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A Short History of The Afan Valley.

By: Glyn Thomas.

 (Past secretary of SWMM)

In 1970, one of the most important chapters in the history of The Afan Valley ended; when the last remaining colliery closed, which was The Glyncorrwg Colliery, at Glyncorrwg; better known in this locality as ‘South Pit’. In a valley which had been a very industrious community, in which the inhabitants depended on coal mining for their livelihood over a period of some 200years. 


If one looks back at the history of coal mining in the whole area you will find that coal was worked by the Monks at Margam Abbey in the year 1247. Permission was given by the Abbot at Margam Abbey to a farmer in Duffryn Fredul Farm in the Bryn Area for a rent of Twenty Shillings and Two Pence yearly, the lease to run for 70 years, this was in 1516 which would allow the farmer to work the minerals on his land to the sea shore.


If it were possible for one to look back over the years of the past in the Afan Valley then they would see that long before the Industrial Revolution took place that it was a very beautiful valley with it’s spread of Alder, Oaks, Ash and Birch trees with rough grazing grounds on the upper slopes of the valley and with some rich pasture land alongside the river banks.


Mining really opened up in the Valley when the timber required for smelting for the purpose of making Iron and Steel had practically exhausted and of course the substitute was coal, of which there was a plentiful supply in the Afan Valley.  The earliest development of mining on a large scale started about 1730, with mines opening up at Cwmafan and again in 1750 at Cefn Mawr and Blaencregan where these coals were taken to the forges in Neath and Briton Ferry, at this time the means of transport was the use of donkeys with pannier baskets attached to their sides.


It was about 1839 that deeds were signed and agreed on by landowners and Robert Parsons and a friend to put a tram road from Blaencregan to Aberdulais for the purpose of conveying coal from these mines to the canal basin at Aberdulais, where the coal would be transferred into barges and taken to Swansea, unfortunately these two persons did not have much luck with the project and they went into liquidation; this is how the Tonmawr Tram Road became known as ‘Parsons Folly’.


With the coming of Coal Mining in the Afan Valley you also had the age of the railways commencing. The first railway in the Afan Valley was the ‘South Wales Mineral Railway’ where an Act was passed in Parliament in 1853 for this project. This railway was engineered by the famous engineer I.K.Brunnel and the railway arrived in the Afan Valley opposite the Afan Argoed Country Park in 1859 and was extended to Glyncorrwg by 1861 at an overall cost of £120,000. This railway started at Briton Ferry docks with a steep gradient to negotiate through the Cwm Criddian Boundary into Tonmawr then through a tunnel into the Afan Valley. This railway was not used for passenger traffic until just about the First World War period, before this the inhabitants of Glyncorrwg used to scrub out the coal wagons every year in September to travel to the fair in Neath. This railway was specifically built to carry coal from Glyncorrwg to the Dock at Briton Ferry, with the coming of this railway more and more collieries opened up in the Afan Valley with the first at Glyncorrwg, being The Welsh Main Colliery, which was actually opened in 1858, you then had the Crows Nest Colliery in 1864, the North Rhonnda Colliery in 1874, on the same railway you had Ynyscorrwg Colliery which opened in 1913 and Nantewlaeth Colliery in 1919.


It is only right to mention the other railway that came into this valley and that is the Llynfi and Ogmore Railway this came through a tunnel from the Llynfi Valley in 1877 when a viaduct was built across the Afan river near Cymer to connect up with the South Wales Mineral Railway, the tunnel was 1,591 yards long, again when this railway was extended to Abergwynfi, the sinking of the Afan Colliery was started, which commenced raising coal in 1882.  Afan colliery was actually called the Great Western Colliery as the railway and colliery were owned by the Great Western Railway Company.

When you look back at the villages of Abergwynfi and Blaengwynfi, in their time they were very busy little villages with, at one particular period, having six collieries working there. In fact there existed a nickname for the villages which was better known as ‘The Cape’ some say it was called this because of the prosperity that existed in the villages through the number of collieries working there at the time, another reason it was called this is because of the geological term being applied.


Now we come to the last railway in the Afan Valley and that is The Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway which was extended from Pontrhydyfen to Cymer in 1885 and from there to Blaengwynfi and then through the Rhondda Tunnel to the Rhondda Valley in 1890 when the Tunnel was officially opened. This tunnel was 3,443 yards long, which connected up with the Taff Vale Railway to assist in easing the burden on the Taff Railway; as it could not cope with the coal traffic going to Cardiff Docks. This meant that some of the coal from the Rhondda Valley was brought through the Tunnel to take coal to Port Talbot and Swansea Docks.


After all of this we now had the run down of the main industries in the valleys, with the coal mines closing until gradually there were no coal mines left at all working in the Afan Valley some of the scars can still be seen of the industrial revolution which effected all who lived in the Afan Valley, but eventually they will all be gone and forgotten and the Valley will return to it’s own natural beauty.


Cynon Colliery, Afan Argoed.


This colliery is situated in Cwm-Yr-Argoed, it was a ‘level’ type mine, working the Wern Pistel at      15 ins. thick and the Wern Ddu seams of coal at 9 ins. thick, it was first recorded as a mine in1895 and the owners were given as David Rees & Co. under the name of the Cynon Colliery Company, which at the time employed 33 to 40 miners.


The coal was conveyed to the mouth of the level by horse drawn trams where they were then lowered to the screens for filling into wagons stationed on a branch line (sidings) of Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway, which travelled from the main line into Cwm-Yr- Argoed for about 1,500 yards, you can still see the walls of the old screens near the lower side of which is now the Cynon walk. The trams of coal were lowered to the screens by means of a Drum, which operated as a balance winch, where full trams travelling down the slight gradient pulled the empty trams back up into the level to be filled by the men working in the Cynon Level.


By the turn of the century (1900) there were about 100 men working in this colliery. This level continued to work and employed over 200 men, even though after about 1904 a ‘Pit’ was sunk opposite the village of Cynonville, which had not been built at this time. Never the less the Pit was sunk to a depth of about 200 yards to the No. 2 Rhonnda seam. It is said that the Pit bottom was almost level with the River Afan, as a matter of fact the fan drift for this pit was down on the river bank of the River Afan.


The Cynon level carried on working as well as the Cynon Pit. The pit at it’s peak employed something like 500 men, it actually planned to employ more men but plans were laid out to build a garden village in Cynonville but probably due to the outbreak of the First World War these plans were shelved. It must be pointed out that the method of conveying coal from Cynon level changed over the years, whereas the coal was screened and filled into wagons on it’s own sidings, this was done away with when the main Afan valley road was built and opened in 1922. This road was build in part with the debris and slag from the Cynon Level and the Argoed drift mine, the connection to the Rhonnda and Swansea Bay Railway remained in use until the 1940’s, for this purpose a road bridge was built to carry the Afan Valley road (the A 4107) over the railway branch line to the Argoed Colliery’s, sidings and screens.

It must also be pointed out that the railway ‘halt’ for the men working at both collieries in Cwm-Yr-Argoed was alongside the railway on the bottom side of the bridge, when the Pit at Cynonville went into full production Cynonville Halt was built.

The Cynonville Colliery (the Pit closed about 1923) just after the 1921 miners strike, this was believed to have had something to do with the Pit closure. Cynon Pit operated an Electric Winder and it was believed that this was the second Electric Pit Winding Engine installed in the Welsh Coalfield.


When the Mines were Nationalised in January 1947, the Cynon Level was included in the Nationalisation of all Coal Mines in this country. It was after this period that the Cynon Level went back into private ownership, under license, when the maximum number of men employed was governed to 30 persons. Coal was still conveyed from this mine by horse drawn drams

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