Credit: Hulton Archive/Topical Press Agency

Historical Insights Coal Mining in South Wales

Many children did dangerous jobs in Welsh coal mines, even after such work was outlawed. Young boys often cut their hands pulling bits of slate and stone from mounds of coal sliding along chutes to be cleaned. 1870, England. Credit: Hulton Archive/Topical Press Agency

Coal Mining in South Wales

The discovery of rich deposits of coal in the Rhondda and Cynon Valleys of southern Wales during the mid-1800s signaled the start of the country’s industrialization.

“Black gold,” some called the coal found in the Rhondda and Cynon Valleys of South Wales during the mid-nineteenth century. The invention of coal-powered steam engines revolutionized the Welsh economy as world demand for coal skyrocketed. The landscape was changed drastically as the trees of green valleys were cut to support coalmines carved into the Welsh hills. By 1870, coal production in the area had surpassed 13 million tons. Local farming communities grew smaller as families swapped unstable agricultural lives for the steady wages of mining. It was a dangerous trade: The mines averaged a death every 6 hours and a serious injury every 12 minutes. Still, immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and the English Midlands flooded the valleys to dig in the narrow tunnels. The influx hastened the demise of the Welsh language and fueled the birth of the nation’s modern cities.