People have been digging coal in Gower since the Medieval period. By the 17th century, places such as Penclawdd and Higher Llanrhidian had become important areas for coal mining. At first, the mining was carried out by small teams of farmers and landowners, with merchants and entrepreneurs from Swansea and beyond later getting involved – at which point the industry took off.
In the early days crop holes and bell pits would have commonplace. A crop hole was the simplest method of excavation, with coal dug up from the surface of the landscape. A bell pit would be sunk 10 to 20 metres into the ground where coal would be excavated from the base of the shaft. In the 18th century deeper mines began to be sunk. Coal was be excavated by colliers, who would work in dangerous, dirty conditions underground to dig out the coal using hand tools. There were many dangers, including severe problems with flooding and poisonous gas.
The local supply of cheap coal helped many other industries to become established in Gower, including copper smelting works. The coal industry was an important source of employment, particularly in the north and east. In 1851, the Higher Llanrhidian coal mines were the largest employers in the area with nearly 60 people working as full-time colliers. This is compared to around 45 people employed as agricultural labourers and 50 as household servants.
By the end of the 19th century, the majority of the mines had become abandoned as investors looked to Swansea for the mining of coal.