GWENDRETH. Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire. 10th. May, 1852.

The colliery was about three and a half miles from the village of Llvnon. On Monday, that day of the disaster, about twenty-eight colliers were at work and everything appeared quite normal when, at about 10 a.m. the water broke into the pit. Only one man escaped and twenty-seven lives were lost when some old workings were holed. It did not appear that systematic boreholes had been made to discover the exact position of the old waste.

The dead as listed in “The Cambrian” were:

  • David Aubery left a wife and 4 children.
  • Daniel Aubery, brother of David left a wife and 2 children.
  • William Davies aged 12 years.
  • Rees Davies left a wife and mother.
  • John Evans left a wife and 6 children.
  • George Evans left a wife and 3 children.
  • David Evans, brother of George.
  • Morgan Griffiths.
  • John Harris aged 15 years.
  • David Harris aged 10 years, brother of John.
  • William Hughes left a wife and 4 children.
  • John Hughes aged 22 years, son of William.
  • David Jones left 6 orphaned children.
  • Griffith Lewis, aged 18 years.
  • Thomas Morris aged 18 years.
  • Stephen Phillips left a wife and 3 children.
  • David Rees left a wife and 2 children.
  • Thomas Richards left a wife and child.
  • Edward Thomas left a wife and 4 children.
  • Evan Thomas, brother of Edward.
  • Daniel Thomas aged 11 years.
  • David Thomas aged 12 years, brother of Daniel.
  • Daniel Wilkins, brother of William.
  • William Wilkins.
  • John Williams, brother of John.
  • John Williams.

The dead as listed in the “Carmarthen Journal” were:

  • William Hughes, wife and four children.
  • John Hughes aged 22 years, son of William.
  • David Jones left six motherless children.
  • Griffith Lewis aged 18 years.
  • Morgan Griffiths aged 18 years.
  • William Davies aged 12 years,
  • Thomas Morris aged 18 years.
  • Stephen Phillips, wife and three children.
  • Thomas Richards, wife and child.
  • David Rees, wife and two children.
  • Rees Davies, wife and mother.
  • John Evans, wife and six children.
  • John and David Harries, brothers aged 15 and 10 years.
  • Joshua and David Williams, brothers.
  • William and Daniel Wilkins, brothers 15 and 17 years old.
  • Edward and Evan Thomas, brothers, former with a wife and four children.
  • David and Daniel Aubery, brothers the former with a wife and four children and the latter with a wife and two children.
  • Daniel and David Thomas, brothers.

The disaster left nine widows and forty orphaned children.

Mr. Watney, the owner of the colliery, administered to the immediate needs of the victims families and a public subscription was opened for their relief.

David Evans, the sole survivor, told of his escape. He said:

At ten o’clock when all 27 men and myself were at work in the pit, myself, two other men and two boys were at the bottom of the shaft engaged near an empty “cage” when we heard a fearful roar in the further end of the pit accompanied by a rush of air which nearly overwhelmed us. We all jumped into the cage which was used to wind up the men and gave the signal to the engineer to wind up. The signal had hardly been given when a vast body of water, rushing with tremendous speed from the extreme end of the pit, dashed the cage from its position and rendered it impossible for the engine to remove it. We struggled, each man for himself. I can not remember everything but I caught hold of a wooden girder by the side of the pit and started to ascend. I saw another try to get put this way but he was washed away by the water. A boy named David Harris grasped my coat tails and we went up a few feet when the water washed the boy away.

Evans reached the surface exhausted and barely conscious. The water in the pit was very muddy and would clog pumps and there was doubt at the time whether the bodies would be recovered. At the place over the point where the water rushed in, there was a large sinking in the surface of the field which sunk 10 to 12 feet.

The inquiry into the disaster took place at the New Inn, Pontyberem before Mr. Bonvills, Coroner. John Ord, overman at the colliery, said that he had held the past for the last five years. The colliery worked the Gras and Dugaled seams. The shaft was sunk to the Pumpquart when he came. Boring had been made by Mr. Short on the 24th June, 1848, before Ord came to the colliery. The shaft was sunk 82 yards from the Gwendreth to the Pumpquart, a total depth of 150 yards. The top holes, where the water broke in, had been driven 400 yards from the main level and upwards of 90 yards beyond the stall workings. The top holes were double six feet wide with ten yards of pillar between and the crossings were ten yards apart and six feet wide.

The top of the coal in the top hole where the water broke in was 32 yards below the surface of the valley. The evidence for this came from a borehole 12 to 14 yards in front of this which showed that the coal was 28 yards below the surface of the field. They bored 18 inches into the coal and not through it. The band in the middle of the hole that was left in the field showed six yards down clay and gravel, then three or four yards of water and gravel then nine or ten yards of blue ground, a dry hard blue clay, but no rock over the coal. Within three yards of the coal the clay got blacker and harder.

The Pumpquart coal was a hard coal 5 feet 9 inches thick with a blue shale roof and strong measures above which stood without the help of props. The floor was 18 inches of hard fireclay called “bottom stone” and at least four feet of strong rock under this. There were no props in the top hole and the roof had never given way. The feeder of water had broken 130 yards lower than the end of the top hole about 18 months before.

The engine was raising 4 to 500 cubic yards of water per week after the first feeder had broken in which was double the quantity before the feeder broke in. The flow of water gradually increased and steps were taken to divert it. The water came from the top of the coal and ran naturally. Some men had put in three props to make a bay to drain the water. They began work about 1 o’clock and Ord saw them between 1 and 2 o’clock when one prop had been set.

Morgan sanders came to Ord and told him that the water was getting less but said nothing of having seen a hole. Four men were sent in to make a dam.

John Ord told the court of his experiences on that day:

At half-past ten o’clock, Thomas Wilkins told me of the accident. I heard no signals but Thomas Evans called up the pit. I sent Thomas Wilkins down to him with a rope and in about 10 minutes, Evans was brought up.

After hearing the evidence and the Coroner’s summing up, the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”.

Mr. Wales, the Inspector commented that the banksman and engineer were not aware of what had happened except that the rush of air had broken the slider and thrown the carriage at the pit top out of gear. He also commented on the fact that the mine was working within 40 yards of surface water but he had heard that the roof was very strong and precautions had been taken and all the evidence he heard, no blame could be attributed. He said that in future known old workings should be approached with extreme care.


The Mines Inspectors Report 1852.
”And they worked us to death” Vol.1. Ben Fieldhouse and Jackie Dunn. Gwent Family History Society.
The Cambrian.
The Welshman.
Carmarthen Journal.

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

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