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The Coal Industry in Pembrokeshire

Reprinted from Field Studies, Vol. 1, No. 5 (1963), pp. 33 - 64.

 By George Edwards


 This is a summary of the above article - contributed by Delyth Wilson (April 2007)


There are coal-bearing rocks (Coal Measures) in Pembrokeshire. They occupy the surface of the ground over a narrow strip of country extending from Carmarthen Bay in the east to St Bride's Bay in the west. Near Carmarthen Bay, this strip of country is about 4 miles wide. It narrows westwards and at St Bride's Bay assumes a northerly trend along the coast to end at the flank of the St David's peninsula.
All parts of the coal measures in Pembrokeshire have, at various times, been worked for coal but, west of Johnston, there has only been surface mining and no exploitation of the lower seams by deep shafts.

The type of coal found in Pembrokeshire is anthracite - of high quality. It was exploited at least from the beginning of the 14th century. The quality of the coal and the facility of transport by sea led to the expansion of the trade, so that by 1800, despite the small extent of the coal deposits, Pembrokeshire coal mining had attained prominence. The coal was at that time shipped to many parts of England and Wales and to several European countries. Later, Pembrokeshire coal mining was overshadowed by that of the main South Wales coalfield where new mining methods were more easily introduced. However, some deep mining was undertaken in Pembrokeshire - but even the largest of its collieries were only of medium size compared with those developed in Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire.

Coal mining remained rural in character. Its decline in relative importance began in the 19th century and was more rapid after 1900 when one after another colliery was abandoned. The output of coal continued to drop until nationalisation of the industry in 1947, after which the last remaining colliery closed down.  

Owen in 1603 described a typical colliery employing 16 people. They worked from 6am until 6pm except for a brief rest during which the men ate "their allowance - as they termed it which is   ½ d in bread to every man and 4d in drink among a dozen".  
Moreton colliery in 1777 employed 30 men who received 8d or 9d per day and 8 women who received 4d (Picton Papers).
In the same year, Begelly Colliery employed 77 people including 18 women and a few boys at 3d or 4d per day.
At Hook in 1785 there were 78 colliers and additional workmen servicing equipment, sinking shafts and driving levels. (Spence Colby).
By 1806 men were paid 1/- per day and women (mainly engaged on winding coal and filling carts received 6d to 8d. These were much lower wages than elsewhere.
However, the Pembrokeshire coal miners were better off than the agricultural labourers earning 6d/day without victuals. Even in 1880 the collier was only paid 1s 6d per day with reductions in times of depression. Some collieries expanded after 1850 and employed larger numbers of men.
Bonville Court employed 300 (384 at its maximum in 1914). This colliery closed in 1930 and many of its employees went to Hook whose numbers increased suddenly from 100 to 250. These two mines were the biggest employers. Other collieries in Pembrokeshire employed less than 100 men. For the whole coalfield, Hunt (1865) records employment of 926 males and some females in 1864.

The coalfield had an effect on agriculture. Coal carters were most commonly members of farming or smallholding communities. Many farmers may have worked small mining concerns. Mining in so many small workings must have ruined much farmland. Collins (1806) declared that the whole country was defaced by spoil banks, seen in almost every field and common. There was another aspect of the relation between mining and agricultural employment. Mackworth (1854) wrote:
"the coal has been usually worked only by very shallow and temporary pits, affording occasional employment to the collier, who, therefore often applies himself to agriculture and other labours. The number of hands at these pits is usually small, sometimes consisting of the members of the family, of whom the women wind up and unload the coal, whilst the men and boys are at work underground. The result is that the circumstances of the Pembrokeshire colliers differ but little from the agricultural labourer, and his gains but little exceed the payment for work on the surface of the ground. He is too poor to move to other localities, such as the valleys of Glamorgan where wages are much higher; and he has frequently a freehold or other interest in his cottage or hovel".

In later years, with the rapid decline of the coal industry, the Pembrokeshire miner was often grateful for his smallholding - in Saundersfoot in 1930, 55% of the local colliers had smallholdings, evidence of the continuity of the link between the mining and agricultural occupations.

As the mining industry in Pembrokeshire was small in scale and the mines well scattered over the coalfield, the size and distribution of settlements was not greatly influenced by the presence and movement of colliery workers. Numerous miners' cottages were built but these never formed large or compact villages. e.g. During the 1st World War a colliery was developed at Reynalton. It employed 100 men and was regarded locally as important. The miners came in daily from other mining districts.
At Hook in 1938, 130 men were employed at the pit. 82 came from Hook, 25 from Llangwm, 15 from Freystop, 3 from Haverfordwest and 5 from the Saundersfoot area. The same mobility of labour was in evidence during the 1930s at the Broom at Kilgetty collieries.  

The living conditions of the Pembrokeshire miners were dreadful.  The people existed in a state of poverty which would not have been believed by the populations of some rural districts in England.
Mackworth (1854) reported that the cottages were built of a mixture of mud, road scrapings and stones, and were thatched with straw. Low in height, the houses were usually without a ceiling and were partially divided into two rooms by earth or boards. The fires were kept burning continuously and often filled the rooms with offensive fumes - but kept the mud walls dry. When abandoned, the cottages of this kind ("Clom cottages") soon crumbled away leaving little trace.

Employment in the coal industry was too small to affect population changes in the district as a whole. The same trends can be seen in the coalfield parishes as in the county generally - an increase from 1801 to 1861 and a decline in subsequent periods.


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[Gareth Hicks: 16 April 2007]