the Cwmcarn Pit and three men were killed, there appears to have been a release of methane gas following blasting which was ignited by naked lights.
The third explosion at Abercarn Colliery was on the 11th of September 1878, in rapid succession three explosions occurred at approximately 12.15 pm while 360 men and boys were underground, only 98 of them came back up alive, six of these dying later through their injuries. By that evening all rescue attempts had failed due to numerous roof falls, burning timber and the fear of another explosion. It was assumed that no one could have lived through the explosion and the after-effects so, amid much dissent from the people of Abercarn, the adjacent Crumlin to Newport branch of the Monmouthshire Canal was diverted down the shafts to put out the fires.

For several days the water ran into the pit until 35 million gallons had been used and reached 45 feet up the shafts. Pumping out of the water began on the 9th of November 1878 and took 25 days. Investigations by the owners, the Ebbw Vale Steel Iron and Coal Company, concluded that the damage was so bad that they could not afford to recover all the bodies, so 250 men and boys were left where they had perished. Again amid angry protests from the people of Abercarn, the company obtained Home Office permission and sealed off the colliery. The Inquest into the explosion was held at the Crown Inn at Abercarn and took 23 days, 75 witnesses were called with its final conclusion being that the explosion was probably caused by the ignition of gas by means of a ‘safety’ lamp.

A National appeal for the bereaved raised the incredible sum of £65,000 but even the distribution of this was shrouded in controversy, with each widow granted the pitiful sum of 2/6d (12.5p) a week.

This colliery remained closed for five years until re-opened by the Abercarn Coal Company who in 1888 was listed as working the Nine-Feet seam from Abercarn Colliery and the Elled seam from the Quarry Pit under the management of W. Jones.

In 1893 this colliery was listed as working the Nine-Feet and Five-Feet seams while work at the Quarry Pit was suspended. The manager was W. Jones. In 1894 Abercarn Colliery was purchased by the United National Collieries Limited who worked it for seven years until 1901 when it was handed back to the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company. This company then closed down the workings in the No.1 Rhondda seam but continued to work the No.2 Rhondda seam until 1913. In 1896 they employed 817 men working underground and 154 men on the surface exploiting the Nine-Feet and Five-Feet seams. The manager was W. Jones. In 1908/11 the manager was John Harper and there were 969 men working underground and 175 men on the surface.

In 1912 a second shaft was sunk at Cwmcarn to the Nine-Feet (Black Vein) seam, and from that date, Cwmcarn Colliery came into being. In 1915/6 the manager was B. Owen and it employed 1,316 men. In 1918/19 the manager at Abercarn was S.M. Collins and the colliery employed 1,043 men underground and 265 men on the surface. Mr. Collins was still the manager in 1923 when it employed 1,100 working underground and 185 men working at the surface of the mine.

In 1927 the manager was H.N. Forbes and the colliery employed 1,100 men while in 1930 O.R. Williams was the manager and it employed 1,000 men working underground and 120 men working at the surface of the mine. In 1938, A.M. Watkins was manager and manpower was only 7 underground and 32 men on the surface.

The Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company was a member of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Owners Association. And in 1934 its directors were, Sir John W Beynon, Sir Arthur Lowes Dickinson, David H Allan and Trevor L Mort. At that time it controlled five collieries employing 6,020 men and producing 1,940,000 tons of coal. In 1935 Partridge, Jones and John Paton and Co. Ltd took over the mining interests of the Ebbw Vale Company and made the decision to close Abercarn. The manager at that time was A. Hale. In 1945 there were only 2 men working underground and 2 men at the surface the manager was then D. McNeil.

The main seam to have been worked was the Nine-Feet (Black Vein) at an average take of seven feet out of the ten to twelve feet thick seam, the Five-Feet/Gellideg (Old Coal) seam was also worked. The shallow pits worked both the Rock Vein (Rhondda) seams at an average section of 36”.

No.1 Pit was also called Yard, No.1 Yard, Varmins Yard or Quarry. Sunk in 1836 to a depth of 160 feet it was elliptical in shape, 18’ 6” x 11’ 4”. The Denaby Pit was also sunk to a depth of 160 feet. It was ten feet in diameter.

Cwmcarn Pit was probably sunk between 1836 and 1845 and was closed by 1880, it was sunk to a depth of 168 feet 7 inches but found the Brithdir seam to be unworkable. Cwmcarn No.1 was sunk in 1876 to a depth of 843 feet to the Nine-Feet seam. Cwmcarn No.2 was sunk in 1912 also to the Nine-Feet seam.  No.2 Pit was the upcast shaft, it was elliptical in shape 18’ x 10’ 6” and sunk to a depth of 1,000 feet to the Five-Feet/Gellideg seam No.3 Pit was also called the Black Vein pit, it was elliptical in shape 22’9”x l7 and sunk to the Nine-Feet seam at a depth of 930 feet. The steam winding engine for this pit had two 42-inch diameter vertical cylinders with an eight-feet stroke. The winding drum was 21 feet in diameter and hauled a five-inch wide and eight-inch thick flat steel rope to carry double deck cages carrying two trams per wind. The headgear was 72 feet high with the headgear wheel being 18 feet in diameter. The New Pit was a downcast shaft 20 feet in diameter and sunk to the Five-Feet/Gellideg seam at a depth of 1,000 feet.

Ventilation for the colliery at one time was by a steam driven Schiele fan which 17 feet in diameter and 6 feet wide. It could provide 245,000 cubic feet of air per minute. A Cornish pumping engine was installed at the surface, it took five stages to lift the water from the pit bottom sump to the surface raising 390 gallons of water every minute.

Following Nationalisation in 1947 the National Coal Board kept the pit open for a while as a pumping station and used the site as a maintenance depot. The shafts were filled in September 1966, and the last of the pit-head buildings were demolished in 1969.


Information from Ray Lawrence and used here with his permission.

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