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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 07:01 GMT
Welsh miners help stabilise Bath
Workers inside the Combe Down Stone Mines
Miners from across the south Wales valleys travel to Bath
Miners from Wales are helping to save hundreds of homes from collapse in one of England's most picturesque cities.

They cross the Severn Bridge each day to stabilise stone mines underneath Bath, amid fears for houses above its historic Combe Down mines.

Miles of mining tunnels run beneath the city, some of them only about 2m (6ft) below the surface.

In recent years some houses and gardens have begun subsiding, and now a 154m tunnel stabilisation is underway.

About 160 people are working on the project, with many of them former miners who worked in the south Wales valleys before the decline of the coal industry in the 1980s.

It will involve pumping 400,000 cubic metres of foamed concrete into 25 hectares of mines.

Mike Desmond
People at home ask me why I'm going to Bath every day: they say, 'there's no coal there'
Mike Desmond

Every morning dozens of minibuses transport the former miners from all parts of the south Wales valleys to the site.

Mike Desmond, 56, who used to work at the Pant-y-gasseg pit near Pontypool, Torfaen, is one.

"I started in the old coal mines, in fact I was the man who led the last pit pony out of Pant-y-gasseg before it closed," he said.

"After it closed, I did a similar job to this one in the Forest of Dean where I heard about this. So I put my name forward."

Nearly six years later, he is still there working as one of the shift bosses.

"It's been a bit of a Godsend really because as the coal mines were closing, this opened.

"They are all Welsh boys working here and it's a great team.

"And they are taking on younger boys too so the tradition is keeping on."

"People at home ask me why I'm going to Bath every day: they say, 'there's no coal there'", he laughed.

Inside the Combe Down Stone Mines
I don't mind the work underground - it's all I've done
Alan Jones

His colleague Alan Jones from Bedlinog in Merthyr Tydfil also makes the daily trip to Bath.

"I used to work in Tower (colliery) but I knew it was near the end so thought I would try and get other work," explained the 48-year-old.

"I heard about this place and a few of us came and a lot of others have followed.

"I think most people hear about the work word-of-mouth, I'm not even sure the jobs have been advertised, it's just been passed around.

"We are a rare breed now.

"The work is not greatly different from working in the coal mines - we have to hold the roof up.

"But it is a cleaner job with less dust and I think the machinery is lighter than what we used to use.

"I don't mind the work underground - it's all I've done.

"We are all hoping the work in Wales will return, but who knows."

Other stabilisation work is also being undertaken at the site to protect areas of significant environmental importance after a colony of rare bats were found there.

Bath was built from stone mined at Combe Down, but the mines were abandoned more than 100 years ago.

"It was hard graft and labour intensive"

Safety expert to visit city mines
27 Apr 06 |  Somerset
Homeowners take trip down mines
30 Jul 05 |  Somerset
154m grant saves heritage site
23 Feb 05 |  Somerset
Mine shaft uncovered during works
09 Sep 04 |  Somerset
Mines work may cost 90m
13 Jan 04 |  Somerset
Disused mines propped up
06 Oct 03 |  Somerset

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