Welsh Government urged to clean up Cefn Coed Colliery Museum
A tourist attraction in the Dulais Valley has been described as a “dump” by a senior councillor who is calling on the Welsh Government to clean it up.
The Cefn Coed Colliery Museum, near Neath, opened in 1978 and tells the story of life at the colliery which, by the time coal was first raised in 1930, was the deepest anthracite mine in the world.
The attraction is home to a preserved 1927 Worsley Mesnes Horizontal Duplex Cylinder Steam Winding engine and also contains the only gas-powered passenger tramcar in the world.
But its iconic winding gear has lain in bits for more than two years.
Welsh Government which owns the site dismantled the listed structures in 2016 over safety concerns – it has recently extended the deadline for when work will begin to refurbish them.
Speaking at a recent Neath Port Talbot Council meeting, cabinet member for education and culture Peter Rees, said: “At the moment there’s a lot of metal on the ground and it’s just a dump.
“It’s about time Welsh Government acted – it’s their responsibility to clean it up.
“If it was cleaned up it would be make a tremendous impact on the site.”
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “Welsh Government has been very slow in actually coming to restore it.
“They’ve done some work but there’s been little movement over the last few months and it’s not very inviting for visitors.”
Crynant ward councillor Sian Harris said the colliery always looked as though it was shut.
She said: “The winding gear is in half and rusty, it doesn’t help make it look open.
“People ask us what we are doing about putting them back up – we are trying.
“We need the winding gear up so we can crack on with plans for the museum’s future.”
Aled Evans, the council’s director of education and leisure, said the restoration work on the winding gear was “frustratingly slow”.
Neath Port Talbot Council leases the museum buildings and car park from Welsh Government on a 100-year lease which started in the 1980s.
Wayne John, head of museums at the council, said the original plan was to put the headframes back together by 2019.
He said: “The difficulty is getting specialist contractors who can do the work.
“The commitment is there in terms of finance from the Welsh Government, it’s just a slow process.
“I think they’ve brought in consultants as they haven’t got experts in house, they have had to advertise, go out to tender and appoint a contractor, and that all takes time.”
The council and the community are keen to see the completion of the restoration project to attract more visitors.
Mr John said: “There are plans to light the headframes so they can be seen for miles around.
“They are quite iconic – at one time every village had headframes.
“The museum is a hidden little gem, there is a great deal of affection for the place in the community.”
He added: “The difference between this and some of the other museums is that this was a working colliery.
“There is a winding engine in situ that you can see working, it is one of the biggest winders working in Britain.
“Long-term we are looking at working more with the community, the friends group and with the Welsh Government to develop the site.
“The important thing is to get people to come here – once they’ve been they do come back.
“People turn up here from all over the world – Germany, Italy, France, it’s a wonder how they manage to find the place.”
Museum manager Keith Davies said that during a recent event a minibus of Americans turned up with relatives of those who had been miners at the colliery.
A memorial garden for miners in the Dulais Valley was created at the museum last year.
While the museum is officially open between May and September, various events are held throughout the year and groups or interested parties can book tours during the winter months.
Upcoming events at the colliery include an Easter Egg Hunt and Easer bonnet parade, and a model railway show.
Neath Port Talbot Council, which reinstated its tourism unit in June 2018, has just set up a steering group to look at developing the site.
Mr Davies said: “We are looking at putting on more events to raise awareness of the site and widen its appeal to get people through the door.
“People don’t realise how big the place is and how much there is to see here.
“What’s unique about this place is it has a very strong group of friends which really does bring it to life.
“The volunteers are often relatives of the people that worked here.”
Councillor Harris who is working with a local bus company to bring schools to the site said: “I haven’t met anybody that has been here for the first time and isn’t impressed, they can all see the potential.”
Mr Davies and the volunteers also organise road-shows taking a selection of artefacts from the museum to schools telling children about life at the colliery.
The museum costs the local authority around £50,000 to run each year.
Over the past two years, its budget has been cut by £10,000 as the council seeks to make millions of pounds of savings.
A Neath Port Talbot Council spokesman said the council and the Welsh Government were working together with the aim of upgrading the site to support the Valley Landscape ambitions of the Welsh Government and to turn Cefn Coed into a Valley Gateway site.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The Welsh Government is in the process of procuring a suitable contractor to undertake the restoration works [of the headframes].
“It is anticipated that the works will commence by March 2019.”
More than 5,500 men worked in the collieries in the Dulais Valley of which Cefn Coed was one.
It took two and a half minutes to travel to the bottom of the pit in the cage, and the same to come back up again.
During the 1930s more than 140 pit ponies worked at Cefn Coed – they spent 50 weeks of the year underground, only being brought to the surface during the two weeks of the miners’ holidays every August.
During the 1950s and ’60s, touring rugby teams were brought to Cefn Coed to be shown a Welsh coal mine before the international match at Cardiff Arms Park – it is said that when they were lowered into the shaft the winding man would deliberately leave the ‘slow banker’ off and allow the cage to drop like a stone before applying the brake at the last moment.
Cefn Coed was one of the most dangerous coal mines in Wales where many men lost their lives in dangerous working conditions gaining the colliery the nickname of ‘The Slaughterhouse’.
The Amalgamated Anthracite Company started work at the colliery in 1926.
By the time coal was first raised in 1930 it was the deepest anthracite mine in the world, at over 2,500ft.