Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, (Old Pit 71441208/Steer Pit 71131196)

The first pit in this series of anthracite collieries was elliptical in shape and 16 feet by 8 feet and was sunk to 160.95 metres in 1837 by Roger Hopkin with a second shaft sunk in 1847 to the Big Vein seam. It was later owned by Mr Kirkham and then Charles Morgan. It continued to be a small concern until purchased in 1874 by the Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Colliery Company, (a group of Yorkshiremen named; Cleeves, Hargreaves, Sails, Bartholomew and Sellers) of Rotherham who embarked on a policy of expansion. In 1884 the manager was D. Meredith while in 1893 it was Joseph Hargreaves. The now ‘Old’ Pit was joined by Maerdy Pit in 1886, the East Pit in 1910, and finally the Steer Pit in 1924. Besides these major sinking, several small levels were also driven. The New Pit was 235 yards deep to the Big Vein and was 13 feet in diameter; the winding engine for this pit had two horizontal cylinders of 25 inches in diameter and a stroke of four feet. The winding drum was cylindrical type and ten feet in diameter. Ventilation was by a Capell fan which had a 15 feet diameter and produced 125,000 cubic feet of air per minute. The main haulage engines for underground work were installed on the surface of the mines with the ropes travelling through the shaft in wooden casings or iron pipes. In 1896 the No.1 or Old Pit employed 330 men underground and 110 men on the surface, the No.2 or New Pit employed 485 men underground and 130 men on the surface, both were managed by Joseph Hargreaves. In 1908 the New Pit employed 526 men underground and 153 on the surface and the Old Pit 286/90 men. Mr. Hargreaves was still the manager. In 1913 the colliery manager was still Joseph Hargreaves and the company’s manpower was 1,478.

In 1915 the Business Statistics Company reported that the Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Colliery Company Limited had collieries situated in the Amman Valley, about 14 miles from Swansea with a mineral take of about 5,000 acres. The collieries were valued at £297,432 with the profits made between 1904 and 1914 as follows:

  • 1904 £10,389
  • 1905 £ 3,171
  • 1906 £17,971
  • 1907 £30,594
  • 1908 £32,117
  • 1909 £52,832
  • 1910 £36,044
  • 1911 £23,207
  • 1912 £23,724
  • 1913 £30,480
  • 1914 £18,821

The board of directors was; E.W. Hodgkinson, chairman, F. Sellars, R.G. Wood, George Senior and Elon Crowther. In September 1916 Lord Rhondda gained a controlling interest in the company. In 1923 the Maerdy Pit was managed by Edward Powell and employed 591 men working underground and 200 men at the surface of the mine while the East Pit was managed by W. Howells and employed 624 men working underground and 136 men working at the surface of the mine. There were 80 men working underground and 20 men on the surface of the Steer Pit.

Total coal production was 300,000 tons. In 1928 it came under the control of Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Limited, who in 1935 employed a total of 1,651 men at the Gwaun-cae-Gurwen pits. In 1943 the East Pit was managed by D. Reece and employed 451 working underground in the Lower and Middle seams and 145 men on the surface.

The Maerdy Pit was managed by J.L. Morgan and employed 215 men working underground in the Big, Brynlloi, Black and Peacock seams and 93 men working on the surface. The Steer Pit was managed by E.J. Thomas and employed 591 men working underground in the Middle, Black, Brynlloi and Lower seams and employed 173 men working at the surface of the mine.

On Nationalisation in 1947 the Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen pits were placed in the National Coal Board’s, South Western Division’s, No.1 (Swansea) Area, and almost immediately a battle developed between the new NCB management and the workmen. In 1948 the Maerdy Pit was permanently closed, and the East and Steer Pits temporarily closed due to alleged restrictive practices by the miners, in 1949/1950 the Steer Pit was closed for 18 months, and on the 24th of April 1956, the men came out on unofficial strike over the sacking of some colleagues, with eight other anthracite pits coming out in sympathy. On the 11th of May 1956, the NCB gave notice that it intended to close both the remaining G-c-G pits from the 26th May, stating that there had been 238 unofficial stoppages since 1947. It was the largest NUM Lodge in the Swansea District with 1,507 members.

Both pits eventually re-opened, with the Steer Pit finally closing in 1959, and the East Pit in 1962. This colliery was the site of a coal preparation plant (washery), central workshops and the Area Laboratory. The East Pit is now the site of an opencast mine (2003). For further details please see the individual listings:

Just some of those that died in the Gwaun-cae-Gurwen pits;

  • 26/04/1879, Morgan Phillips, Age: 54: Timberman: Killed by fall of stone.
  • 13/09/1883, W. Howell, Age: 40: Collier: Explosion of gas.
  • 23/07/1886, Daniel Jenkins, Age: 36: Collier: Fall of the roof from two slips.
  • 29/11/1887, David Davies, Age: 73: Hostler: caught in machinery.
  • 8/10/1889, John D. Davies, Age: 34: Collier: Fall of roof (clod 12ins. thick) from between two slips forming an acute angle and the coal face.
  • 30/11/1889, David Thomas, Age: 17: Collier: Fall of roof (cliff), 7ft. x 4ft. x 2ft. to nothing part of the rippings which had one prop near the middle. It fell from a flat slip. Seam, 3.5ft. thick.
  • 6/03/1890, William Williams Age: 65: Labourer: Squeezed between tub and side of the slope.
  • 8/03/1890, Enyon Price, Age: 21: Collier: killed by machinery.
  • 12/01/1891, John Roderick, Age: 22: Labourer: Crushed at a hoist.
  • 3/02/1892, James Davies Age: 49: Platelayer: By the explosion of gunpowder in a store.
  • 21/05/1892, David J. Isaac, Age: 15: Shackler: Crushed between loaded tram while attempting
  • 21/09/1892, David Williams Age: 33: Rider: fell off journey and was run over.
  • 26/10/1892, David Evans Age: 54: Coal cleaner: Crushed between waggons on the siding.
  • 17/04/1894, Thomas Davies, Age: 34: Ostler: Killed on engine plane while riding on the first full tram
  • 5/08/1894, James Cole, Age: 44: Sawyer: He was struck on the abdomen by a piece of wood being caught and thrust back by the circular saw which he attended
  • 8/10/1894, D. Griffiths, Age: 21: Haulier: Kicked by a horse while on his way to the stables
  • 15/08/1896, William Thomas Age: 32: Collier: Fall at face Clift. Brass
  • 13/07/1897, Daniel Evans Age: 38: Master haulier: Run over by loaded tram on which he was riding.
  • 14/05/1898, Evan Thomas Age: 55: Fireman: While exercising a horse during the strike he rode on a tram containing rubbish and the horse being restive suddenly stopped throwing the deceased forward his head coming in contact with the sharp corner of the iron tram.
  • 14/01/1911, Rees Davis Age: 44: Collier: Fall of roof at the working face. While making a hole in the floor to set a prop a stone fell from between a back slip and a face slip at a fault.
  • 4/02/1911, Henry Jones, Age: 49: Signalman: While ascending the shaft in a cage with six other men be fell out of the end of the cage when it was about 15 feet from the bottom receiving injuries from which he died two days later. There was nothing to account for him falling out as, according to the other occupants, the cage was going steadily. There was no bar or fence on the cage end
  • 1/03/1911, Henry Rees, Age: 18: Collier: Crushed by trams running wild.
  • 5/12/1911, Enoch Rees, Age: 43: Haulier: Died of heart disease.
  • 16/04/1912, N.D. Jones, Age: 44: Collier: Died of inflammation caused by rupture.
  • 24/04/1912, Jean Gourmill, Age: 32: Collier: Owing to the failure of a prop arrangement for holding trams, three loaded trams ran wild and crushed him.
  • 21/08/1912, John Mathias, Age: 16: Collier boy. He was run over and killed by a full journey
  • 3/06/1913, William Harry, Age: 41: Erector: He was erecting a new screen and washery, and, when upon a scaffold, 29 feet above the floor level, one of the planks, which was not fastened, fell away, throwing him to the ground. He died from a fractured skull.
  • 23/10/1913, David Evans, Age: 48: Collier: Brook Drift: Fall of the roof on the working face. In working off a top back slip, he exposed a reverse slant in the roof running parallel with the face.
  • 16/11/1914, Morgan Davies Age: 46: Collier: Fall of roof stone at the working face. The stone weighed about 18 cwts. and fell upon him as he was fixing a prop in the face.
  • 13/08/1926, R. James, Age: 17: Labourer: On concrete tank construction was engaged stripping wood when he fell off the ladder 20ft into the tank – two ribs fractured and internal bleeding.
  • 5/01/1929, Gwylym Jones, Age: 24: Collier: Had made a hole in the face of stall road and shotsman loaded hole and connected cable. He saw Jones walking back along the road and shouted all clear and fired shot. Found dead with severe neck injuries on the face.


Some statistics:

  • 1889: Output: 180,023 tons.
  • 1894: Output: 192,472 tons.
  • 1899: Manpower: 1,077.
  • 1900: Manpower: 1,171.
  • 1901: Manpower: 1,138.
  • 1903: Manpower: 1,127.
  • 1905: Manpower: 1,122.
  • 1907: Manpower: 880.
  • 1909: Manpower: 1,275.
  • 1910: Manpower: 1,502.
  • 1911: Manpower: 1,454.
  • 1912: Manpower: 1,460.
  • 1925/6: Manpower: 1,579.
  • 1928: Manpower: 1,658.
  • 1929: Manpower: 1,645.
  • 1930: Manpower: 1,651.
  • 1932: Manpower: 1,810.
  • 1933: Manpower: 2,098.
  • 1940: Manpower: 1,924.
  • 1941: Manpower: 1,946.
  • 1942: Manpower: 1,663.
  • 1944: Manpower: 1,831.
  • 1950: Manpower: 674.


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

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