UK: Historic Winding Gear is Restored at Welsh Colliery Museum After Being Left to Rust
By John Cooper
March 12, 2020 - In the UK, the first stage of returning historic machinery from the Welsh mining industry to its well-known home has begun.
Cefn Coed Colliery Museum is on the site of a mine that first raised coal in 1930.
The museum, in Crynant, opened in 1978 and began to show signs of neglect over the last few years after its funding was cut by Neath Port Talbot Council , who were looking to make millions of pounds worth of savings.
The winding engine is a listed monument
Image: Adrian White
The dismantled headgear at Cefn Coed Colliery Museum before it was restored
Welsh Government owns the land but the council leases the buildings and car park on a 100-year lease which started in the 1980s.
In 2016, the 1927 Worsley Mesnes Horizontal Duplex Cylinder Steam Winding engine was dismantled over safety concerns and left "in half and rusty." It was taken away for restoration three years ago.
The museum also boasts the only gas-powered passenger tramcar in the world in its collection.
The state of the winding gear, which is one of the biggest machines of its kind in Britain, caused frustration for volunteers, visitors and local councillors who become involved with the future of the museum and said progress was "frustratingly slow".
The Cefn Coed Colliery
More than 5,500 men worked in the collieries in the Dulais Valley of which Cefn Coed was one.
It took two and a half minutes to travel to the bottom of the pit in the cage, and the same to come back up again.
During the 1930s more than 140 pit ponies worked at Cefn Coed – they spent 50 weeks of the year underground, only being brought to the surface during the two weeks of the miners’ holidays every August.
During the 1950s and ’60s, touring rugby teams were brought to Cefn Coed to be shown a Welsh coal mine before the international match at Cardiff Arms Park – it is said that when they were lowered into the shaft the winding man would deliberately leave the ‘slow banker’ off and allow the cage to drop like a stone before applying the brake at the last moment.
Cefn Coed was one of the most dangerous coal mines in Wales where many men lost their lives in dangerous working conditions gaining the colliery the nickname of ‘The Slaughterhouse’.
The Amalgamated Anthracite Company started work at the colliery in 1926.
By the time coal was first raised in 1930 it was the deepest anthracite mine in the world, at over 2,500ft.
Speaking in 2019, Crynant ward councillor, Sian Harris, said: "The winding gear is in half and rusty, it doesn’t help make it look open.
"People ask us what we are doing about putting them back up – we are trying.
"We need the winding gear up so we can crack on with plans for the museum’s future."
Finally, work has begun to restore the headframes and return the winding gear to its former glory after the first parts of the huge machinery were lifted back into place on Wednesday, February 11.
The operation to join the first section of the headframe to the base was underway on Wednesday, after a large crane was seen at the site lifting a part of the frame into place.
Site Supervisor, James Priday said: "It'll be fully welded by the end of play today. By the end of the summer hopefully we'll get the top section back on and then hopefully one day the wheels will be turning again, fingers crossed."
A viewing area was set up so that members of the public could watch but any onlookers were warned on the museum's social media pages that it could be a "slow process," depending on the weather.