Near Ammanford, Amman Valley (644120)

A new drift mine officially opened on the 20th of August 1974 by the National Coal Board to replace the Ammanford No.2 Slant. It was the first completely new mine in the South Wales Coalfield for ten years. Considerable emphasis was placed on ensuring good environmental surface features through the detailed design of all surface buildings and the provision of adequate screening around the mine. It was expected to raise 510,000 tons of coal per annum with an output per manshift of 5.75 tonnes.

Two slants were driven into the Red Vein for a distance of 2.5 miles by local contractors (James Williams & Co. of Neath), with production starting on the retreat mining method in the spring of 1978. It was on the 14th of March 1977 that the first coal was cut in the Red Vein. This was by Dosco Dinter Heading machines which eventually drove the 16 feet wide and 7 feet high headings 1,200 yards before three 200 yard long coalfaces were opened. Two were production faces and the other was a standby face. All were equipped with power supports and Gleithobel ploughs for coal cutting/loading. The total cost of opening the mine was £18 million with the manpower coming from the closed Ammanford and Graig Merthyr mines.

The Main Return Drift Haulage was installed with a 300kW single drum direct rope haulage which was updated from the salvaged haulage from the No.1 Slant of Pentremawr Colliery which had been manufactured in 1910. On completion, the haulage rope was 7,000 metres in length. The Main Intake Drift Haulage was a refurbished 450kW haulage using a 400mm Becorit track and capable of a manriding capacity of 140 men. A surface control room was made to monitor by computer the 3.5 km long underground to surface cable belt which ran to the loading point at Abernant washery which was ½ mile away, other conveyors, bunkers, weighers and the rapid loading equipment at the colliery sidings. The coalfaces had ultra-sophisticated semi-automatic face control systems and nucleonic-steered power loaders. It was the most advanced colliery in Western Europe. In 1977 the surface ventilation fans were updated to parallel plated high-speed centrifugal fans driven by 600 kW synchronous motors. (Taken from a paper by P.R. Owen T Eng (CEI) in the “Mining Technology” dated March 1983)

In 1979 the manpower of 569 men produced 385,000 tons of coal. In February 1979 a special investigation was carried out into dust prevention at this colliery. They visited the W1 Coalface which had a high dust count of 5.6 mg/m3. They found that advancing the roof supports created large dust clouds, cutting in the direction from the supply to the gate road creating excessive dust. Nine inches of stone was being cut along the floor of the coalface. It was agreed to cut the coalface in one direction only, to erect curtains on the coalface and to clean the supports regularly. In 1980 Betws received the Premier Business and Industry Award in recognition of human and social responsibility and environmental quality. On the afternoon shift of the 15th of May 1979 at 5.45 pm there was an explosion of gases inside an electrical switch driving an electrical haulage in the main intake roadway. No one was hurt.

Betws New Mine worked the anthracite Red Vein seam at a section of between 1.4 metres and 1.64 metres, the coalface length was normally 180 metres, with coal cutting by ranging drum shearer and coalface roof supports the self-advancing types. In 1980 it employed 585 men and produced 384,752 tons of coal. In 1981 manpower deployment was development 120, coalface 150, elsewhere below ground 164, surface 95, making a total of 529 men. The expected output per manshift on the coalface was 15.57 tonnes, and overall 4.33 tonnes. The yield of saleable coal from the total output was 62%. The manager in 1978/81 was D. Roberts.

The E2 coalface was expected to advance at a rate of 1.81 metres on two coaling shifts per day until closure in July 1981. It was to be replaced by the S1 which had a life of 713 metres and was expected to advance 2.57 metres per day on double shift giving a daily output of 900 tonnes of coal. The S2 coalface with a life of 914 metres was expected to start towards the end of 1982. The W3 coalface was expected to advance at a rate of 3.52 metres per day on double coaling producing 1,400 tonnes of coal each day for its life of 914 metres. It started in May 1981.

The N2 Coalface was advancing 0.66 metres per day on single coaling shift giving an output of 250 tonnes of coal with a life of 631 metres.

In 1983 this colliery was making a profit of £13.70 per tonne of coal it produced with 683 men employed. In view of this, the NCB decided to extend its life by spending £12 million driving through a major geological fault to work the Red Vein on the other side of it. Following the return to work after the 1984/85 miner’s strike recovery was slow at this colliery, with by the end of April export markets.

Adverse conditions affecting the W4 coalface and the S2 coalface not in production at all, output was only at 48% of expected levels yet by July of that year Betws was making £6.60 on every tonne of coal produced, the third best result in South Wales. The now British Coal invested another £4 million in this drift, driving down a new 162 metre shaft 1.5 miles away from the mine’s surface and driving an underground linking roadway. From the manpower of 770 men in 1986 it was producing around 12,000 tonnes of coal weekly which gave an overall output per manshift of 3.5 tonnes and of 690 men producing 490,000 tonnes of coal in 1988.

Betws New Mine employed only 150 men, and produced 135,000 tons of coal when closed by British Coal in August and 1992. Its main markets were for power stations and both domestic and foreign uses. British Coal quoted limited reserves as the reason for closure.

Betws was one of five mines offered by British Coal for sale to outside contractors. Martin Cook, the deputy manager, led a management buy-out which had the approval of both the NUM and NACODS trades unions.

They anticipated a life of ten years for the drift. It re-opened under a management buy-out by the Betws Anthracite Company in April 1994 but to date, 2003, it is in financial difficulties and relies on grants from the Welsh Assembly. In March of 2003, it received a payment of £837,600 as the final part of the Coal Operating Aid Scheme that had been in operation since 2000. This was to no avail and the mine closed at the end of July 2003.


Information supplied by Ray Lawrence and used here with his permission.

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