The Collieries of Abercrave

Abercrave Colliery, Year-1896

Owner                  Abercrave Collieries Co
Type of Mine               Slant (Drift)
Manager                      W.W.Morgan
Type of Product          Anthracite and Coal
Workers Employed     154 below ground,
                                   18   above ground 

Gwaunclawdd Colliery, Year 1908

Owner                   Abercrave Collieries Co
Type of Mine               Slant (Drift)
Manager                      Eli Davies
Type of Product          Anthracite and Coal
Workers Employed     78 below ground,
                                   23   above ground 

The 1908 inspection of the International Colliery, adjacent to
Abercrave Colliery, recorded it as belonging to the
International Anthracite Co, but being in receivership.

International (Candy) Colliery, Year 1908

Owner                International Anthracite Co Ltd
Type of Mine               Slant (Drift)
Manager                      D.T. Alexander, receiver and manager.
Type of Product          Anthracite and Coal
Workers Employed     201 below ground,
                                   53   above ground 

Mynydd-y-Drum (The Drum Mountain) which overlooks Abercrave and Ystradgynlais from the East has been extensively mined. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Daniel Harpur had opened the "Lefel Fawr" mine and built Pont-y-Yard bridge over the river Tawe to transport coal, from a low lying coal seam, to the Swansea Valley Canal.

 Later in the century the Blackburn family from Nant-y-Glo near Merthyr Tydfil  were quarrying sand stone higher up on the Drum Mountain overlooking Abercrave  (just above what became the route of the subsequent railway line) when they found a seam of anthracite up to 18 feet in thickness. 

This lead to the opening of four collieries overlooking Abercrave. They were established in the following order, heading Northwards, and were named "Gwaun-y-clawdd", "International (Candy) ", "Abercrave" and "Nicky Nack" colliery. All were all strung out along the Western side of Mynydd-y-Drum, just below the Neath and Brecon Railway line.

Every colliery had to have a "return" or alternative way out, and the old Lefel Fawr air shaft near Yard Bridge was used as the "return" for the International (Candy) Colliery, as well as for ventilation. The original Gwaun-y-clawdd coal shaft just above the railway line was later used as the "return" for what became the main Gwaun-y-clawdd colliery.

The Morgan Family who had leased the stone quarry to the Blackburns now formed their own company, Abercrave Collieries Co, to run  Abercrave and Gwaun-y-clawdd Collieries. They built most of the houses in the village of Caehopkin to accommodate the workers.

Surveys carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines) around the beginning of the twentieth century recorded the information shown on the left.

Abercrave Colliery had two entrances (drifts), exploiting different coal measures and different seams. One drift was known as the "Eighteen Foot" and the other as the "Lower Measures". Eighteen Foot referred to the maximum thickness of the seam which reached 18ft (5.5 metres) in a few places.

The seam known as the Lower Measures varied in thickness from four foot ( 1.3 metres) down to six inches ( 150 centimetres) and the miners often had to work lying on their side in narrow tunnels to extract the coal from this seam. The methods of working changed over the years as mechanisation was introduced.

 Originally the miners had worked in "stalls" and dug the coal with picks and shovels. They were paid according to the tonnage they produced and the coal and spoil (waste) was removed by horse drawn wagons (drams).

Winches were often used to pull the drams up the steeper inclines out of the mine, using ropes or steel cables, and this system was known as a "haulage". 

When conveyors were introduced the method of calculating payment changed, with each miner being allocated a six yard (5.5 metre) long "stint" of the coal face to mine. Every man negotiated a price per yard with "the fireman" and the price depended on the height of the seam at that location. The men worked a 24 hour three shift system, but coal was only extracted on the day shifts.

Miners at The International, "Candy" Colliery in 1912

 The night shift "cut" the coal and carried out the operations necessary to "advance" the face ready for the next day shift. Cutting involved the use of a 4.5 foot ( 1.3 metre") diameter circular saw with large hardened steel teeth. This pulled itself along a tethered steel cable and made a 2 foot ( 0.6 metre) deep cut along the bottom of the coal seam, parallel to the floor of the gallery. The miners on the following day shifts then used pneumatic drills, picks and shovels to extract all the coal above the cut.

The drifts at all three collieries headed Eastwards into the mountain, towards Seven Sisters and the Eighteen Foot Seam was very wet, as the land above it was marshy.

The last day at Abercrave Colliery in March 1967.

 Around the year 1964 a 100 foot ( 31 metre) thick section of the roof fell into one of the galleries at Abercrave Colliery and it was fortunate that no-one was injured or killed. It took around five months to clear the vast amount of fallen material and those who were doing the work could look up and see the sky above.

Gwaunclawdd Colliery closed in the mid 1930s and the International Colliery closed in the early 1950s. Abercrave Colliery continued in production until March 1967 when four hundred and fifty men lost their jobs. Some were offered jobs in other pits such as Ynyscedwyn Colliery in Ystradgynlais but unfortunately this also closed, exactly one year later. 

There were many different seams of coal under Mynydd-y-Drum, all of which were classed as Anthracite. Anthracite is ancient vegetation which has been reduced to almost pure carbon by the action of time and pressure. 

Abercrave Colliery

With anthracite, most of the original volatile matter has gone, and so when burned it remains solid, unlike "soft coals" which soften and become tar-like. Anthracite varies considerably in its hardness and other qualities according to where it occurs. The upper measures (such as the eighteen Foot seam) are less hard and shatter easily. They tend to create very dusty working conditions for the miners. The lower measures are much older, more deeply buried, highly compressed and harder to shatter, but they break cleanly producing little dust and leaving the hands clean after handling. The highest quality anthracite came from the lower measures, but these thinner, harder, seams cost more to mine. The best quality anthracite mined from the lower measures was called "Blue Diamond" as it shone when broken, and the miners would fashion sculptures and ornaments from it.