Literature readings

A collection of literature extracts, originally made for our exhibition, 'From Pithead to Sick Bed: The Buried History of Disability in the Coal Industry Before the NHS', National Waterfront Museum, June-October 2015.

Readings by Gareth John Bale and Heledd Gwynn.

Read Alexandra Jones' blog post introducing the extracts.

Listen to all extracts as a YouTube playlist.


Allen Raine, A Welsh Witch: A Romance of Rough Places (1902)

Their dear ones were deep underground, exposed to a fate too horrible to contemplate. […]And in tears and dread [the women] drew near the pit, where already preparations were made for help and rescue.


It is in such times of tension that the true character of the collier shows itself. His bravery shines out resplendent, and his self-sacrifice kindles a glow of pride in every Welsh heart.

Sitting under the shade of the thornbush, Yshbel and her new friend waited patiently, until, as the sun went down, the cage came up bearing its first load of the rescued. Then there were eager faces gathered round. Three men but little injured were enthusiastically seized upon by their friends, and walked away quietly with them, astonishing Yshbel by their appearance of stolid calmness. It was all in their day’s work! They had been saved, and went to their homes prepared to take up their work again as soon as the pit should be pronounced safe. Three others seemed dazed and trembling, and had to be supported to the shed that had been hastily prepared for them.


All night they sat under the thornbush, waiting, waiting, while the hours went by. At last there was a longer interval than usual before the cage returned from its errand of mercy. There was a murmur at the edge of the pit.

‘What is it?’ cried Yshbel and her companions, hastening forward.

‘That’s all!’ said a man, with haggard face and drawn voice. ‘The rest are buried under the ‘falls,’ or beyond them, and my boy is there!’ 


 Lewis Jones, Cwmardy (1937)

‘Who is this Home Secretary…this man who calls us hooligans and savages? Is he a working man? Have he ever worked down a pit? Have his mother been put in a county court because he have been too bad to work for a week or two? Not on your life! [...] He don’t belong to us, that’s why he sends his soldiers here to drive us back to the pit. Ha. But he’ll never beat our men that way. If we are to die, let it be fighting in the clean air that the pit has robbed us of for so long. Better to die like that than as Bill Bristol did, or die of starvation by an empty grate in the back kitchen.’


‘They claim they own the pits. All right. Let them come and work the coal themselves if they want it. Let them sweat and pant till their bodies twist in knots as ours have. Let them timber holes whose top they can’t see and cut ribs in coal like solid steel. Oh, boys…we have no need to be downhearted. They will do none of these things. While it is true our bodies belong to the pit, so also is it true that this makes us masters of the pit. It can’t live without us. When we are not there to feed it with our flesh, to work life into it with our sweat and blood, it lies quiet like a paralysed thing that can do nothing but moan.’


Idris Davies, 'Gwalia Deserta' (1938)

When greed was born

In Monmouthshire,

The hills were torn

For Mammon’s fire,

And wheels went round

And skulls were cracked,

And limbs were ground

And nerves were wracked.

No time to dream,

No time to stare,

In that fell scheme

To foul the air,

To grab the coal

And scorn the tree,

And sell the soul

To buy a spree.

And breasts were bruised

In dismal dens,

And streets were used

As breeding pens,

And babes were born

To feed the fire,

When hills were torn

In Monmouthshire.

A.J. Cronin, The Citadel (1937)

Andrew reached forward. By the light of the under-manager’s lamp, thrust across his shoulder, he ran his hands over the injured man. The whole of Bevan’s body was free except his left forearm which lay beneath the fall, so pressed and mangled under the enormous weight of rock, it held him immovably a prisoner.

Andrew saw instantly that the only way to free Bevan was to amputate the forearm. And Bevan, straining his pain tormented eyes, read that decision the moment it was made.

‘Go on, then, doctor,’ he muttered. ‘Only get me out of here quick.’

‘Don’t worry, Sam,’ Andrew said. ‘I’m going to send you to sleep now. When you wake up you’ll be in bed.’

Stretched flat in a puddle of muck under the two foot roof he slipped off his coat, folded it, and slipped it under Bevan’s head. He rolled up his sleeves and asked for his bag. The under-manager handed forward the bag and as he did so he whispered in Andrew’s ear:

‘For God’s sake hurry, doctor. We’ll have this roof down on us before we know where we are.’

Andrew opened the bag. Immediately he smelt the reek of chloroform. Almost before he thrust his hand into the dark interior and felt the jagged edge of broken glass he knew what had occurred. Frank Davis, in his haste to reach the mine, had dropped the bag. The chloroform bottle was broken, its contents irretrievably spilled. A shiver passed over Andrew. He had no time to send up to the surface. And he had no anaesthetic.

Jack Jones, Unfinished Journey (1939)

“Pleurisy,” [the doctor] told our mam when he came out into the middle of the living room after he had shut the door of the room where dad was lying fast in bed. Told mam to poultice dad, and gave her a note for medicine, which Billa fetched from the surgery the same night.

In less than two weeks dad was out of his senses, and mam had to watch him night and day. Me and Billa took charge of dad’s working place in the pit, which we worked as well as any two men.... For weeks our mam didn’t have a chance to take her clothes off, so one Saturday night me and Billa made her go to sleep upstairs in our bed, leaving us to watch dad and tend on him. She wouldn’t at first, but we made her go, for we knew that if we didn’t we should have her bad in bed as well, and then it would be domino on all of us. So, after she had told us what to do, and what to give, she went upstairs for her first night’s sleep for a month.

Billa and me sat watching dad, and tending him through the night. 

Lewis Jones, We Live (1939)

‘What in bloody hell is the matter with me these days? My back and legs do feel like they are on fire and I can’t walk two cams without wanting a whiff.’ He checked himself with a groan, his face contorted with pain and disgust.

Len always felt unhappy when he witnessed these periodic evidences of his father’s decline, and he now paused sympathetically, hardly knowing what to say.

‘Why don’t you go to the doctor, the same as mam have asked you?’ he demanded rather curtly.

Jim looked at him a moment as though he thought he had to deal with a man who had suddenly become deranged, then he roared out loudly enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear.

‘Doctor to hell! What good can his powders and water do for a man like me, who have looked after hisself all his life and can work better’n any two men in the pit any day of the week. Doctor, muniferni!’ He spat contemptuously on the ground, rubbing it viciously with his foot before saying: ‘Come on. It is only a touch of the bile after those chips your mother maked for dinner.’

He thought over this for a while as they continued their walk. The words had implanted a new reason in his mind for the pains he was enduring. He was immensely proud of his once magnificent body and always loath to admit that excessive work and age were now beginning to take toll of his strength. 


T. Rowland Hughes, William Jones (1944, English translation by Richard Ruck)

“Yes, boy, coaldust on my chest, the thing they call silicosis. I was able to keep on working underground till the pit closed down, but just dragging myself to the colliery I was. Then I went to Doctor Stewart here, and he said I couldn’t work down below any more.”

“Are you getting compensation, Crad?”

“I appealed for it. I went down to the specialist in Cardiff and before the Board after that, but there wasn’t enough dust on my chest for me to get compo. Did you ever hear such nonsense in your life? If I had been able to go down below for a few more years to get a bit more dust inside me I would get compensation – and a gravestone!”


T. Rowland Hughes, William Jones (1944)

“Oes, fachgen, llwch glo ar fy mrest i, y peth maen nhw’n alw’n silicosis. Mi fedris i ddal ati i weithio dan ddaer nes i’r pwll gau, ond rhyw lusgo fy hun i’r gwaith yr oeddwn i. Wedyn mi es at Doctor Stewart ‘ma, ac mi ddeudodd o na fedrwn i ddim gweithio dan ddaer eto.’

“Wyt ti’n cael compensation, Crad?’

“Mi apeliais am un. Mi es i lawr at y specialist yng Nghaerdydd ac wedyn o flaen y Board, ond ‘doedd dim digon o lwch ar fy mrest i imi gal compo. Glywist ti’r fath lol yn dy fywyd? ‘Taswn i’n medru mynd dan ddaer am ryw flwyddyn arall i gal tipyn chwanag o lwch tu mewn imi, mi gawn i gompensation – a charreg fedd!”


D. Gwenallt Jones, 'Y Meirwon' (1951)

Yr angau hwteraidd: yr angau llychlyd, myglyd, meddw,

    Yr angau a chanddo arswyd tynghedfen las;

Trôi tanchwa a llif-pwll ni yn anwariaid, dro,

    Yn ymladd â phwerau catastroffig, cyntefig, cas.


Gwragedd dewrfud â llond dwrn o arian y gwaed,

    A bwcedaid o angau yn atgo tan ddiwedd oes,

Yn cario glo, torri coed-tân a dodi’r ardd

   Ac yn darllen yn amlach hanes dioddefaint y groes.


Gosodwn Ddydd Sul y Blodau ar eu beddau bwys

    O rosynnau silicotig a lili mor welw â’r nwy,

A chasglu rhwng y cerrig annhymig a rhwng yr anaeddfed gwrb

    Yr hen regfeydd a’r cableddau yn eu hangladdau hwy.


Diflannodd yr Wtopia oddi ar gopa Gellionnen,

    Y ddynoliaeth haniaethol, y byd diddosbarth a di-ffin;

Ac nid oes a erys heddiw ar waelod y cof

    Ond teulu a chymdogaeth, aberth a dioddefaint dyn.


John Jones, 'Awyr Dywyll' (1924)

Yn nyfnder nos, a’r byd mewn tawel hûn

Gadawodd tyrfa ddu dynelau mwll;

’Roedd chwys ar ael pob gwr – ag eithro un,

Ac nid oedd rhêg i’w chlywed gylch y pwll.

Y ddoe bu’n dadleu’n ddiflin hawliau’r rhai

Sydd heno’n cludo’i gorff i’w gartre’n fud,

Gan gamu’n wylaidd; a phwy all’sai lai

Na gweld rhigolau garw’r chwysu drud.

Cadd ddannod droeon “oriau gweithio bach”

A “chyflog dda” gan rai na wyddant fawr

Am ddim ond chawarae i fyw mewn awyr iach,

Ac yntau’n torri ’i ffordd mewn nos ddi-wawr.

Yn fud bydd fory’r gainc mewn bwthyn clyd,

A thradwy angladd wrth addoldy’r glyn;

Na feier un na wêl o druan fyd

Drwy’r dyrfa ddu, y dorf mewn “gynau gwyn.”


Gwyneth Vaughan, O Gorlannau y Defaid (1905)

Nid yw gweithio ganoedd o latheni o dan y ddaear, mewn tywyllwch dudew … yn tueddi i ddyrchafu dynion chwaith: rhydd gwaith dyn ddylanwad ar ei gymeriad a’i gyraeddiadau heb yn wybod iddo, a gresyn fod yn angenrheidiol cadw miloedd o’n cyd-ddynion mewn tywyllwch, bron ar hyd ei hoes, er codi’r glo o galon y ddaear, yn danwydd o’r fath a hoffir oreu, neu er cyfoethogi y gwr bia’r cyfalaf.  Pa un yw y rheswm cryfaf, tybed? Un peth a wyddom oll, sef fod aml i lecyn fu yn brydferth fel Paradwys yn myned yn ddu fel bro marwolaeth a distryw, a’i fwg yn dyrchafu yn ddiaid, nes pardduo gwybr a daear, a’r ardaloedd megis heint-leoedd, lle y cyrcha pob aderyn aflan. 



We are grateful to the following for permission to use work still in copyright:  The Citadel by A.J. Cronin (Copyright © A.J.Cronin, 1937). Reproduced by permission of A.M. Heath & Co Ltd. ‘Y Meirwon’ by Gwenallt, published in Cerddi Gwenallt: Y Casgliad Cyflawn, edited by Christine James (Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, 2001). By permission of Gomer Press. William Jones by T. Rowland Hughes, and the translation of William Jones by Richard Ruck, by permission of Gomer Press. ‘Gwalia Deserta’ by Idris Davies, published in The Collected Poems of Idris Davies, edited by Islwyn Jenkins (Llandysul: Gomer, 2011). By permission of Gomer Press.

In the case of John Jones, whose poem ‘Awr Dywyll’ appeared in a slim volume of poetry published in 1924 entitled O Lwch y Lolfa :Cyfrol o Ganu gan Chwech of Lowyr Sir Gar, and in the case of Jack Jones, we have been unable to locate the copyright holder and would be pleased to hear from anyone who may be able to help.