Hirwaun, Cynon Valley, Landranger sheet 170 – 927044

Coal mining in the Hirwaun Common area for local and domestic use drifts way back into the mists of time, but significant mining occurred with the advent of the great ironworks of the northern outcrop of the South Wales Coalfield. It was to feed the iron works at Hirwaun, opened in 1757, that started the great coal rush into the Cynon Valley which made it the greatest coal-producing valley in the world long before the Rhondda came into eminence. The coal seams of the Lower and Middle Coal Measures, with their accompanying ironstone veins and limestone outcrop over a wide area at Hirwaun making them easily accessible for exploitation by the iron masters. The earliest workings were called patches, this was where the coal or ironstone was simply scooped up from the ground, when these patches became too deep to work safely, levels, slants or drifts were driven into the hillsides following the coal seams even deeper.

Those early levels used to provide coal to the Hirwaun Iron Works were driven on the ‘contractor’ system as can be shown by the Graig Vein Level listing. The period between 1840-1850 was one of extensive development in this area, the ironworks were still booming, the industrial revolution had created a nationwide demand for Welsh coal, and the world had discovered the ‘Aberdare’ Four-Feet seam. In 1851 a report by De la Beche and Lyon Playfair convinced the Admiralty and the mercantile marine of the superior qualities of the dry, smokeless, steam coals of the Aberdare Valley, and immediately these coals were in demand for these Navies.

It was during this period that the first drift of the Tower series was opened by the Marquis of Bute probably in 1864. On the 1878 list of mines this was probably listed as Bute Colliery, Hirwaun, which at that time was leased to the Aberdare Rhondda Company. Also on the 1878 mines list was Tower Graig Colliery which was owned and managed at that time by W. Williams. On the 15th of February 1880, a Tonygraig Colliery at Rhigos, hit the news when six horses were burnt to death when their stables caught on fire. This had changed to Tower-y-Graig by November 1881, when the owner, William Williams of Bryncynon, Penderyn went bankrupt.

Both mines are shown to be working in 1888, and in 1893/6 a Tower owned by the Marquis of Bute employed Thomas Richards as the manager in 1893 and employed 374 men underground and 46 men on the surface.

The Western Mail Friday, 19th of May 1893 reports:

At the Tower Colliery, Hirwaun (owned by the Marquis of Bute,), a hard heading has been driven for the purpose of winning coal in a new taking, and the results have proved most satisfactory. The celebrated Two-foot Nine-inch coal and the Driver and the Upper Four-foot Seams have all proved to be of excellent quality, and Mr. Isaac H. Jones, the manager of the works, is to be congratulated on the results of his labours. The extent of the new taking is about one mile wide and two miles in length, and will afford employment to colliers for many years. Trade in Hirwaun has been for some years in a very precarious position, and this announcement will be received with satisfaction by property owners and tradesmen.

The manager was Isaac H Jones in 1896, while Tower Graig which had been worked by William Williams of Hirwaun had been discontinued by
that time. In 1908 Tower was managed by Daniel Jones. By 1913 Tower Colliery or Duffryn Aberdare is shown as being owned by the Marquis of Bute, and was under the control of his mining agent, Lord Merthyr. Manpower at that time was 558, the manager still being Daniel Jones. The Marquis advertised at that time:

The Marquis of Bute’s Collieries.
Shipping Agent – Mr. WA. Jones, 1, Dock Chambers, Cardiff
‘Fothergill’s Aberdare’ Smokeless Steam Coal, Aberdare
‘Bute Merthyr’ Smokeless Steam Coal, Rhondda Valley
‘Duffryn Aberdare’ Smokeless Steam Coal, Aberdare Valley
The Aberdare and Duffryn Aberdare Collieries are connected with the Great Western and Taff Vale Railways.
Shipping Ports:- Cardiff, Port Talbot, Swansea and Newport.
The Collieries are Old-Established, and the qualities of the respective Coals are well known in all the principal markets.
Prices, FOB. Or Delivered Into Buyers Trucks

This company was a member of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Owners Association. The Marquis of Bute’s title to the land went back to
1547 and 1550 when the first two of 29 properties were granted by King Edward VI to Sir William Herbert for defeating rebels in the West of the Kingdom. There was some suspicion that the King’s signature (he was ten years of age) had been forged for the grant of the Lordships of Miskin, Glynrhondda, Llantrisant, Pentyrch and Clun. Appearing before the Sankey Commission in 1914 the Most Hon. John Marquess of Bute and Earl of Dumfries was said to own 128,582 acres of land with an output of coal and other minerals averaging 3,241,962 tons per annum, with a sliding scale royalty of 1/6d (7.5 pence) per ton for one seventh and for the rest of his property fixed royalties of over 6d (2.5 pence) per ton. During the period 1912 to 1918 average income from mineral royalties for him amounted to £109,277 a year. Compare this with the South Wales miners’ average daily wage for 1914 which was the princely sum of 6/9d (34 pence).

In 1916 the manpower was 551, with the colliery listed as “extending”. In 1915/8 the manager at Tower was still Daniel Jones.

The Times of 15th July 1919 reports:

The sale by Lord Bute to Mr. David R. Llewellyn, of Aberdare, of the Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, Glamorgan, which was announced in the Times of July 9, was completed to-day by the signing of the agreement for the transfer of the plant, machinery and goodwill. At the same time, Lord Bute has leased for 60 years a large area of mineral property extending over several thousand acres in the parishes of Hirwaun and Rhigos.

It is understood that it has been stipulated that this coal area shall be developed, that several new pits shall be sunk, and that the work shall be proceeded at an early date. A comprehensive scheme for housing the miners and their families on the property has also been devised…The property acquired is computed to contain 150,000,000 tons of coal, and it is estimated that an output of 5,000 tons a day will be reached…Mr. D. R. Llewellyn now controls about one-seventh of the South Wales Coalfield.

In 1920 the Tower No.2 Drift was opened, the colliery now being leased by the Duffryn Aberdare Colliery Company Limited, who took a particularly harsh stance following the 1921 Lock-Out. The checkweigher at Tower, Gwilym Richards, was highly active in defending the interests of his members, so Sir David Rees Llewellyn, chairman of the company, wanted him removed from the colliery, the men refused to allow this so Llewellyn stopped the pit until he was removed. The manager in 1927 was W. Pugh.

In 1934 Welsh Associated Collieries Limited was based at Aberdare House, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff with the directors being:

Sir David R Llewellyn, W.M. Llewellyn, H.H. Merrett, Sir John F. Beale, T.J. Callaghan and J.H. Jolly.

The company secretary was T.G.W. Wade and the sales agents were Gueret Llewellyn & Merrett & Co. At that time the company controlled six collieries that employed 8,090 men who produced 2,700,000 tons of coal.

The Duffryn Aberdare Company was absorbed into Welsh Associated Collieries Limited in 1930, and in 1935, this company merged with the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Company Limited to form the Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries Limited. This new company had a capital of £17,000,000, with Tower being one of 44 pits in south Wales producing 12,372,000 tons of coal for it. This was 32% of the total output of the South Wales Coalfield.
At that time Tower Colliery was working the Four-Feet, Nine-Feet and Bute seams, employing 500 men working underground and 150 men working on the surface of the mine and producing 200,000 tons of coal. It had its own coal preparation plant (washery). The manager at that time was W.T. Pugh. The manager in 1938 was G.A. Watson and in 1945 it was G.B. Barling. The current shaft, Tower No.4 was sunk between 1941 and 1944. At that time the colliery was working the Red, Seven-Feet and Nine-Feet seams.

Tower was Nationalised in January 1947 and placed in the National Coal Board’s, South Western Division’s, No.4 (Aberdare) Area, Group No.2, and employed 1,014 men. This mine also included the New Drifts Nos.1 and 2 which were pumping from the Bute seam, and the new Rhigos Drivage.

In July 1953 new pit head baths and a medical centre were constructed. By 1954 Tower was working the Five-Feet, Seven-Feet, Bute and Nine-Feet seams, employing 1,065 men working underground and 171 men working on the surface of the mine producing 384,000 tons of coal. It was then called Tower Slants Nos. 1, 3 and 4, with the manager being J. Ellis. Output gradually dropped to 284,158 tons in 1956, when 590 men were employed on the coalfaces and 1,250 men overall working at the colliery, but by 1958 it was up to 311,357 tons of coal produced for that year, with 616 men on the coalfaces and 1,340 men overall. In that year the B2 Libya Training Face had a capacity for 26 trainees and 26 supervisors.

On Friday, November the 20th 1954, fifteen runaway trams rushed down the main incline injuring eleven miners who were slow to get out of the way. A stampede of the horses warned the men that something was wrong and most of the men, who were walking out at the end of their shift, managed to get into manholes away from danger.

In 1959 the men working for the contracting firm, Cementation broke the U.K. weekly advance rate for a tunnel achieving 225 feet advance in one

In 1961 this colliery was still in the No.4 Area’s, No.2 Group along with Rhigos Nos. 1 and 7, Aberpergwm, Cwmgwrach, Rock and Pentreclwydau collieries. The total manpower for the Group in that year was 3,126 men, while the total amount of coal produced by this Group in that year was 726,000 tons.

In April 1962 an explosion occurred when the normal ventilation was disturbed by a faulty fan resulting in a buildup of methane gas. A spark from a faulty cable ignited it killing 9 men and injuring 9 others. A full report can be found here.

In February 1963, Aberdare Engineering of Aberdare received an order for one of the biggest overland conveyors ever ordered by the NCB. It would take the coal from Tower to the new washery some three-quarters of a mile away. It cost £100,000.

In 1964 Tower was linked underground to the neighbouring Fernhill Colliery, with Fernhill’s coal being diverted by underground roadway to
Tower. The overland conveyor from the No.3 Drift to the washery was 3,575 feet long and the largest overland conveyor in Wales. It dropped
163 feet from the mouth of the drift to the washery. In early 1968 workings in the Bute seam hit geological problems and output per manshift slumped to 14 cwts. The decision was made to develop the Nine-Feet seam and two coalfaces installed in this seam increased the output per manshift to 28 cwts. At that time there were 1,600 yards of conveyors in use.

A new militancy was now emerging amongst the miners of Tower, they took a lead in the unofficial strike in 1969 over surfacemen’s hours and continued to take a lead in trade union affairs up to, and including the 1984/85 miner’s strike. In 1970 the NCB issued a warning to both Tower and Fernhill that unless the coal was mined at an economical price they would close in early 1971.

On the 3rd of December 1974, flooding near the No.4 pit from nearby opencast workings stopped all work in the N18 coalface in the Nine-Feet seam. The water was pumped out at a thousand gallons per minute but it wasn’t until the 5th of January 1975 that work recommenced.

From the manpower of 1,382 men working at Tower Colliery in 1970, a dramatic reduction occurred until by 1974, only 559 men were employed at the mine, this figure rose to 725 men working at the mine in 1981. In the late 1970s, this pit was working the Five-Feet and Nine-Feet seams in an area of four square miles with two coalfaces giving an output per manshift at the coalface of 3.4 tonnes and 1 tonne overall for the colliery. There were ten miles of roadways in use including seven miles of high-speed conveyors. In 1975 the NCB stated their concern over the poor performances at the Fernhill end of the complex estimating losses for the first three months being almost £700,000 or £10.39 per ton of coal produced.

In 1981 this colliery was still working the Five-Feet seam at a section of 1.22 metres, and the Nine-Feet seam at a section of between 1.65 and 1.9 metres. All coalface roof supports were of the self-advancing type, with the coal cutting by ranging drum shearers. Coalface length varied between 137 metres and 187 metres. Coalfaces in the Five-Feet seam were prefixed by the letter V, with the V25 stopping in February 1981 to be replaced with the V26 which had anticipated a daily advance of 1.9 metres over two shafts and a minimum life of 750 metres. The NineFeet seam coalfaces were prefixed by the letter N, with the N21 advancing 1.5 metres a day on two-shift coaling with in February 1981 280 yards left. This coalface was replaced by the N22 which could advance 1 metre on single-shift coaling and 1.8 metres on double-shift coaling per day. It had an expected life of 500 yards. Daily output was planned at 900 tonnes, with output per manshift on the coalface being 5.47 tonnes, and overall for the colliery 1.32 tonnes. The saleable yield was 55% of the total output.

Planned manshifts were; working at the coalfaces, 150 men, working on developing new coalfaces, 130 men, working elsewhere below ground 215 men, and working at the surface of the mine,164 men. The manager at that time was K.V. Pearce, with the NUM Lodge Secretary being T. O’Sullivan.
Tower Colliery was situated in the margin between the steam coal and anthracite sections of the Coalfield, early workings tended to be in the steam coal section, while now workings are concentrated in the western, or anthracite take. In 1983 during a review of the South Wales Coalfield, no doubt in preparation for the ‘battles’ ahead, the National Coal Board announced that Tower Colliery was losing £10.00 on every tonne of coal that it produced.
Following the return to work after the 1984/85 miner’s strike, the output of Mardy Colliery was diverted by an underground roadway to Tower. Tower Colliery made a poor recovery after the strike obtaining only 68% of production targets after a month, the V28 coalface was normal, but the
V27 was giving poor results.

Tower Colliery was the last British Coal mine to work in the South Wales Coalfield being closed in April 1994. However, the local NUM Lodge was determined to keep their pit open and to provide employment in the Cynon Valley. They carried out an intense publicity campaign, lobbied
Parliament, and came away with a workers buy-out. 239 men contributed £8,000 each out of their redundancy payments towards the buy-out fund of £2,000,000. Under the name of Goitre Tower Anthracite Limited, the mine was re-opened and was a very successful enterprise providing coal to power stations, British Steel, domestic markets and overseas. Tower is currently (2006) working the Five-Feet and Seven-Feet seams at a section of 1.87 metres, with the coalface length being 300 metres. 247 men are employed, with annual output running at about 500,000 tonnes. The main reserves for the colliery are in this seam and to the west of the shaft, four coalfaces were planned for this area with a possibility of another nine coalfaces further away. There are reserves to the north-east of the shafts but working this area would affect the main drifts. This area will only be worked at the end of the colliery’s lifetime.

Tower Colliery finally closed on the 18th of January 2008 due to the exhaustion of reserves.

Some of the early fatalities at this mine:

  • 18/5/1876, D. Morgan, aged 28, collier, fall of roof.
  • 15/9/1893, Gomer Jones, aged 26, collier, fall of roof.
  • 8/11/1895, Rees Williams, aged 34, haulier, fall of roof.
  • 30/8/1888, George Hopkins, aged 34, collier, fall of roof.
  • 19/2/1896, James Evans, aged 21, collier, fall of roof.
  • 7/8/1897, Thomas Bowen, aged 44, collier, fall of roof.
  • 1/6/1899, John James, aged 22, rider, run over by trams.
  • 30/10/1899, W. Hughes, aged 51, collier, fall of roof.
  • 12/1/1912, Francis James, aged 52, master haulier, run over by trams
  • 12/9/1912, Frederick Smith, aged 48, collier, fall of roof.
  • 16/6/1913, John Evans, aged 45, hard heading man, fall of roof.
  • 16/6/1913, Waldo Evans, aged 44, hard heading man, fall of roof.
  • 16/6/1913, William John Llewellyn, aged 25, hard heading man, fall of roof.
  • 10/7/1914, David Morgan, aged 57, repairer, fall of roof.

Some statistics:

  • 1889: Output: 78,597 tons
  • 1894: Output: 58,946 tons
  • 1896: Manpower: 420.
  • 1899: Manpower: 349.
  • 1900: Manpower: 338.
  • 1901: Manpower: 370.
  • 1902: Manpower: 351.
  • 1903: Manpower: 311.
  • 1905: Manpower: 270.
  • 1907: Manpower: 374.
  • 1908: Manpower: 344.
  • 1909: Manpower: 344.
  • 1910: Manpower: 378.
  • 1911: Manpower: 382.
  • 1912: Manpower: 507.
  • 1913: Manpower: 558.
  • 1915: Manpower: 551.
  • 1916: Manpower: 551.
  • 1918: Manpower: 679.
  • 1919: Manpower: 750.
  • 1922: Manpower: 750.
  • 1923: Manpower: 567 Output: 150,000 tons.
  • 1924: Manpower: 557.
  • 1925: Manpower: 700.
  • 1927: Manpower: 510.
  • 1928: Manpower: 502.
  • 1930: Manpower: 650 Output: 200,000 tons.
  • 1932: Manpower: 700.
  • 1933: Manpower: 665.
  • 1934: Manpower: 674.
  • 1935: Manpower: 650. Output: 200,000 tons.
  • 1937: Manpower: 1,120.
  • 1938: Manpower: 1,294.
  • 1940: Manpower: 1,162.
  • 1941: Manpower: 1,111.
  • 1942: Manpower: 915.
  • 1944: Manpower: 1,031.
  • 1945: Manpower: 1,045.
  • 1947: Manpower: 1,014.
  • 1948: Manpower: 1,011
  • 1950: Manpower: 1,216.
  • 1953: Manpower: 1,251. Output: 450,000 tons.
  • 1954: Output: 384,000 tons.
  • 1955: Manpower: 1,230. Output: 340,000 tons.
  • 1956: Manpower: 1,250. Output: 284,158 tons.
  • 1957: Manpower: 1,376. Output: 296,476 tons.
  • 1958: Manpower: 1,340. Output: 311,357 tons.
  • 1960: Manpower: 1,169. Output: 298,000 tons.
  • 1961: Manpower: 1,167. Output: 294,822 tons.
  • 1962: Manpower: 1,167.
  • 1964: Manpower: 860. Output: 250,000 tons.
  • 1969: Manpower: 736.
  • 1970: Manpower: 1,382.
  • 1971: Manpower: 1,167.
  • 1972: Manpower: 1,134.
  • 1974: Manpower: 559.
  • 1978: Manpower: 867. Output: 244,021 tons.
  • 1979: Manpower: 811. Output: 243,000 tons.
  • 1981: Manpower: 659.
  • 1984: Manpower: 655.
  • 1992: Manpower: 420.
  • 1994: Manpower: 281. Output: 707,000 tons.


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

Return to previous page