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Glyn Colliery, Pontypool, Monmouthshire. 22nd January 1890

Information From Ian Winstanley - Five lives were lost in an explosion of firedamp

The colliery was the property of the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, Limited.

Five lives were lost in an explosion of firedamp.

The explosion occurred at about 1 a.m. The mine was worked exclusively with safety lamps except on the engine plane which was the main intake road along which a large volume of air travelled. The gas was ignited on the engine plane near the top portion which was known as the Jubilee Dip and was about 1,200 yards from the shaft where an abandoned level branched off to the old workings in the Black Vein. This old level was ‘bashed’ or ‘stowed up’ for about 40 yards from the engine plane and a brick stopping was built at both ends of the bashing. Pipes were laid along the floor to allow the water to run off.

Two repairers were working with naked lights at this point, raising the timber couplings. One of the repairers ignited the gas from his naked lamp and it continued to burn in a large jet, setting fire to the timbers. There was no accumulation of gas and no person was injured by this ignition.

The gas was prevented from accumulating by that large flow of air down the engine plane and the repairers were at first a great deal frightened and did not appear to have attempted to put out the flames. As soon as they had recovered themselves they went to warn others and later found the flame too large for them to deal with. The smoke and the products of combustion were carried by the air current into the Black Vein (Jubilee) workings beyond in which there were 80 men at work. These men found it impractical to make their way out through the smoke and all but five came out by the return air road.

William Dowell, a repairer, who was working that night with his brother and one of the deceased at the far end of the Black Vein workings was about 2,100 yards from the pit said- 

“I went to work on that night in the back of the Rock or Black Vein workings in James Cross’s heading. The heading had recently been cut through to Enoch George’s heading at the extra end of the workings. I got to work about 11 p.m. and I commenced framing a parting or timbering of a stall of this cross heading. At about 1 a.m. David Lloyd, one of the deceased, was besides me having just eaten his supper and was talking to me. Lloyd noticed the smoke before I did as I was working with a hatchet, and he asked me what the smoke was. On looking up I saw the smoke near the roof about a foot thick coming with the air. I replied that I did not know what it was but that I would go and find out as I felt there must be something wrong. On getting to the parting to which the ropes of the engine plane worked, I saw two hauliers with William Evans the dukey or bank rider. They did not know the cause of the smoke and we went further on the Jubilee dip to the road by which the empty trams were taken into the workings. The smoke continued to increase. We were joined by four other men who were working further out in the Dukey road and had come inwards. In reply to me they said that they were going out by the return and asked us to come along as quickly as we could, as they could not get back. I said that I would go back round and let the other men know. I went in the same way as I came out and met one man and told him to make haste and go out by the return. He said to save time and he would let the men up his heading know and get them to come out. I went into the back or far end, and on the way met John Crane and his boy, they followed me. Next we met Charles Reed and boy and they came with me. I next reached my working place where my brother, along with Henry Spier, one of the deceased, who was working with us that night. David Lloyd and Henry Price were also there. They were waiting and the smoke was so thick that they could not see to work. I told them to make haste and go out by the return. I put my waistcoat on and put my shirt under my arm and started through the face of Enoch George’s heading when I saw Francis Turner and Nicholls who worked with him. I told them to get out. I with others continued our way up through the return and on the way we met Charles Legg and Thomas Williams who were going inwards. I told Legg that all was right and I had let the men know. Someone behind said that Francis Turner and ‘Old’ Spiers were behind. Legg and Williams continued into the workings. I met Alfred Brain at the separation doors turning the men into the return and over the crossing. Thomas Miles was directing them and then we got to the Dukey road or engine plane through the Meadow Vein and I went out of the pit. I afterwards went back to assist Mr. Jones and others with the pipes. I spoke to four out of the five deceased and warned them to come out. Three out of the four were together. I thought they were following me. Lloyd had been working in the return and should have known it well. There was no difficulty in finding the way out. I think they must have remained too long and been overcome by the smoke.”  The manager, Mr. John Jones and his son the undermanager were sent for and they reached the place where ignition had taken place within two hours of the event. They found that the return airway so charged with fumes the lamps were extinguished. He took prompt measure by driving roads on each side of the blaze to get water to the fire but unfortunately this was without avail.

It was decided on Monday 27th January that it was no longer justifiable to take risks and arrangers were made to flood the mine. This was completed on 12th April and pumping work then commenced and at the time of Mr. Martin writing the report, the work was going well with 1,000 yards of the pit cleared.

The men who died were:- 

  • George Spiers or Spear, aged 41 years labourer
  • Francis Turner aged 39 years, collier
  • David Lloyd aged 29 years, collier
  • Arthur Mills aged 18 years, collier
  • Henry Price or Preece aged 17 years, collier

At the inquest there were several first-hand accounts of the events in the mine leading up to the disaster.

William Henry James stated:- 
“I went into the mine at about 6 p.m. with Robert Newberry who had been working with him for about a week. We were raising the timbers in the Jubilee dip and began work about 7 p.m. By 12.30 a.m. we had put in two new pairs of timber and were going to fill the rubbish that had fallen. In examining the place to see that all was secure, before tightening up the last pair of timbers, I noticed an old bar two or three yards further in which had freshly broken and was showing white. I went to examine it. On raising my naked lamp close to the timber, gas was ignited and I reeled back a few yards. The gas continued to burn below the old collars which was the lower part of the new ones. I then went back further and took Newberry with me. It continued to burn and we went back together about 150 yards to where the knocker for signalling on the engine plane was and sent a boy from there into the Meadow Vein for Thomas Mayers, a repairer and others if he saw them.  Mayers came to us in a few minutes and we returned to see if we could extinguish the fire. On reaching the place we found that the flames were higher than when we left and that the timbers were on fire. Some of the timbers and debris then began to fall. Seeing that we could do nothing to extinguish the fire we went by the Meadow Vein to the return to try and let the men known what had occurred. We took safety lamps which we had borrowed and in the return found the smoke coming very strong. We went forward a distance and met men coming out. We were told by George Thompson and others that all knew of the smoke and they were coming from the Jubilee workings by return. They said Charles Legg the examiner or fireman had gone back to get them all out. On Legg’s return he told us that he had gone as far as he could and heard no men. We returned to the mouth of the Meadow Pit and stayed there for some time. Legg, Brain and I went back to the fire and found it still burning. As soon as we met Alfred Brain we sent a man to go and tell the manager. Charles Legg went out to meet Mr. Jones and I met Mr. Jones son. About one and half hour elapsed before Mr. Jones reached the place and up to that time nothing had been done to extinguish the fire. Mr. Jones started all hands to get the pipes ready to use to get a jet of water on the fire.”  Charles Legg, the fireman said that he had taken over from Walter Cunninghan and everything was reported as all right in the pit and Alfred Brain gave much the same story as the others who had given evidence. 

Mr. Martin concluded his report thus- 
“I have pleasure in recording my appreciation of the admirable manner in which the Company’s officials and workmen acted throughout the very trying four or five days during which it was attempted to overcome the fire, and likewise the valuable assistance rendered by owners, officials and workmen of neighbouring collieries. They seemed to vie with each other in their exertions. Notwithstanding the very inclement winter weather and the very well known and recognised risk which existed, there was no shirking of work or responsibility. I have never known greater reliance exhibited in the conduct of operations than in this case, and the universal sympathy and good feelings extended by all parties to the responsible officers must I am sure, have been very gratified during the great anxiety attending the work.”