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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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