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Memories of the Anthracite Coalfield
by The Rt. Hon. JAMES GRIFFITHS, C.H., M.P.
Minister of National Insurance 1945-50, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1950-51 and Charter Secretary of State for Wales, 1964-65.

"Pembrokeshire Coale is called Stone-Coale for the hardness thereof, and is not noysome for the smook nor loathsome for the smell as Ring-Coale is whose smook annoyeth all things near it." (George Owen, Henllys, in a Petition to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in the year 1589).

The Welsh Anthracite (Glo-Carreg) Coalfield spans the valleys of South-West Wales from the head of the Afan Valley across the valleys of the Nedd, Dulais, Tawe, Amman, Gwendraeth and away to Pembrokeshire, where it runs into the sea. This is my coalfield. I was born at its centre in Betws, Sir Gar, which has ever since been the background of my life. I used to help Mam to mix the dust of glo-carreg with clay to make the pele to put on top of the fire in the kitchen; I held the candle in Father's smithy whilst he sharpened the colliers' mandrils, and I listened to the colliers as they talked of their daily toil. I worked in anthracite mines for sixteen years and bear its blue scars on my body and carry its dust in my lungs. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my old mates of the mine. They initiated me into public service when they appointed me as a member of the Works Committee; they provided the scholarship which enabled me to enjoy the privilege of two years at the Labour College; they elected me as their Miners' Agent and honoured me with the Presidency of the South Wales Miners' Federation. In half a century of public life, in Trade Union and Parliament glo-carreg has been my base. And now, at close of day, I am saddened as I learn of the old mines closing down for ever.

Colliers' Parliament
Welsh anthracite is the best coal in the world. George Owen was justified in advising Her Majesty to change over from "Ring" to "Stone-Coale" — it gives heat without smoke and smell, and, as I discovered as a boy, warming myself at our kitchen fire, it also sends forth blue flames which make a lovely pattern as they curl right up the chimney. Where I take issue with George Owen is on the geography, not the geology, of glo-carreg, for the finest anthracite is to be found in Sir Gar, in my Valley of the Amman and in Mynydd Mawr. In our valley, and beneath our hills, are to be found all the rich veins with their Welsh names: Wythien Goch, Y Fawr, Stanllyd, Bresen, Pumcwart, Trichwart, and Wythien Fach. It was in the Wythien Fach at Betws Colliery that I started work as a collier's lad in 1904. I was sponsored by my brother, Shoni, to become the second boy to his big mate, Shoni Cardi. The order of the day ran as follows. Call from Mother at 5.45 a.m., then don the uniform of Welsh blue flannel shirt sand drawers, moleskin trousers and an old coat with big pockets sewn inside to hold the food box and the water jack; a hasty breakfast and on to the road to reach the pit-top by 6.15 a.m.; then on the spake and down the slant and on to the double-parting and a halt to attend the Miners' Spell (Mwgyn Gweld), time for the eyes to adjust to the darkness. This was the Colliers' Parliament, where all the issues of the day were discussed — last Saturday's rugger match, last Sunday's sermon, the stubbornness of the Masters, and, of course, the spicy gossip of the village.

Having put the world to rights, on to the coal-face and the day's work. The first thing to learn was the name of the tools. The two mandrils, cwt a cham, each shaped to its special task, the sledge and wedge, the bar and the hated trowr, the gadget used to bore the shot-holes in the coal, which always left a mark on the groin. The Wythien Fach (Little Vien) was two feet seven inches thick and the stall (roadway) would measure three yards, with seven yards on the top side of the face and five yards on the lower. There was a steep inclination (pitch) in the scam and this added to the burden of the collier's boy, whose job it was to gather the coal, cut by his mate, into the curling box and carry it to the tram. From the top side this was easy, as we could slide it down, but from the bottom side it was hard going pushing the curling box up against the pitch. The collier boy had to be careful to pick only the lumps of coal, as the piece-work collier was only paid for the large coal in the tram. The tram would hold up to thirty hundredweight of coal, and when it was full it was the boy's responsibility to mark the tram, with chalk, with the collier's number and then the number of the tram as filled during the fortnight from one pay to another. I still remember how I marked the first tram — 35X 1.

The hours of work at that time were from seven in the morning to half past four in the afternoon, and in the winter months we would see daylight only on Saturday afternoon, when we finished at 1 p.m., and on Sundays. The boy's starting wage was 1s. 3d. per shift, plus the added percentage, and the total came to 1s. 7d. and I felt very rich when I had my first pay of 19s, after a fortnight's work. Shone Cardi was a kindly mate and when he gave me my pay he reminded me that "a good boy always gave all his pay to his mother". When I assured him that I would be a good boy, he gave me an extra half-crown to spend. At eighteen years of age, having served five years of apprenticeship, I joined with another of my age to work our own "stall" on shares. So another collier joined the ranks of the miners, the anthracite miners, who were a distinctive race of men even among their fellow miners. To find the reason for this, one must go back to the history of glo-carreg.

Thumb Era of Small Mines
Until the two big pits were sunk at Cynheidre and Abernant, the anthracite coalfield had been one of small mines, mostly levels and drifts driven into the hillsides. Many of them were opened by the farmer who owned the land, aided by a mining engineer and an experienced "gaffer". Some of them bore the name of the farm, such as Ynysdawela, Gellyceidrym, and Blaenhirwaun. Once a seam of coal was tapped, the practice would be to follow the seam to the boundary, or to the fault. When one seam was worked out and it became necessary to drive down to the lower seam, the Salesman at the docks at Swansea or Llanelli would find the capital as well as the trucks, which bore their names, such as T. T. Pascoe, Griffith Thomas, or 'Cleeves. It is significant that the first Combine in the anthracite coalfield was formed by Cleeves, the Salesman, who came to own four collieries. Even so, the pits remained small, employing from a hundred up to five hundred workmen. The miners at these small mines knew each other intimately; they not only worked in the same mine, but also lived in the same village, attended the same chapel or frequented the same "locals". In my time I have been privileged to belong to many circles of friends, but none of them have been richer in fellowship than the circle of miners, the men who faced the perils of the pit together and developed the warm fellowship of common danger.

The anthracite coalfield was Welsh in language, customs and way of life. When, from the eighteen-seventies, the coal industry expanded and the cry went out for more and ever more men for the pits, it was from the countryside in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire that the new men came to our valley. Their nicknames, like Shoni Cardi and Twm Llandyfri, revealed their origin. Sometimes one would be given a funny nickname, like David Jones who came to our pit from the Towy Valley. On his first day at our pit, the elder welcomed him and asked his name, and on being told that it was David Jones, remarked, "We have lots of David Joneses here and we shall have to give you a nickname to mark you out from the others." The newcomer expressed the hope that they would give him a "substantial" nickname and from then on he was labelled Dai Substantial. The multitude of David Joneses revealed the essential Welsh character of the anthracite worker and to this day he has remained the bulwark of our language among the industrial workers of South Wales.

The First Union
The glo-carreg collier was a staunch trade unionist. One of the characters in my valley, Griffis Pugh, on hearing that some men in another coalfield were refusing to join the Union, expressed surprise that they could be so twp. "Fe ddylen fod yn gwybod mai dim ond dau rhaid sydd, talu'r Undeb a marw," said Griffis. The first miners' union in the anthracite area was founded at Gwter Faroe, as Brynamman was once known. It was popularly described as Yr Undeb Ddwy Geiniog (The Twopenny Union), as the men at each colliery sent a contribution of two-pence per month to sustain an Anthracite District Meeting, held every month and to which each colliery sent a delegate. The first Miners' Agent to serve the anthracite industry was Daronwy Isaac, a full-blooded Welshman with an eloquent tongue and literary flourish. He was in due time to form a close friendship with William Abraham (Mahon) and the friendship was later to bring the miners of glo-carreg into membership of the South Wales Miners' Federation, but only on the condition that all the anthracite collieries would remain in the Anthracite District Meeting and that the District would hold onto its prerogatives.

It was in 1910 that I first attended this District Meeting (Cwrdd Dosbarth Glo-Carreg) as delegate from Gwaith Ucha, Betws. The meetings were then held at the vestry of the Unitarian Chapel in Swansea's High Street. Delegates were present from sixty anthracite collieries as far apart as the Rock Colliery in the Vale of Neath to the Hook Colliery in Pembrokeshire. On the platform were the officers: the Chairman for the year, Tom Morris of Gellyceidrim Colliery, Glanamman, and on either side of him the Miners' Agent, John D. Morgan of Ystradgynlais, and the Secretary, Dafydd Morgan of Rhos Colliery, Tycroes and behind the triumvirate the Treasurer, another John D. Morgan, of Cwmgors. In the front seat the elders were assembled, strong men like Willie Owen, Blaenywaun, Brynamman, William Bifan, Caerbryn, Penygrocs, Rees Morgan, Dynant, Cwmmawr, and Joseph Roberts, Pontyberem. They were the stalwart upholders of the "platform" against the assaults of those of us who belonged to the younger and more militant section. When the issue seemed in doubt, one of the elders would rise to counsel caution. They would always speak in Welsh, beginning in sonorous tones with, "Mr. Cadeirydd, Barchus Oruchwyliwr (Miners' Agent), a Chyd Gynrychiolwyr". Their theme was invariably: "Gan bwyll, mae mynd yn bell". And the impatient came to nickname them yr hen gan bwyll.

Three Principles
The three perennial topics at these monthly meetings were: the lost 5 per cent, the seniority rule and the price of powder; and the three are woven into the history of glo-carreg.

First, the lost five per cent. The miners' pay was made up of two elements, the standard rate and the added percentage. The standard rate had been fixed in 1879, the two basic rates being four shillings and sevenpence (pedwar a saith) for the coal-face hewer, and three shillings and fourpence (tri a grot) for the other under-ground workers. To this would be added a percentage which originally had been determined in accordance with a sliding scale agreed to between the South Wales coal-owners and the various local miners' associations (excluding the anthracite districts). This scale was based on the price of coal, free on board, at the South Wales ports. The basic agreed price of twelve shillings a ton carried 5 per cent added to the 1879 standard, and for every shilling above that basic price an additional 7½ per cent would be paid, up to a maximum price of twenty-one shillings a ton; above that price, all went to the coffers of the owners. When the sliding scale was settled, the anthracite area was the Cinderella of the coalfield. The market was mainly domestic, such as brewing, malting and horticulture (glass-houses).

The anthracite owners insisted that the percentage in the glo-carreg mines should be 5 per cent less than that determined by the sliding scale. The lower percentage had been fixed on the insistence of the Chairman of the South Wales Coalowners' Association, Sir William Thomas Lewis (later the first Lord Merthyr). It was no wonder that the old colliers used to sing:

Pan aiff Sir Wil i'r bedd,
Yr hen golier-ddaw i'w hedd.

The lost five per cent was on the agenda of every District Meeting. In my early days the expert on this topic was Wil Jones, Pum Heol, who had learnt mathematics at the Higher Grade School, Llanelli, and was able to reveal the robbery with graphs on the blackboard.

There was another aspect of the Cinderella position of glo-carreg — the seasonal character of the trade. Many anthracite pits would close down for three to six months every year. The colliers would tramp over the mountains to the "Steam", the favourite place being the Mount (Mountain Ash). To safeguard their rights at their old mine, it was agreed that when it was reopened the re-employment of the migrant miners at the mine would be on the principle of the seniority rule (rheol blaenoriaeth). In this way the older miners were protected. The senority rule was the Magna Charta of the anthracite miners and any attempted violation of the rule by the employers was always bitterly resisted. In fact, the only time the anthracite miners staged an all out strike as a separate body was in 1925, when the Combines sought to destroy the seniority rule at one of the Betws collieries.

If the demand for pwdwr rydd (free powder) was not on the agenda, then Billy Walters, Abercraf, was sure to raise it under Any Other Business. Anthracite is aptly described as glo-carreg, for it is so firmly attached to the stone above and below the vein of coal that every price-list provided for a special payment for "sticking coal". The old collier had his own words for this sticking — mae 'e mor sownd a'r Farn. There was only one way to shift it and that was to blast it out. This meant powder and the collier had to pay for the powder. At first, they were allowed to use a low explosive, pwdwr du. This black powder was reasonably cheap, but was later banned by H.M. Inspector of Mines as too dangerous and the collier had to use Nobel's high explosive— pwdwr gwyn. This had two disadvantages for the collier; first, it shattered the coal, and as the collier was only paid for large coal it reduced his earnings; second, it was more expensive to buy and the cost would often mount to as much as £1 a fortnight — a big slice out of the pay. And it was not only the pay-dockets that suffered from the "white powder" but also the colliers' lungs. Many of the old colliers would lament that "this terrible silicosis" came with Nobel's white powder. Billy Walters was the valiant champion for free powder and there could be no District Meeting without a demand from Abercraf for pwdwr rydd i'r coliers.

Between The Wars
The world has never been the same since the 1914-18 war. This is certainly true of the colliers' world. In the year before Armageddon, 1913, fifty-six million tons of coal were produced in the South Wales coalfield, and thirty-six millions of it were exported to all corners of the earth. Soon after the end of the war, the big slide began and it has been one long slide ever since. And yet, fora few years in the nineteen-twenties, the anthracite coalfield enjoyed an Indian Summer. The movement for clean air brought an increased demand for smokeless fuel and glo-carreg is the best smokeless fuel of all. However, the real boost to the anthracite trade came from the opening up of a new market in Canada. My old Parliamentary colleague, J. H. (Jimmy) Thomas, used to take pride in having found this new market when he was Dominions Secretary. "I've done a good turn to my native 'eath," he used to boast. The Canadian trade had the double advantage that it not only increased the demand but that it filled the order-books for the slack season, the summer months, for the shipments to Canada were limited to the summer, when the ships could sail up the St. Lawrence river.

The new prosperity soon brought Big Business to glo-carreg and within a few years the whole coalfield was bought over by three combines, the Mond combine under the name of the Amalgamated Anthracite Company, the Szarvazy United Company, and the Beddoe Rees Welsh Anthracite Company. The family companies and the other small companies sold out on very good terms, some of them receiving a price equal to £4 for every £1 capital in their concerns. The change-over had its drawbacks as well as its gains for the coalfield. The close intimate relationship between owners and workmen was replaced by the depersonalised industrial relations between the all-powerful combine and workers. In the old days, when thing went wrong at the mine, the miners could go and see Y Mishter Mawr in his mansion on the hillside, but not so with the Combine. As one collier complained, "You can't do anything to these Combines, man, they haven't got a body you can kick, nor a soul you can damn." A deep sense of frustration soured the men and when the Combine violated the sacred principle of the seniority rule the whole anthracite coalfield was engulfed in the most bitter strike in its history.

It was in the aftermath of this explosion that I entered upon my career as Miners' Agent in the Anthracite District. It was a hard task seeking to restore relations with the Combine but, fortunately for me and for the coalfield, a new managing director was appointed to take charge of the Combine. He came to glo-carreg fresh from his triumph as a reconciler of the British and the Irish. Sir Alfred Cope had begun his career in the Civil Service as a detective inspector in the Inland Revenue. When David Lloyd George decided in the nineteen-twenties that the time had come to seek an end of the "troubles" in Ireland, Alfred Cope had been assigned the difficult and perilous task of going to Ireland to make contact with the Irish leaders and bring them to London for negotiations to end the war. He it was who sought out Michael Collins and thus paved the way to the talks which eventually resulted in the establishment of Eire. Sir Alfred Mond persuaded Cope to come to take over control of the Combines' mines. As soon as he took over, he invited me to come and see him at his Swansea office. His first words were: "Would you like to hear my Irish story?" And what an entrancing story is was. Cope had arranged to meet De Valera and Michael Collins somewhere in Ireland, but first he had to find his way to a house in one of the back-streets in Dublin, from where he was taken blind folded in a car to a lonely homestead in the country. He persuaded Collins and some of the other Sinn Fein leaders to come with him to London and having brought them safely to the metropolis left them with L.G. When the secret talks had resulted in an agreement, Cope accompanied the rebel leaders back to Ireland and when his mission was accomplished he was knighted for his services. He ended his story with a moving tribute to Michael Collins and then turned to me with: "And now, what about this anthracite job?" From that first meeting came an arrangement that whenever a dispute threatened to escalate into a strike he would meet the Miners' Agent and have a go at settling it there and then. If there had been a few more Copes among the coalowners in the nineteen-thirties, the story of coal in the years of turmoil might have been different.

Our Pieces of Eight

Wyth awr i weithio,
Wyth awr yn rydd,
Wyth awr i gysgu,
Wyth swllt y dydd.

The year was 1907 and with my young mates from the mine I joined in chanting the Miners' Charter on the way to the anthracite miners' annual demonstration at the Albert Hall, Swansea. In the chair was our Miners' Agent, John D. Morgan, and the speakers were Mabon and Winston Churchill, then the bright young hope of the new Liberal government. The resolution, which we passed with acclamation, not only demanded the implementation of the charter we had chanted but also a demand that the coal-mines should be forthwith nationalised. Forty years later I was a member of the Labour government which nationalised the mines. It was a proud day when the flag of the National Coal Board was hoisted at all the collieries in Britain.

We began with high hopes and for some years our hopes were justified. Wages were increased, conditions improved, and many cherished reforms, such as holidays with pay, at long last achieved. But, as time went on, and in spite of the substantial improvements in the material conditions of life, something seemed to be lost. The old skills were replaced by the new with the advent of the machines to the coal-face; the intimate relationship between work and neighbourhood was broken, as with the closure of so many mines the men had to travel farther to work and the Coal Board became too remote. Life is like this; somehow or other, the reality never seems to match up to the dream. Given time, I am sure that the men in the industry, managers and workmen, would have found the way to a new era in industrial relations, but before this could be achieved, the scientist and technologist came on the scene with their discoveries of rivals for coal — oil, sea-gas, and nuclear energy - and coal has to wage a hard struggle to survive.

The Colour of Anthracite
It is sad to have to watch the inevitable decline of the industry which for sixty years has been the background to one's life and interest. I grew up with the coal industry in the years of its expansion, and now, as I grow old, I am saddened as the news comes, almost daily, of another mine closing and I am filled with hiraeth for 'slawer dydd. I go to the corner cupboard and take out the shining piece of anthracite coal, skilfully and artistically carved into an inkstand, which my old mates at Ammanford presented to me when I became a Minister of the Crown in 1945. And as I gaze at it the colour which glo-carreg seems to give out excites the memory and I seem to see the old characters with whom I worked as boy and man, those men whose rich variety of character comes back vividly to mind.

Here is Twm Penyrargoed, with whom I served most of my years of apprenticeship at Gwaith Ycha, Betws. He was a craftsman at the coal-face and a beloved vagabond once he escaped from the pit. Once away, he followed the seasons like a true poacher.

In the spring, accompanied by his brindle greyhound, Jack, and with the ferret tucked in behind his shirt, he would roam the hillside to hunt the hares and rabbits. When the days grew short in the autumn he would take his pit-lamp home to act as a beacon-light as he poached what he called twps, the salmon that came up the Cennen to spawn. The rest of his calendar was determined by the fairs, with Ffair Gwyy Barna at Llandeilo and Ffair John Brown at Carmarthen as the highlights of the season. One day, long after I had left the mine and embarked on a career in public life, the sad news came that Twm had been fataliy injured by a fall of stone. I sought a corner and shed a tear for the old poacher who taught me my craft and beguiled away the long hours down below with his stories.

And next, the old collier, with his lame leg which was the price he paid for coal, and who was my guide, philospher and friend — Johnny James, Cwmgors. He used to say to me that the luckiest thing that happened to him was the broken leg, for then his father made up his mind that Johnny should not go back to the mine and found the money for him to become a student at Watcyn Wyn's Acadamy at Gwynfryn, Ammanford. After a year with Wat, as he called him, and when he seemed to be on his way to the pulpit, the miners at Cwmgors appointed him as their checkweigher, and he later became Miners' Agent in the Anthracite District and in the fulness of time I became his colleague. Since those days, I have walked and talked with many learned men but have yet to hear as fascinating a discourse as that I heard from Johnny James on Bergson's Creative Evolution. If only he had been born two generations later and enjoyed the educational opportunities open to the youth of today, Wales might have bequeathed another eminent scholar to the world. And of these sons of glo-carreg, whose minds and souls reach from the pit-bottom to the skies, my brother Amanwy has sung in his poem to Yr Hen Gwm:

Yma y gwelais Dduw ar ei hawddgara',
A dyn yn dringo i'w ymyl ambell dro,
Wrth droi ei ddogn o ddŵr a darn o fara
Yn sacrament yng ngwyll y talcen glo.

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