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Wales, Welsh Coal Mining, A thriving industry of the past

Updated on June 1, 2018
ethel smith profile image

With a keen interest in British politics this writer is never afraid to share her opinion

Coal Mining was one of the most thriving industries of Wales.

Most families had at least one person who "went down the pit". However, for many families it was a family affair. Successive generations worked as coal miners, often from a very young age. Over the years coal mining changed, but it was always fraught with danger.

The biggest danger in recent times came from Margaret Thatcher, and her Conservative Government, as they set out, once and for all, to beat the miners into submission. After all, what were working class people doing thinking that they should have a voice and rights?

Maggie achieved what she set out to do and Coal Mining is just one of many industries that has died in the UK. These days, there are few Welsh miners, in comparison to years ago. This has had a marked effect on many Welsh villages. Some have just about closed up shop, as all the residents moved away in an attempt to find work.

I have various memories about Welsh mining which I would like to share with you, in this Hub. This means that this hub will not be a factual account of Welsh mining, as such, but more what I have heard, read or seen about Welsh mining over the years.

The school at Aberfan
The school at Aberfan
Everyone who could help the rescue efforts did so
Everyone who could help the rescue efforts did so
A sad reminder
A sad reminder
Present day memorial at Aberfan
Present day memorial at Aberfan

The Aberfan Disaster

I remember with horror to this day, the events of Aberfan.

On the 21st October 1966 a huge slag heap began to slide.

It quickly covered part of the village of Aberfan and in particular the local school. I was fourteen at the time and still at school myself.

It was a Friday. In fact the last Friday before the half tern school holidays. How cruel. The next the school would have been closed and the fatalities would have been fewer.

All told 144 people die. Of these 116 were children. This was a huge part of the child population of Aberfan. As a close knit community everyone knew each other in Aberfan. This meant that local people were grieving for neighbours and friends as well as their own family members.

Even though in 1966 there was not the invasive press coverage of such disasters, there were all too many sad images and words written about this tragic event.

It was 9.15 in the morning when this heap of waste from the coal mines slipped into Aberfan. The children would have just started another day at school. The slag heap hit a farm cottage first, where all occupants were killed.

The children had just finished singing All Things Bright and Beautiful at their morning assembly and were going to their first class of the day.

With startling speed the slide took out 20 houses also. All the villages heard was a terrible rumbling and then a deathly silence fell over the village. Everyone ran to the school grabbing shovels, picks and what they could as they ran. They all tried, often in vain, ro rescue the children and people. By 11am the last of the living had been rescued.

Those that died were suffocated by the waste material.

The school lost five teachers in this disaster and about half of its children. How dreadful it must have been for all concerned.

Just briefly writing about this disaster, all these years later, has brought back so many painful memories and I was not personally touched by this tragedy.

Neswpaper cartoon of the day
Neswpaper cartoon of the day
Other labour was used to keep the trains running and break the strike
Other labour was used to keep the trains running and break the strike

The General Strike

In 1926 there was a General Strike, and no, I was not around at the time. In fact my Mum would have only been about nine years old. However Mum told me plenty about this strike, years later. We also touched upon it in our History classes at school.

The British General Strike only lasted ten days. In many ways it was a disaster. In others I assume it showed the leaders of the day that times had changed.

Before the First World War British people tended to know their place and stay in it. Now the people were beginning to fight for their rights. They had seen the Russian Revolution and I imagine that political leaders of the day were somewhat worried.

With the coal mining industry under attack from various angles the miners were struggling to keep their heads above water, financially speaking. At this time the coal mines were run and owned by various individuals and in an attempt to keep the profits for themselves it was proposed that the miners wages were cut.

Of course at this time also the working conditions of coal miners, around the world, was dismal.

In May 1926 the coal miners went on strike supported by many other workers. Although it was a general strike not all occupations were asked to join in. The unions did not want this strike to turn into some sort of red revolutionary event. Still many transport, dockyard, printers and steelworkers joined the strike.

In many ways the miners did not achieve their goal. Some stayed on strike longer whilst others were sacked from their mine work. Hardship followed for many. My Mum told me about an instance at her place of work in the late 1930s.

As a kindhearted soul she could not understand why no-one spoke to a particular male worker or ever sat with him at break times. Ever one to help a lame dog Mum began to sit next to this guy and chat a little to him. She was soon warned that this man had been a scab, strike breaker, in the General Strike. For this crime he had been sent to Coventry and was avoided like the plague. Much as I have no time for such scabs I have to admire my Mum. She was only young and yet she dug in her heels and joined this man each day.

Trouble on the streets
Trouble on the streets
Union leader Arthuur Scargill in front of police line
Union leader Arthuur Scargill in front of police line
Poster of the day
Poster of the day

The UK Miner's Strike 1984

This miner's strike involved miners from all over the country. Every pit was under threat but of course coal mining was such a valuable industry in Wales.

By the time of this series of strikes the ownership of the mines was in the government's hands. This had meant that for sometime the coal miners had fared reasonably well. However a change of government was all that was needed to destroy this industry.

When the miner's strikes begun, in the eighties, I was in my early thirties. At this time I worked in a job where a few police officers would pop in a couple of times a week. They would have a cup of tea and chat for a hew minutes to the supervisor about this and that. Inevitably the conversation would get round to the miner's strike.

They would without fail brag about the amount of overtime they were working and how much money they were making. They would laugh and say that they had bought a particular new car, moved home, had a great holiday abroad and more all thanks to the miner's and their strike.

It seemed that, although the government were not prepared to give the miner's what they asked, they were prepared to pay huge amounts of money to break them.

You only need to watch a film such as Billy Elliot to see what strive and hardship was suffered by many miners and their families.

There are many wrongs and rights with all concerned however there is no escaping the fact that Welsh Coal Mining died with these strikes, government and Maggie.


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    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks for stopping by Beth. It still so sad even after all these years. Whole generations and families wiped out so quickly

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      bless them all i feel really sorry for them. i have actually been to the place where the school was its really upsetting

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      THanks Hanna. It would seem that you and I have similar political leanings:)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      What Margaret Thatcher did that time was the most diabolically thing anybody leave alone any government could have done. The condition these men were working under and still the whole community were faithful to coalmining. They have the nerve absolute nerve to point at the Labour. I am not saying they doing everything right, they too done some bad things, but they still a lot better. When Conservative lost; they had 5 million people out of work. Practically the whole country was on its knees. How can you do this to your own country and your own people? How can they point?

      Thank you for an excellent hub.

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks all.

      Yes Habee they did use pit ponies and children worked in the mines. I guess they were classed as old enough back then.

      You are right about the disaster element of coal mining. I think that they deserved every penny for doing such a hard job.

      There are so many more potential hubs in this subject if anyone has time.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Wow, One thing that every country that does coal mining has in common is "Tragedy". It is so heart breaking to see how hard these workers have to work to feed their families and it is really sad the loss of love ones that many families endure in their lifetime. Thanks for sharing your insight.:)

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      10 years ago from Guwahati, India

      I am terrified with the disaster.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      What a tragic history. Didn't they use Welsh ponies in the old mining days?


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