Senghenydd Colliery Disaster
|Date||14 October 1913|
|Location||Senghenydd, South Wales|
|Deaths||440 men and boys|
|Verdict||Explosion caused by firedamp ignition|
The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, also known as the Senghenydd Explosion (Welsh: Tanchwa Senghennydd), occurred in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, Glamorgan, Wales on 14 October 1913, killing 439 miners and one rescuer. It is the worst mining accident in the United Kingdom, and one of the most serious globally in terms of loss of life. The explosion gained this distinction nearly half a century after the previous worst disaster – the Oaks explosion at Oaks Pit, in Barnsley, Yorkshire, on 12 December 1866, when 361 workers died in two separate explosions.
The demand for Welsh steam coal before World War I was enormous, driven by the Royal Navy and its huge fleet of steam battleships, dreadnoughts and cruisers, and by foreign navies allied to Britain and the British Empire. Coal output from British mines peaked in 1914, and there were a correspondingly large number of accidents around this time.
Universal Colliery was developed from 1891, and owned by William Thomas Lewis. As he pressed the development of the mine to greater depths for access to thicker seams of steam coal, in 1901 an explosion at the colliery killed 81 men. The Mines Inspectorate was highly critical of Lewis for not improving safety. In 1911, Lewis was created 1st Baron Merthyr. The Mines Inspectorate gave Lewis an extended deadline of September 1913 to complete the safety plan implementation, but again this deadline was missed.
Six weeks after the final mines inspectorate deadline, which had been missed, on the morning of 14 October 1913 there were approximately 950 men working in Universal Colliery's three pits. Just after 8am an explosion ripped through the west side underground workings. The cause was probably a build up of firedamp (methane) being ignited by electric sparking from equipment such as electric bell signalling gear. The initial explosion disturbed coal dust present on the floor, raising a cloud that then also ignited. The shock wave ahead of the explosion raised yet more coal dust, so that the explosion was effectively self-fuelling. Those miners not killed immediately by the fire and explosion would have died quickly from afterdamp, the noxious gases formed by combustion. These include lethal quantities of carbon monoxide, which kills very quickly by combining preferentially with haemoglobin in the blood, resulting in suffocation by lack of oxygen or anoxia.
Survivors were extracted from the colliery with the last 18 miners rescued more than a fortnight after the explosion. The resulting funerals took over a month to complete. The mines manager was fined £24 for breaches of the mines safety code, whilst the owner William Thomas Lewis was fined £10.
Four memorials to the disaster are located in Senghenydd. The first is outside Nant-y-parc Primary School, which is built on the site of the old mine. At St. Cenydd Comprehensive School is a list of names of those who died from the explosion, and they have a truck of coal as a memorial. There is also a memorial at the local pub, the Green Pint.
On 16 October 2013, on the centennial of the disaster, a Welsh national memorial to all mine disasters was unveiled at the former pit head. With co-funding raised by the Aber Valley Heritage Group and their patron Roy Noble, and matched by the Welsh Assembly Government, a bronze statue designed by sculptor Les Johnson FRBS, depicting a rescue worker coming to the aid of one of the survivors of the explosion, was unveiled by First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones.
- Duckham, Helen and Baron, Great Pit Disasters: Great Britain 1700 to the present day, David & Charles (1973)
- Brown, John H., The Valley of the Shadow: An account of Britain's worst mining disaster, the Senghennydd explosion, Alun Books (1981)
- Phillips, J. Basil, Senghennydd: A Brave Community, The Old Bakehouse (2002)
- Wilson, Matthew, The Senghenydd Explosion, Your Family Tree, September 2006: 28–30.
- Miners' Rows, Senghenydd
- "Senghenydd mining disaster: Thousands to mark centenary". BBC. 14 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
- BBC News, Major mining disasters in Britain http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14941020
-  Photo of the Memorial
- "Senghenydd: Centenary of UK's worst pit disaster marked". bbc.co.uk. 14 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
- "Margaret Coles". hayhouse.co.uk/. 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
- Aber Valley Heritage Group
- Senghenydd: A History in Photographs
- Virtual Tour of the Aber Valley
- Gathering the Jewels: The Website for Welsh Cultural History
- Senghenydd Postcards
- Coal Mining History Resource Centre
- South Wales Police Museum
- Wales on Air: The Senghenydd Tragedy
- BBC Radio 4, Making History, 7 October 2003: The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, 1913 STREAMING AUDIO
- Welsh Coal Mines – brief histories of all Wales' pits
- 1962 interview with William Vizard, ex-miner who survived the disaster