Day 2-22nd April,2007


DAY 2: 22nd April, 2007

The day’s weather was cool and cloudy with intermittent sunshine as the day went on. The main event of the day was the visit to Big Pit Coal Mine which is now a national museum.

A typical day in Wales begins with very unpredictable weather which oscillates between clear weather to cold, cloudy, rain weather. Weather is one of the major discussion points in Wales due to its adversity. Generally, the temperatures are low throughout the year with persistent drizzles for larger parts of the year. An area like Bridgend receives sea-breezes which further cool the air.

During the period of my visit, the weather I was told was unusually sunny and warm. Could this be a sign of global climate change due to pollution of the environment? It is a subject worth discussing in all extents and purposes. The maximum temperature is usually about 20oC. This is according to what my colleague Tom said. When I was told this, I was like well this is only about our minimum average temperatures. In areas like the Zambezi Valley, maximum temperatures go up to as high as 49oC. This is a huge disparity in temperature between the two countries.

One major striking feature in Bridgend and South Wales in general is the attractive scenery offered by the green vegetation, mountainous terrain and valleys. Many places are highlands and in some parts gently sloping. Most of the valleys are dry and hold large settlements with variations in the quality and age of housing units.

On the journey to Big Pit, I observed variations in the surrounding vegetation. There was land under natural vegetation and that of planted trees. From a distance it was impossible to ignore the effects of industrialization, more so there are places with enigmatic dips and hollows. Tom explained to me that the valleys were mining took place were most polluted and disfigured. He further explained that there have been efforts of restoration of the vegetation and changes are being seen. The woodland has been replaced by pine plantations. This I hear is a contentious issue as many people prefer indigenous species trees to exotic ones. These areas are the industrial mining and iron areas of days past. The valleys have well maintained roads running the length of them, with spectacular views back down the valleys onto distant lowlands.
Picture of roads

There are old country villages in the surrounding vicinity and also former miner’s houses of which have been restored to a high standard though others still have an old age touch. Perhaps these homes themselves reveal most about the lives of workers in mine owners built houses for their workers, usually close to their homes.
Picture of a country Village

Picture of mine


There are also farm buildings and cottages. Many of these farmhouses or former miner houses were perfect for medium and large families. Most old houses have been altered over the years and therefore there is characteristic display of many architectural periods.

The road infrastructure is massive and well developed. Even a countryside road has a tarmac and on the road side are well labelled road signs. The good road infrastructure is as a result of the EU investing massively into the road and factory in all EU countries. My colleague Tom revealed that the EU has invested in the road infrastructure to attract investors into Wales which is less developed compared to England.

William, the tour guide at the Big Pit Mine explained that at the end of the 19th Century, Wales was one of the most important coal producing countries in the world. There were close to 600 collieries. He said at least 1 in 10 people were employed in the coal industry and largely many were dependent on it for a living.

Due to changes in industry on the world stage, by the end of the 20th century only one deep mine remained in Wales. Over a period of two centuries most collieries have closed except for Big Pit at Blaenavon.

In its heydays, Big Pit Deep Coal Mine employed 1300 people and produced over a quarter of a million tons of coal per year. Due to its significance in coal production then it has been preserved as a mining museum. Looking at the site and the buildings one would think coal mining is still taking place as the infrastructure is well preserved and buildings look modern.

William said the type of coal mined at Big Pit was coking coal. Due to its steam raising properties it was also put into the category of steam coal, for which Wales was famous. The steam coal had low percentage of sulphur and left little ash. Apart from coal there were deposits of iron and copper. Geologically coal seams were easier to mine. Limestone in smelting an ingredient was also available in the area. This with high rainfall to provide water power, clay and other requirements for iron making meant that the area was ideal for ironworks to be created.

Many mines were later opened to meet the demand for coal in the newly opened iron works. Three furnaces were constructed and in 1789 the first iron was produced. The Iron works at Blaenavon were the first multi-furnace works in Wales.

Big Pit sunk just before 1860 is an amalgamation of Forge level, Forge and the Coity Pits. The last coal face stopped work in 1979 and the colliery closed in 1980 due to the depletion of workable reserves.

Map Of Big PIT Mine

Coal seams that came close to the surface could be dug, straight from the ground. The method was called ‘patching’. It was cheap compared to underground mining. Later ‘drift’ mines were driven into hillsides to reach the coal or shallow shafts were sunk. Due to increased demand for coal as a result of the industrial revolution, extraction methods became increasing complex.

By 19th century mining of coal at Big Pit was by the pillar and stall system. The coal in this system was hewed out and filled into drams by the collier and his assistant while pillars of solid coal were left to support the roof. Later the Long Wall system was used whereby coal was extracted from a long continuous coal fire worked forward to remove all the coal in one operation. The coal was worked as follows:
1. Collier undercut the coal seam to make it loose
2. Coal was brought down manually or by explosives.
3. The coal was then loaded into wheeled drums using a curling box.

The collier and his assistant then supported the roof with timber. They also extended the railway system and repaired the access way to the work place.

Colliers were paid different rates for different types of work done. As is usually the case in many mines colliers were paid very little. Colliers dug coal using hand tools.

The mine was ventilated by the fan house. The ventilation system availed oxygen in the mine also removed unwanted gases, dust and fumes and provided a cooler and dryer environment for miners to work in. The furnaces warmed the stale air, which then rose up these shafts to be replaced by fresh air drawn down the shaft that we also descended on the visit. The fan house was manned twenty four hours a day. The Big Pit fan House also accommodated a telephone exchange for the mine.
Picture of Fan House

Among the important workers William talked about was the shots man. He was responsible for charging up the shot holes drilled by workmen, testing for gas and generally ensuring that the explosives were used safely. There were also blacksmiths who made drums, rail junctions, pipes, pick, shovel spanners, hammers and horse shoes. Horses were also part of the workforce on the surface and underground. The stables for the horses underground are still there today and we visited them on the tour. A man who worked with horse-drawn transport underground was called a haulier. One disturbing thing I learnt about was the use of young children as workers on the mine and worse still underground including women. This group of workers provided most mine haulage. These children mostly were aged between five and eleven years old. They worked as door boys and girls or trappers. They opened and closed ventilation doors underground to allow men and coal pass through. These children worked up to fourteen hours a day-often in complete darkness. Children who were older say, 14-17 years old often worked as hammers, moving the drams or sledges of coal to the main roadways that lead out of the mine.

Quote from Susan Reece, aged 6, Plymouth mines, “I have been below six or eight months and I don’t like it much. I come here at six in the morning and leave at six at night. When my lamp goes out, or I am hungry, I run home”. Source (National Museum, Wales, 2005, P33).

Quote from Benjamin Thomas, aged 8 Broadmoor Colliery, Pembrokeshire: “The work is very hard and I am running all day. My father is dead and my mother works in the colliery with my sister and three brothers. None of the boys in this pit wear shoes”. (National Museum, Wales, 2005, P32).

To me this is sheer child abuse of the worst kind. Whatever the reason for use of children and women in the mines it was grossly unfair and shockingly they were subjected to harsh conditions and hardships. As if not enough women had to attend to house chores and childcare after working long hours in the mines.

To some women being a collier’s wife meant experiencing worst fears of possibly a husband, son or daughter being brought home injured or dead. The general health condition or otherwise in the mines were very dangerous for both men and women including children. For women pregnancy and child-birth and general poor living conditions as well as heavy domestic labour were a huge burden.

On the positive, the coal mines provided employment to a large number of people in the surrounding villages and from afar. Mining of coal attracted light mining industries where women began to work after the 1940s. Hypothetically, this had a toll on the general life expectancy on the population of the mining communities of the valley.
Picture from church grave yard showing age variations since 1800s

Social benefits like construction of hospital at Blaenavon, houses for miners, roads etc. There was also recreation facilities were miners would meet for social interaction. Men would intermix and help each other out. There was a sense of comradeship and miners would go to rugby matches and concerts together. There were shops all around.

Interestingly, I found in William similarities with what I have known to be one of the major aspects of a miner’s life. He liked talking just like our Zambian miners. More so, he had such an appreciable amount of humour. He seemed very proud of his achievements as a former miner.

I wanted to know what the future has for Blaenavon; all he said ‘was there is no hope here. It is even better to go away’. At this point he handed us over to another guide who explained how bad the employment situation is in the area and other social consequences. Many teenagers do not want to work and only want to drink beer and hang out. He says some teenagers want to move away to other places like England and do not even wish to work in a coal mine. The closure of the mines has had a serious impact on the area as a whole.

Coal mining led to pollution and degradation of streams and ground water. Hillside vegetation was cleared and wildlife runaway. Mine waste dumping, oil spills, scarring and disruption of the land surface was visible around Big Pit. There were problems of ill-health due to respiratory diseases as a result of air pollution.

The legacy of those harsh industrial years remains even though the buildings have long since crumbled and the scenery is now softened by greenery in some parts.

The tour to Big Pit Coal Mine Museum echoes the parallels that are there with Mines in Chingola. The effects of mining on the environment are vivid in both community and this brought challenges to coal miners and copper miners are facing the same fate. The closure of the mines in Zambia definitely will bring about challenges among residents as employment will not be readily available. The signs of social breakdown are everywhere in Chingola as infrastructure like roads have become seriously pot-holed. Recreation facilities are no longer a centre of attraction for miners. The reason is the detachment from provisions of such facilities by the owners of the mine who only have interest in making profits. The pertinent questions to ask are: what are the prospects for the future generation in the mining industry, what will be the main economic activities, what about infrastructure development like roads, housing, and factories?

Is the AU or is it COMESA going to provide funds to improve infrastructure in Zambia as the EU has done in Wales? Well this to me is a very interesting question.

The pleasing thing about former mining areas in Wales is the landscaping and replanting of trees to restore vegetation that has been embarked on. Nevertheless some areas are still bare.

In Bridgend


After the long tour to the Big Pit we travelled back to Bridgend and had our lunch on the way. We later proceeded to the beach. Unfortunately the temperatures were too low for me and could not dare jump into the sea water for a swim or surfing. The view of the sea was spectacular with the water slowly washing the edges of the beach. There were many people who included Tom’s family .Oh yes we met a lovely couple in Kevin and Emma Price. They welcomed me so warmly and I had an insight of the hospitality of Welsh people. Kevin is an Engineer with the council and Emma is a geography teacher at Pencoed Comprehensive School.
The beach is utilised for social gatherings like picnics and parties. Sadly merry-makers throw food remnants, paper ,plastics and other solid waste without regard about the dangers of such to the environment.
The day ended just around 18;00 hours when we went home and I was treated to well proper Welsh Traditional Sunday roast dinner. The food was sumptuous and I must confess Ree is a good cook.


6 Responses to “Day 2-22nd April,2007”

  1. Joseph Mphasi Says:

    Hi Tione and Tom,

    To be honest with you guys am very excited to have discovered this site and the links between Zambia’s Kabundi High School and Wales’s Pencoed. May I congratulate both of you, together with your supportive School Heads.

    The site provides yet another source of media to learn of what is happening in the less developed countries, developing and developed world. It aslo creates an interactive opportnity for the have and have-nots to share ideas and work towards a unified global enviroment, social and economic unit.

    I am a former Kabundi pupil…did my junior school there and happen to have been in the same intake with Tione at some stage. There is much more I can learn from this site and possibly contribute. I am currently resident in England and will be glad to recieve direct to my mail of any useful developements and build up of this exchange connection between the two schools and hopefully respective towns/cities.

    I have also enjoyed much on the KCM talk, especially having worked for the mines for over ten years and with some knowledge on the operations, corporate and social responsibilty as well as the economic objective of now KCM.

    To Tione Phiri, may I once more congratulate you for the great job and pride you doing for the school and Chingola Community. Further appreciation goes to Mr Simbeye the HeadTeacher, interestingly one my former primary school teacher. And more importantly many thanks to Tom, Beichriek, staff and pupils of Pencoed and the welsh community for the great and rich cultivation of global social, cultural, economic and environmental intergration. DON’T GIVE UP GUYS…GO FOR IT.

    Thank you.

    Joseph Mphasi
    Former Kabundi School Pupil..Grade 8-9(1983-84)

  2. Tione Phiri Says:

    Hi Joseph,

    It is great to hear from you after such a long time.We are greatly humbled with your powerful remarks. We are encouraged.There is a lot that we would like you to do for your former school and particularly this school partenrship. I will be writing to you through your email and explain certain issues pertaining to the school partnership.Happy new year!!

  3. Chikalema Tembo Says:

    Hi mr phiri my name is chikalema tembo i was a pupil at kabundi high school, i compleed in 2004 but now am in australia. your young brother used to be my mathematics teacher when i was in grade ten i think we were the last class he taught before he left kabundi, he knows me very well thats if he can still remember me say hi to him and if u get my email address will you please pass it on to him and tell him to get in contact coz i would love to hear from him.

  4. Tione Says:


    It is great to hear from you.Iam sure my Bro still remembers you.He is right now in Maamba at a High School there.I will pass on to him your email address. Any thoughts on this school partnership project Kabundi has with Pencoed Comprehensive School?

  5. Chikalema Tembo Says:

    I really think its a good idea and it will greatly promote kabundi high school and chingola as a whole.At least i get to see pictures of my former teachers and some parts of chingola.i hope in the near future their will be more to this but keep it up its a job well done. I would really like to thank you and pencoed for making it a possibility to share information about our school worldwide.My young brother is still at Kabundi and his only in grade ten.Thanks for repling have a nice day.

  6. Maureen Says:

    That is some inspirational stuff… Never know that opinions could be this varied. Thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer such helpful information here. My blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: