Abercynon (ST 0188 9446)

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This mine was originally called Dowlais-Cardiff Colliery. It was sunk by the Dowlais Iron Company when they moved their steel-making operations from their Dowlais Works to their new works at East Moors in Cardiff. Even though the Dowlais Company had installed the new Bessemer process for converting iron to steel at their Dowlais Works, a combination of things such as declining markets, the unsuitability of Welsh iron ore for steel making, the remoteness of Dowlais, and tariffs against foreign steel in the USA had made the works uneconomical and in 1887 the decision had been made to move their steel-making operations to the coast, leaving only rail rolling at Dowlais.

The colliery was sited 15 miles to the north of Cardiff and 11 miles to the south of Dowlais. The ceremonial cutting of the sod for the colliery was carried out on the First of December 1889, with the actual sinking of the Abercynon Colliery commencing on the 3rd of December 1889. The first coal was raised in July 1896.

The sinking’s soon encountered difficulties with excessive water in the pits, and when they had reached a depth of 311 yards the water flooded the pits and overflowed onto the surface of the mine. All sinking operations were stopped for 18 months while pumps had to be installed to remove 12,000 gallons of water per hour.

The pumping engine was installed in the north pit and was constructed by Messrs. Hathorn Davey & Company, it was of the tandem, horizontal compound and condensing type. The high-pressure cylinder was 45 inches in diameter and the low-pressure cylinder was 78 inches in diameter with a 10 feet stroke. Another pumping engine was installed at the pit bottom.

The Two-Feet-Nine seam was struck at a depth of 650 yards in 1895, with the two pits being completed to a depth of 740 yards to the Nine-Feet seam in 1896. They were the deepest in the South Wales Coalfield up to that time and cost £270,000 to complete. They were 20 feet in diameter and 65 yards apart. In that year 70 men were employed underground, 151 on the surface with the manager being Thomas Railton.

The pit-head wheels were 18 feet in diameter and 72 feet high and allowed the raising of two trams per wind. The backstays were 175 feet long.

The winding engine at the south pit was made by Daglish & Co. of St. Helens and consisted of two horizontal cylinders 36 inches in diameter with a six feet stroke and a cylindrical drum of 17 feet six inches diameter. The weight of the drum was 35 tons. The winding rope was flattened on 1.5 inches in diameter. A single wind could be done in 42 seconds.

The north pit winder was made by J. Fowler & Co. of Leeds and had two horizontal cylinders 42 inches in diameter with a seven feet stroke. The winding drum was conical with eleven coils and reduced from 32 feet to 17 feet. The winding rope was 1.75 inches in diameter. Loading and unloading at both the pit bottom and the pit top were done automatically in less than 8 seconds.

The ventilation for the mine was done by a Schiele fan of 21 feet diameter. There were ten Lancashire type boilers 30 feet by 8 feet to produce the steam for the engines of the colliery.

The original water pump on the surface was a Hathorn Davey tandem horizontal compound and condensing engine with a high-pressure cylinder 45 inches in diameter, and the low-pressure cylinder was 78 inches in diameter with a ten-foot stroke. There were also three direct-acting steam-driven water pumps in lodge rooms in the shaft. They were made by Messrs. Pearn & Co.

This colliery was on the Admiralty’s list to supply coal to the Royal Navy.

This colliery got off to a bad start when on the 23rd of January 1893 at 8.30 pm eight of the pit sinkers died when the side of the shaft collapsed. At 6.40 pm on the 9th of September 1895, another six of the sinkers died when the bowk that they were travelling the shaft in tipped over. Four other sinkers died in individual accidents.

On the 28th of April 1906, a runaway journey of trams killed Morgan Richards aged 39, Henry Jones aged 38 years, Herbert Moon aged 31 years, Ernest Watts aged 31 years and Alfred Harper aged 37 years. Also to die in this pit in that year were Evan Lloyd a collier who died under a roof fall on the 21st of July and Eleazer Edwards aged 24 who was run over by trams on the 25th of May.

In 1913 this colliery employed 2,694 men, the manager at that time being Tudor Davies and in 1916/18 it was William Pugh. In 1927 the manager of the North Pit was Gerald Walker and it employed 900 men with the South Pit being managed by William Pugh and employing 1,850 men.

On the 25th of February 1929, most of the pit ponies were ill which resulted in 2,300 men being sent home. GKN pulled out of mining operations in south Wales and by 1934 the pit was in the hands of Welsh Associated Collieries Limited who merged with Powell Duffryn in 1935 to form Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries Limited. The manager at that time was P. Davies and in 1938 it was A.E. Hiscox.

One of the systems to dig the coal at Abercynon Colliery in the early days was the Double Stall method in which two main roads would be driven into the seam as far as conditions and ventilation would permit. From these main roads double stalls eleven to fifteen metres in width with a roadway on each side would be driven into the virgin coal and the coal worked between them for a forward distance of approximately 45 metres. The stalls would only be partially filled after extraction and problems with ventilation short-circuiting would arise allowing the build-up of methane gas. When the roads were abandoned the entrances were sealed off and another set of double stalls were opened.

Up to 100 stalls could be in operation at the same time and stretch for 1,000 metres, each stall was worked by a man and a boy. With the longwall method of coal extraction two roadways, say 200 metres apart, were driven into the coal seam and a coalface opened up between them. The roof was supported by wooden props and a conveyor belt laid along the ‘face. A collier was allocated a length of the face approximately six metres (dependent on the seam height and conditions) and with pick and shovel advanced up to a distance of 1.2 metres. A turnover gang would then come onto the coalface and advance the conveyor so that the cycle could commence again. Wooden props were replaced by steel ones topped with steel bars for improved roof support, these in turn being replaced by the modem hydraulic supports with a steel canopy that offered full cover on the coalface. The ‘self-advancing’ or walking chocs’ were attached to armoured (chain) conveyors which in turn pulled the roof supports forward in sequence. With the roof supports secured in their advanced state, they then pushed the conveyor forward so that another coal cutting sequence could begin. Coal-getting advanced from the pick and shovel to a cutting machine that would undercut the seam allowing it to fall over and break up, making it easier for the collier to load onto the conveyor. On fully mechanised coalfaces this method was replaced by various coal cutting machines such as the popular ranging drum shearer, in which a rotating steel drum with small picks attached to it would travel along the armoured conveyor ripping into the coal and simultaneously loading into onto the conveyor.

The above are simplified versions of the methods used in Lady Windsor and throughout South Wales and do not cover the many complexities of coal getting such as roadside packing, withdrawal of supports water infusing, shotfiring, machine stables, advance headings, etc, etc, etc..

On Nationalisation of the Nation’s coal mines in 1947, Abercynon came under the control of the National Coal Board and was placed in the South Western Division’s Area No.4, Group 5. At this time the pit was working the Yard, Four-Feet and Nine-Feet seams, it was then managed by C.H. Davies. It had its own coal preparation plant.

In 1959 when compulsory retirement at 65 years was implemented there were 20 men over that age working at this pit. In 1961 this colliery was grouped with Albion and Penrikyber collieries in the No.5 Group of the No.4 Aberdare Area, manpower for the Group was 2,482 men, while coal production was 620,000 tons. The Group Manager was A.G. Perry, and the Area Manager T. Wright. In 1969 the manager was still D.W. Jones and this colliery worked the Six-Feet, Nine-Feet and Four-Feet seams. In 1971 the manager was W.T. Butler, in 1972 it was J.H. Ellis and in 1975 it was W.H. Gibbons.

In the late 1960s, this colliery was placed on the NCB’s jeopardy (closure) list but a fightback by the men and management at the colliery brought it back into profit in January 1971. In less than a year the 530 men at the colliery had attained a 144% increase in production and turned a loss of £2.60 per ton of coal produced to a profit of £1.10. It then ranked as the fifth-best pit in the East Wales Area producing 4,500 tons of coal a week and with an output per man shift of 39 hundredweights.

The performances at this pit secured its future and in the early 1970s, it was decided to merge it with Lady Windsor Colliery. This involved connecting the underground coal transport systems of both pits and centralising coal winding at Lady Windsor which already had sufficient coal washing facilities. The cost of the scheme was £430,000 and it was estimated that this would yield an annual output of 340,000 tons of coal and an output per man shift of 1.75 tons. Abercynon was then linked by two parallel underground roadways (1,000 and 1,700 yards long) to Lady Windsor Colliery in 1975, with Abercynon’s output diverted to Lady Windsor’s shafts and the two pits merged.

In 1980 a £3 million scheme to open up reserves to the west in the Four-Feet seam was completed. The money was part of a £31 million payment from the European Coal and Steel Community and Lady Windsor/Abercynon was the only pit in the South Wales Coalfield to benefit from the grant.

In 1981 the two pits worked 11 coal faces in the Seven-Feet, Bute, Four-Feet, Nine-Feet, and Five-Feet seams. All were equipped with ranging drum shearers for coal cutting/loading, and coalface roof supports were the self-advancing types. Manpower at that time was; coalface, 292, development, 216, elsewhere below ground, 342, and on the surface 305.

The seams worked at this colliery were prime steam coal seams and included the Yard, Four-Feet, Six-Feet and Nine-Feet seams. The Five-Feet/Gellideg seam consisted of 96 inches of mixed coal and dirt, the Yard seam was 40 inches of mixed coal and dirt, the Four-Feet seam was 73 inches of mixed coal and dirt, and the Two-Feet-Nine seam was 41 inches of mixed coal and dirt.


Abercynon Colliery 1988
Copyright © Stephen Thomas and used with his kind permission

This colliery was one of the few deep mines in south Wales to use underground diesel locomotives.

In 1983 the colliery was losing £11.90 for every tonne of coal that it produced with manpower at that time being 1,116 men.

Following the return to work after the 1984 strike, this colliery made a remarkable recovery obtaining 93% of expected production levels by the end of April 1985: Lady Windsor/Abercynon: Adverse roof conditions and horizon control difficulties on the V3 face were affecting full recovery; 93% of normal output had been achieved.

The combine managed to produce coal for almost another three years until British Coal could find a reason to close it. In the Autumn of 1987 the production targets for the colliery were raised with the stipulation that they had to be achieved by January 1988, Ron Price, the area director, bluntly stated that the decision would be made in hours of the target not being met. On top of this, a new coalface that was to be installed over the Christmas period was postponed making it impossible for the pit to continue.


Some of the early fatalities at this mine;

  • 22/5/1891, Samuel Newport, aged 31, sinker, shotfiring incident.
  • 22/10/1891, Henry Evans, aged 34, sinker, fell into water and drowned.
  • 19/12/1891, Richard Price, aged 66, sinker, dynamite explosion.
  • 18/7/1895, William Williams, aged 32, lead sinker, shaft incident.
  • 9/8/1896, Joshua Griffiths, aged 20, fitter, hit by haulage rope.
  • 11/1/1898, Eli Frost, aged 44, labourer, fell down shaft.
  • 29/3/1898, William Lloyd Davies, aged 26, collier, roof fall.
  • 27/3/1899, D.J. Jenkins, aged 27, haulier, roof fall.
  • 13/6/1899, A. Hughes, aged 24, collier, crushed by trams.
  • 7/1/1910, Tudor Williams, aged 18, rider, run over by trams.
  • 16/4/1910, Thomas Williams, aged 48, haulier, run over by trams.
  • 14/6/1910, Henry Hodges, aged 31, rider, run over by trams.
  • 1/3/1911, Reuben Wright, aged 13, collier boy, crushed by trams.
  • 1/3/1911, Thomas Price, aged 37, collier, roof fall.
  • 23/10/1911, George Powell, aged 26, repairer, roof fall.
  • 30/10/1911, Walter Pocock, aged 42, hard ground man, roof fall.
  • 17/6/1912, John L. Davies, aged 35, surface worker, crushed by trams.
  • 24/6/1912, Owen Morris, aged 30, rider, run over by trams.
  • 30/7/1912, Ivor Morgan, aged 28, rider, run over by trams.
  • 30/11/1912, John Nicholson, aged 35, waller, crushed by trams.
  • 20/12/1912, Thomas Rees, aged 26, oiler, run over by trams.
  • 8/2/1913, George Punday, aged 26, haulier, run over by trams.
  • 11/3/1913, David Jones, aged 35, repairer, crushed by trams.
  • 15/2/1913, Vaughn Morgan, aged 33, clipper, crushed by wagons.
  • 10/6/1913, John Owen, aged 41, Edmund Thomas, aged 28, repairers, roof fall.
  • 11/7/1913, William Taylor, aged 31, repairer, roof fall.
  • 4/11/1913, Thomas Alfred Davies, aged 19, labourer, run over by trams.
  • 8/1/1914, Walter Daunton, aged 21, Assistant repairer, roof fall.
  • 1/7/1914, David Davies, aged 55, collier, roof fall.
  • 25/7/1914, John Hughes, aged 24, haulier, run over by trams.
  • 17/9/1914, Daniel Evans, aged 58, waller, roof fall.
  • 27/10/1914, Sydney Wilment, aged 44, collier, roof fall.
  • 21/11/1914, Gwilym James, aged 15, tipper, crushed by a wagon.
  • 26/11/1914, William A. Bond, aged 28, run over by trams.
  • 5/3/1925, Thomas Davies, aged 49, repairer, run over by trams.
  • 8/4/1925, John Davies, aged 54, haulier, crushed by trams.
  • 15/1/1927, John Thomas, aged 43, rider, crushed by trams.
  • 31/8/1928, Hugh Lewis, aged 32, haulier, knocked down by a horse.


Some Statistics:

  • 1896: Output: 4,610 tons.
  • 1899: Manpower: 1,266.
  • 1900: Manpower: 1,324.
  • 1901: Manpower: 1,375.
  • 1902: Manpower: 1,415.
  • 1903: Output: 406,316 tons.
  • 1905: Manpower: 1,955.
  • 1907: Manpower: 2,267.
  • 1908: Manpower: 2,070.
  • 1909: Manpower: 2,502.
  • 1910: Manpower: 2,543.
  • 1911: Manpower: 2,543.
  • 1912: Manpower: 2,777.
  • 1913: Manpower: 2,694. Output: 671,137 tons.
  • 1914: Manpower: 2,694.
  • 1915: Manpower: 2,694.
  • 1916: Manpower: 2,400.
  • 1917: Manpower: 2,400.
  • 1918: Manpower: 2,430. Output: 530,899 tons.
  • 1919: Manpower: 2,430.
  • 1920: Manpower: 2,430.
  • 1923: Manpower: 2,790.
  • 1924: Manpower: 2,802.
  • 1925: Manpower: 2,750.
  • 1927: Manpower: 2,739.
  • 1928: Manpower: 2,678.
  • 1929: Manpower: 2,700.
  • 1930: Manpower: 2,680.
  • 1933: Manpower: 2,585.
  • 1934: Manpower: 2,680. Output: 750,000 tons.
  • 1937: Manpower: 2,136.
  • 1938: Manpower: 1,927.
  • 1940: Manpower: 1,675.
  • 1941: Manpower: 1,146.
  • 1942: Manpower: 1,066.
  • 1944: Manpower: 1,027.
  • 1945: Manpower: 1,001.
  • 1948: Manpower: 972. Output: 436,948 tons.
  • 1949: Manpower: 1,009. Output: 282,264 tons.
  • 1950: Manpower: 1,041.
  • 1953: Manpower: 1,025. Output: 388,000 tons
  • 1954:Manpower1,007. Output: 255,244 tons.
  • 1955: Manpower: 945. Output: 265,223 tons.
  • 1956: Manpower: 1,004. Output: 298,466 tons.
  • 1957: Manpower: 1,025. Output: 327,201 tons.
  • 1958: Manpower: 925. Output: 277,217 tons.
  • 1960: Manpower: 848. Output: 235,000 tons.
  • 1962: Manpower: 846. 1964: Manpower: 1,009. Output: 282,264 tons. 1969: Manpower: 669.
  • 1970: Manpower: 609.
  • 1971: Manpower: 542.
  • 1972: Manpower: 520.
  • 1975: Manpower: 520.

This information has been provided by Ray Lawrence, from books he has written, which contain much more information, including many photographs, maps and plans. Please contact him at welshminingbooks@gmail.com for availability.

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