Cross Hands Village (SN 5656 1304)

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This anthracite mine was bounded by Parc-y-Dai Colliery to the north, Emlyn Colliery to the south-east, Caerbryn Colliery to the east and Great Mountain Colliery to the south-west.  It, or a similar mine, was possibly opened as early as the 1840s.

In 1841 Morris Sayce is recorded as owning Gors Goch with Mr. Long Wrey working the Wrey’s or Cwm Goch pit. By 1842 Wrey was working eight shafts or slants but he must have had financial problems and they were up for auction in 1843. In 1848, John George of Cross Hands Colliery took David Harries of Gors Goch Colliery to court over the use of an underground roadway.  The Gors Goch Colliery had deepened to the lower coal seams and was pumping water from them into an old road in the upper seams. In the past, the same owners had worked both pits but by then they had been split into different owners but Gors Goch continued to use the old roadway. Cross Hands won the case which also mentioned the Boundary Pit. The Cross Hands must have closed not long afterwards for in 1857 Messrs Norton was listed as re-opening it and equipping it with top-class machinery.

By 1858 owned by Norton and Sons when it was managed by T. Davies. The title changed to Norton and Company in 1866 and in 1880 to Neville, Druce and Company. In 1885/6 the Cross Hands Colliery Company were shown as the owners and Thomas Harries as the manager.  The listing showed that this mine had been working the Trichwart seam but was abandoned.

In November 1891 the Cross Hands Colliery Company was registered with a capital of £10,000 in shares of £10 each.  The directors were; David John, T.W. Ward, William Griffith, G.L. Davies and Edwin Fisher.  They sunk the two new shafts and modernized the colliery.

During sinking operations the Pumpquart seam was struck at a depth of 50 yards, it was 43 inches thick with an excellent roof and was of the finest quality.  The shaft was completed in five months.

In 1893 the manager was E.R. Fisher. In 1896 it employed 88 men underground and 25 men on the surface. The manager was H.A. Bowen. The colliery failed to live up to its owner’s expectations and it was closed in August 1898 and the pumps were brought to the surface. At that time it was owned by the New Cross Hands Colliery Company.

Cleeve’s Anthracite company purchased it later that year and found it run down and most of the workings waterlogged.  He installed an electrical pumping system and opened up the Big and Stanllyd seams plus opening new slants into the Green Vein.  The result of this was that coal production went up from 100 tons to 700 tons a day.

Cross Hands was not isolated from the Great Religious Revival of 1906. Daniel Jones was a collier at the Cross Hands Colliery but he was unable to attend work due to his wife being in a constant trance-like state, or as someone stated “living almost completely in the spiritual world” It was claimed that Sarah Jones, who became known as the Wonderful Woman of Carmel, had supernatural powers and she had cured several people of various ailments.

On the 4th of November 1909, Theophilus Evans and David Jones were fined one shilling each by magistrates for walking up the slant during working hours. David Morris wasn’t so lucky with another slant incident, he arrived late for work one morning and missed the spake taking the men to work down the slant.  Against warnings, he jumped into an empty tram going down the slant, after 100 yards the rope broke and he was thrown out and killed.  He was only 15 years of age.

On the theme of fines, Benjamin Davies was fined 20 shillings and sixpence for sleeping underground in September 1914, but the daddy of them all must have been in November 1910 when William Richards was found lying on a pile of coal in the boilers with only his boots on.  He declared that he was on strike. He got 14 days in prison for his troubles.

As with most of the collieries in South Wales, Cross Hands had its share of man v master disputes, some of them being; In August 1876 the men went on strike for eight weeks over a proposed 20% cut in wages.  The matter was settled ‘amicably.’ In July 1906, the 330 Federation members at the mine issued notices to strike due to non-union men working there, the matter was settled before strike action was taken.

In September 1910 the men indicated that they would be attending the funeral of a man killed at the colliery during a working day. The owners posted notices that any man absent from work on that day would be prosecuted.  Every worker attended the funeral and there were no prosecutions. It was also in 1910 that a dispute over the payment for clod falling from the roof when the col was cut was settled after the district had been closed for 34 months.

The Twentieth Century had just begun and the World demanded more and more South Wales coal, the Bristol Channel became the busiest waterway in the world and the South Wales Coalfield was the top coal exporting area in the world. The coal industry and this area was at its peak, jobs were plentiful and people flooded into the Valley.

These were the so-called ‘good old days’ perhaps they were for some, but wages were still poor, most housing sub-standard and health and educational facilities second rate. Whether they were the good old days or not, it now went all wrong – big time – the Great War was over, reparations in the form of German coal cancelled out some markets, and other markets were seduced by cheap coal from countries desperate to rebuild their economies and the USA had virtually taken over the South American markets. The South Wales Coalfield as the premier coal exporting area in the UK was hit particularly hard. The owners attempt to reduce costs and wages resulted in numerous industrial disputes, particularly the big strikes and lock-outs of 1921 and 1926, this was then followed by the worldwide recessions of the early 1930s and the South Wales coal industry began its long decline.

In February of 1921, a worldwide trade depression had hit the mainly exporting South Wales Coalfield particularly bad with 80,000 miners laid off. The mines were still under State control following the war, and as a result, the miners were enjoying their highest wages in history at 21 shillings and 6.75 pence per shift, due to the agreement of 1920 which gave an output bonus of 3/6d per shift.

The Government then surprised and horrified the miners by stating that they were bringing forward the end of state control of the mines to the end of March. The owners then immediately announced that there would be a drastic cut in wages. On the 16th of March, they issued notices to all workmen (including pumpsmen) that all contracts of services would end on the 31st of March. On Friday the First of April 1921 over 1 million miners nationally were locked out of the mines until they worked on the owners’ terms. As the contract notices included the pump men they also stayed out of work (much to the distress of the owners and government) and the pits were left to flood. The government then proclaimed a State of Emergency and troops were moved into the coalfields. The government refused to allow negotiations to continue unless the pumpmen worked so they were allowed to return on the 9th of April. This changed the whole position of the dispute, from a state of panic the owners and the government now had control of the situation, due to the slump in trade the demand for coal had reduced, and the pits were now safe for re-opening when required. Negotiations broke down on the 12th of April, and on the 14th of April, the Railway and Transport Unions withdrew their threat of support strike action. Despite all this, the miners refused to accept the owner’s terms and continued to remain out of work, in June a ballot of all miners still rejected the owner’s terms, in South Wales by 110,616 votes to 40,909 votes, and Nationally by 435,614 votes to 180,724 votes. The National Executive Committee of the Miners Federation of Great Britain literally ignored this result and carried negotiations which resulted in a disastrous settlement for the miners. Following backstage plotting their recommendations were accepted by area conferences, South Wales voted 112 to 109, and the men returned to work defeated. In South Wales, miners’ wages per shift dropped to under half by October 1922 at nine shillings and five and a half-pence.

It was four years later that another big strike took place; in 1925 the new owners of Ammanford No.1 Colliery, Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Limited refused to abide by the old customs, including the seniority rule. This sparked off what was to become the Anthracite Strike which was conducted amongst mass picketing riots and disturbances. By the 29th of June, Ammanford Colliery was on strike and notices had been tendered through the rest of the district. A ballot was held on the 11th of July and a general strike of all the anthracite miners started on the 13th of July. Riots took place at Gelliceidrim, Rock, Saron, Park, Ammanford No.2, Betws, Llandebie and Ammanford Village and 58 miners were imprisoned. On July 28, there was trouble simultaneously at five collieries. The South Wales Daily Post reported that Gelliceidrim Colliery was rushed by a crowd of miners, some with hoods to hide their faces: “Mob law prevailed for a time”, claimed the reporter. At Saron Colliery, officials were attacked, shots were fired, a man in the colliery yard was hit by a bullet and a quantity of explosives was discharged. Similarly, at Park Colliery, explosives were discharged and telephone wires were cut.

There was also a large demonstration at the Emlyn Colliery, Penygroes, as well as at Cross Hands, where a crowd led by Edgar Lewis, the local check weigher, “terrified” the police by singing Doctor Joseph Parry’s hymn “Aberystwyth”. 30 Extra police were brought into the area but seemed totally inadequate. The men returned to work on the 24th of August victorious although the Ammanford No.1 had to close for ‘economic reasons’. The number of men involved in strike action this year was Anthracite District 2,000 men from the 2nd to 24 June. Anthracite District, 18,000 men were involved from 13th July to 24th August. The Cross Hands men were back out in October 1925 with a strike that lasted ten days.

The colliery was originally on the Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr Railway.  It was later owned by the New Cross Hands Collieries Limited who in 1908 employed David F Davies as manager, and by 1913 by Cleeve’s Western Valleys Anthracite Collieries Company Limited who employed 700 men at the colliery in that year, with the manager being David F. Davies. Mr. Davies was still there in 1916.  In 1918 it employed 483 men underground and 155 men on the surface the manager at that time was H. Mainwaring. In May 1928 Charlie, the pit pony, who was 28 years old and had worked underground for 20 years was retired and brought to the surface.  It was only his fourth visit to the surface, the other three had been during strikes. In 1932 this colliery is recorded as having its own coal preparation plant, within 1934 the manager still being H. Mainwaring.

In April 1939 this mine was closed for ten weeks but Anthracite Collieries Company was persuaded by the South Wales Miners Federation to work it until July to see if there was any improvement in performance.  In July Anthracite Collieries Company agreed to give it another month and on the 1st of September 1939, they agreed not to close this mine.  The old pit was closed in 1943 but the slant remained in production. Manpower was reduced from 800 to 650.   It was working in the Gras, Green, Stanllyd and Big Veins and 118 men working at the surface of the mine.   In 1943/5 it was managed by H. Stephens.

New Cross Hands Colliery was placed in the National Coal Board’s South Western Divisions Area No.1, Group No.1 (Pontyberem) with the manager still being H. Stephens. At that time it consisted of two slants driven from the outcrop of the Green vein and two pits that were 14 feet in diameter and 100 yards deep.

There was an interesting court case in July 1950 when the ex-manager, Arthur Trow was accused of falsifying accounts, false pretences, fraudulent conversion of property and embezzlement.  Trow had been using men from the mine to work on his house but paid them through the mine’s books, he also booked in an overman for week-ends shafts that he hadn’t worked.

By 1954, the colliery employed 79 men on the surface and 343 men underground working the Green, Charcoal, Big and Stanllyd seams the manager was now D.L. Jenkins.

By 1955 the colliery was only working the Big Vein seam, taking half of the 8 feet 6 inches thick seam, and to geological difficulties and the apathy of management and men output per manshift was down to 15 hundredweights of coal.  It was agreed to further exploit the Big Vein through drivages to a new area, plus the Green and Stanllyd seams.  At that time the coalfaces in operation were the 260 Conveyor which was 90 yards long and employed 20 colliers.  There were two faults on the face.  The 100 Yards Conveyor was 114 yards long and highly disturbed, four men worked on it forming a new track.  The 70-yard Conveyor was stopped due to faulting.  It was believed that the following seams could be accessed fairly easily:

  • Big Vein at 102 inches
  • Green seam at 32 inches
  • Stanllyd at 36 inches
  • Gras at 32 inches
  • Lower Gras at 26 inches
  • Charcoal at 25 inches
  • Lower Triquart at 32 inches
  • Pumpquart at 34 inches

The Lower Gras and the Lower Triquart were virgin areas.

In 1954/55 this colliery was one of 42 that caused concern to both the NUM and the NCB over the high levels of accidents.  In 1956 a new price list was agreed upon for the three feet thick Braslyd (Charcoal) Seam.  The payment was two shillings and seven pence per square yard for machine cut coal and three shillings and one penny for hand-filled coal.  This included the erection of supports. In 1955 there were 199 men employed at the coalfaces in this colliery, this figure dropped gradually during the late 1950s to 183 men in 1956, and 161 men at the coalfaces in 1958. Pithead baths were constructed in 1956.

On the 28th of March 1960, there were 24 men in a spake going up an incline when it ran back for fifty feet injuring fifteen of them.  Four were taken to hospital, the others returned home.

In 1961 Cross Hands was still in the No.1 Area, No.1 Group along with Blaenhirwaun, Cynheidre, Great Mountain and Pentremawr collieries.  The total manpower for the Group was 2,810 men, while the total coal production for that year was 465,801 tons.

Although the NCB had invested £1,000,000 in this part of the Coalfield in 1947 it was disappointed in its returns, the markets for anthracite coals were shrinking, productivity was low, the mines hopelessly outdated and most too far into the seams to be economically worked, they claimed that the anthracite miners were reluctant to embrace new mining methods and to abandon their old practices, and at times were downright obstructive. The financial losses of the anthracite pits were far the worse of any other part of the United Kingdom and it seemed doomed for extinction. That is until the Clean Air Act of the early 1950s, and suddenly anthracite coals were in great demand for central heating systems causing a great reversal in the fortunes of the area, new drifts were opened, and two new super-pits, Cynheidre and Abernant, were sunk. The latter became the deepest pits in the Coalfield at 897 yards.

The 1950s continued to see a decline in the industry, partly due to the closure of uneconomic collieries, and partly due to the miners “voting with their feet” and seeking healthier, safer and better-paid jobs in factories and elsewhere. In 1950, 102,000 miners produced 24,314,000 tons of coal in the Coalfield, by 1960 these figures were down to 84,000 miners producing 19,537,000 tons of coal. Relative wages of the miners were also losing ground, in 1952 the South Wales miner earned £1.92 per shift as compared to £2.08 on average for the U.K., by 1959 the South Wales average had risen to £2.78 but the U.K. average had gone up to £3.02. For most people, the 1960s denote an era of sex, drugs and rock and roll, of mini skirts and mini cars, of flower power, prosperity, liberalisation and a decline in the nation’s morals. For the miners of South Wales, the 1960s are remembered as the era of pit closures. Not that pit closures had been accelerated, 76 pits closed between 1960 and 1970 in the Coalfield, exactly the same number that had been closed between 1947 and 1959, but because the number of collieries in operation was less, and that the closure programme was mainly carried out under a Labour Government, and under an NCB chairman, Sir Alf Robens, who at one time had designs on the Labour Party leadership, they appeared to be more severe than in the past. In 1960, 118 collieries produced 19,537,000 tons of coal with the manpower at 84,000 by 1970 the 52 collieries left in operation produced 11,685,478 tons of coal with a workforce of 38,000. New Cross Hands Colliery was one of the first victims of the ‘purge’.

Cross Hands Colliery was closed by the National Coal Board on the 26th May 1962 and the manpower, that wanted to, was transferred to the new Cwmgwili mine which was given the remainder of the Cross Hands mineral take plus a new unproven area.

Some of those that died at this mine:

  • 24/9/1909, William Hughes, died under a roof fall.
  • 9/09/1910, Fred Hurry, Age: 51: Labourer: Crushed between a wagon he was lowering from screens and another wagon at the crossing of another line of rails.
  • 15/9/1910, John Williams, a surface labourer, was crushed to death by trucks.
  • 3/12/1910, William Matthews, Age: 17: Collier boy: Fall of the roof at the working face.
  • 14/12/1910, A.H. Jones, Age: 24: Rider: An empty tram ran wild from the surface down a steep slant overtaking a journey on which he was riding. The impact caused a coupling to get loose and 9 trams ran wild and caused falls of the roof under one of which he was found.
  • 8/03/1911, W.H. Williams, Age: 38: Repairer: Fall of the roof on road. While barring down the roof a stone fell and rolled against his leg; although the skin was not broken the bruise became septic and death ensued in days from cellulitis and general blood poisoning.
  • 23/08/1911, Moses Morgan, Age: 41: Collier: Fall of the roof on stall road along which he was passing.
  • 2/12/1912, Walter Jones, Age: 30: Carpenter: In oiling some machinery on the jigging screen, his clothing caught and he was whirled around and killed.
  • 31/10/1913, Alfred Charles Horner, Age: 35: Steeplejack: He was pulling himself up a stack in a “cradle” to do some pointing to the chimney when the rope broke and he fell to the ground.
  • 15/06/1914, Johnny Jenkins, Age: 35: Collier: Fall of the roof near the face of the working place, as he was walking back along the road to have food. A comrade was slightly injured.
  • 20/08/1927, H. Tippins, Age: 25: Collier: Barring down a piece of clod when a piece of top fell on him.
  • 18/02/1928, John Davies, Age: 36: Day fireman: Supervising taking out a tram from the stall which had fallen – knocked out the stone with a sledgehammer head crushed and killed.
  • In October 1932, Isaac Williams aged 47 years, had to leave his stall due to an outburst of methane gas. He then tried to go back in to get his tools and died of gas inhalation.

Some Statistics:

  • 1899: Manpower: 150.
  • 1900: Manpower: 237.
  • 1901: Manpower: 265.
  • 1902: Manpower: 308.
  • 1903: Manpower: 329.
  • 1905: Manpower: 330.
  • 1907: Manpower: 385.
  • 1908: Manpower: 512.
  • 1909: Manpower: 511.
  • 1910: Manpower: 683.
  • 1911: Manpower: 613.
  • 1912: Manpower: 729.
  • 1913: Manpower: 700.
  • 1915/6: Manpower: 700.
  • 1919: Manpower: 649.
  • 1920: Manpower: 649.
  • 1922: Manpower: 837.
  • 1923: Manpower: 861.
  • 1924: Manpower: 879.
  • 1925: Manpower: 896.
  • 1927: Manpower: 834.
  • 1928: Manpower: 775.
  • 1930: Manpower: 890.
  • 1933: Manpower: 908.
  • 1935: Manpower: 871.
  • 1937: Manpower: 884.
  • 1940: Manpower: 760.
  • 1941: Manpower: 821.
  • 1942: Manpower: 786.
  • 1944: Manpower: 556.
  • 1945: Manpower: 547.
  • 1947: Manpower: 601.
  • 1949: Manpower: 594. Output: 90,000 tons.
  • 1950: Manpower: 547.
  • 1953: Manpower: 477. Output: 85,000 tons
  • 1954: Manpower: 422. Output: 75,000 tons.
  • 1955: Manpower: 421. Output: 67,952 tons.
  • 1956: Manpower: 422. Output: 54,156 tons.
  • 1957: Manpower: 402. Output: 50,371 tons.
  • 1960: Manpower: 378. Output: 53,371 tons.
  • 1961: Manpower: 275. Output: 62,983 tons.
  • 1962: Manpower: 276


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

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