Unloved Heritage?

Connecting young people in Wales with their community, history and heritage.

Unloved Heritage? is a Wales-wide community archaeology project for young people aged 10-15.

Led by Cadw and funded by the Heritage Lottery, the Unloved Heritage? programme is made up of several different groups dotted around Wales, with each group working on different projects designed to engage young people with their community, history and heritage.

The activities include anything from recording traditional music, to cave exploration to doing archaeological excavations. Each project aims to reflect the region and its particular story, encouraging young people to delve into the heritage of their community and share the legacy of the past with both present and future generations.

The Blaenrhondda Project

Since early 2019, DigVentures has worked with Cadw and the Valleys Kids youth group on the Blaenrhondda project of Unloved Heritage?

Based in Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales, the Blaendrhondda project focused on exploring the industrial heritage of the valley and how coal mining shaped their community.

With DigVentures, the group has learned how to make films about their heritage and community, created 3D models of the industrial landscape and explored the valley through archival research and digital mapping.

Using Minecraft to rebuild a demolished colliery.

One of the main goals of the Blaenrhondda project was to digitally rebuild a demolished colliery and its surrounding landscape in Minecraft, a 3D brick-building video game.

Using Minecraft, the group recreated Fernhill Colliery – a once impressive and long since demolished colliery in the heart of the Rhondda Valley.

With an innovative combination of research, construction and imagination, the Blaenrhondda project connected local youth with the industrial heritage that shaped both the immediate and broader community that they live in today.

The Blaenrhondda project was made possible by a number of participants

Headed by Cadw with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project worked with the Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council, Birmingham University, Big Pit National Mining Museum, Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, Taliesin Conservation, and the Rhondda Historical Society

The project also learned a huge amount of invaluable information from members of the former mining community in the Rhondda Valley. By sharing their stories and experiences of Fernhill Colliery, they helped bring this project to life.

Photogrammetry specialist Adam Stanford, of Aerial-Cam, showed the group how to create 3D models of mining equipment, colliery structures and the coal miners homes, allowing the group to carefully and accurately recreate the buildings in Minecraft based on these models.

The project was also made possible with the hugely helpful support and contribution from archaeogaming experts Angus Mol and Aris Politopoulos of the VALUE Foundation. Angus and Aris have worked on multiple projects which aim to develop knowledge activation and disseminate information in an accessible, interactive, and fun way. They bring a deep experience of working alongside cultural institutions such as the Leiden’s National Museum of Antiquities and the Roman Limes project to utilise digital media to activate interest and learning in heritage.



Community and Heritage

Valleys Kids – Penyrenglyn, based at Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, is a youth organisation committed to providing both young people and their families with ways to get involved in their local area, build positive relationships, and explore opportunities to build a better future for themselves and their community.

Together with Cadw and DigVentures, the Valleys Kids youth group is working on the Blaenrhondda project of Unloved Heritage?

Since early 2019, DigVentures has been helping the group learn how to make 3D models, short films and recreate Fernhill Colliery in Minecraft all while learning more about the rich coal mining heritage of the Rhondda Valley and the industrial and domestic buildings that once occupied the landscape.

Get to know the kids!

The Blaenrhondda group filmed, directed and edited their very own video to introduce themselves to other groups in the Unloved Heritage? project.

While researching the history of the Rhondda Valley, the group learned that indoor plumbing was once a very controversial subject amongst the community members. Inspired to make a video about this hotbed issue, the kids used their newly found filmmaking skills to write, act, film and edit this video. Filmed on location at the Blaenavon Ironworks.

Over to you, Susan Jones.

Once a thriving mine, now there's little left to see.

Fernhill Colliery, sunk by Ebenizer Lewis around 1870, once stood at the head of the Rhondda Fawr valley. It was a major industrial site and a definitive part of the landscape.

Over the years, the Fernhill Colliery continued to expand, adding several new pits and further extending shafts. The colliery peaked in employment during the late 1930s when it employed around 1700 people. These numbers dropped to 1250 by 1945.

The end of an era...

The colliery began closing shafts over the next decades and its output was diverted to the nearby Tower Colliery on the other side of the Rhigos mountain. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Fernhill’s associated structures and outbuildings were dismantled and the colliery was officially closed in 1978. All remaining mining buildings have since been completely demolished and the area fully landscaped. Growing up in Treherbert today, there is little of the original mining landscape left to see.

How it looks today – the valley where Fernhill Colliery once stood.

Building MineRhondda: using Minecraft to reconstruct a demolished colliery in 3D

In February 2019, DigVentures teamed up with Cadw to work with the Valleys Kids youth group on the Blaenrhondda project of Unloved Heritage?

One of the main goals of the Blaenrhondda project was to digitally rebuild a demolished colliery and its surrounding landscape in Minecraft, a 3D brick-building video game.

Using Minecraft, the group recreated Fernhill Colliery – a once impressive and long since demolished colliery in the heart of the Rhondda Valley.

They named this 3D reconstruction of Fernhill Colliery MineRhondda.

Brick by Brick

Bringing together traditional archive research methods and the digital gaming platform Minecraft, the youth group worked hard to recreate a 3D version of Fernhill Colliery and the surrounding cottages and landscape.

To find inspiration for their virtual colliery, the group spent time combing through archives, visiting coal mining museums, speaking with former miners and residents of the area and doing hands-on archaeology where the workers of Fernhill Colliery once lived.

Together, they rebuilt an industrial landscape they have never seen in real life.

Working on the winding house.
Interviewing former residents of Caroline Street.
Archaeology of Caroline Street.

Getting Started...

Archaeogaming experts Angus Mol and Aris Politopoulos of the VALUE Foundation provided the group with a vast 3D landscape of the valley, accurately recreated in Minecraft based on archival maps and modern geospatial data.

Using archival maps and local knowledge from the youth group, Angus and Aris plotted the outlines of the colliery buildings, local cottages and underground tunnels on the map, creating the virtual footprints for the group to follow.

From there, the youth group began carefully laying the foundation blocks to virtually rebuild the demolished colliery.

The Build Continues...

Over time, the colliery began to take shape. Soon, MineRhondda was full of colliery buildings, roads, mining equipment and railway tracks. To accurately reflect the details of these structures in Minecraft, the group referenced the 3D models of the machinery and buildings they had created when visiting local mining museums.

As the work continued on the surface of MineRhondda, work also began underground.

Using archive maps of the colliery’s coal seams as a reference, the group began recreating the underground tunnels which snaked their way through the landscape. With the help of virtual TNT, the kids carved out an underground labyrinth which closely followed the layout of the tunnels used by Fernhill Colliery

Colliery buildings
Underground tunnels
Caroline Street

Finishing Touches

With the underground tunnels complete and perfected with pit ponies and canaries, it was time to really bring everyday life in MineRhondda alive.

As part of their research, the group spoke to former residents who lived in the cottages near Fernhill Colliery. Based on the stories they heard, and trips to local museums where they learned about life for a coal miner’s family, the group began to decorate the interiors of the cottages, construct football pitches and include details about the families who once lived in the cottages.

Exterior of the 'Big House'
Decorated front room of the 'Big House'

The MineRhondda Heritage Trail

The MineRhondda Heritage Trail was created to allow you to explore the virtual world of MineRhondda. Built brick by brick, MineRhondda is a 3D reconstruction of Fernhill Colliery, a demolished coal mine in the Rhondda Valley. The Valleys Kids youth group, together with Cadw and DigVentures, used Minecraft to bring a long forgotten industrial landscape to the forefront of peoples memories and imaginations.

Created as part of the Unloved Heritage? project, MineRhondda allows you to experience what Fernhill Colliery once looked like, and take a peek inside the colliery buildings, underground tunnels and homes that once dominated the Rhondda Valley landscape.

Based on knowledge gained from archival photos, old maps, visits to local museums and interviews with former coal miners, the youth group did a brilliant job recreating the colliery and its landscape. With no detail too small, MineRhondda is an impressive project that should be thoroughly explored.

You can experience MineRhondda at the tip of your fingers in several ways. You can watch a video about the trail, explore the 3D models of the MineRhondda buildings, or even download the MineRhondda world to your own version of Minecraft and walk the Heritage Trail yourself!

Watch the Heritage Trail video!

Explore 3D models of MineRhondda

Caroline Street

This model shows the full length of Caroline Street. These houses were built in the 1880s for the mineworkers and their families. Nothing remains of them today, but the youth group was able to learn more about these houses by doing an archaeological excavation in the area where they once stood, and by speaking to former residents.

Underground Tunnels

These are the underground tunnels used by the collieries in the valley. The locations of these tunnels in MineRhondda were plotted using archival coal seam maps of the area so that they closely followed the original layout.

Wanting to make the tunnels as accurate as possible, the group included pit ponies and parrots (the closest thing to canaries they could find in Minecraft).

Football Pitches

This is one of two known football pitches located in the valley. By speaking with former residents, the youth group learned that the two pitches each had their own team and would often play against each other.

The Stables

These are the stables where the ponies would have lived.

The Big House

The group built a bigger version of the houses on Caroline Street and called it ‘The Big House’. The Big House is approximately four times larger than the cottages on Caroline Street. They did this so they could recreate the layout and furnishings of the cottages. The youth group learned about life for a coal miner’s family by visiting local museums and seeing the everyday items that would have filled their homes. If you take a peek through the front window, you can see the lovely wallpaper, furniture and fireplace.

Blaenrhondda Colliery

These buildings are where the colliery machinery would have been housed. Much of what you see in this model is based off of a photograph from the 1970s.

And the height of that chimney is accurate! It really was that tall.

Old Quarry

This is the site of an old quarry, abandoned before 1919. It’s believed that the stone from this quarry was used to build the houses on Caroline Street.

Fernhill Colliery

Fernhill Colliery was sunk by Ebenizer Lewis around 1870. Over the years, Fernhill Colliery continued to expand, adding several new pits and further extending shafts. This is a model of pits 1 and 2 based on archive images and maps from the mid 20th century.

Fernhill Cottages

These are the Fernhill Cottages. They sit on the other side of the valley, opposite Caroline Street.

The Bridge

The bridge you see in this model can still be seen today at the base of the valley. The bridge leads to Caroline Street and is the main access point to the cottages and collieries.

Download MineRhondda for Minecraft

You can fully immerse yourself by adding the MineRhondda map to your own Minecraft.

Before you get going, you will need to download the map here. (Please note, clicking this link will take you off this page.)

The zip file is 2.07 GB, so it may take some time to fully download.

There’s a few steps involved with installing the map, so we’ve included a ‘How To’ guide alongside the zip file that should help you along the way.

Happy exploring!

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