A LANDMARK achievement was met last month when Britain passed an entire week without using coal to generate electricity for the first time since Queen Victoria was on the throne.

The significance and heavy reliance on coal - especially in the last century - cannot be underestimated.

Standing shoulder to shoulder and fuelled by a camaraderie spirit, Welsh miners in the valleys were at the heart of this industry - thanks to the landscape's rich coal reserves.

South Wales Argus:

(Big Pit in Blaenavon)

But the fossil fuel's importance has since diminished - and to such an extent that the government has ambitiously pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity completely in just six years.

As this once prominent industry begins to fade away, its legacy conversely remains deep-rooted in the South Wales valleys.

This is epitomised by the Big Pit National Coal Museum, in Blaenavon, where one can be submerged into the golden years of the coal industry.

"These valleys - like Blaenavon - are only here because of the industry," said ex-miner Terry Mason, who lives in Varteg.

"People moved to these villages because of the work.

"Because of the amount of coal we were at the centre of industrial Britain.

"It is very sad that the mines in this area have now gone.

"But that is the way some industries go."

South Wales Argus:

(Terry Mason at Big Pit)

Donning his bright orange mining gear, the 73-year-old stated his pride of mining since the tender age of 15.

But then, with a tinge of sadness, Mr Mason recollected the horrors that impacted mining lives.

"I remember in Cwmtillery pit there was an under manager killed after the cave fell in," he said.

"People did die.

"My uncle was killed, too.

"There was another occasion when a miner was killed when he got crushed up into the roof.

"My earliest memory of an accident was in 1960s - there was an explosion and 45 men were killed in the mine.

"I have seen the best and worst of life underground. You had to be aware of your surroundings."

South Wales Argus:

(Former miners preparing a new coal face)

The ex-miner, who is now a tour guide at Big Pit, stressed that the positives of mining life outweighed the darkest of memories, though.

"Irrespective of what you hear about mining - it being dark, wet and it is true - there are a lot of positives," he said.

"I worked in three mines - including Rose Heyworth mine - and loved my time as a miner.

"We would work seven-and-half-hours and in that time you built up close friendships. That was great.

"When I was a miner it was not like it was for miners 30 years earlier. Before 1947 miners had to listen to what their bosses told them to do. Post-1947, the Government brought in better health and safety standards."


He also encouraged the general public to pay a visit to Big Pit to learn more about mining life.

"It must not be forgotten," he said.

"The mines in the valley were a big part in our history.

"You can learn all this at Big Pit."

Fourth generation miner David Trapnell, who also works at Big Pit, reiterated his colleague's belief for people to pay a visit to the heritage site.

South Wales Argus:

(David Trapnell is a fourth generation miner)

"I became a miner because I wanted to do what my friends did," he said.

"I was in Roseheyworth mine, in Abertillery, to begin with in 1974. I loved it - especially the camaraderie.

"People need to come here to see our heritage. Coal may be disappearing but you need to learn about it.

"You can read books and look at pictures, but you need to go underground to actually witness what it was like."

From the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s the British coal industry entered a terminal decline.

A fall in the demand for Welsh coal, coupled with competition from abroad caused the industry insurmountable stains.

Big Pit, which was just one of many, ceased operation as a working mine in 1980 due to financial constraints.

But as Britain gradually weans itself off the fossil fuel, its legacy will remain ingrained in the Welsh valleys for generations to come.