Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England

Dig Deep


I want to go to Big Pit, said Mr Uphilldowndale, after we’d been wallowing in the history of the industrial revolution in Ironbridge. ‘That sounds interesting’ I said, ‘but I’m not going down it.’ For decades Mr Uphilldowndale has been regaling me with his description of what it was like, back in the very early 1980’s, when he went down to the  48 inch thick coal face of Emley Moor colliery and there was no way I was going to be wriggling around 300 feet underground. Far to claustrophobic for my liking.

So we  headed south into Wales and rolled up at Big Pitt,

Big Pit National Coal Museum (Welsh: Pwll Mawr Amgueddfa Lofaol Cymru) is an industrial heritage museum in Blaenavon, Torfaen, South Wales. A working coal mine from 1880 to 1980, it was opened to the public in 1983 under the auspices of the National Museum of Wales. The site is dedicated to operational preservation of the Welsh heritage of coal mining, which took place during the Industrial revolution.

big pitt

Mr UHDD went to check the lie of the land and came back to tell me that I wouldn’t have to crawl around I could stand up throughout our tour, that admission was free (I had been feeding the dogs) and that we were going down the pit now, as they were expecting 70 school children to arrive in twenty minutes time. So cajoled by added headroom and propelled by the thought of not wanting to be caught up amongst 70 children in a confined space we were on our way down Big Pit.

No photos allowed I’m afraid, cameras, phones, digital watches are all contrabrand

The mine is covered by HM Inspectorate of Mines regulations, because it is still classed as a working pit.[4] Visitors wear a plastic hard hat, safety lamp, and a battery on a waist belt which weighs 5 kilograms (11 lb). Visitors must also carry on their belt a rebreather, which in case of emergency will filter foul air for approximately one hour, giving a chance for survival and escape.[40]

The tour guides are men who used to work at the coal face, or either Big Pit or another colliery, so you got a real flavour of what it was like ‘in their day’ and plenty of history too. Who can start to imagine what it was like for children,  working underground.  There was enough to  see and hear about keep my attention from wandering to the fact, I was in a coal mine, most of the time.  I was surprised about the amount of woodworm in the pit props and timbers though! They can’t treat the timber with chemicals, they just have to keep on replacing it.

They had some beautiful shiny miners lamps, I’ve one at home, it looks a little neglected to compared to Big Pit’s lamps. No canaries down the mine but they did have some in the lamp room (I hadn’t been reunited with my camera at this point!)

Big pit canary

Plenty to see around the mine

big pitt bogies_

Many of the original buildings are accessible,  from the explosives store,

big pitt book

to the medical room,

Medical room Big Pitt

And displays of equipment and ephemera.

Big pit nurse poster

The locker room, what a lot of lockers! I’d never thought about the fact a miner would have two lockers, one for his coal soiled clothes and one for his clean clothes.


I can imagine both would have been popular.

smoking and spitting_

The arrival of ‘pit head baths’ must have transformed the daily routine, for the miners and the women at home…  I love these towels, their style is on the edge of my childhood memory.

showers big pitt

In the showers they also had a recording of  singing, I thought it was Tom Jones, but then a lot of Welsh miners would have sounded like Tom Jones…




Author: uphilldowndale

Watching the rhythm of rural life, from the top of a hill in northern England. Having spent most of my life avoiding writing, I now need to do it! I am no domestic goddess, but if I were expecting visitors to my home, I would whisk round with the duster and plump up the cushions and generally make the place look presentable. I hope that by putting my words where others may see them it will encourage me to ‘tidy up and push the Hoover around’ my writing. On the other hand I may just be adding to the compost heap. Only time will tell! Pull up a chair, sit yourself down, I’ll put the kettle on.

10 thoughts on “Dig Deep

  1. Glad you enjoyed it, my maternal grandfather worked in Little Pit which wasn’t far away. Apparently there is a sign at a Big Pit with his signature on it as he was area H&S rep later in his career.

  2. This is fascinating. My paternal grandfather worked in the coal mines in southern Iowa after immigrating from Sweden. But an uncle by marriage on my mother’s side belonged to a family that came from Wales, and that had been miners for some generations. They worked in the Iowa mines, too. It was a different proposition than the pit mines of Wales, being mostly strip mining, but the photos I’ve seen from the 30s and 40s suggest an equally dirty and dangerous occupation. In fact, my grandfather finally quit the mines after being injured in a slate fall, and he never allowed any of his sons to work in the mines, even temporarily.

  3. Fascinating post, pictures and links. xx

  4. actually the seam at Emley Moor was 21 inches high, not 48. We crawled 150 yards which was half the width of the coal face.

  5. Pingback: You have reached your destination | Uphilldowndale

  6. It looks fun, I have never been down a coal mine but have been down a gold mine in South Africa as a student and then worked in mining for 5 years, but on the process/refining side on the surface but I did get to visit several other base metal and diamond mines in Namibia and RSA. It is a bit of a closed club now in the U.K., there is very little mining at all, just quarrying. I have to confess to being a keen caver and potholer when I was younger so claustrophobia is not one of my problems! Beside which the shear fascination of looking at the simple and clever engineering designed to work in very inhospitable conditions gave me plenty of things to think about apart from the roof coming down. In RSA the roof was called the hanging wall, a comforting phrase that reminded you just how deep you were underground.

  7. interesting place! wow. those showers were sumthin’.

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