7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
All the raw materials needed to produce iron, lay in abundance below the ground around Blaenavon. Ironstone, limestone and coal were all readily available and mining operations grew in the area to meet the demand of the hungry blast furnaces, which needed three tons of coal to smelt one ton of iron.
Big Pit was set up in 1789 when three entrepreneurs, Thomas Hill, Benjamin Pratt and Thomas Hopkins, leased 12,000 acres from Lord Abergavenny. The first three coal-fired furnaces were completed at a cost of £53,400. Big Pit produced more than 4,000 tons of iron within its first decade
At first, coal was extracted from drift mines that cut into the hillside and followed the seam of coal. By 1800, the first vertical shaft, known as the Old Coal Pits, had been sunk. More pits and drift mines opened up as the demand for iron increased with the start of the Napoleonic Wars.
As the 19th century progressed the demand for coal from the ironworks decreased, but this had little effect on the coal industry. The "steam coal" from South Wales was of the highest quality and the national and international markets for it were opening and expanding all the time. The coal burnt hotly, leaving only a flaky white ash, and its steam raising properties were famous worldwide. Coal from Blaenavon was used to fuel the steam ships and railways in both Britain and across the world. At its peak there were 164 drift mine and over 30 shafts in the hillside around the town.
Big Pit came into existence in 1880 and stands on the site of an earlier mine called Kearsley's Pit, which was sunk to a depth of 39m in 1860. The shaft was deepened to 89m in 1880 and with its elliptical shape was the first in the area wide enough to wind two trams of coal side by side - hence the name Big Pit.
Big Pit came to absorb more and more of the individual workings around it, including Forge Level, Mine Slope and Dodd's Slope as well as taking over the shafts of the neighbouring Coity Colliery, which were later used as ventilation shafts.
In its heyday Big Pit employed 1300 men and produced more than 250, 000 tons of coal a year.
Big Pit was one of the first collieries in South Wales to be electrified. By 1910 the ventilating fan, pumps and underground haulage system were all worked by electricity, although the winding gear was still powered by steam until 1953.
Nine different seams of coal were worked at Big Pit and as each became uneconomical to mine they were closed down. By 1967 all but one of the seams, Garw, had been worked out.
Garw was the deepest seem at 366ft below the surface and had a maximum thickness of 2ft 4inches. The seam produced excellent quality coal but it was so hard it proved difficult to be worked by machine.
Eventually a plough was installed which successfully cut and loaded the coal onto a chain conveyor. The coal was taken to the surface along a new drift opened in the mid-1970s, which meant that the shaft of Big Pit was now only used for ventilation and access for maintenance men. The miners travelled to the coal face via the drift mine.
By 1979 only 250 men worked at Big Pit, compared to 500 a decade earlier. On 3 February, 1980, coal production stopped because the workable coal seams had been exhausted. It was the centenary of the mine and until its closure it was the oldest working mine left in South Wales.
Big Pit remains much as it did that February day with blacksmiths workshop, pithead baths and engine house, but it is now open so visitors can explore an authentic coal mine.
It is one of only two mines in the country where you can travel down the shaft in the same pit cage that the miners used - the other being the National Coal Mining Museum for England near Wakefield. Everyday the "pitman" inspects the shaft by descending on the top of the pit cage, just as he did when the mine was open. Former miners act as guides and help give you a real understanding of what it would have been like to work at Big Pit.
In 2005, Big Pit was voted the Best Museum in the UK, winning the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize.