Near Abersychan, Afan Lwyd Valley

These pits were opened between 1826 and 1910 initially to feed the Abersychan Iron Works. The Top Pit (250042) was opened in 1861 to a depth of 191.7 metres, with the Four-Feet seam being encountered at a depth of 110.4 metres with a section of 2.4 metres, the Nine-Feet seam at a depth of 132.8 metres also with a section of 2.4 metres,

and the Five-Feet/Gellideg seam at a depth of 173.1 metres. The last of the pits, the New Pit was opened in 1910. There were also scores of levels in this area that worked for both iron ore and coal. The Abersychan Iron Works was established in 1825 when Small, Shears and Taylor purchased a 60 year lease to raise coal, ironstone, building stone, clay and sand over 1,236 acres. The surface rent was £401 per annum, the mineral rent was £5,625 per annum plus a

royalty of four shillings and sixpence per ton of pig iron produced. They also purchased nine small properties with a total acreage of 259 for £100 per acre. The works came into production in 1827, and in that year shipped 113 tons of iron down the Monmouthshire Canal. In 1829 the British Iron Company was formed to run the works, and it was in that year that peak output was reached at 12,481 tons, giving a profit of almost £20,000. A drop in the price of iron in 1842 shut down four of the six furnaces and created financial difficulties. In 1843 the company’s name was changed to New British Iron Company which went into bankruptcy in 1851.

The works were bought by the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company in 1852 for £8,500, estimated to have been about one-fifth of its value. The works were closed by the Ebbw Vale Company in July of 1881 its collieries in the area being leased out.

Generally, and based on the Nine-Feet seam, the coals of the British Pits were classed as type 501 High Volatile Coals, medium to strong caking and used for coking blends.

Some of those who died in the ‘British’ mines:

  • 22/12/1836, John Court: Fall of an immense stone.
  • 12/08/1839, John Phillips: Fall of stone.
  • 16/08/1839, Francis Badder, Fall of coal.
  • 3/02/1852, George Densley, Age: 34: Collier: Cage caught side of shaft.
  • 22/10/1855, William Cartwright, Age: 12: Collier: Fall of coal.
  • 6/04/1866, Edward Court: Fell out of the bond.
  • 27/03/1874, William Lloyd, Age: 50: Overman: Crushed by trams (lost light).

The pumping engine house is a listed building and located at SO 2584


The Royal Commission of 1842 into Women and Children Working in the Mines gave this report on the British/Abersychan mines:

Statement of William Hood, Esq., manager of Abersychan Iron Works. Our mines are ventilated as follows:- The air descends the working pit of the shaft, and passes along the main heading or roadway to the forepart of the work. It then passes through the stalls where the men cut through “thirlings” in the pillars and, after circulating through the whole works, is discharged at a higher level into the open air. Furnaces are sometimes employed to assist the ventilation. This keeps the workings well aired and is the principle employed at all the pits.

The mines are entered, with three exceptions, by shafts. These exceptions are three levels driven into the side of the hill.

Each pit is under the charge of a foreman whose duty it is to supervise the chains and machinery. It is also the duty of the mineral agents to attend to the chains and machinery. There is no regulation as to ascending and descending. I have seen five or six men come up together and have frequently formed one of such number myself. They stand on a carriage suspended from the chains and there is not the least danger in as many going up or down as can stand on it, the chains, being strong enough to carry above two tons exclusive of carriage. The main horse roads are not less than four and a half feet high, generally from five to six feet and occasionally more. The veins of ironstone vary from one to six inches in thickness and the coal from two feet and a half to eight feet In the mine works the main headings are generally higher than the ground in which the ironstone is found, consequently the roof is cut to make “horse room.” In the collieries, with very few exceptions, the coals are sufficiently thick for headroom without cutting the roof but where it is required, it is done. The depth below the surface varies from 20 to 70 fathoms. The gases found in these mines are carburetted hydrogen and carbonic gas. There have been several slight explosions in the collieries during the last two years occasioned entirely by the foolhardiness of the men in trusting to the indication given by the candle in preference to using the Davy lamp. One case proved fatal. The following is a list of the accidents:-

  • Hurt but recovered Killed
  • Firedamp 7 Firedamp 1
  • Falls of coal &c. 18 Falls of coal &c.4
  • Fell into pit 2 Drowned 2
  • Hurt by coal tram 1 Got entangled in chain 1
  • Hand cut off by chaff engine 1 Chain breaking 2
  • Total 29 Total 10

The majority of those who were hurt and recovered were but slightly injured and none of them were permanently maimed except the man who had his hand cut off. They are now all pursuing their usual employment. All precautions are taken to recent accidents that are practicable.

Ventilation is particularly attended to and a large supply of Davy lamps are provided and a sufficient quantity of timber for props and good machinery. In 99 cases out of every 100, accidents are the result of carelessness on the part of the men themselves, who to save a little trouble, will risk their lives. They are from their infancy inured to the dangers of a miner’s life and nothing will ever make them more cautious.

There is no protection over the heads of the people in ascending and descending the pits. I have never known an accident occur in such cases.

The whole of the ironstone and the coal is conveyed along headways and landed on the pit bank by means of horses and machinery. The use of the belt and chain is unknown in this work.

The ore is brought to the surface wholly by horses and machinery. A man may sometimes take a daughter or a wife to assist him but very rarely.The work at which the children are generally employed is in assisting their parents or others in filling coal or ironstone into the trams, attending air doors and in driving horses. There is no particular age at which the children are first put to work. A great deal depends upon the parents and the facilities they have of getting for them. A man with a large family is anxious to render the boys productive at as early age as he can and if employed himself at such work as will admit of his taking his child or children to assist him, he will frequently do so from 8 to 10 years of age. This applies more particularly to the colliers and miners. It must, however, not be inferred from this that the children are hardly treated, for they are merely taken into the mine to perform such light work as their tender years will admit of. In the collieries and mines the men work from six o’clock in the morning to six at night. They work by the ton and take their own time for meals. In the coal and mine works they never work by night

 No.21. David Davis, aged 14. I am a haulier. I drive the horses in mine trams from the miners to the pit. I have been here 15 months. I like the work very well. It is nasty work enough driving down the road and “spragging.” I work 12 hours. I come down and go up the pit in the carriage. We go up as many as the carriage will hold at the same time. It is strong enough. I have met with no accident. I go to Sunday School and can read a little.

No.22. William Brockwier. I shall be seven years old on the 1st of August. I keep this door. I have been here 10 months. I can do it very well. I open it every time the haulier comes, I don’t know how many times in a day but one horse has been through 25 times. There are two horses at work. I come down the pit by myself in the carriage they put me to. I lie down in it. I like to come to work better than stay at home. I have no mother but I have a father and two sisters who are younger than me. I don’t know what I get. I go to the pay sometimes but my father gets my money. No one ever beats me here, my father beats me sometimes at home. I always have a candle and I have four candles a day. I go to Sunday School but I can’t read.

No.23. Robert Dowling and Henry Harvey, aged each about 17. We assist the miners and train out the mine and stuff from his stall. Robert Dowling has only been here a week but Henry Harvey has been here six months. They assist the miner in boring holes for blasting down the mine and in throwing it back, picking out the rubbish and tramming it down to the stall to the main road. The horse takes it from the end of the stall to the pit. The stall is not quite high enough for them to stand in. The hardest work is pushing the empty “dram” back up the stall and getting it back on the rails when it goes off. They work 12 hours and get plenty of time to eat their bread and cheese.

No.24. David Rees, aged 16.I am a “haulier” in the coal works and I have been driving for two years. The horses are very quiet. I have met with no agents. The roads are wet and dirty and I ride in and out and don’t mind the dirt. It is not wet over head and the place is high enough to walk everywhere. I go in more than half a mile and bring out about 30 or more journeys. I am down 12 hours and get 12s. per week. I am paid by the man who takes all the work of the pit, he that is with you. Driving is not very hard work but when the drams get off the rails it is a nasty job to get them back. I do not stop for dinner but I can eat as I go along. They stop half an hour about the pit and the men inside do not stop and I go to get more trams. I stop sometimes for half an hour at a time. I go to the Sunday School and can read Welsh. The men do not beat the boys in the works.

On the 30th of March 1845, the Monmouthshire Merlin reported:

The boys sometimes quarrel and beat one another and they are sometimes fined by the master for it. They do not swear much and they are not fined for swearing that I know of. The witness was an active, intelligent lad and I rode into the workings in the tram he drove. I went with him nearly half a mile when the agent and myself turned into another part of the workings and the driver and horse went on along the main road. Shortly after turning off the main road we passed a place where, twelve months ago two persons had been burned to death by an explosion of carburetted hydrogen gas and the soot from the explosion was still visible upon the roof of the mine.

That part of the works have since been ventilated and was now passed through without a apprehension. I then proceeded into some of the stalls where the men and boys were at work cutting down the coals and filling it into trams. The most of the people at this work were adults and the vein being about 7 feet thick, the boys employed in it were mostly from 15 to 18 years old and neither the mode of working, nor the character of the place, presented the appearance of any difficulty or hardship more than is observable in all mines of this kind.

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

Return to previous page