THE OLD MINES OF OLD SOUTH WALES
posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 05:48 PM
Once out of London, a 2 hour drive west along the M4 brings you to the Severn Bridge, gateway to South Wales - a region transformed during the industrial revolution by the coal and iron mining industry.
Privatisation of coal mines by the conservative government in the early 1990s led to widespread closures and had a catastrophic effect on the local economy. Several old mines now provide visitors with a glimpse of an industry and way of life still fresh in the minds of many. When the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s coal extraction grew from small scale, easily accessible surface mining, to large scale workings that followed the coal seams deep underground. Originally one of the main uses for coal mined in South Wales was to feed furnaces used in the production of iron from the abundant seams of iron ore in the region, but coal soon became the main primary energy source for industry and transportation in the western hemisphere and demand for it rocketed. As the industry grew the miners began to form unions to fight for better wages and working conditions. The main union was the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), founded in 1888, which had 600,000 members by 1908. Much of the 'old left' of British politics can trace its origins to coal-mining areas. Mine workers went on strike in 1926 in a bid for improvement of working conditions, and again in 1984 in opposition to increased job losses as a result of mechanisation.
The coal industry in Britain was nationalised in 1947 after the importance of maintaining coal supplies had been realised in both world wars, and it remained in public ownership until the 1980s. The emergence of alternative energies supplies such as oil, and natural gas in the late 1950s brought competition to the coal mines, and as time went by the industry began to contract making many pits uneconomical to work. The National Coal Board was eventually privatised by the conservative government as a result of this, and throughout the 1990s many pits were sold off, virtually closing down the industry.
Big Pit Mine in Blaenafon closed in 1980, the site is now a mining museum and guided tours by headtorch are led by ex-miners through a labyrinth of passages 90m below ground. It is part of the National Museums of Wales and entry is free.
Carreglwyd campsite is located in Port Eynon on the Gower Peninsula, overlooking the village and bay. Westerly facing fields provide pitches that are flooded with sunlight on a clear morning. Facilities are basic but the showers are hot and clean. At £9 per person for a tent pitch the price seems a little expensive but not unusual for the Gower Peninsula. Rhosilli Beach is a 10-15 minute drive away and a great example of the sort of coastal treasures that exist in the UK, so often sought by taking holidays abroad.