Tag Archives: South Wales Coalfield

Our Trip to the UK~Part 5

1 Jan

A Slice of Life

Bill Lites


Our Trip To The UK Part 5

By Bill Lites



Now we headed north thru Patchway, and then west, across the Severn River, into Wales.  After passing thru Chepstow and Newport, we turned north again to visit the Big Pit Coalmine Museum near Blaenavon, in South Wales.  Because DiVoran’s father had once been a miner in Colorado, when she was young, we thought a tour of a real coalmine would help us understand what he had endured back then.  This turned out to be one of the most exciting experiences that either DiVoran or I had ever had.  The South Wales Coalfield, of which the Big Pit was a part, was at the height of its production between the 1880s and 1920s.


During the Great Depression of the 1920s & 1930s, the British coal industry went into terminal decline. The reduced demand for Welsh coal, and the increased competition from abroad placed an enormous strain on the industry.  A series of pit closures in the 1970s & 1980s had additional damaging effects on many communities that had, for many generations, relied on mining.  The Big Pit, Blaenavon’s last coalmine, closed in 1980.  It was opened as a museum in the late 1990s, and has gained in popularity ever since.


It was amazing to be lowered into the mine on the same elevator, and explore the same tunnels, that had been used by miners for generations.  One of the most fascinating areas, was the horse stalls, where the horses were kept, when not in use to move the coal cars around in the mine.


The tour guide told us that the horses were only taken up to the surface once a year, and that they would run, jump and kick until they wore themselves out, just to be free of their confinement. It’s hard for me to see how they could ever get those horses back into that mine, once they had experienced a short period of freedom like that.


When we finished our tour of the Big Pit Coalmine Museum, and returned to our car, there was this guy cleaning the car windows.  When I ask why he was cleaning our windows, he said he was raising money for his men’s choir to make a trip to America the next year.  Well, I was skeptical, but DiVoran had heard of Welch men’s choirs, and wanted to know all about their choir and their trip plans.  He told us the closest they would be to us during their tour would be in Charleston, SC, and we told him we would put that date on our calendar to come to their performance.          


DiVoran told him that she had always wanted to hear a Welch men’s choir sing in concert.  After we all warmed up to each other a bit, he mentioned that their choir was rehearsing that evening, and invited us to come to the rehearsal.  We were thrilled to get the chance to hear them sing, and got directions to the church where there they would be practicing. The quaint town of Abergavenny, in Gwent, wasn’t far from the Big Pit Mine Museum, so we had time to look around some, and to still have time for a meal at the local pub, before locating the church for the rehearsal.



They called themselves “The Blaenavon Male Voice Choir”, and were known internationally. But let me tell you, these were some of the most warm-hearted men you would ever want to meet, and could they ever sing!  Even though it was only a rehearsal for them, and they had to stop and restart from time to time, it was still some of the most beautiful singing we had ever heard.   And, to think we were a private audience of only “two” for the whole performance!



Just as a note, when we got home, I told my sister Judy, and her husband Fred, who lived in Virginia at the time, about the choir tour and we planned to meet them in Charleston for the performance.  Then a week before we were to leave, I had to fly to California for an unscheduled Space Shuttle landing there, and was not able to meet them, for what they said was a marvelous performance.



—–To Be Continued—–


Happy New Year animated

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