King Coal, Aberdare and the Devil


For a while, back in the early 1970's I lived in Aberdare. Aberdare is (or was) a Welsh mining town. My father and mother both were born there, early in the 20th century. My father,  like his father before him, and many of my mother's relatives, worked in coal mining.

But like so many poor Welsh folk in the pre-war years, they yearned to move away from the poverty and grime. Finally they succeeded. They only returned in their latter years.

Like so many Welsh parents they vigorously ensured that none of their children had anything to do with mining coal.

When I was in Aberdare in the early 70's the mines had mostly closed. The only evidence of a massive mining industry were a decreasing number of slag heaps and a Furnacite plant.

Even then in the 1970's regulation was lax. The prevailing wind regularly blew the filth from the Furnacite plant on to the hillside opposite. That hillside was a wasteland. It only recovered when the plant closed in the 80's.

As for the slag heaps, they had, for over a 100 years, been piled ever higher with no regard to safety or health. Things changed in 1966 when in nearby Aberfan a slagheap collapsed onto a school killing nearly 150 people, most of them children.

Today Coal Free Aberdare is a far better place than it was in the 1970's let alone in the 1930's or earlier. Slag heaps are a thing of the past and the river runs clean. But only after an enormous amount of clean up.

So what?

We all know early-mid 20th century coal was a dirty disease ridden energy source. How does that relate to today?

Today, even in the West, coal mining still has a significant casualty list associated with it. It may well be smaller than in the past, but it is still horrendously long.

As for China and the Third World, conditions are often as barbaric as 1920's Aberdare.

At this point I could expound on alternatives to coal. On how bad wind is, and how nuclear is the only solution.

But this post is not about nuclear or wind.

It is about King Coal.

Aberdare.

and The Devil.

One dark and stormy night in 1972 I was in a pub called the General Picton in Aberaman on the outskirts of Aberdare. In those days this was a "Men Only" pub and this was firmly stated on the public bar door.

The beer was advertised as Brains Brilliant Ales. Actually Draught Pale Ale as I remember. The slogan on the advert was accurate. I had a few. It tasted very, very good.

For part of the night I talked to an old retired miner. We talked politics, nationality, sport and finally discussed the effect the coal industry had had on the local area.

After a while he told me the tale of the Penitent Coal Baron:

A local Edwardian Coal Baron was rapidly approaching the end of his life. Everywhere he looked he could see the fruit of his exploitation.

The dirt and grime.

The misery and poverty.

He became increasingly alarmed at the prospect of Eternal Damnation.

So in the last months of his life he desperately set about good works.

At the same time he frantically worked on the epitaph he wanted put on his tomb stone. He tried all sorts and shades of biblical text. But they all came out sounding pompous and self serving.

The Lord would surely have none of that.

The Devil Beckoned.

Finally as his life slipped away, almost with his last gasp, he hit on a real devil stopping quotation to put on his tomb stone.

From what I was told, somewhere in Aberdare cemetery there is a large Victorian/Edwardian tomb belonging to the Penitent Coal Baron.

His tombstone epitaph is simple and really should be read by every rapist of the countryside. Every person who thinks trampling over local people to get their way is acceptable. Everyone who thinks it acceptable to sacrifice someone else's environment so they can make a "statement" or a quick profit.

The epitaph on which the Coal Baron had spent so much time agonising over has just three words.

God Forgive Me.


p.s. Although drinking related, this is actually a true story (though soaked in age and alcohol) If you know who this Aberdare Coal Baron was, I would love to know.

4 comments:

John said...

A beautiful story to go with my beer.

BilloTheWisp said...

Thanks John

JAA said...

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/aberdare/2010/12/16/what-are-the-valleys-top-treasures-91466-27834961/

...Vaynor old and new churches, near Merthyr: Includes iron-master Robert Thompson Crawshay’s grave with the famous inscription God Forgive Me

BilloTheWisp said...

Thanks JAA.
As a personal penitence for my errors I'll explain myself in the next post