Markham, Sirhowy Valley (SO 1672 0201)

Link to map

The sinking of the two shafts commenced in 1910 and the first coal was raised in 1913. It was estimated that there was a total thickness of coal of 60 feet, 41 feet of that was in seams two feet thick or over.

On the 18th of May 1912, the sinking had reached the Meadow Vein (Yard/Seven-Feet) seam when at about 1.40 p.m. an explosion of firedamp in the north Sinking Shaft caused the deaths of five men, four of who were on the surface and injuries to two others, one of whom was also on the surface. The full report can be found here.

Listed below are some (but not all) of the other early fatalities at this pit:

  • 10/11/1912, Benjamin Atkins, aged 21 years, sinker, fell into the sump and was drowned.
  • 29/12/1913, Augustus Williams, aged 17, engine driver, crane fell over and crushed him.
  • 8/12/1925, H. Parker, aged 22, assistant collier, roof fall, died on the 13th.
  • 25/1/1928, Evan Williams, aged 44, collier, fall of the roof and died on the 27th.
  • 26/3/1928, Harry Rose, aged 42, collier, roof fall, died on the 27th. 9/10/1928, Arthur Gilbert, aged 32, collier, roof fall, died on the 13th of November.
  • 8/11/1928, A.J.T. Wilkinson, aged 44, roadman, crushed by runaway trams, and died on the 21st of January 1929.
  • 3/12/1928, James Evans, aged 33, collier, a stone fell down and hit a bar which hit him in the stomach.

The pits were 40 yards apart and 18 feet in diameter and sunk to the Old Coal (Five-Feet/Gellideg) seam. The No.1 (South) pit was 609 yards deep. The No.2 (North) pit was 615 yards deep. The No.2 Pit encountered the Brithdir seam at a depth of 131 yards, the No.2 Rhondda at a depth of 273 yards, the Four-Feet seam at a depth of 478 yards, the Nine-Feet seam at a depth of 533 yards and the Five-Feet/Gellideg seam at a depth of 598 yards.

Up to the 1950s, both shafts were used to wind coal. They had the capacity to raise/lower 24 men or 3 tons of materials per wind. The North Pit was the upcast ventilation shaft and the South Pit was the downcast ventilation shaft. Both headgears were of lattice steel and 65 feet high to the centre of the sheaves which were 16 feet in diameter. Cages were single deck, with two trams per deck.

This was one of the first pits in south Wales to be worked entirely by electrically driven machinery and the last one to use Waddle type ventilating fans. Two 18 feet diameter fans were used which produced 400,000 cubic feet of air per minute.

On the advent of coal production in 1913, this colliery employed 2,591 men when it was managed by W.D. Woodley and enjoyed a short period of prosperity until the ‘troubles’ and trade depressions of the 1920s and 1930s. The manager in 1916/18/19/23 was J.H. Austin. In 1927 and 1930 it was David Davies.

In 1915 the Business Statistics Company in their book; ‘South Wales Coal & Iron Companies’ described the Tredegar Iron & Coal Company as:

registered on March 26th, 1873. It possesses four collieries in the Sirhowy Valley at Tredegar, and two pits in the Rhymney Valley named McLaren Nos.1 & 3, which are on the Admiralty list. The Tredegar Co possesses a valuable property in the Oakdale Navigation Collieries Limited, now actively working Steam and House Coal Collieries in the Sirhowy Valley near Blackwood. The Tredegar Company have also acquired the entire interest of the Markham Steam Coal Co, Ltd, in the leases of valuable mineral property of 1,400 acres of coal lying between the Tredegar and Oakdale properties.

The Times of Saturday, January the 17th 1920 reported:

Prince Albert yesterday visited Markham’s Colliery, Monmouthshire, one of the most modern pits in the Welsh coalfield. Accompanied by an equerry he travelled to Newport by the ordinary train from London and was met by Mr. A. S. Tallis, managing director of the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, Limited, who took him in a motor car to Blackwood. At the railway station, the Prince was received by the Mayor, Councillor Peter Wright, who cordially welcomed him on behalf of the citizens.

There were no celebrations on May the 13th 1920 when Charles Barker and Francis Waters, two timbermen, who were shoring up bad ground, died under a collapse of 100 tons of roof. It took the rescuers up to seven hours to get them out. The fireman, who was with them, had a lucky escape.

In June 1924 the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, in its annual report stated that Markham had been on strike since May 20, (14 days) and all the Tredegar and Oakdale pits for seven days in sympathy with the Markham men. The strike had been unofficial and without notices being given. The men had their own way and returned to work.

In 1935 manpower had dropped dramatically to 170 men working on the surface of the mine and 1,230 men working underground in the Big Vein (Four-Feet), Upper Rhas Las (Upper-Nine-Feet) and Old Coal seams. The manager at that time was D.D. Davies. He was still there in 1938 and 1945. The principal markets in the old days for Markham’s coal were the Great Western and Italian Railways with latter-day markets concentrating on the Central Electricity Generating Board.

New pithead baths were opened on Saturday the 30th of December 1940. In the 1940’s the Lamproom could accommodate 2,000 electric hand lamps and 200 flame safety lamps, although in use were 1,400 electric hand lamps, 130 electric cap lamps and 125 flame safety lamps. There was a Smith’s shop with four fires, hammers a drill sharpener, an Electrician’s shop, a Fitters shop with two lathes, a drilling machine, a shaping and screwing machines and a mechanical hacksaw. There was also a Saw Mill, Mortar Mill, Stables, Tram Repair shop and Fire Station. The screening plant consisted of four coal tipplers with picking belts plus one rubbish tippler. The trams gravitate to the screens from the pits over a weighbridge and were returned empty by a creeper.

A stone crushing plant prepared the stone from the colliery quarry for concrete. No locomotives were required at the surface due to the arrangements of gradients allowing them to gravitate through the sidings. The empty sidings could hold 218 waggons and the full sidings could hold 156 waggons.

Two Sulzer centrifugal pumps capable of 600 gallons per minute were used to pump the excess water up the pit. Underground hauling was done by; one 200 h.p, one 150 h.p. and five 100 h.p. engines plus various smaller ones.

Following the link-up between Markham and Oakdale Colliery, a demarcation line was set. Note the long distances to the shafts.

The winding engines were electrically driven, the electrical part being made by Siemens Shuckert and the mechanical part by Messrs. Markham and Company. They were direct current, 1,400 hp. The winding drums were semi-conical 12 feet to 18 feet in diameter. Markham Colliery was linked to Oakdale Colliery by an underground roadway in World War Two in case either pit was bombed.

In 1943 this colliery employed 1,235 men working underground in the Three-quarter, Old Coal, Yard, Upper Rhas Las and Meadow Vein seams and 186 men on the surface of the mine.


On Nationalisation in 1947 this colliery was placed in the National Coal Board’s, South Western Division’s, No.6 (Monmouthshire) Area’s, Tredegar Group, and at that time employed 196 men on the surface and 1,107 men underground working the Old Coal, Yard, Rhas Las and Meadow Vein (Yard/Seven-Feet) seams. The manager was G.H. Golding.

In September 1950 the coroner was mystified over the death of Evan Herbert Pritchard an underground worker who was put to work at the surface of the mine. He was killed by a wagon, but how & why remains a mystery.

In 1954 this pit employed 252 men on the surface and 1,104 men underground working the Big Vein, Yard, Meadow Vein and Three-quarter (Six-Feet) seams. The manager was now L. Pearce. In 1955 out of the total colliery manpower of 1,259 men, 485 of them worked at the coalfaces, in 1958 the coalface figure had risen to 516 men, but by 1961 only 394 men were working at the coalfaces.

For the week ending the 22nd of September 1956, this colliery produced 10,062 gross of coal its highest since nationalisation in 1947. Output had increased from 237,000 tons in 1947 to 288,000 in 1955. Overall the output per man shift was up from 14.4 to 18.2 hundredweights.

There was a strange strike in 1956 when 50 men in a dispute over wages walked out and were followed by the rest of the pit. The manager then issued fourteen days notice of dismissal to the 50 men. The NUM lodge committee urged all of them to return for negotiations to take place, they refused, so all of the lodge officials and committee men resigned. The area executive committee and miners’ agent of the NUM then ran the duties of the lodge for a week, until, on their recommendation, the men re-elected the lodge officers and committee who then met the manager for four hours until the notices were withdrawn.

During this period the quality of Markham’s coal made it the top coal wanted by the GWR and then British Rail for its depot at Old Oak Common from which the steam locomotives of the express trains worked out of Paddington Station. With the loss of this market due to diesel dominating the railway market Markham’s coal was washed at Oakdale and blended with that colliery’s output to produce prime coking coals.

In the NCB’s power-loading review of 1957 Markham had two coalfaces listed: one was in the Yard seam and had a thickness of 48 inches and a length of 510 feet, coal cutting was by Anderton disc with a low 34 men employed on the face and a daily advance of 37.5 inches, which was about average for the report. The other coalface was in the Big Vein and was 65 inches thick, the length was 411 feet and 44 men were employed on this face, coal cutting was by Anderton disc and the daily advance was a low 35 inches.

On September 23rd 1959 after 20 days out on strike, a meeting of 800 Markham miners decided to stay on strike as long as two shotfirers, who they claimed left a live detonator underground, remained as shotfirers. The men of Ogilvie, Groesfaen and Bargoed collieries then came out in sympathy with the Markham men, with Elliots and Britannia collieries partly affected. On September the 28th they returned to work after being out on strike from September 2nd. The area director assured the men that the Shotfirers would not be in charge of any men in the future.

The steam winders were converted to 1,400 h.p. electric winders in the 1960s. It was in December 1965 that excessive gas in part of the pit meant that 60 men on the dayshift were sent home. The NUM lodge committee made an examination after night shift officials reported gas in the Big Vein. Officials made another inspection during the day and the gas had cleared. The night shift started work. It is thought that low atmospheric pressure caused the gas to escape.

In January 1975 the NCB/NUM sent in a joint investigation team to review the colliery following claims of a lack of effort by the workmen and high absenteeism. In 1977 the M22 Coalface became the first in the South Wales Coalfield to be equipped with coalface electric lighting.

In 1978 the colliery was working the Meadow Vein at a depth of 695 yards, and the Old Coal at a depth of 713 yards. Output per manshift at the coalface was 6.2 tons and overall for the colliery, it was 1.8 tons. There were three coalfaces in operation and ten miles of roadways in use including 3.25 miles of high-speed conveyors. The colliery consisted of four production coalfaces with the daily output being 1,800 tons of saleable coal with 1,167 men employed. Coal winding was from the 673-yard mark in the south shaft with supplies and man-riding from 665 yards deep in the north shaft from a newly constructed locomotive horizon.

In 1979 Markham Colliery became part of the £9,000,000 development of Oakdale Colliery and a new 800-yard underground roadway driven to link the two pits, and Markham’s coal was diverted to Oakdale’s shafts. Oakdale was also linked to the Celynen North Colliery which made this complex the largest in the South Wales Coalfield.

The NCB invested an estimated £35,000,000 on the modernisation scheme, which it was aimed to; increase efficiency by a reduction in non-productive jobs, the elimination of rail tolls, and the extension of manriding underground to increase the work time at the coalface. Also, it was intended to access 11.2 million tonnes of coal to the south of Oakdale. At that time the three pits combined had a total combined coal reserve of 11.4 million tonnes which would be exhausted in 10 to 13 years without major development. This, it was claimed, would give a life of twenty years at 900,000 tonnes of coal produced per year. The plan included driving 1,150 yards of roadways in one year linking Oakdale with Markham Colliery in 1979 and with the Celynen North Colliery in 1981, to make Oakdale the centre of this huge combine. The three pits all produced 301a prime coking coals and had combined manpower of 2,600.

Skip winding was installed along with computerized monitoring of coal production and conveyance plus a complete renewal of underground and surface plants. Fourteen miles of high-speed 42-inch belt conveyors carried the coal production of seven coalfaces to the pit bottom where the 10.5-tonne skip brought the coal to the surface at a rate of 420 tonnes an hour (the old rate was 270 tonnes per hour) with it planned to raise 6,500 tons of coal a day at Oakdale, with a planned annual output of 887.000 tons of coal. A new inset was installed at a lower level in the north pit with a 750-tonne static bunker installed, the GEC battery locomotives were renovated after spending 25 years underground at Ogilvie Colliery. New 42 inch wide belt conveyors and Pikrose type endless rope haulages were installed to complement the three underground manriding/supplies systems with it estimated that the increased time that the men could spend at the coalface would give an extra 251 tonnes of saleable coal per day.

On the surface of the mine, a new rapid loading and bunker system over British Rail track was installed with uprated power supply to the South Pit winder plus a new land sales yard. A new tipping site had been established with a new rubbish conveyor to conveyor the dirt to the site.

A new tailings plant was installed plus a new tram circuit to the North Pit and new offices, material yard and road access. On top of this, the surface of Markham Colliery was demolished. In 1979 it was agreed to drive 3,200 yards of locomotive roadways and 1,750 yards of conveyor roadways into the old Wyllie Colliery reserves. Plus further roadways from the Celynen North workings. It was then estimated that the complex would have 22 million tonnes of reserves. There were 11.4 million tons in the current working area plus 11.2 million tons which were located two miles to the south in the old Wyllie take. Due to adverse geological conditions, the Wyllie reserves were never reached.

In 1979 the OC6 coalface was working in the Five-Feet/Gellideg seam, it was 190 yards long with the seam being 7 feet thick, interlaced by two dirt bands of 6 and 7 inches. Two feet of top coal was left as a roof. This face later hit geological problems with the middle dirt band thickening up to 45 inches.

In 1981 the pit was working the Meadow Vein at a section of between 1.47 and 1.5 metres, and the Old Coal seam at a section of 1.59 metres. Coalface length varied from between 159 and 200 metres, with coal cutting done by ranging drum shearers and coalface roof supports the self-advancing types. The expected output per man shift on the coalface was 9.63 tonnes, and overall 2.44 tonnes. The coalfaces in the Meadow Vein were prefixed by the letter M, with the M23 advancing at a daily rate of 2.13 metres on two coaling shifts. This gave a daily tonnage of 750. This coalface had a run of 1,069 metres. Coalfaces in the Old Coal seam were prefixed by the letters OC, with the OC7 advancing at a daily rate of 1.83 metres on two coaling shifts producing 700 tonnes of coal per day. It had a life of 850 metres. The saleable yield of coal was 50% of total production. Manpower deployment was; coalface 135, development 130, elsewhere below ground 187, surface 88. The manager was W.B. Morris.

In 1983 this colliery was losing £3.90 for every tonne of coal that it produced. There were now 595 men working at the Colliery.

In March 1983, the NUM held a national ballot on whether to take strike action over pit closures, 68% of the south Wales membership voted for strike action, but overall in the UK’s pits, only 39% voted that way and a national strike was abandoned. This was the vote that was later to cause a lot of confusion and bitterness at the start of the big strike.

Following the return to work after the 1984/85 miner’s strike, by the end of April, this pit had only reached 76% of its production targets, with adverse conditions on the OC7 Coalface. In May losses were £28.63 per tonne of coal produced and in June they were £30.30 per tonne, by June it was reported that there were difficulties on one face and further, more serious, problems lay ahead. Markham Colliery was closed by the National Coal Board in September 1985.


Some Statistics:

  • 1910: Manpower: 158.
  • 1912: Manpower: 193.
  • 1915: Manpower: 200.
  • 1916: Manpower: 800.
  • 1918: Manpower: 1,112.
  • 1919: Manpower: 1,015.
  • 1920: Manpower: 1,321.
  • 1923: Manpower: 1,764.
  • 1924: Manpower: 1,970.
  • 1925: Manpower: 2,154.
  • 1926: Manpower: 2,591
  • 1927: Manpower: 2,502.
  • 1928: Manpower: 1,714.
  • 1929: Manpower: 1,676.
  • 1930: Manpower: 1,881. Output: 600,000 tons.
  • 1931 Manpower: 2,020.
  • 1932: Manpower: 1,650.
  • 1933: Manpower: 1,350.
  • 1934: Manpower: 1,514.
  • 1935: Manpower: 1,360. Output: 450,000 tons.
  • 1937: Manpower: 1,572.
  • 1938: Manpower: 1,630.
  • 1940: Manpower: 1,600. Output: 500,000 tons.
  • 1945: Manpower: 1,421.
  • 1947: Manpower: 1,303. Output: 288,000 tons.
  • 1948: Manpower: 1,338. Output: 350,000 tons.
  • 1949: Manpower: 1,330. Output: 316,000 tons.
  • 1950: Manpower: 1,330.
  • 1951: Manpower: 1,300. Output: 280,876 tons.
  • 1953: Manpower: 1,311. Output: 371,000 tons.
  • 1954: Manpower: 1,356. Output: 263,000 tons.
  • 1955: Manpower: 1,283. Output: 288,000 tons.
  • 1956: Manpower: 1,259. Output: 301,611 tons.
  • 1957: Manpower: 1,237. Output: 326,337 tons.
  • 1958: Manpower: 1,189. Output: 276,338 tons.
  • 1960: Manpower: 1,029. Output: 283,000 tons.
  • 1961: Manpower: 1,005. Output: 307,000 tons.
  • 1962: Manpower: 1,007.
  • 1964: Manpower: 972.
  • 1969: Manpower: 814.
  • 1970: Manpower: 786.
  • 1971: Manpower: 718. Output: 191,644 tons.
  • 1972: Manpower: 674.
  • 1974: Manpower: 598. Output: 215,000 tons.
  • 1978: Manpower: 646. Output: 228,943 tons.
  • 1979: Manpower: 565. Output: 189,000 tons.
  • 1980: Manpower: 594. Output: 189,417 tons.
  • 1981: Manpower: 540.
  • 1982: Manpower: 606.
  • 1983: Manpower: 664.
  • 1984: Manpower: 595.
  • 1985: Manpower: 606.


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 for availability.

Return to previous page