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In the coal mining areas of South Wales, there were few employment opportunities apart from the mining industry. Boys of 13 or 14 would often leave school with few, if any qualifications, and go straight to work in the mines, working alongside an experienced miner until he was 21, when he was considered experienced enough to work on his own. The work was hard and dirty, the conditions dangerous, but spirits were kept high by the camaraderie of the miners.
Pre-mechanisation, shovels, mandrils and horse-drawn trams were used to extract and convey the coal. A high degree of skill was required to get the coal; conditions were cramped, hot and often wet, the coal seams were sometimes only a few inches thick, requiring the miner to lay on his side or crouch on his knees to hack at the coal face. Miners quickly learnt how to read the sounds of the mine: listening for cracking roof beams, shifting timber, the running of rats or warnings from workmates: any signal that could mean there had been a fall, an explosion or that danger was imminent.
Evans, R.Meurig. Children in the Mines 1840-1842. (National Museum of Wales, 1972).
Douglas, David. A miner`s life. (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983).
Paget, William. Man of the Valleys: recollections of a South Wales miner. (Allan Sutton, 1985).
Parnell, Mary Davies. Block salt and candles: a Rhondda childhood. (Seren Books, 1991).
All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue.
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