The Forgotten black miners in Welsh collieries

Example of a mine
This is Blaenavan colliery in South Wales. it is open to the public as "Big Pit" Source: Steinsky (via Wikimedia commons)

By Fflur Trevor

In approximately 200 years of Welsh Coal mining, black miners played an integral role in the industry however, their story is rarely told.

Since the start of the industrial revolution to the closure of the last coal mine in tower Colliery, Hirwaun in 2008, Welsh coal played a vital part in the UK economy and industry.


Welsh Coal

Welsh coal was black gold, rich in coal deposit, it burned for longer. Thus, it was paramount during the expansion of the British Empire and (literally) fuelled globalisation.

Because coal was in such high demand more and more workers were needed. The rise of the Welsh coal industry seemed unstoppable and by 1874, 16.5m tons were produced, with a quarter of that figure exported.


Black miners in Wales

Historian Norma Gregory, who has been researching into the topic believes that there were about 200 black miners who worked in the country since the 1800s. However, initially she was told that there were no black miners in Welsh Collieries, which highlights the invisibility the black miners faced as their experiences have not been shared.


She added, “Hopefully it will give them inspiration to ask questions and not necessarily believe everything you read or are taught at school,”


Nathan Blake documentary 

On Monday, 5 October, a documentary was aired on BBC One Wales, presented by former Wales international footballer, Nathan Blake. Like many around him Blake, was astounded by how little he knew about the history of the black miners and their contribution to South Wales’ mining pits.


Nathan Blake said, “It’s about understanding how we are in a minority; how black people have been made to accept racism as everyday life if they wanted to get on in life”


Blake discovered that his grandfather became a miner after moving to Cardiff from Africa. In his documentary he attempts to trace down black miners and talk to them about their experiences and society’s discriminatory attitude towards minorities at the time, which was dismissed as “banter” he says.

Unfortunately, Blake has experienced racism throughout his life too and said the discourse between himself and the miners was something he could empathise with and “really relate too”.


He added, “I’m a very proud Welshman – wearing red for my country I’ve shown that Wales isn’t made up of just one colour,” 


Legacy of the black miners

Unfortunately, little is known about the black miners of Wales. Moreover, the extent of racial discrimination they faced, and the actual number of black miners remains uncertain.

Arguably, Wales and coal are synonymous. We are taught that our Coal mining industry is an integral part of our national identity just like our language and culture. With many of us having generations of male ancestors working and sometimes tragically losing their lives down the pits.

However, behind this patriotic illusion lies the untold stories of black miners in Wales, which is rarely spoken about in our communities or schools. However, this narrative is changing as Wales is beginning to acknowledge and understand its history and arguably becoming more inclusive.

Nathan Blake’s documentary is available to watch on BBC IPlayer.

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