History explorer: Britain’s coal industry

Dr Ben Curtis and Charlotte Hodgman visit the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenafon, where miners risked their lives working in an industry that defined south Wales for decades

The famous Big Pit Mining Museum in South Wales

This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Sitting on the north-eastern edge of the south Wales coalfield – an area of about 1,000 square miles, stretching from Pontypool in Torfaen, to St Brides Bay in Pembrokeshire – the huge, red winding tower of Big Pit is an impressive and unmissable sight for visitors as they pull into the museum car park. Once the heart of mining operations at the site, its powerful engine still winds people up and down the 90-metre mineshaft, although these days the only passengers are visitors who have chosen to embark on a 50-minute guided tour of the former mine. The shrieks and groans of the winder – introduced in 1952 as a replacement for the steam-powered original – echo constantly across the site.

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