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Cambrian Disaster Doc. 1
THE CAMBRIAN SWANSEA - FRIDAY MARCH 9th 1877
DREADFUL COLLIERY EXPLOSION AT FOREST FACH;
LOSS OF NINETEEN LIVES
The more immediate district of Swansea has for a considerable period enjoyed almost entire immunity from those dreadful underground accidents which ever and anon occur in different parts of the coalfield, robbing of life hundreds of poor fellows, and decimating the bread producing population of whole villages and districts. Reports fill the columns of newspapers only too often of explosions of fire-damp here, or of the fatal deeds of choke –damp there; but when disasters keep to a desirable distance from our own doorstep we cannot adequately estimate their sorrowful extent. Now how-ever, the almost proverbial calm of colliery life in the Swansea district has been rudely broken by an accident which in death-dealing severity exceeds most of the fatal occurrences that have been reported for a long time past.
The Worcester New Coal Pit is situated on the side of the main roadway from Swansea to Llanelly, and about two and a half miles from the former place. It is the property of the Landore Siemens Steel Company and is managed by Mr Thomas Glasbrook, who resides near the spot. The New Pit is closely adjoining the Old Worcester Pit, and what with large coke ovens, and long lines of railway trucks, and other evidences of extensive operations, the spot has an aspect of great activity. The workman’s cottages, the shops, the chapels, and other buildings that line the sides of the chief roadway and dot the slopes further off are very numerous, and there is every indication of a present rapid development. The chief industries are the collieries and the tin-works in the vicinity, and the former, as we have said, have been noted for their freedom and from gas and its concomitant accidents.
Yesterday morning the day turn men descended the shaft of the New Worcester Pit the usual time, soon after six o’clock. How many went down, it was not at first easy to determine, because Abraham Bevan, the overman, whose duty it was to examine the workings and take note of the men at work, was in the pit at the time of the explosion and is numbered with the killed. It appears however, that either 18 or 19 men, most of them married men, went to work in the Great Slant Working. Other men who went to other sections of the pit, escaped unhurt. Llangafelach Fair being held on the previous day, is thought to have reduced the number of men in the Slant below the ordinary figure; but it is also hinted that while the fair may have had a fortunate effect in this sense, it’s dissipation may possibly have been the cause of carelessness on the part of some of the unhappy men who were killed, and may thus have been the mainspring of the sad accident. After the men had gone to work, about 7 o’clock, a terrific explosion took place, the peculiar and never-to-be-forgotten rumbling of which was heard to a great distance under and above ground.
Fearing the worst, the colliers came up from the Old Worcester Colliery Pit ; as many as could come up from the workings of the New Worcester- all except those working in the fatal Slant; and a great crowd of women and children and off-turn colliers came to the pit’s mouth. The scene was a truly heartrending one/ The terrified eager faces of the Women and girls as they inquired after some relative who was or was supposed to be in the dark depths below, - the shrieks with which they recognised their dead, and carried them on biers to their sad, sad homes, - the scared look of the men, who bold and rude enough in daily life, were sympathetically silent in the presence of death. – The sombre surroundings of the silent colliery machinery, - all these made up a scene. Perhaps the most depressing that humanity can look on. As early as possible after the accident, exploring parties went down the shaft, and body after body was brought to the surface until 16 had been reclaimed. Then a longer gap occurred, as the explorers met with many obstructions in the Slant, and fallen debris from roof and side under which other bodies were supposed to be lying. The bodies brought up bore few of the disfiguring traces of the action of fire-damp. The poor fellows having been for the most part –suffocated by the fatal after-damp. Mr Thomas Glasbrook, the manager of the colliery, Mr D.H Thomas the surgeon, and others connected with the pit were soon on the spot to render what service and direction they could under the most painful circumstances. Within a short time also, Mr Riley, manager of the Landore Siemen’s Steel Works; Mr John Robert’s of Tir Llandwr, came to the pit-head; and volunteered any help that semed to be needful or practicable. Other gentlemen connected with neighbouring works and collieries were equally sympathetic. Mr Wales. H.M. Inspector of mines and Mr Edward Rice Daniel descended the pit about mid-day to examine into the cause of the accident, and the extent of disturbances in the Slant Workings.
Up to four o’clock the following sixteen poor fellows dead bodies had been brought up; - Abraham Bevan, married: (overman); David Davies, married (fireman); John Davies; single; David Williams, married; William Williams, single; Thomas Thomas. Married; John Morris, unknown; Evan Davies, married; David Anthony, single; Henry Jones, married; David Davies, not known; David Thomas, not known; Robert Howells, single; Charles Cooper, married; John Prosser, married. The remaining two, and it was believed a third were still undiscovered at that hour;-
David Thomas, married; and William Matthews, single.
It is only right to add that this is the first explosion which has occurred in this colliery. It is stated to be exceedingly well ventilated upon the “fan principle” – Mr Thomas Glasbrook, the manager is “well-known” as a most “able and careful manager” and the cause of this sad calamity is at present a mystery and probably will ever so remain, as those who could give any account thereof are killed. Fortunately the full force of the explosion seems to be confined to the Great Slant, or the sacrifice of life would have been far greater. The colliery has been somewhat damaged, but not to the extent that was first supposed. Later on the whole of the 18 bodies were recovered. Mr Wales. The Government Inspector found upon inspection the blast had produced so little affect on the stability of the workings that it was difficult the actual spot where it had occurred. Having gone through the works he was unable to find any gas except in one working place, where the brattice tubing had been blown down and destroyed. Three or four of the poor fellows killed were slightly burnt by the explosion, but the whole of the deaths were certified by the medical officer to have been caused by after-damp.
We have been informed on reliable authority on examination the book containing a record of the state of the pit for a considerable period of time past, that the workings were so free from gas that until recently it was considered unnecessary to use safety lamps. Lately however, these have been employed, and their use has been strictly enjoined and enforced on all the colliers descending the pit.
A lamp with the safety case removed from it was found in the neighbourhood of the explosion, which may tend to account for the awful calamity.
The accident has widowed 15 or 16 women, and left fatherless about 45 children. The sad event has cast quite a gloom over the town of Swansea and the whole surrounding district, and such genuine sympathy is expressed towards those who have been thus suddenly and ruthlessly deprived of their relatives and friends.
Note: The disaster took place on Thursday 8th March 1877.
*Re-written from the Cambrian Friday March 9th 1877 by Robert Davies, Fforestfach, Swansea*
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