Reaching their peak between 1840 and 1939, the mines provided the industrial port cities of Cardiff and Newport and the British navy with coal from the early 19th until the Second World War, becoming at the time “one of the world’s most important coal mining regions.”
Because of the risks and accidents increasing in number and gravity, this industry came to an end in the 20th century, leaving the Rhondda Valley devoid of almost all its original beauty and natural resources.
In 1841, there were fewer than a thousand inhabitants in the Rhondda Borough, but with the discovery of coal, the population exploded and, by 1924, the valley counted nearly 170,000 residents. These financial immigrants mainly came from Wales, Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Ireland. Moreover, because the market in London was saturated, Italians settled in Rhondda Valley as well and opened their shops called “Bracchis”.
Regarding the living conditions, life in Rhondda was harsh and often short. There were lots of accidents in the collieries and many woman died while giving birth. Therefore, people had to marry again in order to take care of their families. Furthermore, the houses were rather primitive, without electricity and proper bathrooms.
Culture-wise, the Rhondda Valley’s inhabitants spoke Welsh until the 20th century, when English supplanted the traditional language. However, the area kept its strong culture and its typical interests, such as rugby and male choirs. Still performing nowadays, those choirs were born out of the Nonconformist Christian movement which was developed in the Baptist chapels.
Since July 1989, the Rhondda Heritage Park, located on the site of the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery, lets you dive into the industrial past of the valley through all sorts of activities.
At the entrance, the six-foot tall Miner’s Lamp Memorial pays tribute to those who died or suffered during the century of mining activity in the Rhondda.
In restored pithead buildings, the now 26-year-old ‘Black Gold – The Story of Coal’ exhibition will allow you to know a lot more about the miners’ life and working conditions, while the “Fan House” contributes preserving the cultural heritage of the valley and teaches you about the role of women in the community as well.
But if there is an activity that you absolutely cannot miss, it is the underground tour called “A Shift in Time” which leads you through the tunnels of the colliery. An unbelievably realistic experience in the mine workers’ shoes!
In conclusion we can consider the Rhondda Valley as an icon of anglophone culture thanks to its status as one of the most important mining regions during the Industrial Revolution, which had an impact on the Welsh culture and the demography of the area. Most importantly, we should not forget about the people who moved, worked and suffered there.
Damaris Jechil, Festina Mahmutaj, and Fiona Poncin