Underground Bible

Ceri Thompson

Mynydd Newydd Colliery was situated about three miles to the north west of Swansea. It commenced working in 1843 and was initially owned by the Swansea Coal Company. In 1844 an explosion killed five workmen and seriously injured several others.

After this explosion the workmen came together and discussed how to protect themselves from further deaths. They decided to hold prayer meetings underground before starting work. They approached the colliery management who were enthusiastic about the idea and allowed them to construct a chapel in the workings.

After they had constructed the chapel in the Five Feet Seam, they bought the first Bible which was carried underground and used in the first meeting at half past six on the morning of the 18th August 1845. After this a meeting was held every Monday morning.

By 1859 a new Bible was purchased as the original was by now falling apart due to the dampness of the workings. The new Bible was kept in a box in the engine room near the chapel to help keep it in better condition. However, on one occasion, the ‘preacher’ got over excited and banged his fist down on the Bible and broke the binding scattering the pages over the floor of the chapel. A new Bible was presented by a visiting Scottish medical man, Dr McRitchie, in 1899. In the same year a Journalist from the Sunday magazine visited the colliery and described the underground chapel:

"The coal has been worked out of the seam to the left (of the roadway) till a chamber about 16 yards long by 6 yards wide has been formed. The walls are formed, in parts, of small rough pine logs, through which the splendid thick coal seam out crops to the view, here and there. The roof is somewhat menacingly close overhead, but it is of hard, smooth clift and has been whitened with lime, so it looks like an artificial ceiling. As you enter you observe that the chapel is timbered with pit props on either side, and furnished with rude plank seats placed at equidistance between the props."

There was room for a congregation of around a hundred and a high wooden desk formed a pulpit. The colliery was deemed to be ‘gas free’ and lighted candles were arranged around the chapel for illumination.

In 2019 the last Bible used in the underground chapel was donated to Big Pit. This Bible was purchased in 1904 and contains the following inscription:

‘To the prayer meeting service held in the Five Foot (seam) at Mynydd Newydd Colliery every Monday morning when the works is working. This work commenced on 28th November 1904. Dated August 9th 1915.’

In 1924, after the colliery changed owners and closed down for a short while, a Prayer Meeting Festival was held. A programme for the event was printed with the title:

‘A list of Hymns for the Preaching Festival Service Mynydd Newydd Colliery To celebrate 80 years of Prayer Meetings Underground.’

It would be interesting to find out if any of these programmes still exist.

In 1929 the Radio Times carried an article on the underground chapel and an underground service was broadcast by the BBC on Sunday October 13th.

Mynydd Newydd Colliery closed temporarily in 1932 but re-opened by the Mynydd Newydd Colliery Company in 1935 when it employed 76 men. The colliery was finally closed by the National Coal Board in 1955.

The donor’s grandfather, worked in the colliery and when it was closing he went down to the chapel to look for the Bible. There had also been a hymn book but only the Bible was still there which he brought out of the pit. His son, John Moelwyn Thomas who worked in Garn Goch Colliery, inherited the old Bible and took it around Miners’ Galas and other events.

This important piece of Welsh social and industrial history was donated to Big Pit by the Thomas family in 2019. This particular Bible is the 1904 one, and the last one to be used in Mynydd Newydd. Strangely enough, a different Bible was pictured in the National Museum’s publication ‘Welsh Coal Mines’ (now out of print) and captioned as the Bible used underground. However, that particular Bible is not the same as the one the Museum now holds so may have been an earlier one. If that is the case, there must be another Mynydd Newydd Bible still in private hands.

Comments (5)

21 November 2020, 12:54
Fascinating Ceri ,our heritage should never be forgotten Diolch x
Wayne Wright Evans
2 July 2020, 10:33
What a fascinating article - Its so heart warming to know that Gods word was taken underground and fellowship shared by the miners - Its objects like this that need saving as their value is priceless
Chris Franks
7 April 2020, 10:52
Great article. Such history must not be forgotten. Diolch.
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
5 December 2019, 16:03

Dear Andrew

Thanks for getting in touch. It would be interesting to see when he preached as we have a few newspaper articles etc.which mention ministers visiting the underground chapel (the normal Monday services were usually led by the miners in turn rather than getting a minister in.)

Best wishes


Andrew D Bird
3 December 2019, 17:58
Dear Ceri,

Came across this quiet by chance, as I search for work. My Bampi Bert Hawkins was a baptist minister at the chapel in Robert Street Ynysbwl opposite their shop/home in Robert Street. My mother Belinda (nee Hawkins) was born in 1931 and used to walk/cycle/bus with her tad to various chapels the breath of the valleys and beyond prior to them moving to London in 1945. One of the stories told when I was a child in the 1960s and repeated in my teenage years was of Bampi preaching under ground near Swansea, once with my mother waiting on the surface.

I've his 1966 Bible however, my cousin has his Ynysbwl Bible; on the inside cover, back cover and fly leafs in pencil are place names of whereabouts he preached. I'll get her to have a look.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Kind regards

Andrew D. Bird

SA73 3TP

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