Thomas Watkin Williams of Pontardawe c1950, a collier at Tareni Colliery who suffered from “the dust” (Steve Williams)

The Dust

Dust was a killer for the men who worked in the extractive industries both underground and on the surface. For many of the coalmining families, the term generally used was Silicosis, or sometimes Pneumoconiosis, but both types of illness were encountered in large volumes, and more so as coalmines became more modernised. With the introduction of coal cutting equipment such as chain cutters, pneumatic boring drills, pneumatic picks, and conveyor belts to transport coal instead of drams and horses the dust problem became much worse. Even on the surface of the mine the men were not immune to the killer dust, especially those working on the coal screens where large volumes of coal dust were thrown into the air by the action of the shaking equipment to sort out the grades of coal. When researching Tareni Colliery I interviewed former miners who had only worked at the mine for just five years, yet they said they had “the dust” and had difficulty in breathing, and I also interviewed mining families whose parents had suffered greatly with that killer disease. The stories of Tom Williams, Jackie Myers, Phillip Lewis, Iorworth Davies and George Francis are a salutary reminder of the price paid to heat our homes in those times. The photo is of Tom Williams, smoking to clear the dust, as many miners did then.

The stories of miners employed at Tareni Colliery and who suffered with “the dust” are instructive and take the readers back to another time of British industry when Health and Safety was not so rigorously employed as at present.

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