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The Gresford Disaster was one of the worst mining accidents to occur in Wales.
Work began at sinking the pit at Gresford, near Wrexham, in 1908 by the United Westminster and Wrexham Collieries. Two shafts were sunk, the Dennis (named after the industrialist Dennis family of Ruabon) and the Martin, which were 50 yards apart. Work was completed in 1911 and the mine was one of the deepest in the Denbighshire coal field, with the Dennis shaft reaching a depth of about 2264 feet and the Martin shaft about 2252 feet.
By 1934, 2200 miners were employed at the colliery, with 1850 working underground and 350 on the surface.
Some 19th century working practices were still in evidence in the pit although some mechanisation had been introduced. Prior to explosion there was evidence of heat and gas in colliery.
On September 22 at 2:08 a.m. a violent explosion shook the Dennis section of mine, over a mile from the bottom of the shaft, and a fire took hold. At the time a total of 500 men were working underground at the colliery on the night shift, which was unusually high because some men had worked double shifts that night in order to be able to attend a carnival and football match the following day.
Only six men managed to escape from the Dennis section by climbing from the pit bottom by ladder. All of the other 262 miners working in that section were killed.
Within a few hours of the first explosion, large crowds of miners and relatives had gathered in silence at the pit head waiting for news.
Volunteer rescue teams from Gresford and other nearby collieries tried to enter the mine but were hindered by the ferocity of the fire and a lack of fire fighting equipment and water.
Three members of the rescue brigade were killed. Others fought the fire until the evening of following day but made little progress. By this time it was certain that all of the miners were dead and conditions in the pit were so dangerous that it was decided to cap both shafts to seal off the fire.
Further explosions occurred during which one of the seals on the shaft blew out and a surface worker was killed by the flying debris.
Only eleven bodies were recovered from the mine. Inquests recorded the cause of death as carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Dennis section of the mine was never reopened and the bodies of the 254 victims were sealed in the mine.
In September of that year 1100 Gresford miners signed on the unemployment register.
Relief funds were set up by the Mayor of Wrexham, the Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire and the Lord Mayor of London', raising a total of over £500,000 for the dependants of the victims.
An inquiry opened October 25, 1934 and highlighted management failures, lack of safety measures, bad working practices and poor ventilation in the pit. The miners were represented at the Inquiry by Sir Stafford Cripps.
Gresford Colliery reopened six months after disaster with coal production resuming in January 1936.
In 1937, court proceedings were started in Wrexham against the Pit Manager, the Under-Manager and the United and Westminster Collieries Limited, the owners of the mine. The court found the mine's management guilty only of inadequate record-keeping.
Gresford Colliery finally closed on economic grounds in November 1973 and the site was developed as an industrial estate.
In 1982 a memorial to the victims of the disaster was erected near to the former colliery. It was constructed from the wheel from the old pit head winding gear.
The victims names can be found in the links below
The Gresford Disaster
- You've heard of the Gresford Disaster,
- Of the terrible price that was paid;
- Two hundred and sixty-four colliers were lost,
- And three men of the rescue brigade.
- It occurred in the month of September
- At three in the morning the pit
- Was racked by a violent explosion
- In the Dennis where gas lay so thick.
- Now the gas in the Dennis deep section
- Was packed there like snow in a drift,
- And many a man had to leave the coal-face
- Before he had worked out his shift.
- Now a fortnight before the explosion,
- To the shotfirer Tomlinson cried,
- "If you fire that shot we'll be all blown to hell!"
- And no one can say that he lied.
- Now the fireman's reports they are missing
- The records of forty-two days;
- The collier manager had them destroyed
- To cover his criminal ways.
- Down there in the dark they are lying.
- They died for nine shillings a day;
- They have worked out their shift and now they must lie
- In the darkness until Judgement Day.
- Now the Lord Mayor of London's collecting
- To help out the children and wives;
- The owners have sent some white lilies
- To pay for the poor colliers' lives.
- Farewell, all our dear wives and our children
- Farewell, all our comrades as well,
- Don't send your sons down the dark dreary mine
- They'll be doomed like the sinners in hell.
The song was issued as a broadsheet soon after the disaster. It has been recorded by The Hennessys, Ewan MacColl, Alex Campbell and the Albion Country Band amongst others. The disaster is the subject of the song The Collier on the 2006 album Freedom Fields by Seth Lakeman.
- Collieries of Denbighshire, G.G. Lerry 1968
- Virtual Book of Remembrance at Wrexham Museum.
- Memorial Gallery at Wrexham Museum.
- Gathering The Jewels at the National Library at Aberystwyth.
- This page was last modified on 24 May 2013, at 11:14.
- This page has been accessed 4,197 times.
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