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The new, hot off the press, book is scheduled for publication in about two weeks time, in mid October this year. It covers a huge amount on the industries of the Swansea Valley between c1819 up to the mid 1950’s, and principally the coal industry of the Swansea Valley north of Clydach.

One chapter is dedicated to the Mond nickel industry at Clydach, but also mentions the Vivians nickel enterprises in the late 19th century at the Hafod. The chapter on the Mond describes in detail why anthracite coal was so important to the nickel refining processes and why the Mond came to Clydach.

The Swansea Canal is included in many instances, for example the boatyard at lock 17, the Graigola Merthyr barge fleet, carrying pit props on the canal, coal carrying on the canal, the canal drawbridge at Gnoll Road, the tolls paid for transport along the canal, the canal terminus and wharfs at Swansea in 1852, and the history of the Ynysgeinon Colliery and its use of the Swansea Canal between 1819 and 1860. Of great importance historically are the tramroads and railways, and their inclines and technology that linked the Primrose Collieries, the Cwm-nant-Llwyd Collieries, the Waun-Coed Collieries to the Swansea Canal. Much of that historically important infrastructure still survives at Alltwen, Rhos, Gellinudd, and in the canal itself. This book tells the story of how that tramroad incline technology was designed by William Brunton in the early 19th century, a pioneering engineer, yet so unknown to many historians in this valley today. This book will put that right, and help to “sell” the Swansea Canal historically.


More details below and on the blog;




Tareni Colliery 1902-1949


This book is the story of a deep coalmine in Cwmtawe; the Swansea Valley, one of forty-six coalmines that were recorded as working in this valley in the period just prior to the First World War. Tareni Colliery worked at depths of up to 1000 feet below the surface in the disturbed geology underground that made mining coal difficult and dangerous in this region, and is the stories of the men and boys known as miners. That term took in the trades of colliers, miners, hauliers, timbermen, riders, engineers, winding men, blacksmiths, and many other trades employed in the coalmining industry. At its peak period of employment Tareni Colliery employed about 1000 miners, mostly underground, with nearly 200 employed on the surface in the preparation of coals for sale and transport. This is those miners’ story, put together from interviews with Tareni miners and mining families over the past five years. To mine the coals required a large amount of machinery both below and above ground and this publication describes those in detail.

This book came about quite by accident; it was not an intentional research project. An acquaintance of mine from years past loaned me the Sale Catalogue of Tareni Colliery after its bankruptcy in 1928. After having read the eleven-page catalogue, which was primarily on the equipment to be offered for sale with the colliery it immediately grabbed my interest. I had worked on conveyor systems in steelworks, on blast furnaces, on steam boilers aboard ships, in ship’s engine rooms, and in confined spaces below the cargo holds of many sea-going ships, and in pipework installation in industries and construction sites. I understood how the equipment listed worked and the terminology used in the catalogue. I was very heavily involved in the restoration of the Swansea Canal between 1981 and 2005, and carried out considerable research into the industries that formerly used the Swansea Canal for transport, including several collieries. I initially set out to write a short engineering type article for a local newsletter. All that changed as I spoke to friends whilst shopping, and many of them had members of their families who had worked at Tareni Colliery, and importantly, had a large number of documents and photographs of their family members. An added bonus to all of that was the records of the Cilybebill Estate housed at the West Glamorgan Archive Service. Those leases and agreements identified the coalfields and the problems associated with deep mining under Mynydd Marchywel, which were considerable. The intended short article became a five-year research project. However, the book was completed and is being printed and bound by Y Lolfa in Aberystwyth in October 2016.

The story of Tareni Colliery was a long one, it was owned by three different companies or industrial conglomerates over its lifespan of 47 years, commencing with the South Wales Primrose Coal Company Ltd who sank the Tareni pits, and then after bankruptcy in 1928 was owned by the Mond Nickel Company with a nickel refinery at Clydach who required top-grade anthracite coals for their nickel refining purposes. After nationalization of the coalmines of Britain in 1947 Tareni Colliery was owned by the nation. That did not save the mine from closure and the few remaining miners were given notice to quit their work in November 1948, with the mine finally closing in 1949.

Tareni Colliery is the history of 100 years of coalmining in the mountains of Mynydd Marchywel in the parish of Cilybebill and the nearby village of Rhos, and in Mynydd Alltygrug at Godre’r Graig with which the colliery was closely associated, both physically by road access and in the Company address. The Primrose Colliery at Rhos was the original founding colliery, which later became The South Wales Primrose Coal Company Ltd, who took out several new leases for coal at Waun-Coed and Cwm-nant-Llwyd before deciding to mine for coal at Tareni Gleision Farm, which became the Tareni Colliery, with two shafts named after the farm; the Tareni Shaft and the Gleison Shaft. The Gleison Shaft was the deeper of the two, and worked below the River Tawe to access the anthracite coals under Mynydd Alltygrug under lands owned by the Gough family of Ynyscedwyn Estate.

The communities that provided many of the skilled miners, many of who lost their lives in tragic accidents lived mostly on the eastern side of Cwmtawe between Clydach and Ystalyfera. This book is a tribute to the Tareni miners and their families and to the other miners who worked in the coalmines of the Swansea Valley.

It has been an honour to interview those surviving miners and the families of miners to learn what it was like to work in filthy dusty places underground where visibility was often two yards at the most, and to learn about the problems associated with the “dust”, the dreaded silicosis, pneumoconiosis and anthracosis, the miners diseases that killed and crippled thousands of miners annually. In addition to the dust problems were the added dangers of working underground in disturbed geology, with strikes, lockouts, mine closures, and, the bitterest strike of all, the 1911 Strike which saw the Metropolitan Police of London drafted into Cwmtawe to put down that strike. That was a bitter five-month battle, which saw women, men, and even children attacked by the police. Local miners leaders shone out in their eloquence and compassion during those sad times, yet, they are hardly remembered today.

Amidst all that struggle and poverty of the mining families artistic lights shone out from ordinary homes, like the man who became a champion judge of hens at national shows and who was respected by London chicken breeders attempting to improve the egg laying quality of chickens to feed the poorer families in Britain, or of “Llaethferch”, the young “milkmaid” from Godre’r Graig who sold milk from earthenware jugs on her way to school to help her parents pay for their smallholding in Cwmtawe. She loved literature and reading and went on to participate in local eisteddfods all over South Wales, and won a bardic crown, many bardic chairs, cups, and over three hundred awards for her poetry. Many miners became members of the Ystalyfera town and brass bands and were accomplished musicians. Other sons of miners became nationally respected artists.

Those and other interesting stories make Tareni Colliery a must read for everyone who had an ancestor who was a coalminer, or whose families lived in Cwmtawe between 1900 and 1960, or who have an interest of what happened in the near past history of this valley, or of the social injustices of the past, or who have an interest or love of local history.

The book is 300 pages in length, and contains 190 images of miners and miming families, mining documents and plans, photographs of the mine and its equipment, and contains eleven chapters. On Coals and geology, Tareni Colliery Above Ground, Tareni Colliery Below Ground, the Mond Years 1928-47, Transport – Rail, Road, Ropeway and Canal, Dust and Accidents, The 1923 Robberies, Strikes and other Disputes, Social Events and Recreation, The Closure of Tareni Colliery, and Godre’r Graig village.

The book is hard back and priced at £30.00, available from mid October onwards from Clive and Lynne, 01792-830782, or from and from Clive’s stall at the Waterfront Museum Local Family History Fair on 15th October 10.00am to 4.00pm, and from The Royal Institution Book Fair at Swansea on 22nd October, 10.00am to 4.00pm, and numerous outlets in Pontardawe, Rhos, Clydach, Ystradgynlais and Ystalyfera including book signings at local libraries, and at local history society meetings. PP extra for those requiring a postal copy. This book is a must read, and we are very confident that everyone who reads this book will be captivated by it. This book will be a wonderful Christmas present for many.

Give us a ‘phone call to order your copy now.

Due to forces beyond our control we have had to change the time of one of Clive’s talks on Tareni Colliery at Clydach Library.
The talk on October 31st will now be in the morning at 11am, NOT at 1pm as advertised.
Apologies if any of you have to change your plans.

 Clive Reed and Lynne Gent 2016



This is an article as sent to the Swansea History Society, requested by them for their magazine, The Chronicle, by Clive Reed.

The Swansea Canal was constructed during the period referred to in Britain as the canal mania era, and was one of the six larger canals constructed in South Wales; there were several smaller waterways in addition. The Swansea Canal was built between 1794-98, and was only sixteen and a quarter miles in length. Although only short in mileage, it is of world importance in its canal structures, its water usage and in industrial developments. The Swansea Canal was important to the development and prosperity of Swansea during its first eighty or so years, and more important to the development of urban centres in the Swansea Valley. At the southern end of the canal at Swansea, alongside the Strand, were numerous wharfs and stockyards where goods were imported and exported. The Swansea Board of Health Plan 1852 shows coal yards, iron ore yards and timber wharfs along the lower section of canal adjacent to Swansea Harbour.

Among the larger users of the canal exporting finished goods and minerals downwards to Swansea were the Ynyscedwyn Iron Works, Ystalyfera Iron works, Primrose Coal Company, Ynisgeinon Coal Company, Gwaunclawdd Coal Company, with many smaller users relying on the canal for raw materials inwards. Among those were the Ynysmeudwy Pottery, Morriston Pottery, the Rose Copper Works and William Gilbertson’s ironworks. Initially, iron ore was mined close to the Swansea Valley ironworks, but from the 1840 period onwards, richer ores were imported through Swansea Harbour. Over sixty individual companies are recorded as using the canal for transport between 1794 and 1875 owning over 450 barges between them. In the heyday of the Swansea Canal c1870 approximately 18,000 barges travelled along the canal per annum.

Non-ferrous industries such as copper, zinc, nickel smelting was concentrated in the lower Swansea Valley, whilst the heavy industries of iron and steel, tinplate and coal mining were above Morriston. All of them using the Swansea Canal for the carriage of raw materials and finished goods. Another aspect of the Swansea Canal was in supplying clean canal water for industrial processes. As an example the Hafod Copperworks purchased several million gallons of water per year.

The direct influence of those industries was the creation of towns and villages such as Clydach, Pontardawe, Ynysmeudwy, Ystalyfera, Ystradgynlais, Cwmgiedd, Abercraf and the Twrch Valley settlements. Before the Swansea Canal was constructed, the Swansea Valley was agrarian, but afterwards it became a very industrialized valley.

The Swansea Canal had 36 locks along its length to raise the canal 372 feet above sea level at Swansea to reach the coal and iron bearing regions in the mid and upper valley. The canal had to span four major rivers in addition to smaller steams, including the Lower Clydach River at Clydach, the Upper Clydach River at Pontardawe, the River Twrch at Ystalyfera, and the Giedd River north of Ystradgynlais. The largest aqueduct was, and still is, the Twrch aqueduct that carries the Swansea Canal over the river of that name, and out of Glamorganshire into Breconshire. This aqueduct is of world importance in canal structural engineering. It is the first such structure in the world to be constructed using hydraulic mortar instead of several thousand tons of puddled clay to seal the water channel which was normal practice at that time. That is very important in structural engineering which relieved the aqueduct of a great deal of weight. Many aqueducts constructed prior to the Twrch collapsed because of the weight of the structure and inadequate foundations. The locks along the Swansea Canal were also constructed using the hydraulic mortar.

An important aspect of the Swansea Canal was in terms of its water usage. There were forty-two water-powered installations recorded as directly using canal water to power machinery such as the blast for blast furnaces, grinding stones in corn mills, flint mills in potteries, electricity turbines, power for tinplate works, farm water wheels, saw mills, woollen mills, and iron forges. The Swansea Canal had more water-powered installations per mile than any other canal in Britain.

The Swansea Canal was only sixteen miles in length, yet it was connected to industries several miles from canal wharfs by horse-drawn railways, over sixty such railways with a total length of 140 miles. It was that linked transport infrastructure which enabled industry to develop in remote locations. For example, the Brecon Forrest tramroad was nineteen miles in length, from the Gurnos wharf near Ystalyfera to Sennybridge, crossing into the Dulais Valley before passing through Penwyllt and Defynog. There were ten miles of railways on the Cribarth Mountain above Craig-Nos, which brought limestone and rottenstone down to the canal wharfs at Abercraf.

Among the more important industrialists who worked in canal-side industries was David Thomas. He was born in 1794 and became furnace manager at Ynyscedwyn Ironworks in the 1830’s. In 1837 he invented the hot-blast method of smelting iron ore using anthracite coal. That invention led to the expansion of the iron works in the upper Swansea Valley with Ystalyfera Ironworks claiming to be the largest ironworks in the world by 1858 and having the largest continual line of blast furnaces in Wales; eleven of them. David Thomas was poached by iron manufacturers in Pennsylvania in 1837, and went on to become the Chairman of the American Ironmasters Association; they nicknamed him David “Papa” Thomas, the father of the American anthracite iron industry.

Such was the Swansea Canal, an important waterway, innovative architectural developments, the catalyst for urban development, and world famous for its water usage.


Clive Reed BA (hons) Dip Loc Hist



Please sign our petition to restore the towpath in the Highways Depot, Pontardawe Road, Clydach. Details of the petition are on this link :









If any of the volunteers are interested in submitting photos or work parties or other aspects of the canal we will be happy to post them on the website.


We are  a society run by volunteers who are all enthusiastic about maintaining, improving and restoring the canal. We are always looking for new volunteers to help us in a range of ways from administration, fundraising, working on the canal, to working on our Canoe Hire Project. All abilities and ages are welcome.

Mike with his bag of litterWP 22.3 (2)







Our Canoe Hire project re-opened in April and  we are grateful to have the assistance of  several very qualified volunteers to help us run it this year.  Full details are under Canoe Hire in the top drop down menu.

David rescued H&S training day.                      Walkers 18.8 (9)Cai's Trip 
If you would like to join us in any capacity, you will be given a warm welcome. Just go to the Contact Us page and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

If you feel that volunteering is not for you, then perhaps you would like to support us by becoming a member. Whatever you decide to do, please come and visit the canal and take a walk or ride along it, and enjoy its beauty and the wildlife it supports.

Thank you for looking at our website and we hope you enjoy reading our blogs, looking at our photographs and seeing what we are doing.


Martin and Paul planting williows

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