Senghenydd: mining deaths remembered on disaster’s centenary

Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, Senghenydd, Wales.

Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, Senghenydd, Wales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday was Cyclone Phailin, today was the centenary of the worst mining disaster in the UK, all the worse perhaps because it could have been avoided.  There had been a previous explosion twelve years earlier after which the mine-owners had been told to improve the mine conditions but didn’t.


Another day down the mine in Senghenydd Colliery.
Another day for a thousand valley men and boys.
Boys by name, men by rite.

Fourteen, three R’s engrained, following their fathers
down, deep down the pit-black night,
hewing coal, inhaling dust, hauling slag.

A tunnelled future, lives proscribed – fifty years of axe on rock,
no end in sight to the cloying smell, the feel,
the acrid taste of coal that wells from every pore.

No end unless, until, the fire-damp strikes.
Tanchwa Senghenydd, the Senghenydd explosion
that snuffed those future flames of life away.

One spark.  One spark ignites the fire-damp
creeping, roiling, biding time along the corridors of coal,
the silent killer waiting, stalking, ensnaring its prey.

The fire-burst besoms up the shunted coal-dust clouds
spontaneously combusting, self-fuelling
the locomotive holocaust that hurtles, hunting every shaft.

Some die at once, devoured by the scything dragon-jaws of flame;
some succumb to after-damp anoxia
silencing them to sleep, and some die slow.

The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, four hundred and forty died that day.
The compensation for each life – one shilling;
one shilling for a husband, one shilling for a father, one shilling for a son.


14th October 2013 – headline from the GuardianNotes:  Senghenydd: mining deaths remembered on disaster’s centenary.”  On 14 October 1913, a huge explosion, and then follow-on blasts, ripped through the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, just north of Caerphilly. This was a nasty dry pit, full of coal dust, very dangerous.  Almost 1,000 men and boys were below ground. In the valley they went into the pit at 14, as soon as they left school. The younger boys tended to stay close to their fathers, uncles and brothers in the mine, to learn from them and to stay safe.  But that did them no good at all when the dirty air caught fire at around 8.10am that day. It’s said the whole valley shook.  Everyone rushed up to the pit head; rescue efforts went on for three weeks. But in the end the count stood at 439 dead miners, plus one dead rescuer.

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