Digging up the Past: a photographic archive from the South Wales coalfield
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Disasters

This is a very small selection of true stories and anecdotes about disasters in the mining industry.

Click on the names to read their stories:

Idris Parry:
International Colliery, 1970s

Gaynor Madgwick:
Aberfan disaster survivor


International Colliery

International Colliery, Blaengarw

(The account of the following accident was related to me by Mr Idris Parry of St. Bride's Road, Aberkenfig).

Some time back in the late 1970s, work was being carried out on the supply road in the G1 district of the colliery. The sides and roof were well supported and the 'rippings' (cuttings from the roof) were about ten yards behind the 'smooth' (roof immediately above the coal). Without warning, the rippings came back on the supports without breaking up. The alert was sounded but it was discovered that two men were missing. On further investigation, one of the men was found lying face down partially buried and had died of asphyxia. The second man was later found behind the conveyor, onto which he had been shovelling coal, and was in a crouching position. Tragically, the handle of the shovel which he had been using had been forced underneath his chin and he had choked to death.


Garw Colliery

Bethania Chapel, PontycymerIn the early part of March 1950, a young lad of sixteen who lived in Pantygog was killed towards the end of his shift. Apparently, a large stone had detached itself from the roof and struck him on the head; he died a minute or two later. His funeral, which took place a few days later, was attended by a large number of people who walked from Pantygog to the cemetery at the top of Alexandra Road, two miles up a very steep hill. Cars were not plentiful then and the only vehicles to be seen were the hearse and a few cars carrying his family and friends.

 

 

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Gaynor Madgwick
from her book Aberfan: Struggling out of the Darkness a survivor's story
published by Valley and Vale Community Arts

The tips were always to be seen. A build-up of water pressure under the tip had exploded causing an avalanche of mud and slurry. There were so many questions to be answered and who was to blame? There was even talk that there had been an inspection of the tips only days before and they were found to be not safe, but nothing had been said or done. The colliery at Merthyr Vale continued to dump its waste, forming the tips which led to the disaster.

It took 9000 men to run the pit, with Nixonville, Taff Street and Crescent Street built to accommodate the miners' families. Major Bell sunk the pit and two shafts were sunk parallel to each other in the base of Aberfan. Powell Duffryn Mines were the second owners of the colliery and the NCB were the last company to take over the pit in 1974.

On the surface of the pit 1200 men worked. Miners were subjected to much suffering, hardship and poverty in their homes. Death in the mines claimed many lives and maimed others only to gouge the earth to earn a living. Trams were daily going from the pit, about eight to twelve trams a day full of the waste being mined from the washery. An average tram full of waste would weigh about three tons. On the journey up to the tip there were three engine houses, each with a man to drive the haulage. One track would take all the full loads up to the pit. When they were dumped, they would come back down empty, where a man would change the rope over on the parting and the other full load waiting would go back up the tip. This was a regular journey of twelve loads a day on a two shift system. A horse would pull three trams full of red ash from the colliery boiler house over the bridge over the river and up to the other side of the tip, forming a mountain of red ash.

These daily procedures carried on for thirty to forty years and the tips were getting bigger and bigger. There was a stream called the Old Goitre coming from the top of the mountain running alongside the tip. This stream was eventually filled over and blocked by the different classes of material being tipped.

A crane was used on one of the tips for hoisting the full trams one at a time and tipping their contents onto the slag heap.

Days before the Aberfan disaster someone noticed cracks in the tip. The workmen were told to move the crane back from the edge of the tip because it was causing the cracks.

The workmen on the early morning shift that day of the 21st usually started at 7.30am. By the time they walked to the tip edge amongst all the mist they could see a huge crater. The tip had gone. Returning to their cabin, the phones were down, the railway lines were suspended in mid air where once the tip supported the tracks. It was too late for the men who ran down the side of the tip to raise the alarm. The tip had already done its damage. My dad remembers clocks being found broken, like time stood still. The clocks stopped at a quarter past nine when the tips engulfed the school where so many innocent children lost their lives. After 11am no-one was brought out alive.

Village people were left numb by the events of 21st October 1966. Children who survived were never taken for granted again. Those who remained walked alone in the meadows or wandered in the empty streets of their former playmates. The village cemetery, a symbol of death, has become in Aberfan, the centre of life. One child's mother would not go up to the cemetery to see her daughter's grave. She remembered feeling and thinking she had only gone for a holiday. She would be back. Going up to the cemetery, the reality would be too much to bear. But dozens of parents visited the graves every day; some sat for hours at night with their little black lamps. No day went by without visitors who paid their respects to the cemetery. From all over the world they came, bewildered.

But amongst all this horror, there was a breath of new life - the first baby to be born after the disaster. It was to be a boy by the name of Dennis Downing, born to his mother, Irene, and father, Ken, in their living room in Cottrel Street. Mrs Jones, the midwife who delivered Dennis, had been quoted as saying that all she kept thinking about was all the children she had delivered and now had gone. She had brought them into the world and for what? The sound of this baby's cries, born on 6th December 1966, generated new life and new families that would fill the empty streets once more.

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