ABERFAN. Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire. 21st. October, 1966.

This photo was taken to show the tramway that took waste from Aberfan colliery to the spoil heaps high above the village. Two years later, the spoil heaps collapsed destroying the school and taking over a hundred lives, mostly children. July 1964

The sister villages of Aberfan and Merthyr Vale are in the valley of the Taff about four miles to the south of Merthyr Tydfyl. The Merthyr Vale Colliery and part of the village were on the east bank and the village of Aberfan is on the west bank. The River Taff, where it flows through the village is about 42 feet above sea level. At about 515 feet above sea level, there is an embankment of a disused railway line and below it and further to the west there is a ditch from 5 to 15 feet away, which was formerly a disused railway line. The spoil heaps on the mountainside lay between the 650 and 1,200-foot contours and the heights above the mountainside vary between 61 and 110 feet. The slope of the mountainside above the village averaged about 1 in 4 up to the 900 foot contour and steepen to 1 in 3 up to the 1,000 foot contour when it flatted out to the ridge summit. There was a colliery tramway which took the spoil to the tip.

Under the tip the strata inclined towards the valley and was of cracked sandstone which let water through fairly easily. When the water went through, it came to an impermeable layer and springs formed on the mountainside which flowed down varying in quantity depending on the seasonal rainfall. The rock on the upper slopes was covered to a depth of 5 to 10 feet by a layer known as the “Heads” which overlay a deposit of boulder clay. A tongue of boulder clay extended up the mountain to about the 1900-foot contour and lay under the southern and eastern sides of the spoil heaps. Both the boulder clay and the Head had similar characteristics.

The two shafts at the Merthyr Vale Colliery were sunk between 1869 and 1875 and the fist tips were started to the west of the river. Tipping began to the west of the canal during the 1914-18 War when Tip 1 was started. This rose to a height of 85 feet and was composed of mine rubbish and discarded coal from the preparation plant and boiler ash. It was estimated that it contained about 235,000 cubic yards of material. Tip 2 was started in 1918 and rose to 90 feet with an estimated contents of 574,000 cubic yards. Tip 3 was started in 1925 and was raised to 130 feet containing 210,000 cubic yards. Tip 4 was begun in 1933 and rose to 147 feet and was not used after November 1944 when a large part of the tip, slipped a considerable distance down the mountain. It was estimated to contain 572,000 cubic yards. Tip 5 was started early in 1945 and rose 171 feet by 1956 and was estimated to contain 706,000 cubic yards. Tip 6 started in 1956 was stopped in 1958 because of complaints from a farmer that the top was spilling onto his land. It rose 56 feet and contained about 67,000 cubic yards. Tip 7 was the tip that caused the disaster and was started at Easter 1958 and continued to be used up to the time of the disaster. It was estimated to be 111 feet high and to contain 297,000 cubic yards of waste including 30,000 cubic yards of material which was known as “tailings” which the other tips did not contain.

The method of tipping at the No.7 Tip was old fashioned. The rubbish came either directly from the shaft, from the coal preparation plant or from the boiler house and was loaded into trams at the surface. When a journey was complete it was hauled by rope up a railway which climbed the side of the Merthyr Mountain. When the journey reached the engine house at the top of the incline it was stopped and the trams allowed to run by gravity, braked by a rope, to a parting and then to a point on the working tip where a crane stood. The crane was used to lift the tram and turn it upside down and the contents fell down the front or the sides of the tip according to the position of the jib of the crane. When this was done the tram was placed on the rails leading back to the operating. These operating were carried out by the crane driver and a gang of slingers who attached and detached the tubs. They were under the control of a chargehand. At the end of the working day it was the custom for the gang to bring the crane back from it’s working position at the front edge of the tip to a point as far back as the short length of track permitted.

At about 9.15 a.m. on Friday, 21st. October 1966, many thousands of tons of colliery waste swept with a jet-like roar down the side of the Merthyr Mountain which formed the west flank of the village The massive force overwhelmed two Hafod-Tanglwys-Uchaf farm cottages and killed their occupants. It crossed the disused canal and went over the railway embankment. it engulfed and destroyed a school and eighteen houses and damaged another school and dwellings in the village before the dreadful flow ceased.

The day had begun windless and sunny except for a belt of mist which filled the lower parts of the valley and prevented people from seeing the tips. The men working above the mist could see to top of the colliery stack. Lessons began at the junior school at 9 a.m. but at the senior school lessons did not begin until 9.30. so that while the younger children were already at lessons the older children were making their way to school. At about 9.25 a sound was heard being variously described as thunder or a low flying jet plane or loose trams running down an incline.

Howard Rees, a pupil at the senior school, was making his way up the Moy Road when he saw a big wave, much higher than the houses, heading straight towards him. He could see trees, boulders trams, slurry and water in the flow and it appeared to him to be “moving as fast as a car”. This mass hurled itself against the two schools and the houses which stood between them. Outside those houses three of Howard’s school friends were killed while sitting on a wall. He saw them buried, crushed and killed. Howard and other boys were more fortunate even though they were hit by flying material.

At the same time a hairdresser, Mr. George Lewis was making his way to his shop in Moy Road when he heard “a noise like a jet plane” which he thought came from the tip. He could see nothing because of the fog but soon saw windows and doors of the houses on Moy Road crashing down like dominoes. He was struck by flying material and would have been buried if it had not been for a piece of corrugated sheeting which acted as a shield until he was rescued by some Council workmen.

At the moment when the disaster struck, Kenneth Davies acting-headmaster of the Senior School, the Pantglas County Secondary School was getting ready to receive staff and pupils for lessons which were to begin at 9.30 a.m,. He was in the assembly hall when, in his own words-

I heard a sound which appeared to be like a jet plane screaming low over the school in the fog. Immediately following there was a bang and the part of the school I was in shock, and some girls can running and screaming into the hall. When passing the needlework Room I noticed that the furthest corner had collapsed and the roof has started to collapse into the room as well. The Girl’s entrance was approximately two thirds to three-quarters full of rubble and waste material. I climbed onto the rubble in the doorway. I was still looking for this pane and when I look directly in front of me I saw the houses in Moy Road had vanished in a mass of waste tip material and that the Junior School gable ends or part of the roof, were sticking up out of the morass. I looked down to my right and I saw the Moy Road houses had gone. Around the outer edge near the school where I was standing, it would have been firm enough to stand on. I was standing on the outside edge.

Mr. Davies was in fact at the edge of the heap which was 20 to 30 feet high. With remarkable discipline and heroic absence of panic exhibited by staff and pupils alike, the school was evacuated and the pupils gathered in the front of the building for a roll call. This was prevented by a rush of very dirty water which brought more waste material with it. Through the swirling waters, the teachers guided and sometimes carried the children away from the danger for some time afterwards the water continued to pour down the mountain and also from two large water pipes owned by Cardiff Corporation and the Taff Fechan Water Board which had been laid in the bed of the disused canal and which were severed in the slide. These pipes came from the Brecon Beacons and although they were turned off it was not until 11.30 p.m. that water stopped coming from them.

The gang of men working at the top of the tip had arrived there shortly after 7.30 a.m. but their chargehand Mr. Leslie Davies was not with them at that time because it was Friday and he had to give his weekly report to the Unit Mechanical engineer, Mr. Vivian Thomas down at the colliery. when Mr. Gwyn Brown, the crane driver and Mr. David Jones, a slinger, arrived at the point of the tip they found that it had sunk by 9 to 10 feet and that two pairs of rails, forming part of the track on which the crane moved, had fallen into the hole that was left. Mr. David Jones set off down the mountain with a message and the telephone that had been at the top of the tip had been removed because the wire to it had repeatedly been stolen. While David Jones was on his way down, Mr. Glyn Brown used the crane to recover the tram landing plate from the hole and then with the help of others in the gang, he Moved the crane further back from the edge of the tip.

Mr. David Jones made his report to Mr. Leslie Davies and him in his turn to make a report to Vivian Thomas. Leslie Davies did just that and told Mr. Thomas of the ten-foot hole. Mr. Thomas ten sent men with an oxy-acetylene burner to cut the overhanging rails and gave directions for the crane to be pulled as far back as possible from the point of the tip and instructions were issued to top tipping on No.7. Mr. Thomas said at the time that he would go up he tip complex with a view to find a suitable place to start tipping in a fresh place. Leslie Davies and David Jones along with two men with cutting apparatus arrived at the top of the to about 9 a.m. They found that the point of the tip had sunk another 10 feet so that at that time it was 20 feet below its normal level.

The instructions to move the crane back were given but the men decided to have a cup of tea before doing this. It was very fortunate that they did this and retired to their cabin. Had they started work they would probably have gone down with the slide. Mr. Brown the crane driver stayed behind and while the rest were in the cabin, he gave the following account of what he saw.

I was standing on the edge of the depression. I was looking down into it, and what I saw I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was starting to come back up. It started to rise slowly at first. I still did not believe it, I thought I was seeing things. Then it rose up after pretty fast, at a tremendous speed. Then it sort of came up out of the depression and turned itself into a wave. That is the only way I can describe it, down towards the mountain, towards Aberfan village, into the mist.

Mr. Brown’s shout brought the rest if the tipping gang out of the cabin, and the story was taken up by Leslie Davies who said-

When he shouted, we all got to the top of the tip and all I can tell you it was going down at a hell of a speed in waves. I myself ran down the side of the No.3 tip all the way down towards No.2 and No.1 tip on the side. As I was running down, I heard another roar behind me and trees cracking and a tram passing me. I stopped, I fell down in fact. All I could see was waves of muck, slush and water. I still kept running. I kept going down shouting. I couldn’t see, nobody could. And I heard a voice answer me and he shouted, “Come out of there, for God’s sake”. That man was Trevor Steed. I went with Trevor Steed down to the old railway line. By that time my mates had come down behind me. We went along the line as far as we could towards the school which we could see. All the houses were down. We could not pass that way because there was too much water running down. We could not go the way we wanted to go.

Great efforts were speedily put into effect to attack the slimy mass that had engulfed the village. Essential services were quickly brought to the village and people came from far and wide to lend a hand and from the local collieries, officials hurried and strong experienced colliers arrived to use their strength and skill as never before. Despite the efforts, after 11 a.m on that day no one was rescued alive.

In the disaster one hundred and forty-four men, women and children lost their lives. One hundred and sixteen of the victims were children, most of them between the ages of 7 to 10. One hundred and nine of them died in the Junior School. Of the twenty-eight adults who died five were teachers in that school. In addition, twenty-nine children and six adults were injured some of them seriously. Sixteen houses were damaged by the sludge and sixty houses had to be evacuated and other unavoidably damaged during the rescue operations.

In memory of the children who died:

ANDERSON Carol     9 GOUGH Brian Michael           9 MORTIMER Cheryl   8
ANDERSON Linda    10 GOUGH Gillian          8 MUMFORD Phillip    9
ANDREW Kelvin David        10 GRAY  Trevor Timothy         9 MUNFORD Norma    10
ANDREW Malcolm   8 GRIFFITHS  Dwynwen          9 NEEDS Geoffrey Derek         10
ATSCOTT Dennis      8 HAINES Jennifer        8 OWEN Valmai Mary 8
BARNARD Merril     11 HARDING Lynn         9 PARFITT Jill Elizabeth          9
BARRETT Royston    10 HAYES Roger Dyfrig 9 PARFITT Vincent Clark        13
BARTLETT Edwina   9 HEAMAN Pamela      10 POWELL Jaqueline    8
BREEZE Robert         10 HILL Anthony David 8 PRICE  Julie   8
BROWN Jeanette Lynne        10 HODKINSON Linda   8 PROBERT Patricia     12
BROWNS Kay            10 HODKINSON Royston           9 PROBERT Thomas    7
CARPENTER Carol Ann       9 HOPKINS Angela Vaughan   7 PROSSER Christine   9
CARPENTER Desmond         10 HOPKINS Stephen Vaughan  10 PROSSER Howard David      9
COFFEY Robert         14 HOWELLS Maralyn Carol    9 REAKES Corwyn Thomas     10
COLLINS Michael     10 HUGHES Annette      9 REAKES Layton Kerrie         9
COLLINS Peter          10 JAMES Necia 9 REES Andrew 14
COLLIONS Raymond John    14 JONES Eryl Mai         10 REGAN  Julie Jeannine          9
CROTTY Susan Mary            10 JONES Gillian Irene   11 RICHARDS Lorraine Rosa Isobel      10
DAVIES Brian            8 JONES John Islwyn    10 RICHARDS  Sylvia Frances  9
DAVIES David Morgan         9 JONES Michael          13 ROBBINS Megan Olwen       10
DAVIES David Trefor            10 JONES Paul    9 ROBERTS David Paul           7
DAVIES Edwin          8 JONES Robert Garfield          9 SHORT  Martine Anne           9
DAVIES Gareth          10 JONES Robert Orville            8 SMITH  Annette         9
DAVIES Terence Malcolm    10 JONES Susan  9 SULLIVAN Anthony John     10
DONOVAN Sandra Pauline   10 JONES  Janet  9 SULLIVAN  Avis Elizabeth   9
DOUGALL Ian           9 JONES  Kenin Thomas          9 SUMMERS Roger Colin        7
DRAGE Yvonne         11 KING  John Anthony  9 SYMONDS Victoria Marie    10
EVANS Catherine Elizabeth  3 LAUNCHBURY Jean 10 TUDOR Randolph      10
EVANS Gareth           3 months LEE Anne Catherine  8 WATKINS Anthony Joseph   10
EVANS Howell Lloyd            7 LEWIS Sharon            9 WILIAMS  David William    8
EVANS Jean Winifred           11 LEYSON Sandra        9 WILKSHIRE Joseph   8
EVANS Maureen Mary          8 MEREDEITH Susan   8 WILLIAM Angela      8
FITZPATRICK Michael         7 MINFORD Edward Clive       11 WILLIAMS Carol      10
FITZPATRICK Sheila            13 MINNERY Barbara Eileen     9 WILLIAMS Graham  8
FUDGE Daphne May 8 MINNETT Carl          7 WILLIAMS June Margaret    10
GEORGE Christine    10 MINNETT Maralyn    10 WILLIAMS Peter       10
GOLDSWORTHY Richard Phillip    10 MINNEY Robert George        10 WILLIAMS  Keith     9

The Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Councillor Stanley Davies, set up The Aberfan Disaster Fund and the money flowed in from all over the world, charities, clubs, Trade Unions and Voluntary bodies. Many people sent gifts that could be sold to provide money for the Fund. The Appeal reached a total of one and three quarter million pounds and a Management Committee was set up with Stanley Davies as the Chairman. Financial help was given to the families of the victims and the sit of the disaster cleaned up and money from the Fund financed many ventures in the village.

At the inquiry, it emerged that as early as 29th. July, 1959, the Town Clerk of Merthyr had written to The Area Estates Manager of the National Coal Board regarding the “reference made to the potential danger of the tip at Aberfan” and on 17th. June, 1960, the Town Clerk wrote to the Coal Board that a deputation, “wish to discuss with you the potential danger of the above Tip. Concern has been expressed that the Tip could slide after heavy rainfall.”

In 1963 there was slide on the No.7 Tip and there was evidence that this had an effect on the surface after and drainage of the area but tipping did not stop. After hearing all the evidence, the Tribunal came to the following conclusions”

1) That the blame for the disaster rests upon the National Coal Board. the blame is shared, through varying degrees, among the National Coal Board Headquarters, the South Western Divisional Board and certain individuals.

2) There is a total absence of tipping policy and this was the basic cause of the disaster. In this respect, however, the National Coal Board were following in the footsteps of their predecessors. they were not guided either by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries or by legislation.

3). There is no legislation dealing with the safety of tips in force in this or any country, except in part of West Germany and in South Africa.

4). The legal liability of the National Coal Board to pay compensation for the personal injuries (fatal or otherwise) and damage to property is incontestable and uncontested.

There were certain lessons to be learned and action needed to be taken to safeguard the future condition of the tips at Aberfan. Underground storage of rubbish was not regarded as a practical proposition. All tips should be regarded as potentially dangerous and should be treated as civil engineering structures. There was an obvious need for the communication system within the National Coal Board to be overhauled,

The Tribunal made the following recommendations:

1). A National Tip Safety Committee should be appointed to advise the Minister and to co-ordinate research into the problem of tip safety and of bulk disposal of industrial waste products.

2). The National Coal Board should continue to have prime responsibility in respect of all tips in its ownership.

3). A standard Code of Practice should be prepared for consideration by the National Tip Safety Committee with a view to its being issued publicly and applied to all tips, whether in the ownership of the National Coal Board or otherwise.

4). Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, strengthened by the addition of qualified civil engineers and armed with statutory powers, should be made responsible for ensuring the discharge by the National Coal Board officials of their duties in relation to tip stability and control.

5). A local authority should have access to plans for tipping and reports on existing tips and, if not satisfied with them, should have the right to appeal to the Minister, who might appoint an independent expert to conduct an examination and make recommendations.

6). Men engaged in the daily management and control of tips should be trained for their responsibilities.

7). Managers and surveyors should as soon as possible be made aware of the rudiments of soil mechanics and ground-water conditions. The statutory qualifications of managers and surveyors should be amended to include awareness of the rudiments of soil mechanics and hydrogeology in addition to the geology already comprised in the syllabus.

Many of the Tribunal’s recommendations were accepted and tips all over the country were examined. The Institution of Civil Engineers produced a paper that laid down their findings and gave guidelines for further tipping so that the disaster could never be again repeated.

The NCB cleared the seven tips overlooking the village but they sent the bill to the Disaster Fund. It was not until 1997 that the Government of the day reimbursed the money.


The report of the tribunal to inquire into the disaster at Aberfan on 21st. October 1966. H.L. 316, H.C. 553 by Sir Herbert Edmund Davies, one of Her Majesty’s Lord Justices of Appeal, as chairman and Harold Harding and Vernon Lawrence, Esq., C.B.E. under Section 1 of the Tribunals Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921.
Colliery Guardian, 28th. October 1966, p.539, 2nd. December, p.707, 9th. December, p.739, 16th.-23rd. December, p.777, 20th. January 1967, p.70, 27th. January, p.94, 3rd. February, p.124, 133, 10th. February, p.152, 17th. February, p.180, 3rd. March, p.236, 10th. March, p.264, 17th. March, 292, 7th. April, p.374, 14th. April, p. 402, 21st. April, p. 430, 28th. April, p.458, 5th. May, p.484.

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

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