Coal was mined in the Rhondda for 175 years, at its peak the Rhondda was employing 41,000 men. The main boom time took place in the 20 years between 1869 and 1889. During WW1 there were 66 collieries producing nearly 10 million tonnes of coal a year. The end of the stamp-ship era and a fall off in export markets sadly meant that coal production in the Rhondda declined steadily. Nationalisation made changes to mining but did no prevent the continuing decline of the industry. Successive governments and the NCB (National Coal Board) were unwilling to keep uneconomic pits open and the area was still very difficult to mine.
The Lewis Merthyr Colliery was first developed in the 1850’s (then the Hafod and Coedcae collieries). Three other steam coal pits were sunk between 1880 – 1882. By 1900, all of these collieries were controlled by Lewis Herbert. Production then boomed to nearly 1m tonnes annually and it was one of the most important mining concerns in Britain, however it was later shut down in 1983. Eight years after its closure, Lewis Merthyr was re-opened as the Rhondda Heritage Park. The Lewis Merthyr shut due to geological conditions and some policies of the conservative party (A4).
‘But if the conservative government had a part in closing the pit, It also played a part in its re-opening’ (A4). Investment of i?? 7m from the government and EU funds (A4) helped to then restore the buildings to their former glory (A5). During its development ‘miners were involved at every stage ‘ to make it accurate and ‘text for the audio-visual presentations were supplied by Professor Dai Smith an expert in mining history’ (A6). The Rhondda Heritage Park was opened as part of a scheme ‘to help the valleys’ (Welsh Secretary -Peter Walker – A4).
According to source A5 the Heritage Park is a living testament to the spirit of the coal mining valleys and lets visitors experience a colliery at work. The Heritage Park also educates visitors in the Energy Zone and provides a lot of fun (A5) alongside with the learning experience. ‘Everything was done to make the museum as accurate as possible to the (mining) experiences it represents (A6). The Miners Work The Black Gold presentation follows the development of the Rhondda Valley from about 1830 to the nationalisation of coal in 1947.
Some things covered in the multi-media presentation were information on working conditions, family life and many facts and figures. It showed how emotional families were when they were re-united, and how poor the families were as they bathed in tin baths. Their leaflet is accurate as it mentions the exhibition will show the ‘ social and cultural’ side of the valleys (Rh. H. P leaflet – B1). Some strengths of the mutli-media presentation were the figures included. It mentioned that at one point there were 1/4m miners and 168,000 people living in the Rhondda.
It included the growth and decline of mining from before the 1920’s to after the 1930’s. This information is similar to sources in the school textbook (Coal Society – source 286 pg. 120). The presentation mentioned how miners worked in very dark, dusty and wet conditions which often caused disease and health risks and deaths everyday. As in B5, it mentions the disease ‘Nystagmus’ (an eye condition), pneumoconiosis (caused by dust) and how a miner was killed every six hours in Britain (Coal Society pg. 60).
However, although the models in Black Gold were a nice idea, they were not lit up correctly and if you were at the back of the group you experienced limited vision and could not see the whole presentation. The miner guide (Graham) was more interesting than the videos or models and brought the story and journey to life. The underground tour (A Shift in Time) was a very interesting and informative section of the tour. The tour guide spoke a lot about the mine and the previous mines he had worked in (Merthyr Valleys). He spoke about how the other mines were a lot deeper than the Lewis Merthyr (1400-ft), however we only travelled 30ft deep.
The tour guide said that Rh. H. P was accurate as a mine and more interesting than Big Pit. I find him a reliable witness as he had worked in a few other mines and would have had knowledge and experience, however he may be bias towards Rh. H. P, as he is being paid to promote the park and attract visitors. To go underground we prepared by wearing hard hats but unlike the video, The Miner we didn’t have contraband checks. In the Heritage Parks Leaflet (B2) the park is described as 1950’s, so if it was true to this we would have been supplied with a cap lamp, which we were not.
The guide did tell us about various checks such as everyone being liable for search and using the live canaries as gas detectors, which ‘The Miner’ did not feature. The canaries were kept in the lamp room to make it look more authentic, but as they had no real use I found it rather cruel and unneeded. Although ‘The Miner’ was an accurate video from a ‘working mine’, I am not comparing like for like as the Rhondda is a 1950’s mine (B2) and The Miner was set in the 1970s, because of this there will be variations in the information.
Underground, many things were made to resemble the mine in the 1950’s, safety notices and posters were displayed and the guide told us a lot about the first aid tubes containing stretchers and morphine. Unfortunately, health and safety regulations meant that the return to the surface was not realistic and I found it cheesy and boring, but if a younger group went I’m sure they’d enjoy it (mysterious and unforgettable B2) and will interest them as ‘school kids’ (B3).