An active coal mine from 1860 to 1980, the Big Pit National Coal Museum now acts as a learning tool to preserve the rich Welsh heritage of the Industrial Revolution.
“The Big Pit” refers to the main shaft of the mine. Dug in 1860, the oblong tunnel is 18x13 ft. and was sunk 200 ft. deep at first, and then another 100 ft. in 1880. It was the first shaft built to support two tramways, and for over 100 years, the colliery was the most critical mine in town out of hundreds. Originally used for mining ironstone, the late 19th century demand for coal overtook Wales, and Blaenavon as well as many other Welsh towns jumped on the opportunity to specialize in the staple of the industrial revolution.
Now a preserved location-turned museum, the operational attraction won the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize in 2005 and has seen over 3 million visitors. Water still flows from the tunnels as they did when the mine was functional, and has large scale industrial equipment dating back to 1810. The Big Pit railway station delivers visitors to the museum on a single track built specifically for this purpose.
Visitors taking the 50 minute underground tour are armed with hard hats, safety lamps, and a waist belt with a battery and rebreather that will filter toxic air for an hour—just in case. The tour takes you 300 ft. below the surface, Like all mines, Big Pit has had its share of disasters, and carbon monoxide poisoning is a reality of the mine no matter who is surveying its depths. Before the tour begins, visitors are briefed on safety procedures and anything on their person that can spark, including anything containing a dry cell battery.
After returning to the surface, visit the other buildings on the ground to get a feeling for how working at the colliery felt. Still standing are many buildings including the showers and sickbay of the old colliery.
Know Before You Go
Items including watches, phones and cigarette lighters will be collected and stored in lockers for the duration of the underground tour. Large bags are not allowed underground.
Entrance is free, and the underground tours take place regularly with no need to book. The last underground tour is at 3:30pm, so plan to arrive in plenty of time.
The mine contains low ceilings and the lift to the bottom can be a squeeze. Visitors with limited mobility or in wheelchairs must read the information on the website prior to arrival.