Coal

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Coal mined 1891    Four Welsh Counties    Kilner.

Coal  

Before the act of Union (1536) any general development of mining in Wales was hardly possible in view of the various systems of law which were current. In each Lordship the mineral rights were the property of the lord, who leased them to individual miners. These in turn gave a percentage of their output as a royalty to the Lord. Coal was mined at Begelly, Johnston and Roch.

After the act of Union there was a more rapid development in the mining of coal which at that time was mainly used for domestic purposes.

George Owen refers to the widespread use of coal for domestic purposes in Pembrokeshire, and he describes the improvements which were taking place in the mining of coal in the area. In place of shallow drifts, deep shafts were now being sunk even to a depth of 120 ft. “Hewers” with picks each worked a “stall” and the coal was carried to the bottom of the shaft in baskets and raised to the surface in a barrel by means of a windlass. The team of workers in such a pit would comprise about 3 hewers, 7 carriers, one filler, four winders and 2 riddlers. The roof was partly supported by timber but the dangers of falls and flooding were always present. The workings were illuminated by candles.

In 1560 Pembrokeshire was exporting coal as well as other cargos from the Haven to the West of England, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the west coast of France. (Coal from the Swansea /Neath area was not exported till 1580 and Cardiff /Newport till 1595).  

It appears that the first organised digging for coal can be traced back to the Chinese. By the first century A.D. they were extracting coal from shallow but well constructed coal mines. They used the same techniques used by miners who had previously been digging for other different types of metallic ores that they had discovered under the earth's surface.  

At the same time in Europe, the Romans built up a vast Empire, and during their stay in Britain encountered coal, especially overcrops, when they built their defences and their roads. Their way of life was not really an industrial one and therefore they only made an incidental use of coal, mainly in the North of England where it was quarried along Hadrian's Wall and then used for smithying. There is also evidence that coal was brought to the fenland in East Anglia where there were few trees to be found and coal was easier to transport. Archaeologists have also found that they used coal in a very imaginative and advanced way. Many country gentlemen living in Roman Britain used coal in the under floor heating systems of their villas.  

After the collapse of Roman Britain, people seemed to have ignored the very existence of coal. After the Norman Conquest King William ordered that a complete record be made of his kingdom’s resources and his famous 'Domesday Book' does not even mention coal.  

Early records show that by about 1200 A.D. monks were extracting coal from outcrops and using coal instead of wood to feed their iron forges. Once it was realised that coal had a tremendous potential for producing heat, its use became more widespread when early industries were setting up. The religious orders of that time had become the most active centres of skill and craftsmanship; word would therefore pass from group to group regarding the uses that could be made of coal.  

It is therefore likely that the first coal miners in South Wales were monks. At both Neath and Margam Abbeys there is evidence that the monks used coal as early as the thirteenth century.  

For the ordinary people the business of digging coal was largely a spare time occupation. Farmers finding coal on their land would dig a little coal when they had little else to do and people living on the coastline where outcrops of coal were to be found would pick coal from the beach and sell what they had collected to local craftsmen.

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