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The Rhondda Heritage Park

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History & Archeology

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History and Archeology

The name Rhondda is often quoted as being synonymous with that of coal, however just over a century and a half ago the Rhondda valleys were almost unknown and existed as a sparsely populated rural wilderness. For centuries the Rhondda Valleys remained in pastoral glory, with clear running streams and waterfalls, and beautiful trees and flora. The small sheep rearing community that populated the few occasionally scattered farmhouses existed as they had for centuries, as a sleepy rural community.

1855 is the date accepted as marking the change of the rural scene in Rhondda and the historic change to heavy industry, although coal was mined in the Rhondda as early as the seventeenth century for domestic purposes. By the end of the century Rhondda was one of the most important coal producing areas in the world. The coal industry at its peak in Wales employed one in every ten persons and many more relied on the industry for their livelihood. Rhondda alone at one time contained 53 working collieries, in an area only 16 miles long. It was the most intensely mined area in the world and probably one of the most densely populated. From the rural population of around 951 in 1851 mass migration meant that by 1924, the population reached 169,000 approximately 20,000 people to the built up square mile.

The winding mechanisms above the two shaftsTrehafod village grew mainly as a result of the industrial revolution and the rich bituminous coal in the lower Rhondda and the accessibility of the Glamorgan Canal and purpose built tram roads, the lower Rhondda saw rapid economic growth in the nineteenth century. With the supply for bituminous coal from London and Ireland, came the supply of jobs.

The great majority of the newcomers who came to the mining settlements of Dinas, Cymmer, Hafod and Ynys-Hir, were agricultural labourers taking the change from farm labourer to miner. The new villagers occupied cottages owned by the colliery companies. During the first half of the nineteenth century the district was destitute of drainage arrangements with no provision of any kind for the disposal of excrement or refuse. Besides rainwater, the only source of fresh water was the mountain springs. The new villagers were self sufficient, owning their own allotments that could be found on either side of the valley mountains. These allotments supplemented the main source of food for the villagers and they took great pride in the fact that they provided their own living.

The number of shops that grew in the village evidently proves the self-sufficiency of the people in a rapidly expanding industrial area. on both sides of the main street the shops were built next door to each other, some trading from their front rooms. At one time there were nearly as many shops in Trehafod as in Porth or Pontypridd. Evans the Grocer, Morgan the Butcher and Thomas the Fruitier are just a few of the businesses run in the village. Everything that was needed for the people was in existence; a cobblers, cafe's, coach builders, midwife, dentist, post office bakehouse, fish shops, undertakers, choirmasters and even musicians. Company stores were also used where goods could be bought in exchange for tokens.

In 1808 Evan Morgan leased the mineral rights to his land to his brother in law, Dr Richard Griffths, who in turn gave Jerimiah Homphrey the right to open a level under Hafod Fawr lands on the east side of the river Rhondda. This level was worked until 1813. The Hafod mining concern was started in the 1850s at Coed Cae, but due to complications the rich bituminous seams of hafod were not fully exploited until the 1870's when the Coed Cae Coal company reopened the Coed Cae Colliery, now the ground of the Heritage Park Hotel.

In the mid 1870s William Thomas Lewis, later Lord Merthyr, purchased the Hafod and Coed Cae shafts on the river Rhondda near Porth. The Coed Cae pit was reopened in the early 1870s to work the upper bituminous (household) seam coal but it closed in the 1930s. Hafod pit is thought to have worked from the 1880s until 1893, working the bituminous seams, after which date the deeper steam coal seams were worked by Powell Duffryn.

The Trefor Winding HouseBy 1880 WT Lewis had sunk the Bertie shaft, and in 1890 the Trefor shaft (both Trefor and Bertie were named after WT Lewis' sons, and remain so today at the Rhondda Heritage Park). By 1891 the Colliery was known as the Lewis Merthyr Navigation Collieries Ltd and from 1890 the five pits became the "Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Ltd" employing some 5,000 men and producing almost a million tons of coal annually.

The Bertie shaft was 4.3m in diameter and 434m in depth. The Winding Engine is unique because of the unusual design of the drum known as a differential bi-cylindro conical drum, which enabled the engine to wind to and from different depths simultaneously. There is thought to have existed only one other engine of this style. The engine was originally steam operated until it was electrified in the late 1950s.

In 1904 the company sunk the Lady Lewis colliery a mile to the North East in the Rhondda Fach and in 1905 they acquired the Universal Colliery at Senghenydd, which was later to suffer the worst ever mining disaster in British history. In 1929 the colliery became part of the Powell Dyffryn Group, and in the same year Coed Cae stopped winding coal. Hafod No 2 followed, and Hafod No 1 in 1933. The colliery was nationalised in 1947.

In 1956 there was a terrible explosion at the colliery killing 9 men and injuring 5 others. In 1958 Lewis Merthyr Colliery and the neighbouring Ty Mawr Colliery merged and all coal winding ceased at Lewis Merthyr, with coaling continuing via Ty Mawr and men and supplies only at Lewis Merthyr. By 1969 the Colliery had become the Ty Mawr/Lewis Merthyr Colliery. As many as thirteen seams have been worked at the Lewis Merthyr using the advanced long wall method of working with most of the coal being won with pneumatic picks and hand loaded onto conveyors.

Until the 1950s the coal industry maintained a steady level of production and employment, but since that time there has been a continuing decline in the number of miners in employment. Most of the pits, which have been closed, have still left coal to mine, but with oil and coal available more cheaply from abroad the demise of the industry has been inevitable. Nowhere has the decline of the coal industry been more dramatic than in the South Wales Coal Field. At Lewis Merthyr production came to an end on the 14 March 1983 with production continuing in the four feet seam until July when coaling ceased forever at Ty Mawr/Lewis Merthyr.

By 1990 not one productive colliery existed in the Rhondda but the spirit of the turbulent and proud Rhondda past has been captured and preserved as an historic landmark at the Lewis Merthyr Colliery now the Rhondda Heritage Park.


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