Llangennech, near Llanelli (SN 5725 0237)

The western area of the South Wales Coalfield is bounded in the east by the River Loughor and extends approximately 10 miles westward to the Gwendraeth Valley itself which forms the western boundary of the area. The Gwendraeth Valley is a broad straight valley extending to beyond Cross Hands which is taken as the northerly limit of the area. Llanelli is situated on the coast and marks the most southerly extremity of the area.

The Coal Measures of the western end of the main South Wales Coalfield, from the Gwendraeth Valley in the west to the youngest beds found in the Llanelli district accumulated between 315 and 290 million years ago. In the Llanelli area, the local Coal Measures only date from the latter part and were formed in perhaps less than 12 million years.

The coals of the Upper Coal Measures around Llanelli are of a different quality than the coals of the Lower and Middle Coal Measures of the Gwendraeth Valley. The difference in the quality of the coal was recognised as early as the 16th century by John Leland who passed through the area between 1536 and 1539. He quoted:

“At Llaneithe, a village of Kidwelli lordship, a VI miles from Kidwelly, the habitants digge coles, elles scant in Kidwelli land. There be two manners of thes coles. Ring coles for smith be blowid and waterid. Stone coles be sumtime waterid, but never blowen for blowen extinguish it them. So that Venwith Vaur coles be stone coals; Llanethle has ring coles.”

This is a direct reference to the soft bituminous coals present in the Llanelli area suitable for smiths etc. and the hard anthracite coal present in the Gwendraeth Valley. The collieries again fall into two groups. The first group is those in the Gwendraeth Valley that mined the main productive group of seams in the Lower and Middle Coal Measures. Most of these workings were slants which followed the down-dip of the coal seam from its outcrop. The second group comprises those mined seams of the Upper Coal Measures around Llanelli and along the coastal belt to Pembrey; these usually were slants or cross-measure drifts into the hillsides, but some were driven to win coal beneath the Burry Estuary. In Llanelli and to the east of the town shallow pits were sunk to reach the coal seams.

All the slants which were present in the Gwendraeth Valley are now closed. Large scale opencast mining is also present in the valley. The anthracite is used as a premium smokeless fuel for domestic use in slow combustion appliances, including heat storage cookers and central healing boilers. Anthracite is also manufactured into briquettes and is exported from Swansea Docks.

Coal is no longer worked from the Upper Coal Measures in the Llanelli area. The last colliery to close in the area was Morlais Colliery at Llangennech which finally ceased to work the coal beneath the Loughor river in 1981. In 1883/6 there was a Morlais Colliery at Llangunuch which was owned by

Williams & Harry and managed by Thomas Williams. It worked the Six-Feet seam from a slant using the pillar & stall method of coal extraction by naked lights, with the Four-Feet seam being worked from a level by the same method. The upcast ventilation shaft for the slant was 5 feet 6 inches in diameter and 96 feet deep while the upcast shaft for the level was 6 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep. Ventilation was by a furnace. This pit was sunk in 1894 by Thomas Williams and Sons (Llangennech) Limited, which was one of the few middle size companies to survive a takeover from the large combines and last until Nationalisation in 1947. The single shaft was only partly lined and was thirteen feet in diameter and 100 yards deep. It could only wind a single tub at a time. In 1896 and 1908 it was managed by Thomas Williams and in 1915/30 by Thomas Rolfe.

It found the Swansea Five-Feet seam at a depth of 320 feet 7 inches and with a section of top coal 5 inches, shale 6 inches, and bottom coal 32 inches. Morlais Colliery was the last pit to work in the non-anthracite part of the Llanelli area working the steam coal seams under the Loughor River, it was linked, under this river, to Brynlliw Colliery to which it was merged with by the National Coal Board.

In the 1925 annual conference of the South Wales Miners Federation, Morlais Lodge submitted one amendment to a proposal showing that their concern at that time was about the cost of house coal for the men.

On Nationalisation in 1947 Morlais was placed in the National Coal Board’s South Western Division’s, No.1 (Swansea) Area, and at that time employed 95 men on the surface and 208 men underground working the Swansea Six-Feet and Four-Feet seams. The manager was still D. Mainwaring. He was still there in 1949.

This colliery possessed its own coal preparation plant (washery) and was a site of a wagon repair workshop, a central store and a central power station. By 1954 it employed 70 men on the surface and 381 men underground working the same seams. The manager was now T.E. Banks.

Morlais Colliery was one of the last NCB mines in the South Wales Coalfield to work on the old pillar and stall method of coal getting, not converting to the longwall system until the 1950s.

In 1955 this colliery employed 212 of its workforce at the coalfaces, in 1956 the figure was 229 men at the coalfaces, and in 1958 there were 191 men working at the coalfaces at this colliery. In 1961 this colliery was still in the No.1 Area’s, No.2 Group along with Garngoch No.3, Mountain and Brynlliw collieries. The total manpower for this Group was 1,987 men, while total coal production for that year was 435,477 tons. The Group Manager was J. Griffiths while the Area Manager was J.G. Tait. In 1970 this colliery was under threat of closure, losses for 1968/9 were £128,000 and in September 1970 alone it lost £45,000. Within a month of the threat of closure, output had risen dramatically with output per manshift rising from 17 hundredweights to 30 hundredweights while losses of £7.16 per ton of coal produced in September had dropped to £0.80 per ton in November and the colliery was saved.

Shortly before closure in 1981, the Brynlliw/Morlais complex worked the Swansea Five-Feet seam at a section of l60cms, and a coalface length of between 90 and 137 metres, the Swansea Six-Feet seam at a section of l97cms, and a coalface length of 110 metres, coal cutting in both seams were by ranging drum shearers, and coalface roof supports were the self-advancing types. The Swansea Three-Feet seam was worked at a section of 74 centimetres with a coalface length of between 140 metres to 192 metres. Coal cutting was by Gleithobel plough and the coalface roof supports were the self-advancing types. The output of coal per manshift at the coalfaces was expected to be 6.18 tonnes and the output per manshift overall for the colliery was expected to be 1.43 tonnes. Manpower deployment at the

coalfaces was 165, on developing new coalfaces it was 65 the number of men working underground on other jobs was 354, while the number of men employed on the surface of the mines was 130. The complex was now in deep trouble – on the Morlais side the S8 coalface had serious water problems and the new S9 had encountered a geological fault, on the Brynlliw side the S28 coalface had been stopped and the replacement face, the S29 was not ready.

Morlais Colliery was possibly the last pit in south Wales to use steam for winding purposes, the steam winder which was built by Andrew Barclay and Sons of Kilmarnock in 1905 was still in use when dismantled after its closure in 1982. It had 20-inch diameter cylinders and a 42-inch stroke.

Some of those that died at this mine;

  • 8/01/1896, Thomas Leyshon, aged 41, foreman sinker: Stone about 2 cwt fell out of the side of the shaft.
  • 16/03/1910, Owen Davies, Age: 19: Rider Col: While riding in front of the first tram of a journey up a slant rising one in four the coupling between the first and second tram broke.
  • 13/12/1912, William Anthony Williams, Age: 14: Haulier: He apparently fell off a seat in front of his journey, on which he was riding, and was run over and killed.
  • 30/11/1914, Evan Roberts, Age: 55: Smith: While lying full length adjusting pins to the lower shaft of the eccentric rods of a winding engine the engineman was asked by the mechanic to lower the reversing links and in doing so his face as crushed against the iron flooring. Neither the mechanic nor the engineman knew he was in the position he was. He died from his injuries.
  • 4/12/1914, Griffith Harris, Age: 63: Labourer: As he crossed between the buffers of two wagons standing on a siding, another backed into them, and he was crushed to death between.
  • 25/06/1929, T John Davies, Age: 47: Miner: Fall of the roof – bell stone.


And in a typical year, those that were injured;

  • 30/03/1927, Archie Elsworth, (injured) Age: 26: Haulier and trainer: Haulier walking in front of the horse and loaded journey of four trams when horse suddenly dashed forward before he had time to get away – he slipped and fell and wheel of tram struck leg and fractured it.
  • 7/04/1927, Thomas Wood, (injured) Age: 53: Repairer: Adjusting arm of a set of timber – stone fell – leg fractured. 2 injured.
  • 7/04/1927, David Price, (injured) Age: 56: Repairer: Adjusting arm of a set of timber – stone fell – head injured. 2 injured.
  • 2/06/1927, Henry Gilpen, (injured) Age: 15: Asst. collier: Coming out at end of shift and while passing through double parting a journey of two trams which were expected to run into empty road but he forgot to turn latches and it ran into full road and struck him – leg fractured.
  • 27/10/1927, David Oliver Lewis, (injured) Age: 39: Collier: Roof ripping in face – caught by falling stone and arm fractured.
  • 23/12/1927, John Lewis, (injured) Age: 67: Collier: Slipped on slant while walking to his working place – leg fractured.


Some Statistics:

  • 1896: Manpower: 194.
  • 1899: Manpower: 224.
  • 1900: Manpower: 251.
  • 1901: Manpower: 244.
  • 1902: Manpower: 259.
  • 1903: Manpower: 272.
  • 1905: Manpower: 355.
  • 1907: Manpower: 421.
  • 1908: Manpower: 530.
  • 1909: Manpower: 430.
  • 1910: Manpower: 443.
  • 1911: Manpower: 449.
  • 1912: Manpower: 487.
  • 1913/5: Manpower: 480.
  • 1916: Manpower: 516.
  • 1918: Manpower: 447.
  • 1920: Manpower: 516.
  • 1922: Manpower: 500.
  • 1923: Manpower: 569.
  • 1924: Manpower: 585.
  • 1925: Manpower: 565.
  • 1926: Manpower: 642.
  • 1927: Manpower: 702.
  • 1928: Manpower: 591.
  • 1930: Manpower: 618.
  • 1933: Manpower: 642.
  • 1935: Manpower: 640.
  • 1937: Manpower: 290 underground only.
  • 1940: Manpower: 427.
  • 1941: Manpower: 427.
  • 1942: Manpower: 427.
  • 1944: Manpower: 327.
  • 1945: Manpower; 352.
  • 1947: Manpower: 303.
  • 1949: Manpower: 296. Output: 100,000 tons.
  • 1950: Manpower: 295.
  • 1953: Manpower: 304. Output: 120,000 tons
  • 1954: Manpower: 451. Output: 90,000 tons.
  • 1955: Manpower: 424. Output: 94,042 tons.
  • 1956: Manpower: 453. Output: 105,703 tons.
  • 1957: Manpower: 445. Output: 107,547 tons.
  • 1958: Manpower: 448. Output: 107,744 tons.
  • 1960: Manpower: 414. Output: 104,244 tons.
  • 1961: Manpower: 415. Output: 102,469 tons.
  • 1962: Manpower: 410.
  • 1964: Manpower: 477.
  • 1965: Manpower: 459.
  • 1969: Manpower: 393.
  • 1970: Manpower: 346.
  • 1971: Manpower: 263.
  • 1972: Manpower: 267.


In 2006 the villages of Grovesend and Waungron won a six-year legal battle over air pollution caused by a fire from a coal tip at the old Brynlliw colliery in Swansea.

The Coal Authority acquired responsibility for a disused tip at the old Brynlliw colliery and sold it as open land to a group of commoners. In 1996, fire broke out at the tip. The fire burned for more than three years, resulting in clouds of smoke and fumes. The M4 motorway closed down on several occasions due to poor visibility. Before the fire was finally put out by Swansea council, it made life unbearable for the local residents. One villager told the BBC, “The smoke often fell on the village like a blanket and you couldn’t see a thing. The smell was awful.”

The local residents went to court and claimed for nuisance caused to them due to the loss of the use and enjoyment of their homes. Some of them suffered breathing difficulties as a result of the fumes and smoke. The Coal Authority argued that at the time the tip was sold, there was little risk of it becoming a fire hazard and that they had taken reasonable steps to prevent a spontaneous fire outbreak. The court dismissed the Coal Authority’s arguments and found it liable for private nuisance.


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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