The Marine Colliery
Cwm, Monmouthshire. 1st. March, 1927
The Marine Colliery was about three miles from Ebbw Vale and was owned by the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company. There were two shafts at the colliery which were sunk to the Old Coal Seam at 404 yards.
The seams that were worked at the colliery were the Old Coal and the Black Vein from the No.1 shaft which was the upcast and the Threequarter, Elled and Big Vein from the No.2 shaft which was the downcast.
The explosion occurred in the Black Vein Seam at 350 yards down. It was reached by means of cross measure drifts, one of which was the intake from the Old Coal Seam and the other from the Meadow Vein which was the return.
The Black Vein Seam, was about five feet thick with a strong roof above which was a bed of sandstone. At the time of the explosion the seam was worked by three long faces and the coal was transported by jigging conveyors to the trams on the levels. The conveyors were operated by compressed air engines.
The personnel at the colliery were as follows, Mr. H. McVicar was the general manger of all the collieries of the Company with Mr. W.H. John as the agent. Mr. E.J. Gay was the certificated manager with Mr. David John Michael and Mr. W. Wakely as certificated undermanagers. There were nine overmen, two assistant overmen and twenty five firemen employed at the colliery. In the Black Vein District there was one overman and one fireman on the morning shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., one overman and one fireman on the afternoon shift from 3.20 p.m. to 11.20 p.m. and on the night shift which was from 10.30 p.m. to 6. 30 a.m., there was one fireman with the overman in charge of all the No.1 Pit workings during this shift. The inspection that was required by the Coal Mines Act 1911, was made within two hours of the commencement of work and the report made by the fireman of the preceding shift. The total number of men employed at the colliery on the three shifts was 1,385 of whom thirty two were in the Black Vein and twenty seven in the Old Coal at the time of the disaster.
Mr. McVicar went underground from time to time and the last inspected the Black Vein workings on 14th February. He was accompanied by Mr. John and Mr. Gay. Mr John again inspected the workings on 25th February with Mr. Gay. Mr. Michael's duties were confined to the workings of the No.1 Pit and he visited the Black Vein District about four times a week while Mr. Wakely attended to the workings of the No.2 Pit.
The ventilation of the colliery was by a Walker Indestructible fan at the top of the No.1 shaft. It was capable of circulation 350,000 cubic feet of air per minute at 6-inch water gauge but at the time of the explosion it was producing 240,000 cubic feet per minute at 5-inch water gauge. Following the long stoppage of work during 1926, the return airway was in need of repairs some of which had been completed and other work was nearing completion. At the time of the explosion the smallest airway measured seven feet by four and a half feet. In the Black Vein District, flame safety lamps were use by the officials and firemen and the workmen were provided with electric safety lamps.
The compressed air haulage engines were placed in the intake cross measure drift, at the top of the No.2 heading, half way along the 'B' level and one rather more than half way along the 'A' level. The signals for the engines were given by electric bells powered by Leclanche cells and other than this, there was no electricity in the mine.
There was no shotfiring in the seam and as a precaution against coal dust, the roads were stone dusted and ten tons of stone dust were sent down the pit each week. The men were searched at the pit bottom at the beginning of each shift. The person appointed to search the men on the night shift was William Matthews who was the overman. About a fortnight before the disaster, a match had been found in the small pocket of the overcoat of a workman and there was some debate as to whether it was advisable to search underground and not on the surface at the inquiry.
The explosion occurred at 12.50 a.m. and the manager was sent for at once by a man who had ascended the No.1 shaft. He arrived at the colliery at 1.05 a.m. when he was told that there had been an explosion by two men who had been working at the bottom of the No.1 shaft. They said:-
"They were suddenly knocked down and, on rising, saw clouds of smoke coming from the East."
They had at once signalled to the banksman and were wound up the pit. The undermanager of the No.2 Pit,
Mr. Wakely, arrived and after a consultation with the banksman, they both went to test the return air in the fan drift and found that it was undamaged. They had thought they smelt smoke which indicated an underground fire but fortunately this proved not to be so.
Mr. McVicar, the general manager and Mr. John, the agent, were summoned to the colliery. The Rescue Station at Crumlin was alerted and the ambulance store attached to the colliery and local Doctors were called. The manager signalled down the pit but there was no reply. He gave orders for the cages to run and the cage arrived at the surface with two badly injured men. The cage was raised and lowered but no one else came up the pit.
Evan Evans, an overman, had arrived at the pit and he, McVicar and Gay descended the No.2 Pit leaving Wakely in charge at the surface.
When they arrived at the pit bottom they decided to make their way along the intake airway in the Elled seam to the top of a staple pit. This was known as the Spiral Staircase and was found to be damaged but they managed to descend fifteen yards to the Threequarter Seam. They went down the cross measure drift to the Black Vein along Enoch Wood's road to the No1 Heading. They could go no further because of gas but they followed the intake air which was short circuiting and found Robert Pester and Robert Button alive but badly injured. They later died from their injuries.
There was a heavy fall and they could go no further. By this time the agent, Mr. John, had arrived at the pit bottom with three workmen. At the No.1 heading they met the first party and explained to McVicar that the men were ascending the No.1 Pit. The two injured men were left with three workmen and the remainder of the party went to the surface for help.
They arrived at the surface at 3.30 a.m. where they found the Managing Director, Mr. F.P. Hann and several doctors. One of the doctors, Dr. Florence O'Sullivan, descended at once with a squad of ambulance men to tend to the two injured men who had been found. It was also learned that seven men, who had been working in the Old Coal Seam, east district, had got out of the pit by the No.1 shaft after coming out through the return airway.