Tower Colliery closed on 25 January 2008, bringing to an end the era of deep mining in Wales. Although coal mining at Hirwaun common, on the northern outcrop of the South Wales coalfield, dates back to around 1800, the first drift mine at Tower was opened by the Marquis of Bute in about 1870. The main complex of surface buildings lie at the No.4 shaft, developed in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Company, which was the largest coal combine in South Wales at the time. The colliery was nationalised under the National Coal Board in 1947 and was further expanded in the 1950s with new surface buildings, including the pit-head baths, and a linkage underground to mines in the Rhondda Valley. The engine hall and headframe at the No.4 shaft date from the 1930s; the lattice girder headframe is typical of the those used from the 1860s to the 1930s, but which now survive at only four sites in Wales. The engine hall is characteristic of the common engine halls developed by Powell Duffryn from 1906 onwards, but on an unusually small scale. It incorporates a winding engine, compressor engines, electrical switch-gear and a Sirocco ventilating fan. A coal processing and washery plant (nprn 407328) lies down the hill at a new drift (nprn 91587) dug during the 1950s. The No.4 shaft, some 161 metres deep and about 5m in diameter, was used for access by men and materials, while coal was brought up via the drift.
Tower became famous in the 1990s as the last deep mine in Wales. It is the only one which survived the massive closure programme during privatisation, thanks to a unique workers' buyout in 1994, led by the charismatic Tyrone O’Sullivan. The fact that the pit produces high-quality anthracite rather than bituminous coal has been crucial in allowing it to find continuing markets. As a successful worker-controlled enterprise, it is widely considered a triumph for the modern labour movement.
Geological problems led to the final closure of the pit; although a huge amount of coal remains under the site, it is not easily accessible using the existing set-up. No firm decisions have yet been made, but if production is to continue, the coal will have to be extracted by other means.
Royal Commission staff visited the colliery in the week before closure to carry out photographic recording of this historic site. This record will complement the photographs taken underground in the 1980s by John Cornwell and now held in the NMRW as part of the John Cornwell collection. The new images capture the surface buildings, including interior details of the baths and power hall and will shortly be available through Coflein.
Brian Malaws, RCAHMW, 1 February 2008.