The Big Pit – Pwll Mawr


Headstocks and pithead buildings at the Big Pit, Blaeavon

One of my greatest joys is to visit a museum – ANY museum – not just for the objects being conserved and displayed, but for the way in which they are presented to visitors and the educational aims being fulfilled. In other words, when I visit a museum, I automatically see it through the eyes of a long-time museum professional, and this can colour my reactions to the site/collection.

The Big Pit (Pwll Mawr) at Blaeafon (‘the head of the river’) in Gwent, South Wales is the National Coal Museum of Wales (Amgueddfa Lafaol Cymru).  The headstocks which you can see, along with the winding engine in the winding house, and the colliery buildings are a stark reminder of the price paid for coal – in the blood of miners. This pit closed in 1980, and is now a ‘living museum’ in that you can actually descend 300ft into the mine to view the former workings, in the company of an experienced miner/guide. It is an experience which is nothing short of breath-taking; I was incredibly moved, not just as a museum professional, but as the son of a coal miner, and as someone who lost a relative in one of the last colliery disasters in the UK. The whole area has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UN, and the designation is well-merited.

If you do visit, remember to have a meal in the modern cafeteria – try the cawl, it is really delicious! (Cawl is a Welsh stew…usually with mutton or lamb, although in this case, Pwll Mawr’s cawl is made with beef)

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