Remember Senghenydd: The Colliery Disaster of 1913
Edited by Jen Llywelyn
(click the picture for more info)
Just after 8am on October 14th 1913, there was an underground explosion at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, south Wales. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 439 miners and one rescue worker, making it the worst mining accident in British history. Many others were trapped underground, the last being rescued more than two days after the explosion.
It is thought that the explosion was caused by a build-up of methane gas, which was ignited by machinery. Vast clouds of coal dust facilitated the fire. The cruel irony is that the disaster came just a decade after a similar accident in which a further 81 people lost their lives. After that first incident, the investigating authorities were highly critical of the safety conditions at the colliery. Yet evidently, nothing much changed. The general belief was that corners had been cut in order to save money. And then there was the hidden cost. The Senghenydd Disaster left 205 widows and 542 fatherless children, most of whom were turfed out of their colliery-tied cottages by callous officials when they were unable to pay their bills any more. Irresponsible mine owners were fined a paltry £24.
This remarkable book, painstakingly put together by Jen Llewellyn just in time for the 100-year anniversary of the disaster, serves as a permanent reminder of the fragility of human life, and the harsh realities of the industrial age. It collates a huge number of newspaper reports, memoirs, personal narratives, poems, photographs and various official documents, many never before published, to provide a poignant snapshot of a town reaping the benefits of an economic boom, and paying a terrible price for the privilege. But this isn’t just the story of a small town in Wales. What happened in Senghenydd on that fateful morning a century ago could happen in any one of a multitude of similar places throughout Wales, Britain, and the rest of the world. If there is one thing the era of capitalism has taught us, it is that flesh is cheap.
Like Aberfan, modern-day Senghenydd is a place stained by tragedy. Not only is the landscape physically scarred, but the fabric of the community has been ripped apart. This amount of suffering and sorrow leaves an indelible mark, which lives on to this day. At the same time though, this book is a triumph of the human spirit as it tells us how, on hearing of the explosion, literally thousands of local men, some working at other pits, rushed to the scene to help the rescue effort. Some even writing their last wills on the way in expectation of the absolute worst. If it hadn’t been for them, the death toll would surely have been higher.
Length: 176 pages
Publisher: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch