Abertillery workmen’s institute

This 1950s building replaced Powell’s Tillery Workmen’s Institute, which opened in April 1898 at a cost of c.£3,000. Colliery owner Thomas Powell and his company provided most of the funding for the new institute. Workers and others contributed c.£700. Thomas died shortly before construction finished. His company also owned a brick factory, which provided buff bricks for the institute building.

People came to the institute to socialise, read, bathe and play sports. Despite its title, it wasn’t reserved for workmen. There were “slipper baths” for women as well as men, a reading room and lending library, a smoking room, a billiards room and committee rooms, one accommodating up to 200 people.

The Powell company provided a gymnasium in 1902, in a building also capable of hosting concerts. An 18-metre swimming pool, with diving stage and springboard, was added in 1910.

Large numbers of worshippers attended overflow Sunday services at the institute in 1905, when a Christian revival swept across Wales and the Abertillery’s Methodist church ran out of space.

Political meetings at the institute gave many local workmen the chance to articulate and develop their thoughts on trade unionism and socialism, and to listen to leaders including Keir Hardie and Ernest Bevin. Many went on to become Labour councillors and MPs.

A fire wrecked the institute in 1951. The effect on community activities was “disastrous”. Temporary alternative venues were found for many groups and events. Fundraising began immediately for the replacement building, which opened in 1955.

Above the entrance you can see a mural by Polish artist Adam Kossowski (1905-1986), imprisoned in Siberia during the Second World War.

In March 1984 workers from Six Bells and Rose Heyworth collieries gathered at the institute and voted against the strike action which National Union of Mineworkers’ leaders recommended. When the national strike was called, Abertillery’s miners fell into line. During the year-long strike, local women volunteered at the institute to make up food parcels for distribution to miners and their families.

The institute was reopened after renovation in 2008.

With thanks to Graham Bennett for the 1984 strike information

Postcode: NP13 1EG View Location Map

More about the institute during the 1984-85 strike on Graham Bennett’s website