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The Welsh Coalfield

Wales Has Two Coalfields Back To Welsh Menu


Old Duffryn, Aberdare, Glamorganshire. 1st. August, 1845.
The colliery was owned by Mr. Powell and was referred to as the Upper or Old Duffryn Colliery. It had been won about three years before the accident and was about 3 miles from Aberdare and 6 miles from Merthyr. The downcast shaft was 828 feet deep and used for pumping. The return air went along the main roads.

The upcast shaft was the furnace shaft 14 feet by 9 feet. The colliery was worked by lighted candles and the old stalls were systematically walled up. The gas was supposed to have been driven out of an old stall when the roof fell and to have ignited at the candles of the men working further up the heading.

There were about 140 men in the mine at the time but only twenty nine lost their lives, most of them from suffocation. The blast was confined to one heading of the mine and occurred about 11 a.m. on a Saturday. Three horses were killed and the bodies of some of the victims were not recovered until the following Monday. The explosion was spoken of as 'only a commencement in the valley of Aberdare.'

Those who lost their lives were:-
Howell John David aged 20 years, single.
Thomas Davies aged 78 years, widower.
William Edwards.
Thomas Evans, left a widow and 2 children.
William Evans aged 31 years.
John Evans aged 22 years.
David Evans aged 9 years.
James James aged 23 years, single.
David Jenkins aged 37 years, single.
David Jones aged 32 years, single.
David Jones aged 27 years, left a wife and child.
John Jones aged 17 years.
Evan Lewis aged 19 years, single.
William Llewellyn age 18 years, single.
David Morgan aged 30 years, single.
Richard Morris aged 30 years, single.
Joseph Phillips aged 19 years, single.
Thomas Rees aged 23 years.
Thomas Smith aged 19 years, single.
George Thomas aged 33 years, single.
Evan Thomas aged 14 years.
Rees Williams aged 24 years, single.
Howell Wiliams aged 28 years, single.
John Edwards aged 35 years, left a widow and 2 children and father of William.
James Thomas aged 42 years, left a wife and 2 children.
David Thomas aged 10 years, son of James. Burnt to a cinder.
Nicholas Evans, a lad, was said to be badly injured which would bring the number up to the 28 victims that was reported.

Mr. Powell of Newport met the funeral expenses and at the inquest the jury returned a verdict that:-
"The men met their deaths accidentally. The present system of ventilation at the Duffryn is as perfect as can be admitted but is inadequate to ensure the safety of those working there and we strongly recommend that a system that will prevent the gas oozing out of the coal and old, abandoned workings and roads be adopted as soon as possible."


Risca. Black Vein Pit. Monmouthshire. 14th January 1846.
The colliery was the property of Mr. J. Russell and Company. The explosion occurred about 8.30 a.m. and thirty five lives were lost.

There were two shafts, the downcast, 146 yards deep and 9 feet in diameter and the upcast 24 feet away to the same depth. This was oval shaped 16 by 10 feet and had a ventilating furnace fed by the return air. The ventilation was divided into two splits with the circuit to east 2,200 yards and that to west, 2,600 yards. The quantity of air was not stated but the return drift was only 5 feet by 4 feet so could not have been very great.

The ventilation of the colliery was dependent on a large number of doors. If one set of doors near the shaft was left open or destroyed then the intake air would go directly into the upcast shaft without entering the mine. The ventilation of each heading as also dependent on a door.

About 150 men and boys were employed underground of whom about two thirds used candles and the others Davy lamps. The men were paid extra if they used lamps which were tested by placing them in a small volume of firedamp. Two or three men worked with lamps because they could not keep candles lit in the ventilation current.

Blowers were very common in the mine, some lasting for a few days, others for weeks. The blowers were more common in the soft coal and near faults and they came mainly from the top part of coal and the black shale above. Sometimes they caught fire but they did not explode. The way gas fired at a candle was described, ‘it struck back like a train of gunpowder in the wind road, when it exploded’. It was common to have a little firedamp in the top of the headings where the men worked and a little in some of the stalls in a morning. If any place was thought to be dangerous, a cross made of two sticks, was put up by the fireman to prevent the men going further and if he could find their lamps, he brought it back and drove a nail in the side and left it for them to see. The firedamp came mainly from the Black Vein Coal and an efficient ventilation system, was considered essential.

On the day before the explosion one of the guide chains in the upcast shaft was broken by a fall of ironstone from part of the shaft and so the men were not allowed down that shaft. Many of them took the opportunity to ‘carouse and drink’ and several were intoxicated until after midnight.

On that night the fireman was repairing some fallen ground and did not personally visit the west side but men usually employed with him and a lad, went through the various windways but did not examine stalls, concluding that if former were in good condition so would be the latter also. They finished their inspection about 5 a.m. and on their return to the bottom of the shaft one of them reported that all was safe.

That morning, the 14th, the day foreman did not arrive at work due to illness but he sent his brother in his place. He went down the pit about 6 a.m. and went to the back of No.2 cross heading, west of the shafts where firedamp had been found on the evening of the 12th. While he was there, with other men, beating out gas with their coats into the airway and just about to test the air for gas, the explosion occurred.

Those who died were:-
John Danks who left a wife and family.
John Danks, son of John.
John Watts who left a wife.
George Sommers who left a wife and two children.
Isaac Brison who had a wife and family in Somerset.
William Bryant of Somerset.
Bryant, son of James Bryant.
John Attwell.
William Harrison.
John Bath, a young man.
James Gambel, left a wife and children.
John Powell, left a wife and two children.
Charles Hoarse, a young man.
Elias Jones.
George Williams.
William Thomas.
Isaac Fuidge.
Emmanuel Crook.
James Crook.
Samuel Silous, a young man.
James Pike, left a wife and family.
Jesse Hedges.
Thomas Wendward.
John Peel, a young man.
John Evans, widower with five children some of whom were married.

Bodies not recovered:-
James Lease, left a wife and child.
George Curtin, a young man.
George Bamfield, left a wife and family.
George Bamfield jnr.
Thomas Bamfield, son of above.
Isaac Lavel, wife and five daughters.
James Gullock, wife and family.
John Crook, a boy.

A. Gething said that the place where he was working on the Monday prior to the explosion was so full of firedamp that he had failed to get it out after two or three hours brushing. Lamps were used in the colliery but the men worked mainly with candles. The colliers had not been working the day before the disaster and the accident was put down to colliers approaching too near an old goaf with a naked light.

All the doors near the bottom of the shaft were blown out and this caused the ventilation to cease on the west side of the mine. Very few of the men were killed by the explosion but many of those who died, died from suffocation by the afterdamp as they tried to make their way to the shaft. The explosion killed thirty five and was made the subject of a special inquiry on behalf of the Government by Sir H.T. de la Benche.


1847: December, Nantyglow. Monmouthshire. 11 men were gassed and 8 lost their lives

The colliery was the property of Messrs. Bailey and eleven men were gassed and eight lost their lives. Among the dead were John Parkes and his two sons were killed. At the inquest it was heard that John Parkes and a party were careless in taking a candle into the workings but it was said that of the manager Mr. Whiteman had paid better attention, the men would not have done this. Whiteman was from Newcastle-on-Tyne and there was a body of opinion that 'one of their own' should be manager of the mine.


1848: 29th March, Eaglesbush. Neath. Glamorganshire.
The colliery was owned by Messrs. Penrose and Evans and was situated between New Heath and Brittanferry, one and half miles from Neath. The mine was entered by a drift down which the men walked. It extended for about 250 yards straight and then turned south. There were several stalls at the point where it turned in which three to five men worked. The mine had no artificial ventilation; in fact, the way in which the coal was reached presented difficulties in ventilation. The coal was known to be fiery and the quantity of air in the mine was small and it passed over a small furnace situated at the surface near the outcrop of the seam. Naked lights were allowed in the colliery.

There was a large accumulation of gas in the old stalls and an explosion took place at the far end of the workings at about 3 p.m. The gas, that was in all the stalls, caused a second explosion. There were about thirty men at work in the mine at the time and twenty were killed.

The colliery was shattered and the plant and machinery blown up the shaft. Most of the men who died, died from the effects of afterdamp and several were found to have been trying to get out along a level but their progress had been blocked by wagons in the road.

Those who lost their lives were:-
John Grey whose wife was expecting their first baby.
William Grey, single.
John Jenkins, single.
William Worthy, left two children.
John Morris left six children.
John Davies, single.
John Hopkin, single.
Thomas Christmas, left two children.
Benjamin Hopkins, left six children.
Robert Thomas, left eight children.
Joseph Thomas, son of Robert.
John Thomas, left seven children.
Morris Protberoe, single.
Leyson Reynolds, single.
Evan James, single.
William Griffiths, left five children.
Solomon Mainwaring, left one child.

It was reported that five others were in a dreadful state. Some of these must have died as the official death toll was twenty men and boys.

The inquest was held before Coroner Overton at Neath Town Hall. Rosser Thomas told the court:-

“On the day of the accident, I considered myself out of danger. I can not say whether the men further out were in danger or not. On that day I took the lamp out several times to cool, it was so warm. My partner took great care of his lamp. I did not think there was any danger whatever. The workmen had to furnish their own lamps. The Company have no one to inspect the lamps, only the colliers themselves.

David Griffiths is employed by Messrs. Penrose and Evans to go into the works every morning. He used to go into the colliery when he had time and does not go in every morning. His orders were to do so and sometimes he went in after the men. I cannot say that David Griffiths was the first down on that morning but I know he went down before half past eight that morning because I saw him coming up when I went down. There were eight men working in that airway. I worked until half past two in the afternoon of that day and we gave up work because of the accident. I do not know where the explosion took place. I saw Thomas Christmas, the deceased, on Wednesday morning and he had seen sulphur in the place where I was. I heard the noise of the explosion and saw the sulphur near the airway. I ran for my life with my companions down and old heading and into the drift.”

Detailed evidence was taken on the method of ventilation at the colliery which was by a furnace. The Coroner then summed up and a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ was returned.

After the disaster, a pair of Sturvé’s air pumps were installed which greatly improved the ventilation of the mine.


Victoria Iron Works. Aberdare, Monmouthshire, 21st. June, 1848.


Victoria Colliery No1

The No.9 Black Vein ironstone pit was at the Victoria Iron Works and mined both coal and iron ore. Mr. James Beaumont was the manager and John Frazer, the agent. The winding was done by a water balance by which a tank of water was filled and this counter balanced the bucket. When the water tank got to the bottom of the shaft, a valve at the bottom of the tank, opened and the water went into the sump to be pumped to the surface and used again.

The men were descending to work and when some had already gone down eleven men got into the bucket. When they were about halfway down the chain began to run at a great speed and the bucket and then crashed into the bottom of the shaft. The chain on the other side of the pit came to the surface with only the cross piece. On investigation it was found that the bucket with its contents and the balance chain had descended on the poor fellows. They were killed on the spot.

Those who died 21st of June 1848 were:-

Name Age Status
Hubert Chivers 13  
James Davis 39 Married
Richard Edwards 26 Single
John Harris 47 Married 4 Children
William Owen 18 Single
John Morgan 32 Widowed
James Phelps 29 Single
Emanuel Stilman 27 Widowed
David Thomas 29 Married 2 Children
Isaac Williams 23 Single
Richard Williams 27 Single

 

Another Disaster - 2nd of March 1871
Name Age Occupation Status Lived at
         
Francis Adams 21 Collier Single Briery Hill
John Chapman 23 Collier Married, 1 Child Old Pitty
Samuel Cooke 18 Collier Single Bee Row
John Evans 31 Collier Married, 5 Children Victoria Town
Charles Ford 20 Collier Single Powell's Row
John Gallope 30 Collier Married, 6 Children Briery Hill
Joseph Gallope 25 Collier Married Old Pitty
James George 24 Collier Married, 1 Child Briery Hill
Joseph Harris 12 Doorboy Boy Powell's Row
Thomas James 21 Collier Single Briery Hill
Thomas Mitchell 39 Collier Married, 10 Children Victoria Town
Phillip Phillips 59 Collier Married Bee Row
David Phillips 21 Collier Single Bee Row
George Williams 23 Haulier Single Briery Hill
William Plummer 24 Collier Married Victoria Town
Jonathan Price 50 Fireman Married, 6 Children Powell's Row
John Price 18 Collier Single ( Son of Jonathan )
James Tanner 58 Collier Married, 6 Children  
George Turk 18 Collier Single Briery Hill

An investigation revealed that the bucket at the pit bottom, which should have been balancing the descending bucket, had somehow become detached from the rope. The men in the bucket had nothing to act as a drag on them. It is recorded that the Victoria Company gave every assistance to the grieving relatives.

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