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This report is taken from PN Review 256, Volume 47 Number 2, November - December 2020.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
The hooters calling colliers to work are silent, the pit wheels that remain, confined to museums, no longer spin, the black dust has long since settled. But for something like one hundred and fifty years the south Wales coalfield was an industrial hub about which it is not an exaggeration to say a substantial part of British enterprise turned. You would think in that stretch of time an indigenous literature would have emerged to represent the place, its people and, overwhelmingly, the occupation of its menfolk. Yet the one title that readers, and film-goers, most readily call to mind as a summation of coal mining here is Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley. I would be the last to deny its power to hold an audience in either form, but it was written by an outsider who knew next to nothing of life and work in ‘the Valleys’ and, as I have previously explained (PNR 249), was assisted to his triumphant fictional debut by Joseph Griffiths of Gilfach Goch.

There are not many who, having worked for some years underground, found space in their lives to tell us about it. B.L. Coombes’ autobiography These Poor Hands is a clear and ringingly authentic account of the miner’s work, the conditions in which it was undertaken, and for what grudging, meagre returns, in a way that Richard Llewellyn’s fiction could never be. The very thought of spending eight hours a day underground engaged in heavy manual labour, often in a cramped space, is enough to make one ...


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