Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, Wales

Coal mining at Tower Colliery can be traced back to the start of the 19th Century when it was locally known that it was possible to drift mine coal from around Hirwaun common. In 1864 the first colliery was established and the first drift mine was dug. The colliery was named Tower after the nearby folly, Crawshay’s Tower. A third drift was sunk during the 1920’s. During the 1930s and early 1940s, the colliery underwent extensive expansion by the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Company, with the surface buildings to be concentrated around the new No.4 shaft. This development allowed miners to access new coals seams beneath the site at a depth of 160 metres after the new Tower No.4 shaft was sunk in 1941. From 1943 until the collieries closure, the Tower No.4 shaft served a dual purpose as the main miners access/transit route as well as the main return ventilation shaft. During 1958, No.3 new drift was driven to the Tower No.4 workings and served as the main intake ventilation airway. Tower No. 3 new drift also served as the main route for conveying coal to the surface to be washed at the new Washery, and for the transportation of materials into the mine working areas.

The colliery was nationalised under the National Coal Board in 1947 and was further expanded in the 1950s with new surface buildings, including the pit-head baths, and work was carried out to link Tower to other undergroundmines in the Rhondda Valley area. The engine hall and headframe at the No.4 shaft date from the redevelopment that occurred during the 1930s; the lattice girder headframe is typical of the those used from the 1860s to the 1930s and can be found throughout the country. At present, they survive at only four sites in Wales. The engine hall is characteristic of the common engine halls developed by Powell Duffryn from 1906 onwards, but on an uniquely small scale. It comprises of the winding engine, compressor engines, electrical switch-gear and a Sirocco ventilating fan. A coal processing and washery plant lies down the hill at a new drift that was dug during the 1950s, known as the Tower Collier Washery Plant. This area now forms the new opencast coal mine. Following its closure in 1970 and subsequent demolition of surface buildings, Glyncorrwg Colliery continued to be worked through Tower, with coal brought to surface there.

On the 12th of April, 1962 a fire damp explosion occurred, killing nine miners.  The cause of the disaster was traced to a short circuit within newly installed electrical cable  in the presence of an explosive atmosphere. The subsequent explosion investigation found that the auxiliary ventilation fan had been turned off to allow for the installation of the new electrical cable, resulting in the building up of methane within the workings. The following men perished as a result of the explosion:  Edward Bond, Leslie Davies, Thomas Jones, William Maull, Dai Morris, Llewellyn Price, William Smith, Kenneth Strong, David Williams. The full investigation report can be read at the Durham Mining Museum.

Tower Colliery Explostion Investigation (Flickr)

After the 1984/5 UK Miner’s strike, the Conservative government authorised British Coal to close the majority of the UK’s deep mines on economic grounds, including Tower. But from 30 June 1986 new underground roads were driven from Maerdy Colliery; this allow its coal to be raised at Tower and the two mines effectively started working as one coalfield system. Maerdy closed as an access shaft on 21 December 1990. Like other mines, Tower Coilliery was schedule to close at the beginning of the nineties. However, in 1994 the constituency MP, Ann Clwyd staged a sit-in at the mine to protest against its closure and highlight the plight of the workers. Undeterred, British Coal continued with plans and closed Tower Colliery on 22 April 1994, on the grounds that it would be uneconomic in current market conditions to continue production. Led by local NUM Branch Secretary Tyrone O’Sullivan, 239 miners joined TEBO (Tower Employees Buy-Out), with each pledging £8,000 from their redundancy payouts to buy back Tower. Even against stiff central government resistance to the possibility of reopening the mine as a coal production unit, a price of £2 million was eventually agreed. With their bid accepted, the miners marched back to the pit on 2 January 1995, with a balloon inflated for each worker. On 3 January 1995 the Colliery re-opened under the ownership of the workforce buy out company Goitre Tower Anthracite.

Up to 14 coal seams had been worked at Tower Colliery during its history, and the neighbouring mines (Maerdy, Fernhill and Glyncorrwg) within the lease area of Tower, which was 14.8 km in circumference to create an area of 221.3 hectares. The actual boundaries of the lease were defined either by faults or seam splits in the local geostructure, or excess water to the northwest in the Bute seam. The seams produced good quality coking coal, which was washed onsite at the coal washing plant before being loaded onto trains and transported out. Although the mine remained financially viable and continued to provide employment to the workers, by the time of the buyout the only seam worked at Tower was the Seven Feet/Five Feet seam, a combined seam of several leaves which offered 1.3m of anthracite in a mined section of 1.65m. Tower Colliery also worked directly under the shaft of the former Glyncorrwg Colliery’s “nine feet” workings, the four faces worked within the western section of the lease had been considered uneconomic by British Coal. As the worked seams reduced in capacity, the management team considered three possibilities to extend the length of mine production:

  1. Work another nine faces in the existing workings, in coal classed only as mineral potential,
  2. Address the water problem in the Bute seam,
  3. Open new developments in the Nine Feet seam, 100 m above the existing seam; known as the Four Feet seam, a further 30m above,

But none of these prospects seemed economic, so the board recommended that work be concentrated on coal to the north of the existing workings, which had been left to protect the safety of the existing shafts. This was accepted by the workforce and shareholders in an open vote, this decision effectively accepted as being the the end of Tower as a deep mine. Having mined out the northern coal extracts, the colliery was last worked on 18 January 2008 and the official closure of the colliery occurred on 25 January 2008. The colliery was, until its closure, one of the largest employers in the Cynon Valley. Machinery from Tower was used to boost production at the nearby Aberpergwm Colliery, a smaller drift mine closed by the National Coal Board in 1985 but reopened by a private concern in the mid 1990s.

Royal Commission staff visited the colliery in the week before closure to carry out photographic recording of this historic site, the photos can be found here http://www.coflein.gov.uk

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Modified: 30th Oct 2017