The Move to Coal

With the decline in the iron industry, coal became the dominant business for the Rhymney Iron Company. Mines that had previously provided iron ore or coal for burning in the furnaces were converted to produce coal, and as prices increased so deeper and more difficult mines became viable operations.Rhymney Iron Co Ltd new office block - built in 1913

1913 marked the peak in the South Wales coal industry, with over 250,000 men working in the industry across the region, and over 57 million tons of coal being produced. At this time there were around 40 collieries throughout the Rhymney Valley – however, the coal industry around the world was developing and putting pressure on Wales.

The First World War was a time of unrest in the industry so the Government took control – however, the mines were handed back to the coal owners in 1921. So started conflicts over pay levels and conditions and on 1st April over 1 million British miners were locked out for 3 months.

Mardy Rhymney Colliery 1917The 1920’s saw many changes – for instance Powell Duffryn purchased the Rhymney Iron Company including 7 collieries that they were still operating. The next few years saw some improvements in the coal economy but also pressures to reduce costs and wages, as well as The Samuel Report in 1926 which recommended investment in the industry. Locks outs ensued and the General Strike blue_link_icon.png started "in defence of miners' wages and hours" on 3rd May that year – it lasted 10 days, but the miners disputes continued. This was the start of a time of economic depression which hit communities of South Wales particularly hard, and between 1921 and 1936 241 mines shut resulting in 140,000 miners being made redundant.

After the 2nd World War the National Union of Mineworkers was established and in 1947 the National Coal Board was established. There followed a programme of further pit closures in 1955, which continued off and on until all the deep mines in South Wales were closed in the early 1990’s – although Tower Colliery was successfully operated as a private concern between 1995 and 2008.

One of the last pits to close in the Rhymney Valley was Penallta Colliery blue_link_icon.png – a site that in common with many other colliery and tip sites is being redeveloped.

Rhymney Iron Company Carriage

Rhymney Valley Collieries

You can discover the details of all the collieries of the Rhymney Valley at blue_link_icon.png- these are just a few:

Rhymney Merthyr, Pontlottyn

The Tynewydd and Pidwelt shafts were sunk at the end of the 19th century by the Rhymney Iron Company. By 1908 it employed 430 men, and by 1918 the workforce was over 1000. It was closed by 1928 – Powell Duffryn Ltd re opened it in 1937 before it finally closed in 1945.

Mardy Colliery, Rhymney

This colliery was opened by the Rhymney Iron Company in 1862 and employed 393 men in 1908. It was operated alongside the New Duffryn and closed in 1925. This was one of the collieries where Idris Davies the poet worked before becoming a teacher.

Elliots, New Tredegar

Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Ltd. Produced the first coal from this mine in 1891. By 1912 there were over 2800 men employed here and over 1million tons of coal was produced each year. There were severe water problems so a powerful Thornhill and Warham Steam Engine was used to keep it dry. The mine closed in 1967 but you can still see the pump at The Winding House blue_link_icon.png, the county museum that is built around the original winding house.

Penallta Horse Sculpture


Local Hero

William Thomas Bowen ME, former agent for the Rhymney Iron Company, was killed when trying to rescue miners caught in a pit explosion at Darren Pit on 24th October 1909. His grave is in the Rhymney Cemetery.Grave of William Thomas Bowen

Senghennydd Disaster - 1913

Senghennydd in the south of the Rhymney Valley grew around the Universal Steam Coal Company pit when coal mining began in the 1890s. It was a mine with lots of dangers – confined spaces, floods, gas and dust.

In 1901 there was a severe explosion when 82 workers were killed. But twelve years later, at 8am on Tuesday, 14 October 1913, there was another disaster, the most severe in the history of the Welsh coal industry. 439 men and boys were killed – the death roll can be found on the Welsh Coal Mines site blue_link_icon.png and a set of postcards were produced to help people appreciate the impact of this disaster – you can see most of the set on The National Library of Wales website blue_link_icon.png.

The manager and owners of the pit were prosecuted as a result of the disaster of 1913 – although the fines ordered to be paid were a disappointment to all involved. The pit eventually closed in 1928.

Discover more at BBC History website blue_link_icon.png or visit the Aber Valley Heritage Centre blue_link_icon.png to gain an insight into the impact these disasters had on the whole community.


Useful Links

Timeline of key events in the South Wales Coalfield green_link_icon.png

Detailed history of all coal mines in Wales green_link_icon.png

BBC History website green_link_icon.png

The Industrialisation of the South Wales Valleys green_link_icon.png

Useful Books

Find out more in:

  • Echoes of Rhymney by EE Edwards
  • Coal Society. A History of the South Wales Mining Valleys, 1840-1980 by David Egan
  • The Fed. A History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century by Hywel Francis
  • Capitalism, Community and Conflict: South Wales Coalfield, 1898-1947 by Chris Williams
  • A History of the Pioneers of the South Wales Coalfield by Elizabeth Phillips
  • Man of the Valleys: recollections of a South Wales Miner by William Page


Bute Town is just 100m from A465, on A469. Leave A465 at The Twisted Chimney!!

© 2011. Can Do Team. Written by Kim Colebrook.