Tower Colliery is located near the village of Hirwaun, in Glamorgan, South Wales. The colliery, established in 1864, has been linked in the past with nearby mines, none of which remain operational and was purchased by the workforce in December 1994; the mine was successfully operated until the exhaustion of the workable underground reserves in January 2008.
Tower surface lands, together with adjacent land areas, have for several years been identified as a potentially strategic regeneration opportunity by the Welsh Assembly Government and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council. With the closure of the deep mine, the redevelopment and remediation of the 253 hectare brownfield site containing tips, a disused coal washery, coal blending and loading areas for the benefit of the locality is now being progressed. The ultimate aim is to re-develop the site for the wider use of the community and provide employment opportunities in the short, medium and long-term.
From the early 19th century to 2008 when Tower Colliery as a deep mine closed, the Tower Colliery site and the surrounding Hirwaun Common was an area of intense industrial activity. This activity included ironstone and coal mining, supporting surface operations, tips, reservoirs, brickworks and other associated activities.
The cessation of deep mining at Tower Colliery due to the exhaustion of workable underground reserves saw the end of one chapter in Towers history and the start of another. The location of Tower Colliery on the northern outcrop of the South Wales Coalfield presented the opportunity of mining the crop coal which, in addition to maintaining employment, presented the opportunity of remediating and restoring the earlier industrial scars and returning the area, in large part, to the community in the form of nature conservation and public access land as well as creating development platforms to help meet the requirements of the Local Development Plan.
The only seam worked at Tower is the Seven Feet/Five Feet, a combined seam of several leaves which offers typically 1.3m of coal in a mined section of 1.65m. The coal being mined is a low volatile, anthracite product.
The boundaries are mostly formed by faults and seam splits, and by a worked out area to the north. There are also problems with water in the Bute seam, to North West, which limits mining in that area.
With coal located so close to the surface, it was known by locals to be possible to drift mine coal from Hirwaun common. This activity increased from 1805, until in 1864 the first drift named Tower was started, named after the nearby Crawshay's Tower, a folly built in 1848 and named after Richard Crawshay
In 1941, a new shaft was sunk to a depth of 160 metres. From 1943 until closure, this shaft was used as the main "return" ventilation shaft and for the transport of men. In 1958 Tower No. 3 was driven to meet the No. 4 colliery workings, and was used as the main "intake" airway, conveying coal to the surface and transporting materials into the mine working areas
The Aberdare branch of the Merthyr line continued north from Aberdare railway station to the colliery. While passenger services terminate in Aberdare, freight services operated several times a day along this stretch of line, directly owned by the colliery.
Up to 14 coal seams had been worked at Tower Colliery during its history, and the neighbouring mines within the lease area of Tower, which was 14.8km in circumference to create an area of 221.3 hectares The actual boundaries of the lease were defined either by faults or seam splits in the local geostructure, or excess water to the northwest in the Bute seam. The seams produced good quality coking coal, which was washed onsite at a coal washing plant built in the mid-1980s, after extraction through the hillside on a conveyor belt
Although the mine remained financially viable and continued to provide employment to the workers, by the time of the buyout the only seam worked at Tower was the Seven Feet/Five Feet, a combined seam of several leaves which offered 1.3m of anthracite in a mined section of 1.65m. Working directly under the shaft of the former Glyncorrwg Colliery's "nine feet" workings, the four faces worked in the western section of the lease were considered uneconomic by British Coal.
As the worked seam reduced in capacity, the management team considered three possibilities to extended the length of mine production:
- Work another nine faces in the existing workings, in coal classed only as mineral potential
- Address the water problem in the Bute seam, to the northwest
- Open new developments in the Nine Feet seam, 100 m above the existing seam; the Four Feet seam, a further 30 m above
But none of these prospects seemed economic, so the board recommended that work be concentrated on coal to the north of the existing workings, which had been left to protect the safety of the existing shafts. Accepted by the workforce and shareholders in an open vote, this decision effectively accepted the end of Tower as a deep mine.
Colliery buy-out by workers
Led by local NUM Branch Secretary Tyrone O'Sullivan, 239 miners joined TEBO (Tower Employees Buy-Out), with each pledging £8,000 from their redundancy payouts to buy back Tower. Against stiff central government resistance to the possibility of reopening the mine as a coal production unit, a price of £2 million was eventually agreed.
With their bid accepted, the miners marched back to the pit on 2 January 1995, with a balloon inflated for each worker. On 3 January 1995 the Colliery re-opened under the ownership of the workforce buy out company Goitre Tower Anthracite. Philip Weekes, the renowned Welsh mining engineer, was a key advisor to the buy-out team and became (unpaid) Chairman.
Tower – the 'pit that wouldn't die'
Coal had been commercially mined at Tower Colliery near the village of Hirwaun in the South Wales Cynon Valley since 1864, first as a drift mine and later (in the 1940s) as a deep mine.
In the aftermath of the 1984/85 Miner’s strike, the then Conservative government instructed British Coal to undertake a huge closure programme, involving many of the UK’s deep mines, on economic grounds. The official axe fell on Tower in April 1994, and many experts thought that was that…. But what happened next was totally unexpected.
Rather than accept the fate decreed for them, the Tower miners, led by NUM Branch Secretary Tyrone O’Sullivan, came to a decision: they would buy their own pit and continue to work it successfully. Two hundred and thirty nine miners each pledged their £8,000 redundancy payouts; they developed a business plan; and they attracted financial support from the banks.
In spite of strong official resistance, and in the face of other competing bids, the Tower miners won the day and their bid for the colliery was accepted, with the result that on January 2nd, 1995 they marched triumphantly back into Tower and began work in earnest the following day.
For the next thirteen years, the re-opened Tower Colliery successfully produced coal, and made a decent profit for its’ many owner-shareholders until, in January 2008, with the last economically viable deep coal deposits worked out, the pit closed for the second – and last – time.
Now, some three and a half years later, the Tower story is set to begin one last chapter, with permission gained to extract about 5.8 million tonnes of shallow coal deposits…
We were ordinary men;
We wanted jobs;
We bought a pit.
The Cynon valley is the oldest mining area in Wales. Predates the more famous Rhondda valleys having its roots on the Hirwaun common mining ironstone followed by coal. Following the demise of iron industry replaced by demand for coal.
HISTORY INTRINSICALLY LINKED WITH COAL & IRONSTONE HISTORY OF HIRWAUN COMMON
1631 - EARLIEST RECORDED COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION.
GROUND LET FOR DIGGING BY EARL of PEMBROKE
1757 - JOHN MAYBERRY SECURED LEASE of 250 acres in 1757 on HIRWAUN COMMON TO SUPPLY RAW MATERIALS FOR IRON FURNACE CONSTRUCTED AT HIRWAUN IN SAME YEAR.
IRONWORKS AQUIRED IN 1780 ANTHONY BACON ( PARTNER FRANCIS HOMFRAY ) OF CYFARTHA
PURCHASED 1819 BY WILLIAM CRAWSHAY.
1800 - TURN 18TH CENTURY GROWTH OF IRONSTONE & COAL MINING FROM SURFACE DRIFT MINES
1847 - KNOBBY DRIFT ( CNAPIOG DRIFT ) IRONSTONE & COAL ( 5’ SEAM )
1848 - CRAWSHAY TOWER BUILT (FOLLY?, SHELTER ?, CELEBRATE SUPPRESSION MERTHYR RISING ? )
1859 - HIRWAUN IRONWORKS CLOSED
FOLLOWING CLOSURE OF IRONWORKS TRANSITION FROM IRONSTONE TO COAL MINING
1850 - LONG RANGE LEVEL ( Aberdare Steam Coal Co.)
1859 on FOLLOWING CLOSURE, TO MEET DEMAND FOR STEAM COAL, ATTENTION GIVEN TO MINING SEAMS IN LOWER COAL MEASURES
1864 - BUTE ESTATE RENAMED CRAWSHAYS GOITRE MACHINE LEVEL AS TOWER COLLIERY
OLDEST CONTINUALLY OPERATED COAL MINE IN UK – POSSIBLY WORLD
1864 - NEW DRIFT (4’)
1894 - 3RD DRIFT (6’)
4’ & 6’ DRIFTS LATER RENAMED 1 & 2 DRIFTS
1920 - No.3 DRIFT – “ OLD DRIFT “
1941 - No. 4 SHAFT
1958 - No. 3 NEW DRIFT ( DESIGNED FOR LONG HAUL CONVEYORS )
1993 - TOWER CLOSED by B.C.
2008 - ECONOMICALLY EXHAUSTED AND CLOSED
MINING DISASTERS / INCIDENTS
MANY FATALITIES OVER YEARS,
THE WORSE ON 12.04.62 WHEN 9 MEN WERE KILLED AND 9 SERIOUSLY INJURED BY GAS EXPLOSION.
SERIOUS THREATS TO LIFE / SURVIVAL OF THE MINE
Almost Lost Colliery 3 Times:
1972 - Water inrush – from Rhigos O.C.C.S.
Potential multiple fatalities
1982 - Water inrush into N.21 from Rhigos Colliery
Potential multiple fatalities
2000 - Gas inrush from Glyncorrwg Colliery
Potential multiple fatalities
This was a shooting lodge built on Hirwaun Mountain by one of the Crawshay's, one of the mine-owning families in the district. The various Tower collieries were named after this structure. There's not much of it left now, and access to it from the Hirwaun Road is blocked by the opencast workings.
This is the view from the Hirwaun Road taken with a telephoto lens. It's just a pile of rubble.
The following notes are copies from a newspaper article which appeared in an unknown paper dated 11th October, 1924, and passed on to the writer in December 2010, as a matter of interest.
Following the discovery of a man's body on the Hirwaun Mountain, there has been much inquiry as to who built the old Tower near which the body was found: as to the date of its erection, and as to who were the inhabitants, if there were any.
Having taken keen interest in local tradition and history, the writer has been able to ascertain some facts connected herewith. It is hoped that these facts will make the old building interesting to the rising generation, and create further interest in old and interesting spots in the neighbourhood, which became prominent in the rime of Rhys ap Tewdwr, one of the Welsh Princes.
The old Tower which may be seen above Duffryn Aberdare Colliery (more particularly known as the Tower Colliery) was built by Mr. Francis Crawshay in 1848. It is a round tower 30ft high and 58ft circumference. There was only one entrance, which was closed by an iron doorway. The Tower comprised three storeys, each storey providing a room. In the circular wall there were six windows and six round holes. The holes, probably intended for warfare, were erected as follows:
Two facing north, two facing east, and two facing south. Inside the Tower, Crawshay kept two cannons, and it was here that the old Squire spent the summer months. Tradition has it that Crawshay had diverse purposes for his Tower. One specific purpose of the Tower was in case of war when it was Crawshays intention to hand it over to the Government as a means of fortification.
When the Hirwaun Ironworks, owned and worked by the Crawhay family were stopped in 1858, the Tower was left uninhabited. During the previous ten years there was a caretaker there by the name of Mrs. Hannah Williams, and her son Mr. James Williams, resided there also. They were Hirwaunites, who carried provisions to the Tower on the backs of mules. The mules were laden with two baskets. Such as was the prevailing custom also in delivering coal.
The Crawshay Family
Richard Crawshay, a Yorkshire man, was the first of that family to come to the Merthyr area. Having heard reports of the mineral wealth of South Wales, Richard leased the Cyfarthfa works from Anthony Bacon who had played a big part in the development of Merthyr Tydfil. Richard is said to have "wept for joy!" when in 1802 Lord Nelson, Commander of the British fleet, paid a surprise visit to Merthyr and stayed at the Star Inn. Richard died in 1910 and the works were to pass to his son William. Already consumed with the Indian trade and not time to run the works, William appointed his son, also named William II, to assume management. In 1825, Cyfarthfa Castle was built at a cost of £30,000. In 1847, William II retired and his son Richard Crawshay succeeded him and the works continued to flourish. Richard died in 1879 and his remains were buried at Vaynor Church, he was the last of the Crawshays to live at Cyfarthfa Castle.
The tradition that a man remained for a time a prisoner in the Tower is quite authentic. There was a wager made between Mr. Francis Crawshay and this man. He was not to wash, nor trim his hair, nor cut his nails and was not to leave the interior of the Tower. Such were the conditions laid down by Crawshay. The greater portion of the time specified by Mr. Crawshay was completed, but it cannot be ascertained definitely what period of time was really spent.
The man who made the wager and who, by the way, was one of Mr. Crawshay’s workmen, was William Reynallt. He came to Hirwaun in search of work, and was employed by Mr. Crawshay in white washing premises attached to the Ironworks. This man Wiilliam Reynallt resided with the family of Mr. David Jones, who weighed the coal at the yard where Bodafan (the Old Post Office) now stands today, and descendants of his still live in Hirwaun and Rhigos.