Miners working on the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, south Wales, have been in the course of their morning shifts 2000ft under the bottom when a large explosion ripped by means of the deep pit at 8.10am. A spark from an electrical bell had ignited a lethal mixture of methane gasoline and coal mud, identified to miners as “firedamp”.
The blast on October 14 1913 killed 439 males and boys, with one other dying throughout rescue operations. It was, and stays, the worst coal mining catastrophe in British historical past and likewise the sixth worst on this planet.
But disasters of this dreadful nature occurred with dismal regularity within the south Wales coalfield when the trade was at its peak. South Wales was probably the most harmful coalfield in what was statistically probably the most harmful trade within the UK at the moment.
Only just a few miles away from Senghenydd, 290 miners had died in an explosion on the Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd in 1894. The Universal Colliery had itself suffered an earlier explosion, in 1901, which killed 81 miners.
Everyone in Senghenydd misplaced household or associates within the 1913 catastrophe. It left 542 kids fatherless and made widows of greater than 200 girls. Ninety boys and younger males aged 20 or much less have been killed, with the youngest victims being simply 14 years previous. One chapel within the village reportedly misplaced 60% of its male members.
Although Senghenydd bore the brunt of the tragedy, its lethal results have been additionally felt additional afield. A sizeable minority of the miners who have been killed lived within the neighbouring village of Abertridwr and different close by villages, whereas ten lived as comparatively far-off as Cardiff.
The 1911 Census reveals numerous households and people from each a part of Wales dwelling or lodging in Senghenydd. It additionally reveals that lots of those that have been killed within the catastrophe had come to the village from England and a few from Ireland.
From the attitude of mining households, the official investigations into the catastrophe added insult to harm. The coroner’s inquest into the catastrophe returned a verdict of unintended loss of life.
Following the inquest, the colliery’s supervisor was prosecuted for 17 breaches of the Coal Mines Act, whereas the corporate was charged with 4 breaches. But most of these prices ended up being dropped.
The supervisor was finally fined a complete of £24 and the corporate was fined £10 with £5 and 5 shillings prices. As the Merthyr Pioneer newspaper reported: “Miners’ lives at 1s 1¼d every” –- the equal of 5.5p per useless miner in at present’s cash.
The Universal Colliery went again to work on the finish of November 1913. It finally closed in 1928 and the derelict web site was demolished in 1963.
In 2013, on the one centesimal anniversary of the catastrophe, the Welsh National Mining Memorial was unveiled on the previous colliery web site, to commemorate miners killed within the Senghenydd disasters and likewise to recollect the victims of the opposite 150 mining disasters in Wales.
Hundreds of individuals gathered to pay their respects and to view the revealing of the memorial. The scale of the general public turnout to the commemoration confirmed the extent to which the folks of the south Wales valleys are nonetheless conscious of the horrible toll of loss of life and harm that the trade inflicted upon its workforce.
The memorial statue itself depicts a rescue employee serving to an injured miner. Surrounding the statute is a walled backyard, with tiles inscribed with the small print of these killed within the two Senghenydd disasters in addition to a “path of reminiscence”, which marks different colliery tragedies in Wales.
Although the catastrophe was extensively reported on the time, it light from reminiscence for most individuals and isn’t well-known past Wales by now.
It is feasible that this was resulting from it being eclipsed by the outbreak of the primary world battle lower than a yr later. Or maybe it was as a result of there have been simply so many colliery disasters that reminiscence of it merged right into a broader, vaguer reminiscence of loss of life and hazard within the coalfields.
Although the collieries are all lengthy gone now, mining disasters proceed to retain a recent resonance within the people reminiscence of the south Wales coalfield area.
This was seen in widespread responses to a coal tip landslide in Tylorstown in 2020, which is simply 11km away from Senghenydd. It was reflective of the visceral horror on the Aberfan catastrophe of October 1966, through which 116 kids and 28 adults have been killed when a coal tip slid downhill onto a main college.
Such latter-day commemoration, as typically as not through social media these days, is perpetuated by individuals who in lots of circumstances haven’t any private reminiscence of those disasters –- but nonetheless, we bear in mind. The folks of the valleys have by no means forgotten that coal was at all times stained with blood.
Ben Curtis doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.