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This report is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams

Both my grandfathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before them, worked all their lives, so far as I can tell, in coalmines. Before that, in the eighteenth century, some or all of them presumably laboured on the land. I know my grandfather and namesake began working underground as a 'helper' with his father, at the age of twelve. That was in Gilfach Goch. John Love, my mother's father, began in the same way at the same age in Wellow, near Radstock, Somerset. After thirty years or so at the coalface, Sam Adams and John Love (who came to south Wales as a young man, married and settled here) were promoted within the pit. The former became an 'overman', with responsibility for oversight of the work and working conditions in a sector of the mine. He carried a distinctive brass safety lamp and a stick cleft at one end that allowed him to lift the lamp to the roof of the underground workings to test for the presence of gas. The brass lamp stands on the hearth in our living room. His son, my father, worked fifty years as an electrician in south Wales collieries.

I think now of our children and, more recently, our grandchildren, at the age of twelve, on the way to school, and how very young they were, even for the trials of that experience. I cannot imagine them trudging off to a seven-and-a-half hour shift underground. And what would they have done ...


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