Lewis Merthyr Colliery
Copyright © Dave Bevis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


Trehafod, Lower Rhondda Valley (03969113)

This colliery comprised the Coedcae, Hafod, Bertie, Trevor and lastly the Lady Lewis Pit. The Coedcae, Bertie and Trevor were on the south side of the River Rhondda with the two Hafod pits being on the north side of the Rhondda river. A 300 feet long bridge linked the two parts of the colliery. It was approximately 15 miles to the north of Cardiff. The Lady Lewis was a mile to the north-east, please see the section on that Colliery.

The Coedcae pit was started by Edward Mills, but he abandoned the sinkings due to excessive water in the shafts, David and John Thomas then purchased the venture in 1850 and completed the sinking to the No.3 Rhondda seam. The Old Pit was the upcast ventilation shaft, and the New Pit was the downcast ventilation shaft, both were 115 yards deep.

The original Hafod Pit was also sunk by David and John Thomas in 1850 and also sunk to the No.3 Rhondda seam. On encountering a thin seam they then endeavoured to sink deeper to the steam coal seams but had to abandon the project after a cost of £30,000. The pit was later re-opened in the No.3 Rhondda seam.

In the 1870’s both the Coedcae and Hafod pits were purchased by William Thomas Lewis (later Lord Merthyr) who sunk the Hafod Nos. 1 and 2 Pits to the steam coal seams in 1893, the Coedcae Pits continued to work the No.3 Rhondda seam.

He also sunk the Bertie Pit which was 17 feet in diameter and the downcast ventilation shaft, and the Trevor Pit which was 14 feet in diameter and the upcast ventilation shaft. Both were sunk to the steam coal seams at a depth of initially 359 yards to the Six-Feet seam in 1878. They were deepened to 453 yards and to the Five-Feet seam in 1898. The Bertie Pit was used to wind coal from the Bute seam landing at a depth of 403 yards until the merger with Ty Mawr in 1960. The Trevor Pit ceased winding coal in 1958.

The cylinders on the steam winder at both these pits were 42 inches in diameter with the conical drums going from 15 feet to 30 feet in diameter.

Lewis Merthyr was one of the first collieries in South Wales to adopt electric power turbine pumps to deal with 25,000 gallons of water per hour coming up the shafts in c1900.

The Lady Lewis pit was sunk in 1904 one mile up the valley from the main sinking, and this completed his colliery.

The total capacity for coal winding for the Lewis Merthyr pits was around 4,000 tons per nine hour day in 1901.  On the surface of the mine was the main haulage engine which worked on a haulage plane of 1,800 yards in from the pit bottom. It frequently hauled from 60 to 80 trams of 28 hundredweights of coal at the same time.

Ventilation was by Schiele fans which gave 430,000 cubic feet of air per minute. Steam for the colliery was provided by 20 Babcock & Wilcox boilers. There were two dynamos to generate electricity for lighting both the surface and underground while all other electrical equipment was supplied by the South Wales Electrical Power Distribution Company.

On the 11th of February 1882 on the same day two men, George Warlow, a pitman aged 56 years and Jacob Thomas, a hitcher aged 51 years were killed when they were burnt through them upsetting a paraffin lamp on the cage in the shaft, and there was an explosion in which four men lost their lives in an explosion of firedamp. Those who died were:

  • Thomas Williams, banksman aged 45 years
  • Joseph Rowlands, master haulier aged 24
  • Benjamin James, labourer aged 66 James
  • H. Lewis, collier aged 16 years.

W.T. Lewis was born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1837 and started his mining career in the employ of the Marquis of Bute, by the age of 27 years he was chief mineral agent for the Marquis, and the experience and wealth that he gained during this employment encouraged him to branch out on his own.  As well as the Lewis Merthyr Collieries, he came to own, or control, the Forest Iron and Steel Company, the International Coal Company, the Melingriffith Tin Plate Company, and the Cardiff Railway Company. He was a director of the Rhymney Railway Company and the Newport Tin Plate Company. He became a Trustee for the Bute Estate in 1880 and was mainly responsible for the development of Cardiff Docks and Railways.

He was also the main driving force behind the formation of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Owners Association in 1871, theSliding Scale Agreement for Wages in 1875, he also served on the Royal Commission on Accidents in Mines and Coal Dust in Mines (1878), Mining Royalties and the Labour Commission (1889), Royal Commissions on Trade Disputes and Shipping Rings and the Board of Trade Railways Inquiry. He had also been President of the Mining Association of Great Britain. President of the Iron and Steel Institute, Chairman of the South Wales Board of Examinations for Mining Certificates, and a Fellow of the Royal Geological Society.

He stood for Parliament for the Merthyr seat in 1880 but failed to get elected, he was knighted in 1885 and was made a baronet in 1896, made a freeman of Cardiff in 1905 and of Merthyr Tydfil in 1908. He became Lord Merthyr of Senghenydd in 1911. Lord Merthyr died in 1914.

The coking plant at the Lewis Merthyr Colliery was one of the first to be installed in the Rhondda Valleys (1860s), and by 1910 consisted of a battery of fifty ovens, with a gas and by-product plant making tar, ammonia and benzene.

In 1881 the Lewis Merthyr Navigation Collieries Limited was formed, and at that time the colliery was working the Two-feet-Nine, Four-Feet, Six-Feet, Red Vein, Nine-Feet, Upper-Five-Feet, Lower-Five-Feet and No.3 Rhondda seams.

During the bitter haulier’s strike of 1898, the workmen at Lewis Merthyr were forced to sell off 2,000 volumes of the Lewis Merthyr Colliery Library, with all the proceeds being divided between the men to help stave off starvation.

By 1900 the Coedcae Pit was using compressed air coal cutters of the bar, disc and chain types.   At that time the ventilation for the colliery was by Schiele type fans which generated 430,000 cubic feet of air per minute. The coal was worked by the longwall method and hauled by horses to the main roads, from there it was conveyed to the pit bottom by main and tail haulage that was worked by electricity in the Bertie, but by compressed air in the other pits.

The Trevor, Bertie and downcast Hafod were the winding pits with a capacity for over 4,000 tons of coal in a nine hour shift.  At the surface, the loaded trams gravitated to the weighing machine and then by creeper chain to the tippers. The large coal passes over the picking belts and the small coal falls through.

The demand for its coal by the major shipping lines was exceptional and among its customers were; Cunard, White Star, Pacific & Oriental, Union Castle, Hansa, Anchor, Royal Hungarian and Generale Transatlantique.

In 1893/6 the Pit was managed by Thomas Riches. In 1900, W.T. Lewis formed the Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited and united the various pits into one concern. The prospectus for the new concern listed the directors as, Sir W.T. Lewis, John Jones, Edward O. Jones, Herbert C. Lewis, William Thomas Rees and John Hudson Smith. Its aim was to merge the Coedcae Coal Company and the Lewis Merthyr Navigation Colliery Company into one concern and to sink a new pit. The new holding would control 2,500 acres of minerals and it was expected to increase its output from the then current 750,000 tons per annum to 1 million tons per annum. They estimated that at 1 million tons per annum they had enough coal to last for 60 years.  Although total workable coal reserves were estimated at 109 million tons.

The pits were valued at £500,000. This company was a member of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Owners Association. In 1908 the Trevor was managed by B. Thomas employed 1,066 men.    In 1910 an extra fifty Coke ovens (there were already 109) were installed to deal with the demand for Coke.

In 1913 the Bertie pit employed 1,095 men, the Coedcae pit employed 556 men, the Hafod pit employed 1,130 men, the Bertie Pit     1,228 men and the Trevor pit employed 989 men, making a grand total of 4,998 men. The Bertie Pit was managed by Charles Outridge, the Coedcae Pit was managed by C.A. Atkinson the Hafod Pit was managed by Timothy Evans, with the Trevor Pit being managed by Ben Thomas. It was also on the Admiralty’s list to supply the Royal Navy.

In 1915 the book ‘South Wales Coal and Iron Companies’ by the Business Statistics Company reported that the Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited had “From the formation of the Lewis Merthyr

Navigation Company in the month of April 1881, until the end of their financial year on the 30th of June 1899, the average rate of profit, including interest in profit or extra royalties, has been upwards of 1/3 per ton of Coal, both large and small, raised from the Collieries, and for the last ten years of such period the average rate of such profit has been upwards of 1/5 per ton.”      At that time its share value was £773,000 and its annual production of coal was about 2 million tons of coal. The board of directors consisted of; E.O. Jones, Chairman, The Right Hon. Lord Merthyr, Hon. Trevor G.E. Lewis, W.T. Rees, J.J. Jones and Clare Smith.

In the period 1916 to 1919 manpower at the Coedcae pit stayed at 390, the Hafod at 1,089 and the Trevor at 639. The manager at the Coedcae changed from N. Hutchinson to W. Moss, at the Hafod T. Evans made way for W. Kestell and at the Trevor, A. Jones was replaced by J. Evans. In 1919 the Bertie pit employed 739 men and was managed by A. Jones.

In 1929 Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited was purchased by the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Company Limited which embarked on a series of closures; the Coedcae pit ceased production in 1929, the Hafod No.2 Pit in 1930, and the Hafod No.1 Pit in 1933. In 1930 the Bertie and Trevor were managed by A.E. Jones and the Hafod by J.H. Williams.

In 1934 the Powell Duffryn Company was based at 1, Great Tower Street, London with the directors being; Edmund Lawrence Hann, Sir LeonardAt that time it employed 15,260 men working in sixteen collieries who produced 4,780,000 tons of coal.  In 1934 the Bertie Pit employed 90 men on the surface and 630 men underground producing 200,000 tons of coal, the Trevor Pit employed 110 men on the surface and 720 men underground producing 250,000 tons of coal.  There was just one manager at that time; W. Hannaford. In 1938 the manager was R. Rutherford.

On Nationalisation in 1947 this colliery was placed in the National Coal Board’s, South Western Division’s, No.3 (Rhondda) Area, and at that time the Bertie Pit employed 804 men underground working the Six-Feet, Nine-Feet, and Red Vein seams, and the Trefor Pit employed 624 men underground working the Lower-Five-Feet, Upper-Five-Feet and Two-Feet-Nine seams. 303 men were employed at the surface of the colliery with the manager being R. Richards.

In 1949 the National Coal Board introduced steel props at this mine as a way of improving safety.  The men demanded extra payment for erecting them and when this was refused 1,800 men went out on strike, only to return a day later when the NCB refused to talk to them unless they were in work. There was a strange dispute in October 1953 when 350 underground and surface men walked out over a wages dispute.  They decided to go back to work the following day but when the surface men who were involved in the dispute were told that they wouldn’t be paid for the time that they were on strike, out they went again, putting 850 underground men out of work.  But then they must have had a bit of a think – if we didn’t get paid for yesterday – we won’t for today either, so they decided to go back to work and let the Union and management sort it out.

In 1954 the manager was A.R. Fox, and in 1955 out of the total manpower at this colliery of 1,506 men, 826 of them were employed at the coalfaces. In 1956 there was a dramatic drop in the total manpower for the colliery and for the coalface figure which dropped to 361 men employed at the coalfaces, in 1957 the coalface figure rose again to 413 men, but dropped back to 389 men working at the coalfaces in 1958 when the total manpower for the colliery was 848 men. In 1956 this colliery had a serious problem with unofficial stoppages which were affecting its future to correct this 38 colliers were dismissed with the NUM lodge’s sanction. This was followed by more dismissals which created poor morale within the workforce with over 300 men leaving the mine. The shortage of colliers then forced the NCB to make 108 outbye and surface workers redundant. It also caused the local NUM lodge to reverse its decision not to employ Hungarian refugees from the 1956 uprising in Hungary.  Although the pit employed around 50 Polish workers following the Second World War there was an embargo on further foreign workers, but the lodge secretary reported that due to the disputes many men had left to go to other pits and they were short of men. At that time the Hafod and Cymmer pits were used for pumping only, with the Lady Lewis only used as an upcast ventilation shaft. The pit was working the Two-Feet-Nine, Six-Feet and Gellideg seams with the longwall system of coal extraction, the colliers using compressed air picks to break the coal up and then shovels to load it onto face conveyor belts.

Lewis Merthyr Colliery ceased winding coal up its shafts in 1958 when it was merged with the neighbouring Ty Mawr Colliery and its coal was diverted by underground roadway to Ty Mawr as part of a £1.2 million integration scheme. In 1961 this combined colliery was in the No.3 Area’s, No.1 Group along with Lady Windsor and National collieries. The total manpower for this Group was 3,157 men, while total coal production for that year was 961,855 tons. The Group Manager was J.H. Jones and the Area Manager was G. Blackmore.

Feelings at this colliery ran particularly strong during the 1972 miner’s strike for more wages, the windows in the homes of three colliery officials were broken, and all National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers members were banned from the Lewis Merthyr social club for their own safety.

Amongst the seams worked from the Lewis Merthyr Colliery was a small amount of the Gellideg seam:

  • The Five-Feet seam at a thickness of 54 inches.
  • The Middle and Upper Seven-Feet seam which was known locally as the Middle Five-Feet seam was worked extensively at a thickness of 42 inches.
  • The Lower-Nine-Feet seam was worked at a thickness of 44 inches.
  • The Bute seam had a thickness of coal, 34 inches, dirt 13 inches, coal 18 inches.
  • The Upper-Nine-Feet seam was worked and had a total thickness of, top coal 51 inches, dirt 1 inch, and bottom coal between 18 inches to 36 inches.

Based on the Nine-Feet seam this colliery’s coals in the southern end of its take were classed as type 301A Prime Coking Coals which were used for foundry and furnace coke. The ash content varied from between 5% to 9%, while the sulphur content varied from between 0.6% to 1,5%.

Towards the northern end of its workings, the coals gradually changed into Dry Steam Coals suitable for the boilers of locomotives, ships, power stations etc.

On the 22nd November 1956 there was an explosion at the mine which claimed the lives of 9 men and injured 5 more. The explosion occurred in part of the mine where electricity was not used. There had been a large fall and it is believed that high levels of methane built up in the resultant cavity; ignition is thought to have been the result of sparks caused by a rock falling onto a steel support. Full details of the disaster can be found here.

In 1960 Lewis Merthyr was merged with Tymawr with coal production being switched to there. Lewis Merthyr remained to supply materials to the workings. Tymawr continued to work until its final closure in June 1983. The pit heads and buildings have been preserved and now form part of the Rhondda Heritage Park.


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

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