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An Explosive Combination: Coal Mining in North Wales

Coal has shaped the history of north-east Wales.

Coal is a valuable resource. As early as the fourteenth century, the Burgesses of Holt jealously guarded their right to dig for coal in the 'wastes' of Brymbo and Coedpoeth. In 1536 John Leland, the travel writer, records the existence of coalmining around Mold and at a place called 'The Mines', modern-day Minera.

During the 17th century, demand for coal grew as more houses had chimneys. In Flintshire, Piers Mostyn and Sir Thomas Mostyn went to court to decide who had the rights to the colliery at Y Morfa. In Denbighshire, Sir Thomas Myddelton employed a man 'that is goode to find coales' on his estate at Chirk. By 1690 the coal mine at Black Park on the Chirk estate was producing 3,500 wagons of coal a year.

Coal mining expanded in the 18th century. Established industries such as Bersham ironworks started to use coal. In Flintshire, lead smelters were established along the coast, near the coal mines, as it was easier to take the lead ore downhill than haul the coal uphill to the lead mines.

Coal also opened up new opportunities. In both counties, the fireclay found alongside the coal was put to profitable use: pottery in Buckley and bricks, tiles and terracotta in Ruabon and Acrefair.

In the 19th century, the railways heralded coal's golden age: coal to make the iron rails, and to power the steam locomotives. However, the profits came at a high price.


Denbighshire Record Office, Flintshire Record Office, Science & Society Picture Library, Mary Evans Picture Library, Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, Wrexham Archives, Knew Productions, Tony Hall, Edward McKay, Nigel Chadwick, Alan Jefferies, Glyn Cooper, Elfed Owens, Lawrence Pritchard, Peter Appleton, Bark Design, Through Design and Wall Signs.

Use the arrows or thumbnails to navigate through the image gallery. If you want to view more information on the image click the "i" in the top left corner.

Coal Mining Collections, Wrexham Heritage Service (held at Wrexham County Borough Museum and Bersham Heritage Centre) Heavy duty mining lamps (Ber 657.1) Presentation miner's lamp, June 1975 (Courtesy of Ted McKay) Davy Lamp (Courtesy of Ted McKay) Explosives box (Ber 302.62.1) Explosives container (Ber 302.62.3) Satchel for explosive charges Miners' protective kneepads (Ber 319.1/574.7) Mine rescue man's helmet, from Mines Rescue Station, Maesgwyn Road, Wrexham (Ber 363.5-6) Savox Breathing apparatus, used by mines rescue teams (Ber 307.8) Savox Breathing apparatus, used by mines rescue teams (Ber 307.8) Miner's clogs, worn by miner at Hafod Colliery and, later, at Gresford Colliery Snappin' tin, used to hold miner's packed lunch (Ber 318.1) Miner's donkey jacket (front, Ber 302.25) Miner's donkey jacket (back, Ber 302.25) Warning sign, from Bersham Colliery (Ber 333.18) Warning sign, from Bersham Colliery (Ber 333.19) Shaft signals information sign, from Bersham Colliery (Ber 402.69) Canteen sign, from Bersham Colliery Production board, from Underground Manager's office, Bersham Colliery (Ber 356.9) Collier's shovel (Ber 302.3.1) Lamp tallies from Gresford Colliery (Courtesy of Derrick Jones) Lamp tallies from local collieries and union fob badge (Ber 650, 455, 447, 400 & 427) Pithead bath tokens, used at Gresford Colliery, c. 1940–47 (Ber 650) Methanometer, for detecting dangerous levels of the explosive gas, methane (Ber 488) Air sampler, part of equipment for taking air samples underground Emergency self-rescuer breathing kit, training model (Ber 311.8-10) First aid snappin tin, for use underground (Ber 650.3) Miner's pay slip, Hafod Colliery, March 1958 (Ber 440.1-2) Miner's pay slip, showing deductions, Bersham Colliery, August 1966 (Ber 505) North Wales Miners Association banner, displayed as part of the temporary exhibition An Explosive Combination: Coal Mining in North Wales.