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The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter XVII

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CHAPTER XVII. THE SOUTH WALES AND MONMOUTHSHIRE COALFIELD

PART I

Only since the advent of ocean-going steamers and the development of modern ships of war has the coal of Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire, usually referred to as "South Wales" coal, attained its present importance. In the early part of the last century and during the century before, South Wales was regarded less as a coalfield than as an iron-producing centre. The coal to smelt the ore found in the valleys that run down to the sea was worked easily from the outcrops, and used freely for that purpose. In 1839 there were no fewer than forty iron plants, comprising 132 furnaces, the property of as many owners—coal - miners only because they were iron-smelters — operating in South Wales and Monmouthshire. Scanning these names, it is easy to recognise in many among them the founders of some of the largest and most prosperous collieries of later times, whose tips and sidings now probably occupy the sites of ancient furnaces and forges. The early importance of Welsh iron-making has, however, been since eclipsed by the Scottish, Cleveland and Derbyshire districts. On the other hand, the steam-raising qualities of Welsh coal, which are superior to those of any other known fuel, have developed Welsh collieries to such an extent as to utilise a huge capital and afford employment at high wages for a large and constantly increasing number of men.

The early output of Welsh coal was scanty. In 1854, including the anthracite mines of Breconshire and Pembrokeshire, it amounted to only 8,500,000 tons for the year, or 13.1 per cent of the total output of the United Kingdom. During the ensuing fifty years the output increased more than fivefold, having risen in 1904 to 43,730,000 tons (produced from 608 collieries), or 18.8 of the output of the United Kingdom, made up as follows:

  Tons
Admiralty quality coals 18,000,000
Non-Admiralty steams 15,000,000
Cardiff dry steams 2,100,000
Bunker, house, gas and manufacturing coals 6,000,000
Anthracite 2,630,000
Total 43,730,000

The production of South Wales coal since that date, in periods, is as below:

  1913 Tons 1916 Tons 1925 Tons
Bituminous coal, including Admiralty qualities 51,996,913 47,762,508 44,609,522
Anthracite 4,833,159 4,318,201 5,566,544
Total 56,830,072 52,080,709 50,176,066

Since the Great War the number of persons employed in the Welsh coalfields has increased to its present total of some 250,000 men. With the exception of the United States, where, owing to various well-known causes, coal is more easily worked, the number of tons of coal raised per person in Wales is in excess of that of the collieries of any other country. The outstanding feature of the Welsh coalfields, however, is the great foreign trade which has sprung up in Welsh coal, bringing prosperity to those supplying the overseas demand, and which has, besides, virtually created the Bristol Channel ports, from which it is shipped, some of which have had an entry of as many as 250 vessels within a single week. The exports of South Wales coal, coke and patent fuel amounted in 1896 to 18,600,000 tons, and during the nine years ending 1904 increased to 26,000,000 tons. In 1925 the export was 22,686,691 tons, being 44 per cent of the coal exported from the United Kingdom and 45.2 per cent of the total output of South Wales itself.

Welsh coal finds its way over the whole world to the remotest parts of the two hemispheres. France has been, until quite recently, the largest buyer, taking in 1925 the quantity of 5,815,466 tons, or half the total imported by her from the United Kingdom. Italy is next, with 2,805,305, followed by Spain with 2,534,131, the Argentine 2,363,337, and Egypt with 1,538,038 tons. Welsh coal is supplied to consuming centres as diverse as the Falkland Islands, the Northern Whale Fisheries, Arabia, Persia and to "islands without any particular designation in the India Seas." A considerable export trade, too, is carried on in Welsh coke and patent fuel.

The Welsh coalfields extend 89 miles east to west, and 21 miles at the widest north to south, covering an area of 1,000 square miles, and are in no immediate danger of exhaustion. The coal basin contains seams varying in quality from highly bituminous coal in the east to the pure anthracite of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire in the west. The available coal deposits, in seams 12 in. thick and upwards, amount at the present time to an estimated total of 27,268,418,000 tons, the greatest coal deposits in the United Kingdom, and sufficient at the present rate of consumption to last for considerably over 1,000 years. These deposits [1] are classed as follows:

  Tons  
Bituminous 8,618,688,965 30.42 per cent
Anthracite 6,310,292,214 22.27 per cent
Steam (Western Division) 4,076,424,971 47.31 per cent for these three types in total
Semi-bituminous or second-class steam 5,393,724,590
First-class steam 3,936,657,410
  28,335,788,150  
Output 1904 - 1926 1,067,370,245  
  27,268,417,905  

"First-class" steam coal includes not only hard coal from seams supplying the Admiralty, but also similar coal from collieries which may not be on the official Admiralty List. The collieries on this list, selected after severe practical tests of the coals they produce, are now thirty-four in number. The coals of this privileged group, which, at least until recent times, it has been the constant aspiration of other firms to enter, not only secure a higher price in the market, but in the case of a number of foreign countries, have been the only coals admitted by their Governments to tender. In the financial year 1901-1902 our Royal Navy took from the firms on the Admiralty List a total of 879,500 tons; in the financial year 1903-1904, 1,117,000 tons; in 1913, 1,697,250 tons and in 1926, the last financial year, 273,750 tons. The use of oil-fired boilers, which, since the War, have become almost universal in ships now in active service in the British Navy, and the advent of the internal-combustion engine have thrown nearly the whole of the "Admiralty qualities" into the general market at a price about a shilling higher than the second-class coal. Possibly oil fuel may yet become too scarce and expensive to hold its own against coal, which may come back into vogue once more.

The bituminous coals of South Wales are used for household, gas and manufacturing purposes, the steam and anthracite for steam-raising, malting, lime-burning, power-gas, hop-drying and domestic purposes, both in this country and abroad. Semi-bituminous coals find a use in stationary engines, locomotives and bunkers. While most countries admit our coal duty free, others levy on it a small national tax. The British Government for a few years imposed a duty on coals for export so heavy that it amounted to 12.5 per cent on the pit price. It was condemned by economists and business men. Their judgment was confirmed by the Royal Commission on Coal Supplies. The normal development of the coal export trade in South Wales was seriously restricted by this tax, which also enabled Germany to get into neutral markets, to the exclusion of our coals, where, before the tax was imposed, that country possessed no footing.

Still, the special quality of Welsh steam coal, with its high calorific properties and low percentage of hydrogen and ash, assure for it under ordinary conditions a constant sale, even in those markets where the tax had practically wiped out the normal increase of Midland coal exports. The comparative value of Welsh coal is shown by the price it fetches. Before the war large steam coal obtained 12s. a ton at the pit. At the same period the best Midland coal did not bring more than 9s. or 9s. 6d. per ton at the pit. The average price of large steam coal was, during 1925, about 21s. 3d. a ton at the pit, compared with 16s. 6d. a ton at the pit in South Yorkshire. The anthracite coal of the Swansea and Llanelly region, a large proportion of which is sent abroad, commands a higher price still. In 1925 it was sold at the rate of 44.9s. per ton.

The relations between employers and employed are a factor of such importance in the value of colliery investments that a few words will not be out of place on this subject. It is the last 50,000 tons of output which, generally speaking, make the colliery profit. Every day's stoppage of a pit means a loss due to standing and other charges, which soon absorb, when prolonged, the dividend which otherwise would be available at the end of the year. Hence the efforts which in recent years have been made to arrange wages and labour questions in such a way as to minimise the risk of intermittent working. With this object, what was known as the "sliding-scale" agreement was first come to, which from 1875 to 1902 regulated the wages of the South Wales miners, and proved largely instrumental in putting an end to the prolonged strikes and never-ending local disputes which, before its adoption, harassed the industry.

After long negotiations it was subsequently agreed that wages paid at each colliery in 1869 plus 5 per cent should constitute the standard wage. Two price standards were fixed, viz. 12s. and 11s. a ton, and the agreement provided that for every shilling a ton received in excess of the standard prices the wages of the men should be raised by 7 per cent. These prices were determined by independent auditors periodically, and wages were regulated in accordance with their findings. The sliding-scale did not come into operation in Wales until the last month of 1875, and the principle of rating wages on the selling price of coal continued until 1903, when the sliding-scale was superseded by a Conciliation Board on which owners and miners were equally represented, with an independent Chairman. In the latter part of 1916, during the War, the control of the coal mines was taken over temporarily by Government, and all wages questions were dealt with on a national basis. Subsequent agreements were arrived at in 1921 and 1924, wherein the relations between wages and profits were further elaborated. The effect of the 1924 agreement was to increase wages by 11 to 12 per cent in districts working on a minimum percentage, these including South Wales and Monmouthshire, and by 2 to 3 per cent in other districts.

As the coal owners found it impossible to carry on the coal industry under the conditions of this agreement, they gave, on June 30, 1924, the prescribed month's notice for its termination. On July 30, however, the Government intervened, making new proposals to the owners and miners, including the offer of a subvention, and these proposals were accepted. It was agreed furthermore that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the whole position of the coal-mining industry. The subsequent proceedings form part of the general history of the industry.

The working costs of the Welsh mines are at least 1s. a ton in excess of those in other British coalfields. Royalties, too, are high, averaging about 9d. a ton; and some of the stipulations customary in Welsh mining leases would not be accepted by lessees in the North. Antiquated working systems have prevailed in Wales, which the men are reluctant to exchange for the more economical methods employed in English districts. Many of the Welsh collieries are old and difficult to maintain except at great expense for roads and airways; so that the owner of a Welsh colliery, though he obtains a higher price for his output, may make less profit than the owner of a modern, well-equipped colliery in South Yorkshire. There is, however, no better miner than a Welshman. He is, it is true, hot-headed, impulsive and difficult to lead. Sentiment appeals to him more powerfully than reason, which, to some extent, accounts for the development of Communistic ideas among his class; he readily falls a victim to the subversive doctrines lately imported into this country, which are preached at open-air meetings in the mining villages. In other respects the Welsh miner is a respectable and religious citizen, careful of his personal appearance, and living usually in a clean and neatly-furnished house. He cares little for sport, but has a passion for music. The male voice choirs in South Wales are among the very best in Great Britain. Every village has its Eisteddfod in which these and mixed voice choirs compete for prizes and honours. There is nothing to match these gatherings in any part of England. But instrumental music is not encouraged in Wales, in contrast with the mining villages in England, most of which have their own brass band.

The courage of the Welsh miner is unbounded. After an explosion, though this calamity is now rare, he will face death descend a pit in the face of almost certain death and devote himself, with admirable bravery, to the task of rescuing his comrades. No danger, however menacing, ever deters him; and there are no finer pages in history than those which record the devotion of the Welsh miner to his comrades in the darkness of the mine.


PART II

In 1894 there were 537 collieries in South Wales and Monmouthshire, which have since diminished in number to 472. The mines are served by a multiplicity of railway lines, which extend from the great shipping ports of Cardiff and Newport up the valleys running down to the coast from the watershed at Dowlais. The Great Western and the London, Midland and Scottish lines run into the coalfield, but the districts were originally tapped chiefly by the smaller companies, such as the Taff Vale, the Brecon and Merthyr, the Rhymney, the Cardiff, and the Barry railways, whose lines penetrate to the collieries in the hills and bring the coal down well graded routes to the seaboard. The Barry railway and docks were promoted by the coal-owners of the Rhondda Valley. The leading spirit was David Davies, the owner of the Ocean Collieries, now presided over by his grandson, Lt.-Col. David Davies, M.P. These companies have, under the Railways Act of 1921, been amalgamated with the Great Western Railway. For commercial purposes the ports of Barry, Penarth and Cardiff are considered as one. All coal shipped from these ports is known abroad as Cardiff coal, and, by a freak of the markets, used to fetch 3d. per ton more than coal shipped at Newport, a little higher up the channel. As the coals of Admiralty quality are mined in western valleys, and naturally find their way to Cardiff, they reflect a certain artificial prestige upon other qualities exported from there. The remarkable growth of this group of ports, and the increase in the cosmopolitan population of Cardiff during the last fifty years, have created large fortunes for the Marquis of Bute and the Earl of Plymouth, on whose properties much of the city and its connections stand. Newport, on the other hand, has risen on land belonging to Viscount Tredegar, and is in some sense a rival port, taking most of the coal which comes down the eastern valleys and a portion of the higher class coals.

The dead-weight of merchandise exported from Cardiff during the last forty years is about one-fourth of the exports of the whole of the United Kingdom, and is the largest of any port in the world. In this respect this city and its sister ports are likely to hold their own, as no others are so well situated to deal with such quantities of coal as South Wales sends abroad. The total dock accommodation of these ports in 1894 was 396 acres, with 99,000 ft. of quays. In 1905 these figures were increased to 471 and 118,000. In 1925 the figures were 496 acres with 103,066 ft. of quayage. The ports are equipped with every appliance for ensuring rapid despatch of tonnage. Everything has been done by Cardiff, Barry, Penarth and Newport to encourage not merely the loading of coal for export, but also repairing work in the numerous dry docks in the district and the import of ores, timber, grain, and every other commodity. The warehouses, as well as the coal tipping arrangements and sidings, are thoroughly practical and well arranged. Cheap outward freights are essential to brisk trade in these places; and cheap outward freights are assured by return homeward cargoes discharged at the coaling ports themselves. The railways are well able to deal with all the traffic they can get. There are numerous engineering works capable of coping with all local requirements, as well as others more widely known, such as the Mannesman Tube Co and the Waddell Fan and Engineering Co.

The total capital invested in the South Wales coalfields, either privately or in public companies, in 1925 was probably about £22,000,000. Among the best known of the companies are the following firms: Albion Steam Coal, Burnyeat Brown, Cambrian Colliery, D. Davies and Sons, Ebbw Vale, Great Western, Guest Keen and Nettlefolds, Insoles, International Coal, Lewis Merthyr, Lockett's Merthyr, Newport Abercarn, North's Navigation, Penrikyber, Powell Duffryn, Rhymney, South Wales Colliery, Tredegar Iron and Coal and the Windsor Companies. During the last twenty-five years large sums provided from revenue have been spent in extensions and improvements which strengthened the financial position of these undertakings and encouraged investors. The Powell Duffryn group, the Tredegar group and the Ocean group are locally known as "The Big Three." Their shares are usually quoted at a high premium in the market.

It will be gathered, from what has already been said, that the quoted shares of most South Wales public companies have never stood on the average at a high market value, nor are their average dividends large, considering the general prosperity of trade in the district. The tendency of the coal market is to reduce the saleable value of the Welsh product to a figure nearly approaching that of South Yorkshire. Steam coals as shipped in the Humber ports and German hard coal are already formidable rivals for bunkering purposes. That the financial position of these companies, however, has in some cases vastly improved in recent years there is no doubt. Leading concerns that were floated with inflated capitals more than fifty years ago, have written down their assets and reduced their capital to moderate limits, and steel- and iron-making has, in some cases, been definitely abandoned, as good profits can be made from coal alone. But there are collieries producing first-class coal which have rarely, if ever, shown a surplus over their expenses. Some great fortunes have been made in South Wales, and there are multi-millionaires among not only the landowners, but the colliery proprietors. There are a few shipowners and merchants of great wealth, and since the War hereditary and other honours have been freely distributed among these personages. The general level of life is high amongst all classes—from the coal shipper down to the miner in the hills.

In considering the return upon capital sunk in South Wales collieries, it must be borne in mind that much money is made by many of the private colliery firms, which, should they be established as public companies on their existing capital basis, would, no doubt, raise the dividend average for South Wales in ordinary trade conditions to a satisfactory figure. And, though the investing capitalist in public companies has suffered in the past, the outlook for him is probably better to-day, as the mismanagement and wasteful working which used to characterise many of the South Wales collieries have in a number of them given place to a different state of things. Highly-trained engineers, managers who insist upon discipline and a more settled and industrious tendency among the men, have largely changed the conditions from which Welsh industries of all kinds used to suffer. The old-fashioned uneducated mining and works manager has disappeared. The scientific spirit governs all modern methods, and this is now recognised in the coal district. In addition to the new pits that have been sunk, numerous firms have replaced all their old plant by new appliances electrical installations are being adopted for winding coal, for ventilation, pumping and for underground haulage, the most economical power generators are being established, and the most recent type of by-product coke oven has found a place in South Wales.

During the last twenty years there has been a striking development in the grouping and amalgamating of colliery undertakings in the South Wales coalfields. One of the most important of the earlier amalgamations was that carried through by the late Lord Rhondda when he acquired, on behalf of the Cambrian Colliery Co, a controlling interest in the Glamorgan Coal Co, the Naval Colliery Co and the Britannic Merthyr Coal Co. In 1913 a new company was formed, with the title of Consolidated Cambrian, with a share capital of £2,000,000. It issued shares in exchange for the existing shares in the above separate concerns. The new company became also interested in various other undertakings, and in 1920 was acquired by Guest Keen and Nettlefolds.

The following are some of the more important colliery firms, with their amalgamations effected during the period 1905-1925:

Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Co

Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Co. The Chairman is Mr. Joseph Shaw, K.C., and the Directors are Sir L. Brassey, Bart., M.P., Mr. W. R. Hann, Mr. E. L. Hann, Mr. C. P. Ogilvie, Mr. E. M. Hann, Colonel Sir F. K. McClean. The capital is £3,352,052 Ordinary, £255,000 Preference, £1,500,000 7 per cent. Debenture. This Company has acquired Rhymney Iron Co and Windsor Steam Coal Co. It also owns half interest in Taff Merthyr Steam Coal Co. (Ocean Coal Co owns the other half interest).

GKN

Guest Keen and Nettlefolds. The Chairman is Lord Buckton, who succeeded Mr. Edward Steer, in 1927, and the Directors are Mr. J. W. Keen, Sir F. J. Bank, K.B.E., Mr. T. J. Callaghan, Hon. C. A. Guest, Sir D. R. Llewellyn, Bart., Mr. W. R. Lysaght, C.B.E. The Company has acquired Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Colliery Co, R. Davis and Sons, Meiros Collieries, John Lysaght, L. Gueret, Crown Preserved Coal Co, and Consolidated Cambrian.

See Chapter XXI for the wide activities of this combination.

United National Collieries

United National Collieries. The Chairman is Sir F. S. Watts, and Colonel A. K. Wyllie, C.B., is among the Directors. The Company acquired Burnyeat, Brown and Co, Standard Colliery, Bute Merthyr Collieries, and is now itself absorbed by Ocean Coal and Wilson. Its capital is £1,352,130 in Ordinary Shares, and £225,000 Preference Shares.

D. Davis and Sons

D. Davis and Sons. The Chairman is Sir D. R. Llewellyn, Bart., .and among the Directors are Viscountess Rhondda and Lord Buckland. It has acquired Welsh Navigation Collieries, and itself has subsequently been acquired by Guest Keen and Nettlefolds.

Tredegar Iron and Coal Co

Tredegar Iron and Coal Co, of which the present writer is Chairman, and whose Directors are Colonel A. K. Wyllie, C.B., Mr. Arthur Lawrence, Mr. Alfred Tallis, Hon. Henry D. McLaren, C.B.E., Mr. Evan Williams (Chairman of the Mining Association of Great Britain), Lt.-Col. A. E. Johnson Ferguson, Mr. William Downing Woolley and Mr. Norman McNeill, has established and owns Oakdale Navigation Collieries, Markham Steam Coal Co and Tredegar (Southern) Collieries. The capital is £880,000 A Shares of £1, 14s. paid, £1,120,000 B Shares of £1, fully paid, and £600,000 Debentures.

Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Co

Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Co, whose Chairman is Sir Frederick Mills, Bart., and whose Directors are Sir W. Beynon, Bart., C.B.E., Sir Philip Henriques, K.B.E., Mr. L. F. Beynon and Mr. F. P. Hann, owns also John Lancaster and Co, Powell's Steam Coal Collieries, and Newport Abercarn Black Vein Steam Coal Co. The capital is £2,500,000 Ordinary Shares, £1,200,000 7 per cent. Preference Shares, and £3,769,000 in Debentures and 8 per cent Notes.

Imperial Navigation Coal Co

Imperial Navigation Coal Co. The Chairman and Managing Director is Sir D. R. Llewellyn, Bart., and the Directors are Lord Buckland, Mr. C. P. Hailey, Mr. W. P. Miles, Mr. J. B. Rees and Sir W. Carruthers. The capital is £155,000 Ordinary Shares. It acquired Duffryn Rhondda Colliery Co, Cynon Colliery Co, and subsequently was itself absorbed by North's Navigation Collieries (1889).

Ocean Coal and Wilsons

Ocean Coal and Wilsons. The Chairman is Lt.-Col. David Davies, M.P., and the Directors are Mr. T. Evans, C.B.E., Mr. J. W. Farrell, Mr. W. Jenkins, Mr. E. Jones, Colonel Sir H. Webb, Bart., and Mr. A. E. Yarrow. It acquired Ocean Coal Co and Wilson Sons and Co. The capital is £5,000,000 Ordinary Shares, £201,106 Employees' Shares of £1, £1,396,600 Preference Shares and £211,375 Debentures.

S. Instone and Co

S. Instone and Co. The Chairman is Sir Samuel Instone, and the Directors are Messrs. Theodore Instone, W. Chambers, Marcus Davis and Alfred Instone. It has acquired Bedwas Navigation Colliery Co. (1921), which also holds all the Preference Shares and practically all the issued Ordinary Shares of the Askern Coal and Iron Co. The capital is £425,000 Ordinary Shares, £871,942 7 per cent Preference Shares.

Baldwins

Baldwins. The Chairman is Sir Wm. Charles Wright, K.B.E. Its capital is £8,000,000 of Ordinary and Preference Shares, with 7.5 per cent Debentures to the amount of £2,250,000. It has acquired the Bryn Navigation Colliery Co, the Brymbo Steel Co, the Coytrahen Park Colliery Co, the Cribbwr Fawr Collieries, the Taff Rhondda Steam Navigation Coal Co, and the Ton Phillip Rhondda Colliery Co in South Wales, besides a numerous list of other metallurgical and allied companies in various districts.

Richard Thomas and Co

Richard Thomas and Co. Mr. H. C. Bond is Chairman, and the Directors are Mr. W. J. Firth and Sir E. Boyle, Bart. The capital is £2,790,560 Ordinary Shares, £3,120,346 6.5 per cent Preference Shares and £967,900 7 per cent. Debentures. This Company, which stands easily at the head of the steel and tin-plate trade, owns the Raglan Collieries, the Swansea Navigation Collieries, and the Loughor Colliery Co in South Wales, the entire capital of the Grovesend Steel and Tinplate Co, and numerous iron, steel and colliery concerns in Lincolnshire and the Midlands, which are referred to in Chapters IV and XIX.

North's Navigation Collieries (1889).

North's Navigation Collieries (1889). Sir D. R. Llewellyn, Bart., is Chairman, and the Directors are Mr. J. W. Smith and Viscountess Rhondda. It has acquired Celtic Collieries and Imperial Navigation Coal Co. The capital is £1,300,000 Ordinary in 5s. Shares and £50,000 Preference in £1 Shares.

Partridge, Jones and John Paton

Partridge, Jones and John Paton. The Chairman is Mr. J. Paton, and among the Directors are Messrs. F. H. Partridge, S. Steer, T. Williams, M. Deacon, W. H. McConnell and Sir G. H. Kenrick. The issued share capital is £2,146,188. This Company has acquired the collieries of Partridge, Jones and Co, and of seven other companies engaged in coal and iron business.

SHARE CAPITAL OF SOME OF THE CHIEF COAL AND IRON COMPANIES

(EXCLUDING DEBENTURE AND LOANS) SHOWING THE INCREASE DURING TWENTY YEARS.

  Capital 1905 Capital 1925
Albion Steam Coal Co £440,000 £440,000
Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Co £658,913 £3,700,000
Great Western Colliery Co 100,000 1,200,000
Guest Keen and Nettlefolds £2,685,000 £15,000,000
Insoles £180,000 £360,000
International Coal Co £85,000 £127,500
Locket's Merthyr Collieries (1894) £150,000 £150,000
Main Colliery Co £150,000 £250,000
Nantyglo and Blaina Ironworks Co £468,750 £468,750
North's Navigation Collieries (1889) £650,000 £1,123,750
Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Co £780,795 £3,434,238
Penrikyber Navigation Colliery Co £350,000 £500,000
Tredegar Iron and Coal Co £824,335 £1,731,103

PART III. THE ANTHRACITE COALFIELD OF THE SWANSEA DISTRICT

At the western edge of the South Wales coalfield, under a strip of land stretching across the counties of Carmarthen, Glamorgan and Brecon, 27 miles in length and 5 miles in breadth, the mineral develops its characteristics in a remarkable way and approaches much nearer to pure carbon than does the coal found in other parts of the world. It is free from hydrocarbons, and is consequently smokeless, and of a consistency so hard that it can be touched without soiling the hand. The total reserves of this coal are about 230,000,000 tons, and the output is well over 4,000,000 tons per annum. It is used for central heating systems and other domestic purposes, for suction gas producers, for malting and other industries. The demand for this coal is increasing in view of the saving in bulk and its high calorific value. Large quantities are exported to France for use in stoves and also to Canada. Except for a small field to the north-east of Glasgow, the whole of the anthracite coal in the United Kingdom is produced here.

There are a number of small and comparatively shallow pits working this coal, which until recently belonged to numerous small owners. In 1903-1904 an attempt was made to form an anthracite trust, with a capital of £1,600,000 and a then estimated output of over 1,000,000 tons per annum. The proposal was to acquire twenty-eight collieries and to secure options over several others. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful.

No definite further move in this direction took place until 1925, when two new companies were formed—viz.,

Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries

The Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries, with the Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Mond, Bart., M.P., as Chairman, to acquire Cleeves' Western Valley Anthracite Collieries, Gellyciedrim Collieries Co and Gurnos Anthracite Collieries Co.

United Anthracite Collieries

The United Anthracite Collieries, with Sir F. A. Szarvasy as Chairman. This has acquired the following Collieries: Great Mountain Anthracite, Ammanford Anthracite, Pontyberem Anthracite, New Dynant Anthracite, New Rhos Anthracite, Carway Anthracite, Caerbryn Anthracite, Gwendraeth Anthracite, and Pentremawr. Subsequently a company called the Pwllbach, Tirbach and Brynamman Collieries, with Mr. S. Van den Berg as Chairman, was formed to acquire Pwllbach Colliery and Brynamman Collieries (1923).

About half of the area has now been acquired by the Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries. A prosperous Company, with a capital of £5,000,000, it has recently taken over a large number of other pits, including those belonging to the United Anthracite Collieries, which Company is now dissolved on an exchange of shares. It now owns a nearly compact coalfield of twenty-four mines in the counties of Carmarthen, Glamorgan and Brecon, with direct access to the shipping ports of Swansea and Llanelly. This area gives the Company a complete chain of collieries eminently suited for unified management, with an output of 40 per cent of the total anthracite production of South Wales, and that of the best quality. The amalgamation has been sanctioned by the Railway and Canal Commission.

It is stated that Sir Beddoe Rees has bought for £1,000,000 six other anthracite collieries, including the Abercrave group owned by Messrs. Davies and Morgan. The output of these is probably one half of the whole area.

The only other owners of importance in the area are Evans Bevan, with three collieries; Guest Keen and Nettlefolds with one important colliery of good quality coal, and Sir David Llewellyn, who has one or two collieries of substantial output. There are only a few shafts in the area, and these are small. The coal is usually worked by means of slants or adits. The collieries cannot, of course, be compared with the large and up-to-date pits in the steam coal district of South Wales or of Yorkshire, inasmuch as they have been established by men of small means, not in a position to take a long view. Under these conditions the proprietors naturally, to use a common phrase, "picked the eyes out of their pits" and got the best out of their undertakings as they went along, giving practically no attention to careful lay-out for the future. The new combinations are in a position to bring the collieries up to date and to work them by modern methods.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Estimate by Sir William T. Lewis, Royal Commission on Coal Supplies, 1904.