Hook Miners Trust
Hook owes its very existence; its international reputation and acclaimed Royal patronage to the mining of top quality anthracite.
It is difficult to establish precisely when coal was first mined in Hook, there are references as far back as the 13th century but in the late 1500’s historian George Owen, Lord of Kemaes, wrote,” The men of Hook used to sink shallow shafts, four to six yards deep near the outcrop of the seams and the women used to haul the coal up in baskets by means of a windlass (known locally as a druke and beam). The women used to market the coal, at so much a sack, transportation being by donkey.
The men and women and even children as young as six or seven worked and, indeed, lived in indescribable conditions …..it is recorded that six year olds often helped their fathers underground and one was appointed to keep the rats off the miners food.!
Landowners became incredibly rich and miners risked life and limb for between three pence and four pence a day…………….breaking point came in 1795 when Hook miners took the law into their own hands and rioted in Haverfordwest.
Armed with cudgels the miners and their wives planned to seize corn from the county town corn market and butter from a sloop tied up at the Quay and bound for Bristol. The Riot Act was formally declared and armed militia men confronted the miners who eventually returned to Hook.
Miners lived in cottages made of clom, a Nordic word for dirt. The building would start with a low foundation of stone and then layers of mud, clay and straw. The walls were rarely over five foot high and regularly three to four feet thick with thatched roofs.
By modern day standards it is difficult to comprehend the hardships endured by these early inhabitants of Hook. Families were so poor that children were sent to work in the pits barefoot. Children’s feet were wrapped in what locals called “brattish” ……..a mixture of sacking or canvas. Because of the lack of footwear the lad’s feet were often cut by razor sharp pieces of anthracite and to remove these pieces from their feet, their parents would drop hot wax from tallow candles on to skin to help remove the fragments.
Even in the late 1890’s things were no better and a letter from a Hook miner in the Western Telegraph complained that the average wage in the colliery was 14shillings and 6 pence a week. That is about 72p in modern currency.
He wrote, “How can it be expected that a man, his wife and a family, often seven, eight and even nine children can obtain even the bare necessities of life, to say nothing of firing, clothing etc. on this pittance? This, however, is not the worst because we are informed by papers posted up that a further reduction of 10% will shortly be made.”
In the mining valleys of Wales each collier received a quota of free coal each year but in Hook the owners handed out culm which was little more than coal dust which had to be mixed with clay and , by hand, shaped into a burnable size.
40,000 tons a year at peak production
It was at this time that an ariel ropeway was constructed to speed up the delivery of the coal to Hook Quay where barges or small coal boats were waiting to be loaded. The barges would be taken on the tide to the deep water pool at Llangwm were it was reloaded in ships capable of carrying up to 5,000 tons of coal. Coal for Haverfordwest would go by barge which would be towed behind a two man row boat. The transportation of coal by sea ended in 1936 apart from the obvious cost of double handling a £40,000 rail link was opened in 1929 which meant that the vast majority of coal mined at Hook was destined for the London market.
The river was also used for bringing timber to the colliery. All timber, including that used for pit props came largely from the Slebech Estate. After rough cutting the timber would be taken to the river and chained together to form an enormous raft. Two men in a rowing boat would then tow the raft on the tide to Hook where it would be dismantled and transported to the colliery.
At its peak the colliery employed over 250 men and was producing 40,000 tons of anthracite each year. As far back as 1785 it was recorded that there were 78 underground workers employed at Hook colliery. The quality of the coal was such that it was exported literally all over the world even as far afield as Singapore , the West Indies and St Helena. It has been recorded that Queen Victoria held the virtually smokeless Hook anthracite in such high regard that she would use little else in the royal palaces.
Sadly production levels gradually fell and the colliery was plagued with the constant threat of flooding and one year after nationalisation the colliery finally closed in 1948…………..and today there is virtually no trace of an industry that gave the riverside village of Hook a worldwide reputation.
Over 60 years after the last coal was mined in Hook a memorial garden was formally opened to commemorate the villages link with its industrial past and the debt owed to generation upon generation of men, women and even children who toiled underground in pursuit of the black diamonds.
The slate plaque in the Miners Memorial Garden reads:
Anthracite was mined in Hook for over 600 years . In far off days women and even children as young as six laboured in appalling conditions in order to earn enough to survive. The black diamonds they dug were exported all over the world and, it is said, Queen Victoria would have no other coal than Hook Anthracite. On this spot stood the miners’ village institute for generations the hub of village life. Miners paid for that hall and the village playing field by contributing a penny a week from their meagre wages. At its peak the colliery produced 40,00 tons of anthracite a year and employed over 250 men. A year after nationalisation in 1947 the mine closed as finally the battle with flood waters was lost. The playing field, the garden and the social club are all part of the valuable legacy of those brave workers who toiled deep underground at Hook colliery. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Written by Richard Howells of Hook History Society