SHADOWS OF THE
R IGHT at the head of the Cynon Valley, past Llwydcoed and Hirwaun and with stunning views out over the Brecon Beacons, lies what was the last deep pit mine in South Wales – Tower Colliery.
But while the general site may still appear familiar, with the winding tower watching over a collection of buildings including the reception and shower block, the interiors of these buildings have not been touched for years and, after extensive damage by vandalism, are shadows of their former selves.
This was the site where hundreds of men would arrive each day ready for work from their homes in Aberdare or nearby Rhigos, to pick up their lights and head down the pit for a gruelling 12-hour shift.
This colliery has a fascinating story and it comes as no surprise there were once plans to make a film about it.
Established in 1864, Tower became an area of intense industrial activity including ironstone and coal mining for over a century.
In 1994, the pit was shut as an “unviable” one as coal was regarded as too expensive to extract.
But a huge workers’ buyout, led by committee chairman and miners’ hero Tyrone O’Sullivan, meant the pit reopened the next year after being taken on by the 239 redundant staff, each pooling £8,000 to buy it.
The pit then posted triumphant first-year profits of £4m, extending its life by over a decade.
Coal sadly ran out and Tower closed again in January 2008, but a smaller opencast mining operation soon began at another site next to the former pit, starting in 2012.
That process has now come to an end, and the opencast mining, with around 120 staff, will soon also be closed.
Now Tower officials are hoping to turn the 253-hectare brownfield site containing tips, a disused coal washery and other facilities into something practical for the modern day, and for the use of the community.
Tony Shott knows Tower better than most.
Tony, 66, began work as an apprentice surveyor at Tower in 1969, but left in the mid 1980s to pursue a degree in geology.
Now general manager of both the opencast and former deep mining site, father-of-three Tony later joined the buyout in 1994 and has been involved ever since.
He took us on a tour of some of the site’s buildings, many of which have been disused since 2010.
The reception building contains what was once the boardroom and pay-room among others, and memories and documents are scattered across the floor everywhere you look.
The old lamp room hatch lies off the main corridor, where lights would have been given out and collected from workers before and after their shifts.
Tony explained: “There were 1,000 people working here and we had to give one in 13 a lamp to those going down the mines. That’s what the canopies are for that go all around the building – to cover workers queuing for lamps from the rain. Coming up out of the mines they would do exactly the opposite.”
Further along the corridor is the former boardroom and pay-room. The former is still clad with what was probably once an executive-looking table and picture of Mr O’Sullivan and an old map, as well as documents all over the floor – one on top of the piles is a statement of shifts worked, dated 1948.
Across the corridor, the pay-room contains a window where workers collected their wages each Friday.
In the control room, the centre of the reception building, more wires and rock wool litter the floor along with communications devices and conveyors. The room would have been fully air conditioned, according to Tony.
The Shower Room at Tower Colliery, South Wales
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