Coal in the Aberdare Valley 1750 – 1850

To the Editor of the Cardiff 9″ Merthyr Guardian 25.06.1853

Sir, Having seen in one of your late papers a very interesting account of the primitive life and reminiscences of Margaret Williams, of Penyrheolgerrig, Merthyr, it may amuse your readers to learn a little of the early history of its sister valley of Aberdare-and I shall begin with its coal,—my own recollections of which have been lately refreshed by an intelligent old farmer now in his 94th year, born at Duffryn Aberdare, which farm his father then held under William Bruce, Esq., of Llanblethian.

A little sulphurous vein of coal, 22 inches in thickness, was worked in the upper part of the Craig y Dyffryn in the year 1750, and, when the top fell in, the tenant used to open another hole (a level) in the side of the hill these perforations are about 250 yards higher up the hill than Mr Powell’s present pit at Middle Duffryn. Soon after this, a labouring man, called Rees Philip Jenkin, found the same vein in Cwm Pennar, to the North East of Dyffryn House, but this coal not being available for drying oats at the kiln adjoining the old mill in the same Cwm, the miller used to get coal for that purpose from Penwain Gellideg, near Merthyr, from which place it was then a day’s journey, and for one sack load of which (about 2 cwt.) 2d was paid to Thomas Phillip. The few persons then inhabiting Aberdare village, generally bought their coal at Ynyslwyd, but often sent a horse and panniers for it to Darran-ddu, in the parish of Llanwynno, distant about ten miles, over Cefn Gwingil and other mountains.

The lower part of the Aberdare valley was principally supplied from Llanfabon with coal worked on Thomas Mathew’s land, below Penrheolfawr.

My aged informant told me an amusing anecdote relating to this pit, Howel Joseph, the collier, used to be let down the pit in the morning by his wife, who then returned home, and came to wind him up in the evening-but on& unlucky day Howel struck into an old working from which a reservoir of water broke in so rapidly upon him that it got up to his middle before he could look about him he had no means of escape but by crawling up the timbers which sustained the sides of the pit: this the poor fellow effected with such difficulty that the water kept pace with him, neck and neck, and he and the water reached the surface together.

Perhaps no coal district in the kingdom affords a stronger contrast between old and modern days than the Aberdare Valley. From the same spot, where a whole day was spent in getting a couple of hundred weight on a horse’s back, more than a thousand tons are now sent daily to the Port of Cardiff, besides the enormous quantity consumed by the numerous furnaces, forges, and engines!

I may, probably, send you some records of the original inhabitants, and of the customs of the families of Aberaman, Duffryn, &c.

And remain yours, An Old Mountaineer