The Valleys miners who met one last time after 66 years of friendship

It was the oldest working colliery in the UK and possibly the world which made a mark on Welsh industry

The Tower Colliery, near Hirwaun, was the last mine of its kind in the Valleys until it’s closure in 2008, with a long history spanning almost 150 years having opened in 1864.

The camaraderie and fighting spirit of the workers saw the colliery survive pit closures, the Miners’ Strike, and the Thatcher government.

After initially closing in 1994, the workers bought the colliery after investing their own money from their redundancy payouts.

Tower Colliery, South Wales.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

It became a symbol of pride for Welsh miners that one of their collieries had survived, until its final closure 11 years ago.

Up until now, former workers and colleagues who worked at Tower Colliery would regularly meet up for annual dinners as part of the Tower Colliery Social Welfare Club, which was formed in 1953.

But the club met for possibly the last time at Merthyr Tydfil Labour Club on Thursday night due to a lack of funds.

Around 200 former Miners enjoyed the Tower Colliery Social Welfare Club 66th Annual Retirement Dinner
(Image: Richard Swingler)

 

More than 200 people packed out the club to talk about their memories and to celebrate what they had achieved together.

Old friends who hadn’t seen each other for years hugged, patted each other on the backs and smiled as they reminisced about old times.

Many generations of miners came together to share their common histories and to meet for one last time before they go their separate ways.

After enjoying a three-course meal, a hushed silence descended on the hall as social club secretary Windsor Davies gave a speech in which he thanked his former colleagues and friends for their support and friendship over more than half a century.

It was a touching moment which spoke volumes about the respect held between the miners, their families and friends in attendance and testament to the unbreakable bond between them.

We spoke to some of the club members about their memories of Tower Colliery. Here are their stories.

Social club secretary Windsor Davies, 82, from Hirwaun

Windsor Davies, aged 82, Secretary.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

I started work at Tower Colliery in 1953. I started out as an assistant collier and then became a measuring boy. I worked my way up becoming a very young deputy and and then a pick overman.

Tonight there is over 200 people here but back over the years it would have been 300 or 400 but times go on, people pass away and my old friends are gone. They were the best miners in the world.

When I first formed the club 66 years ago there was 1,100 members. In 1953, the members paid 5p a week and if you think a surface worker’s wages was £6 and six shillings, you can see the tremendous contribution they made. All those people over all those years contributed close to £2.5million.

That’s how proud I am of everybody, if I die tomorrow I die a happy man. They have given me the honour of being their secretary and I have never had a cross word with any of them. If I’ve had to raise contributions, no one has questioned it or said you can’t have it. That’s how wonderful these people have been over 55 years.

 

Windsor Davies, aged 82, Secretary.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

If I had my life over I would do the same thing again because I’ve worked amongst such wonderful people, wonderful companionship and outstanding workmen.

Whatever was thrown at these boys, they got through it with pride, dignity and passion and survived and that is why we are all here today.

It’s a sad day for me but also a happy day because of the respect all the people in this room have given me over the years. They have made me a very happy man.

Social club chairman Dai John, 74, of Hirwaun

Left to right, Glynn Roberts, aged 69, committee member, Dai John, aged 74, Chairman, and Windsor Davies, aged 82, Secretary.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

I started at Tower Colliery in 1977. I was a face worker but when you went into work in the morning you’d go down the pit and the pit overman would deploy you on whatever jobs they were short on.

It was good because of the camaraderie of the boys and men there. We’d all have to look out for each other and each other’s safety when we were working. You had to have a good bond between the men because an accident could happen at any time.

Because the colliers were from so many different places like the Rhondda, Mountain Ash, Abercwmboi, and Merthyr Tydfil, every year the social club would go to a different venue.

When the colliery was going we would be meeting once a week, every Thursday there would be a social meeting. Now we tend to meet twice a year in preparation of this dinner.

The social club used to have a children’s party every year and we used to go away once a year on a colliery outing, maybe down to Barry Island, Porthcawl or somewhere in England like Eastbourne. We’d just meet up to have a laugh, a chat or a drink.

The point was you all worked together in close proximity and although you’d quarrel underground by the time you came up to the surface you’d be friends again.

When the Thatcher Government was closing the collieries down we were having an intake of miners from the other pits. A lot of the older miners finished and younger people from other pits transferred to other collieries. We had people from 20 other pits which had closed down.

It was a hard time during the Miners’ Strike. We collected food and money from different places and whatever we had we’d used to buy food and give water to the striking miners.

The former Miners enjoyed the evening which included a three course dinner.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

Before I went on strike I owed two years on my mortgage but during the strike we had no money so I ended up with 10 to 15 years mortgage to pay. In those days there was no sympathy off the water company or anyone else. If you didn’t pay your dues you’d end up in court.

When the colliery closed, British Coal closed us down and reopened it back up as a private concern. I finished when I was 63 in 2008 when the colliery closed for the final time.

It was a very sad day when the colliery closed but it felt good to have survived so long.

Robert True, 65, from Treherbert

Former miner Robert True
(Image: Richard Swingler)

I worked in Tower for 25 years until I was pensioned off with lung disease and spinal disease and I had to retire at 50 in 2005. I moved from a very modern colliery at Ferndale and going to Tower was like walking into a museum but it ended up being developed and became a super pit.

It was just second nature to look after each other and there was 1,100 men underground besides working on the surface. They also had 23 horses working underground in 1980 and I had never seen that before.

During the Miners’ Strike, I spent a lot of time in the north east of England and all over the country picketing closures.

When Tower closed in 1994, we decided if anybody was going to buy it it should be us and that’s how it started. Everyone invested at least £8,000.

Emlyn Phillips, 87, from Cwmaman

Emlyn Phillips, aged 87, left, and Jim Williams, aged 78, right.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

I worked for a number of collieries for 39 years as a repairer including Cwmaman, Aberaman, Bedwas, Dyffryn and finally the Tower.

The working relationships with your colleagues was very good. Everybody was friendly and everybody tried to help you if you were in trouble. It was very important to look out for each other. I finished at the colliery a year before the closure and retired.

It’s a sad day for the social club as it’s the only time we get to see our workmates.

Article source: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/tower-colliery-hirwaun-miners-merthyr-16188448