Remember Senghenydd by Jen Llywelyn (book review)

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
Price: £8.00
Publisher: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch


About cmsaunders

I write stuff. Pretty much any stuff. My dark fiction has appeared in Asphalt Jungle, Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Screams of Terror, Shallow Graves, Fantastic Horror, The Literary Hatchet, Gore and numerous anthologies. My first book, Into the Dragon's Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales was published back in 2003, and I've worked extensively in the freelance journalism industry, contributing features to numerous international publications including Fortean Times, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Loaded, Record Collector, Maxim, and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper. I lived in China for over five years where I taught English during my search for enlightenment, before moving back to the UK in January 2013 to work as staff writer on Nuts magazine. Later, I was senior writer on Forever Sports magazine and associate editor at Coach magazine, before leaving to chance my arm in the world of pro freelance. In recent times I've devoted more time to dark fiction, my latest offerings being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), Human Waste and X3, my third collection. I also edit, copy write, proofread and ghost write. I am represented by Media Bitch Literary Agency and drink far too much craft beer. View all posts by cmsaunders

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