I visited Six Bells this afternoon near Abertillery in South Wales.
The reason I went to Six Bells was to photograph Guardian. The incredible giant sculpture of a miner which looks towards the former colliery town with outstretched arms “a Welsh answer to Antony Gormley‘s Angel of the North.”
What is the significance of the sculpture? On June 28 1960, an underground explosion killed 45 miners at the Six Bells colliery. For the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2010, the sculpture designed and created by artist Sebastien Boyesen, was unveiled on the site where the pit used to be.
This was my first visit to see Guardian. The landscaped park where he stands was quiet and I found the experience very moving. Information is displayed which tells the story of that terrible day in 1960 and the statue is engraved with the names of those that lost their lives.
Mining and Wales go hand in hand. Throughout the South Wales Coalfield reminders of the mining heritage are still clear to see. Pit head wheels act as markers as to where the mines once were. Growing up in a valleys town everyone had relatives or friends who had worked in a pit.
Everyone in Wales grows up knowing about the terrible tragedies. The Aberfan disaster in 1966, killed 144, 116 children and 28 adults. The true events of what had caused the disaster were shamefully covered up by the then government and only exposed years later. The Hillsborough of its day.
The Senghenydd disaster in 1913 near Caerphilly, killed 439 workers and one rescuer, and remains the worst mining disaster in British history.
Everyone knows about the struggles too, the miners strikes of the 1980s and the decline of the coal industry that followed.
The working pits are all gone now but some remain as educational facilities. In the UNESCO world heritage town of Blaenavon, is the Big Pit National Coal museum. Here you can tour the mine, going underground just like the miners did. You can see how cramped the mining conditions were, feel the heat of working underground, and see the underground stables where the pit ponies were kept. You can even turn your hat light off and experience the dark like you’ve never experienced it before. To say it is an eye opener is an understatement.
Mining has shaped the land and the people of South Wales. Communities still feel the strong bond and spirit that was built with the pits.
For me the reminders of the pits dotted around the valleys are vitally important to preserving our history and educating people. As a photographer they provide emotions which I try to capture in my images.
The struggles and loss which continue today, of the people who worked and lived in these communities, always needs to be told.
From the final sentence on the Guardian memorial:
“for coal mining communities everywhere.”