GENWEN. Llanelli, Carmarthen. 5th. March, 1907.

The colliery was the property of ??? and consisted of two shafts which were 10 yards apart, one upcast and one downcast, which were sunk to the Four Feet seam at 76 yards in the downcast and 90 yards in the upcast. The downcast was the pumping pit and was fitted with a Cornish engine, pump rods and columns of pipes which took the water to the surface. A large hand crab and steam engine was available to raise men through the shaft if it was required and there was a ladderway in the shaft.

The officials at the colliery were Mr. Harry David, certificated manager, M.r John Benyon, certificated undermanager, Messrs John Evans and Benjamin Evans, firemen. There were shifts of miners or miners and trammers constantly in the pit and the arrangement of the attendance of the firemen meant that there were three hours, from 5.30 to 8.30 a.m., when there was no fireman in the pit, Mr. Benyon examined the faces of both headings about 4 p.m. on the day of the explosion and found that all was safe then.

The upcast shaft wound coal and was fitted with cages in which the men ascended and descended the pit. Close to this shaft there was a Waddle Fan, 25 feet in diameter which worked at 45 r.p.m. and delivered about 13,142 cubic feet per minute through the mine. This figure was the last measurement before the explosion.

The Four Feet seam which was worked at the colliery was in the Upper Pennant Series, a series which contained more fully developed coal seams in the Llanelli district than in any other part of the South Wales coalfield. The average section of the seam was a shale roof, 2 feet 9 inches of coal, 1 inch of soft shale, 3 feet 3 inches coal, 1-inch soft shale, 1-foot coal, and a fireclay floor.

The colliery was small and employed only 37 men at the time of the accident, 26 of whom worked underground. The mine was worked by three shifts of miners and all were engaged in driving a pair of narrow headings, 17 yards apart with “topholes” or connections between them for ventilation. The faces of the headings were about 1,364 yards from the shaft.

The intake air went down the pumping shaft, down an inclined road dipping 25 degrees to the north, on to the upper of the two parallel headings and along this road to the last holed top hole. It returned by the lower level which was also the haulage road along which the coal was drawn by horses. The working faces of the level and the top holes were ventilated by canvas brattice sheet tubes, 18 inches in diameter fro the levels and 15 inches in diameter for the inbye top hole. The air was properly conducted to the faces and the fan had ample ventilation power. Both the levels had a large sectional area and were well driven and timbered. The coal was got without blasting and there was no question of the explosion being caused by explosives.

Bonneted Clanny flame safety lamps were used and were locked by a screw. It was well known that this type of lock could be opened with a simple tool and relocked without fear of detection. This method was universally condemned by the Mines Inspectors but it had never been declared illegal but progress had been made and at the time of the disaster, only nine percent of lamps in the Swansea District were locked by this method.

The lamps were kept in a small room near the top of the upcast shaft but no lampman was employed to oil, clean, repair and keep the lamps in good order as was required by the Special Rules. The miners looked after their lamps and took them, unlocked, to a station underground where they were examined and locked by the fireman. The station was in the intake airway, but top reach it the men had to descend the pit and travel 76 yards in the return and it was possible to travel by the return to the face without going through the lamp station. To comply with the 4th general Rule, the station should have been at the surface.

The separation doors between the intake and the return were not doubled but consisted of a wooden door and a canvas sheet. This again, was a breach of the rules.

At the time of the explosion the seam was producing gas freely at the face of the headings but for about two-thirds of the distance of the headings no gas was to be found. To keep the faces gas free, the ventilation pipes had to be kept about three yards from the face and any derangement of the ventilation resulted in a rapid build up of gas.

At the inquest the undermanager and fireman stated that gas had been found on several occasions but no report appeared in the report books. It was said that gas that was cleared by the pipes need not be reported. On 9th November 1906, Mr. F Napier White, Assistant Inspector found gas while accompanied by the manager and the undermanager in the face of the upper level and tin two places in the lower level.

The explosion occurred about 6.15 p.m. when only four people were in the mine who were miners employed at the face. At this time, the only person At the surface was the winding engineman who “felt a tremble” and saw smoke and dust coming from the fan. He summoned Mr. Benyon, the undermanager who lived nearby and Benyon and four others went down at once to see what had happened, Benyon left a labourer, Calan, in charge at the pit top with instructions not to allow anyone down without Benyon’s permission.

This party found no disturbance at the pit bottom and the separation doors, which were in crosscuts 26 and 76 yards from the shaft were not disturbed. Afterdamp was detected in the return air and they had some difficulty in getting through to the intake where the air was clear and taking its proper course. They found the first indications of the force of the blast on the upper heading near the junction with the slant where timber was blown out. they proceeded without difficulty to the 10th tophole in which the stopping had been blown out which was causing the air to short circuit.

The undermanager saw that assistance was required and materials needed to restore the ventilation and sent a man named Phillpots to the surface for help. In this way the instructions that he had given Calan were set aside and for some time after men descended indiscriminately.

Phillpots returned with five men whom he guided to the undermanager. Shortly afterwards twelve others went down including some men not belonging to the colliery and without instructions or guidance. These men instead of going into the intake proceeded down the main slant. They met the afterdamp which was being forced out as the ventilation was being restored. They were all seriously affected, rendered unconscious and had to be carried from the pit.

By 8 p.m., David Poyntz, the regular banksman was at the pit head and took charge from Calan. Roderick Davies and Edward Harry asked leave of him to go down. He ultimately consented although he used considerable persuasion for them not to do so. Mr. David Harry, the manager, arrived between 9 and 10 p.m. and went down the pit without making any arrangements for the safety of the explorers.

About 11.30 p.m. Mr. Knoyle, the manager of the neighbouring Broadoak Colliery, arrived and took charge of the arrangements at the surface. He saw that the fan was working properly and placed a man in charge of the lamp room. He also gave orders to the banksman not to allow anyone down without his orders. He arranged relays of explorers and instructed them how to proceed and sent guides with them. He also made arrangements for the men who were suffering from the effects of the afterdamp.

About 3 a.m. he was told that Davies and Harry were missing and he at once took steps to prevent others from going in by the return. Davies and Harry lost their lives.

Mr. Atkinson, the Inspector commented:

Great credit is due to Mr Knoyle for his able assistance and of the steps he took to organise the exploration had taken place earlier, the two explorers would not have lost their lives Whilst credit is due to Mr. Benyon, the undermanager, for the energetic way in which he conducted the exploration, it would appear that his anxiety to reach the men at the face of the headings caused him to overlook the danger of other explorers trying to travel along the return airway.

Mr. Lewis, the Mines Inspector and Mr. R.G.M. Prichard, Assistant Inspector arrived at the colliery and having gained all the intelligence they could about the situation, formed a party of explorers. The ventilation in the upper heading had been restored for about half the distance to the face and temporary stopping had been erected in the top holes.

The parties of explorers worked for four hours and then were relieved as falls were overcome and the firedamp gradually cleared away. Early on the morning of the 7th, the body of Llewellyn Evans was reached. He was laying full length, head outwards on the lower side of the upper heading, fourteen feet outbye from the last tophole. The bonnet of his lamp was found five feet from him on the other side of the roadway. The oil vessel was missing and was found, covered with small coal at the top of the ventilating top hole. Shortly afterwards Thomas Howell was found in the top hole. He was found on his knees, leaning forward with his head on the ground covered by his hands. The upper part of his lamp was found near to him and the lower part found a few feet away later.

The explorers worked their way up the top hole and reached the lower heading where they found David Phillips and David Thomas, 28 yards outside the tophole. They were within two yards of each other and appeared not to have moved from where they were believed to have been working before the explosion. Their lamps were found lying close to David Phillips. One lamp was tightly locked but the other could be opened with a little effort. All the bodies were burned.

A few hours later explorers travelled down the return airway from the shaft bottom and recovered the bodies of Roderick Davies and Edward Harry. They were found 182 years inbye of the bottom of the slant on the lower level. They were eight yards apart and their lamps were found close to them.

The Inspectors made a careful examination of the explosion area on the 13th when all the firedamp had been cleared. They found that the force of the blast probably travelled most of the upper heading and spurts had been blown up in the lower heading as the stoppings had been blown away, there were two large falls and several small ones on the upper heading where the timber had been blown away. From the ventilating tophole inwards, a little coked dust was found o the upper side, a few yards beyond the tophole and a charring of the surfaces of the timbers nearest the roof at the head of the ventilating tophole but the face was clean and the coal quite bright. The brattice tubes had not been displaced and no force what so ever exerted beyond blowing down the canvas sheet fixed across the roadway outside the tophole. Portions of the sheet were found 20 feet outbye of its original position.

On the lower heading, there was some evidence of force right up to the face where there was a fall. The brattice tubes which hung near the roof had all been blown down and the surfaces of the timber and coal covered with a sooty deposit up to and over the face. Outwards from the fourth tophole from the face a large force was evident. Flame had travelled to within 200 yards of the slant and outbye of this the flame had been stopped by the wet conditions.

Immediately before the explosion, all the men had been away from the face having their meal and those in the upper heading were probably returning to the face when the explosion was started by one of the open lamps they carried. It was not possible to say what caused the gas to be present but this could have easily been brought about by a displacement of the ventilating sheets.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Llewellyn Evans,
  • Thomas Howell,
  • David Phillips,
  • David Thomas and the two explorers,
  • Roderick Davies,
  • Edward Harry.

The inquest into the men’s deaths was opened by W. Buckley Roderick Esq., Coroner for the Honour or Lordship and Liberty of Kidwelly on the 7th March when evidence of identification and cause of death was taken. The inquiry took place on the 22nd, 25th and 26th March, when all interested parties were represented.

On conclusion of the evidence and after a careful summing up by the Coroner, the jury were asked to consider their verdict. After an hour and three quarters they returned the following verdict:

1). The cause of death in the cases of Thomas Davies, Llewellyn Evans, Thomas Howells and David Philips was burns and injuries caused by an explosion of gas and inhalation of carbon monoxide gas.

2). The explosion was caused by a sudden emission of gas coming in contact with the naked light of one of the open lamps.

3). There was not sufficient evidence to show which lamp

In the cases of Roderick Davies and Edward harry the jury find the cause of death was the inhalation of carbon monoxide gas.

We return a verdict of “Accidental Death” in all cases.

The inspectors thought that the explosion could be accounted for by other factors other than a sudden emission of gas.

For the breaches of the Rules, proceedings were taken against the manager at Llanelli Police Court on the 1st May 1907 when he was convicted and fined £5 and costs in each case.

The report concludes:

The explosion resulted in serious financial loss to the owners, as, whilst the mine was being reopened, a fire due to spontaneous combustion was found to have broken out in one of the large falls of coal in the upper heading, 200 yards from the face and the conditions were so dangerous that the owners decided to abandon the colliery.


Mines Inspectors Report.
Report to the Right Honourable Secretary of State for the Home Department on the circumstances attending an explosion of firedamp and coal dust, which occurred at Genwen Colliery, in the County of Carmarthen on the 5th March 1907 by W.N. Atkinson and J. Dwyer Lewis, two of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 29th March 1907, p.584, 586, 5th April, p. 635, 26th July, p. 155.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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