CAMBRIAN. Clydach, Glamorganshire. 10th. March 1905.

Cambrian Colliery was at Clydach Vale, near Llwynypia and was owned by the Cambrian Collieries, Limited. There were three shafts Nos.1 and 2 were the downcast shafts and No.3 the upcast. No.1 was 16 feet in diameter and 509 yards deep, No.2 15 feet in diameter and 425 feet deep and No.3, 21 feet in diameter and 524 yards deep. There were two landings in No.1 shaft, one at Six feet and the other at the Coronation Seam. The drum of the winding engine was 16 feet in diameter for the Six feet Seam and 20 feet in diameter for the Coronation Seam. Nos.1 and 2 shafts were sunk in 1875 to the six feet Seam which was the only seam that was worked for 15 or 16 years. in 1891, No. 3s haft was sunk to the Coronation Seam which was intersected at a depth of 520 yards. No 1 was the deepened to the same seam. The coal from the Six feet and Coronation Seams were worked from Nos.1 and 3 shafts and the Red Vein Coal from No.2 shaft.

The Six feet Seam, had an average thickness of six and a quarter feet and had proved to be free from faults over a great area. The Coronation Seam was six feet thick and all the coal that was produced was steam coal.

The agent for the colliery was Mr. Leonard Llewellyn who had held the position for five years. Mr. David Davies was the certified manager of No.2 and Mr. Trefor Price the manager of the No.1 and 3 shafts. Both men had held the positions for nearly four years. Mr. James James was the undermanager of No.2 and Mr. Morgan Davies the undermanager of Nos. 1 and 3 shafts.

There were usually 3,424 persons employed underground in the three seams and 385 on the surface. Only the workings in the Six Feet Seam of No.1 shaft were affected by the explosion. the ventilation was produced by an improved patent Waddle fan, 35 feet in diameter which was erected in 1901 It was worked by a compound condensing steam engine with cylinders of 22 and 36 inches diameter and a 3 feet stroke with an ejector condenser attached. The steam pressure was 120 lbs. per square inch and the vacuum produced was 12.5 per square inch. When the fan was running at 79 r.p.m., 348,000 cubic feet of air per minute circulated through the mine at a water gauge of 4 inches. The air was well distributed and the seams were well ventilated.

A Schiele fan, 21 feet in diameter, with duplicate engines with 36 inch diameter cylinders and a four and half feet stroke was connected to the upcast shaft and could be put into operation in a few minutes. Of the 348,000 cubic feet of air, 75,625 cubic feet per minute passed into the workings of the Six Feet Seam. There were four ventilation districts within the meaning of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887. No.1 covered the workings which were opened off 5 crosscut and the total quantity of air going into these was 7,980 cubic feet at the last measurement before the explosion. No.2 comprised the workings to the north of the No.30 heading and was supplied with 10,020 cubic feet and No.3 were the workings from the face of the main west level to face of No.30 heading and had 11,470 cubic feet. No.4 comprised the workings in No.20 heading and the Hard Heading district through which passed 13,000 cubic feet to no. 29 heading workings and 11,600 cubic feet along the hard Heading and both currents joined at face of the latter. In addition, 14,000 cubic feet ventilated the No.1 Dip stables on the back side of the downcast shaft and the steam pipe roads.

There were four firemen but the districts assigned to them did not correspond with the ventilating districts. One fireman looked after Nos. 1 and 2 districts, one took No.3 district and there were two firemen for the one ventilating district of No.29 and the Hard Heading. There was also an overman and four firemen during the day and the same at night and each of the firemen had a bratticeman to assist them.

The workings were on longwall method with headings turned off levels at 50 yards intervals and stall roads turned off the headings 12 yards apart. By this method the whole of seam was removed in one operation and necessary roads were maintained through goaf by pack walls. The roof immediately behind the workings was supported by “cogs” and props and the space between the roads was filled with rubbish partly produced in working the coal and partly by ripping the roof on the roads. Double timbers or “flats” were stood on roads where the officials considered timbering was necessary.

It was customary that main intakes were used for the transportation of the coal. The whole of the main haulage was performed by and engine placed at the side of the main west level, 170yards from the downcast shaft. This was worked by steam conveyed down the upcast shaft from the surface. The system of haulage was “main and tail rope”. The auxiliary haulage was performed by horses between fourteen and a half to fifteen and a half hands high. There were 66 of them in the seam, all of which with the exception of one on No.1 Dip stable were killed in the explosion. The one that survived was badly burned and was found suffering from shock and had to be destroyed.

Clanny safety lamps with a single gauze, bonneted and locked with lead rivets were used exclusively beyond the lamp station. The lamps burned mineral colza. The fireman and bratticemen carried two lamps, a Cambrian fireman’s lamp for examination purposes and a bonneted Clanny in case of losing the other light so that they could return to the lamp station and re-light them and carry on with their inspection as quickly as possible.

Only two naked lights were permitted, one at the lamp station at top of the No.1 Dip, close to bottom of the shaft and the other at the lamp station on the west main intake, 870 yards from the shaft. The downcast shaft bottom and the main west level as far as the engine house were lighted by electricity at 110 volts.

There was, practically speaking, no shotfiring in this seam and according to evidence at the inquiry, only one shot had been fired in that year, on February 11th, a month before the explosion. All the men were out of the mine with the exception of a few officials and it was said that during the last five years only five shots had been fired.

Like all the collieries working the coal in the district, the colliery had considerable quantities of firedamp given off. It was a daily occurrence for the fireman to report gas but for the three months prior to the disaster the findings had been reported as “blowers diluted” and not as accumulations of gas. The fireman said at the inquiry that it was their practice to report the finding of gas, even when they were able to clear it very quickly.

The colliery was naturally very dry and very road over which coal was transported would contain a large amount of coal dust and the roads were liberally watered. Pipes from the shaft were laid along the west main level to 28 heading, David Jones’ heading, the Hard Heading and No.25 heading. Another pipe was laid along No.1 Dip and west stables which made a total length of 4,125 yards. The water pressure that was available was about 600 lbs. per square inch and the pipes were one and a quarter inch in diameter with provision for attaching hoses at every 20 yards. One man attended to the repairing of the pipes and nozzle attachments and another whose sole duty was to water the roof and sides of the roads along which the pipes ran. All the evidence pointed to the roads being well watered on the day before the explosion and the main west level from David Jones’ heading was wetter than any other part of the colliery.

Beyond the limits of the pipes, the roads were watered by casks drawn on trams from which the water was allowed to run when the plug was withdrawn. This was recognised a being a crude method and wet only the middle of the road leaving the roof and sides dry.

At the suggestion of the Inspector, an appliance had been placed each “parting” from which the coal was drawn to the shaft by ropes, by which the coal on the trams was wetted. This prevented coal dust being blown off on the outwards journey. The appliance consisted of a vertical pipe attached to the main pipe at the side of the road and a horizontal pipe carried from this across the road near the roof. These were perforated with on eight of an inch diameter holes about six inches apart. As the trams were drawn out from the parting the rider opened a valve and the coal was showered with water as they passed under. This was found to be a very efficient way of suppressing the dust from the loaded trams.

The output from the seam averaged 700 tons per day about 175 tons of which was small coal. All the coal was raised during the day shift when 334 persons were employed underground. About 276 were employed on the night shift, made up of rippers, hauliers, labourers, ostlers and firemen and a few colliers who worked in the leading headings. This was the general custom throughout the coalfield. To within 250 yards of the face, the main roads had been ripped so frequently to maintain the height, that the gob had been buried below rail level, so that they were like hard headings in stone drifts.

At the time of the explosion there appeared to have been 47 men in the Six Foot Seam. Of these, eight were firemen and bratticemen seven of whom were inside the lamp station. The remainder were night shift men and these were between the shaft and the lamp station. Fifteen were recovered alive near the downcast shaft but all were burnt and injured. The whole of the day shift men had left the mine an hour before the explosion when their shift ended.

The explosion occurred at 6.25 p.m. on the 10th March. From the evidence of the banksman and others at the top of the shaft, it appeared beyond doubt that only one report was heard. There was a rush of dust up the downcast shaft but no flames were seen. The covering of the upcast shaft was not damaged and the fan continued to work. The engineman saw that the water gauge had reduced from 4 to 3.4 inches.

At the moment of the blast, the agent was leaving his house and his two managers joined him soon after and at once started an investigation. They found that at the No.1 shaft, the cage that worked the Coronation Seam was at the bottom and could not be moved. It was discovered that the upcast shaft was on fire and the only means of descent was by the No.2 shaft. A party went don this shaft to the Red Seam and made their way to the upcast shaft and got into the cage which had been lowered for them and descended in it to the Coronation Seam. They found the hitcher alive and uninjured.

Burning material kept falling down the shaft until the planks over the sump caught fire. This made ascent by that shaft impossible so they went to the bottom of No.1 shaft and found 60 men alive and uninjured. After about an hour and half of hard work, they were able to free the cage at the bottom of the shaft. On the top of the cage they found the bodies of two hitchers and a collier who had been blown into the shaft at the Six Foot landing. The living and the dead were sent to the surface and the officials ascended to the Six Foot landing. There they found three men alive near the shaft, seven in the “slim” and five in No.1 Dip, all badly burned and very severely injured. These were quickly sent to the surface and all recovered with the exception of one man. Two bodies were discovered near the air crossing and four at the top of No.1 Dip.

They then turned their attention to the fires that were burning. The timbers in the Main West Level were burning as far in as they could see, and the engine house, Nos. 1 and 2 crosscuts and the west stables were on fire. They worked on the fires all night but to no purpose and they decided that the best course of action was to seal the shafts as there was a danger of a second explosion.

The Inspector, Mr. Gray, received the following telegram at 7.30 p.m. on the 10th March, “Slight explosion in 6-feet seam No.1 pit only officials down”, and he concluded that no one was injured and that the investigation would wait until the morning. In the morning he read the papers which showed him the seriousness of the situation. He left by train and arrived at the colliery soon after 11 a.m. Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Trump, Assistant Inspectors were already at the colliery when the circumstances of what had happened were made known to them.

In case there was a possibility that men might be alive, Mr. Gray decided to inspect the mine before the decisions was taken to seal the shafts. He saw the fires and came to the conclusion that they could be extinguished. He found that in the West Main Level, the timbers had been burnt away and there had been a heavy fall of roof which was causing the ventilation to shot circuit up No.1 crosscut because the doors had been blown away which kept the air away from the burning mass. This proved to be the salvation of the colliery. There were still fires burning in Nos.1 and 2 crosscuts, the west stables and the mouthing in the upcast shaft were burning fiercely.

A good supply of water was available and with plenty of willing workers work went on until by 14th. March all the fires were extinguished. The main level was still smouldering. On the 14th March the main level was reached by travelling through the west stable and No.5 heading and it was found that the fire had not extended to this point.

Blackdamp was passing strongly from the fire and was a danger to life. It was then decided to build a stopping across the level. This was 20 feet thick made of 17 feet of turf, 3 feet of concrete, 3 feet of clay and 3.5 feet of brickwork. This prevented the escape of the blackdamp.

The West Main level was explored as far as the top of the Hard Heading. Near the air crossing the bodies of nine men were discovered but not that of the man who was in charge of the lamp station. From the appearance of the bodies and the plain footprints made in the dust it was concluded that they had retreated there to shelter from the main blast of the explosion and had run out after it had passed. The innermost man had probably been in the lamp station and had run 54 feet, neither were burned. The others had probably been sitting in the shelter of the crosscut leading into the return near the air crossing. They were burned but had not been subjected to any violence. The lamp station was not damaged and there were three lamps in the table with their shields off ready for examination by the fireman.

Due to the many falls, the quantity of ventilation had fallen to between 8 and 9,000 cubic feet and gas was accumulating in the workings. The workings could be reached only by concentrating the whole of the ventilation into it while the others filled with firedamp. There was little damage to the roads and the return airways were found not to be severely damaged but they were blocked by falls. In spite of these difficulties, small holes were made over or under the falls and the ventilation restored but it was three weeks before all had been examined and the last fireman’s body in the workings recovered. Two bodies were not recovered, that of the fireman whose duty it was to inspect the return airways and that of another man. The fireman’s lamp was found near the No.1 Dip and the other man was known to be alive after the explosion. It was thought they were under a fall in the west level

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Edwin Thomas aged 33 years, hitcher.
  • Thomas John aged 41 years, hitcher.
  • Thomas Davies aged 2 1years, collier.
  • John Ridge aged 48 years, roadsman.
  • William Gronow aged 52 years, haulier.
  • David Lewis aged 55 years, repairer.
  • Edward Jones aged 48 years, repairer.
  • Adam Lewis aged 49 years, labourer.
  • Henry Harvey aged 45 years, haulier.
  • Morris Harding aged 48 years, master haulier.
  • Thomas Hawkins aged 46 years, ostler.
  • Frank Sallish aged 36 years, ostler.
  • Joseph Chalker aged 38 years, ostler.
  • John Griffith aged39 years, shoer.
  • Thomas Morgan aged 28 years, shoer.
  • Evan Evans aged 37 years, labourer.
  • Jenkin Davies aged 49 years, ripper.
  • D. Williams aged 24 years, ripper.
  • Noah Edmonds aged 49 years, repairer.
  • Robert Williams aged 24 years labourer.
  • John Jones aged 39 years, repairer.
  • John Owen aged 42 years, repairer.
  • William Evans aged 45 years, repairer.
  • William Griffth aged 68 years, lamplighter.
  • William Lewis aged 37 years, bratticeman.
  • Joseph Jones aged 50 years, bratticeman.
  • David Enoch aged 35 years, bratticeman.
  • Thomas Richards aged 42 years, fireman.
  • W.H. Tudball aged 41 tears, fireman.
  • Rees Lewis aged 52 years, bratticeman.
  • William Harris aged 33 years, fireman.
  • Evan Davies aged 42 years, fireman.
  • David Morgan aged 35 years, rider.
  • The bodies of Evan Davies and David Morgan were not recovered.

Those who were badly burnt were:

  • George Brace.
  • Thomas Evans.
  • David Griffiths.
  • James Hall.
  • Morgan Harding.
  • John Jones.
  • John Lloyd.
  • Richard Pugh.
  • Morgan Thomas.
  • Lewis Thomas.
  • David Wilde.

The Inspector made an examination of the mine and found that the explosion had traversed the whole of the district and had passed through the roads and there was evidence of great heat at the downcast shaft.

With the exception of Thomas John, William Evans and William Griffiths, all the bodies were burned as had the horses. The bodies at the top of the No.1 Dip were subjected to great violence. The body of Joseph Jones was blown to pieces and that of William Lewis badly mutilated. David Enoch was found lying on his back, slightly burned and he had died from the effects of afterdamp. Thomas Richards was found lying face down with his arm sheltering his face. William Tudball was found sheltering his face with his arm. Rees Lewis was on an old fall and was badly burned and William Harris was lying with his head under a tram as if for shelter.

Thirty-two of the victims lived within the jurisdiction of Coroner, Mr. J.J. Rhys and one with the jurisdiction of Coroner, E. Bernard Reece. Mr. Rhys held an inquest on the thirty two and Mr. Reece held a formal inquest on the other body taking only sufficient evidence to enable the jury to arrive at a verdict. The inquest was held at the Central Hall, Clydach Vale on the 13th. March, 1905. After an inquiry lasted three days and all interested parties were represented.

Mr. Gray was convinced that the explosion had originated at a safety lamp, a bonneted Clanny, belonging to David Enoch. He thought that Thomas Richards had examined No.5 crosscut and had found an accumulation of gas in a hole. He left Enoch to put up a sheet to direct the air current and dilute the gas. It was thought that while this was going on a stone fell and broke the glass of the lamp and so ignited the surrounding gas. Mr Gray told the jury:

When gas enters the Davy lamp there is only a flicker produced with little or no energy, but in a lamp of the Clanny type there is a sharp explosion inside the lamp, sometimes accompanied by a loud report. This is more pronounced when the flame has been reduced. The glass in a lamp is a very useful thing of account of the extra light it allows to pass, but it is an element of weakness or danger, as when gas explodes in a lamp the glass acts as a cannon – the longer the glass the greater effect – and causes a strong upward force or blow. Thus it will be seen that with a gauze partially displaced, or lightly held in place, this upward force would it up and free from the lamp, causing an ignition of the outside gas. I have no doubt that glass will continue to be used in the construction of safety lamps on account of the light, but I think its dangerous action should be neutralised by having two complete gauzes with well-flanged bottoms to each lamp instead of one. The glass should not be less than one-quarter of an inch thick. The bonneted Clanny carried by David Enoch may have had the gauze displaced in this manner or the glass may have been broken by a fall.

Mr. Gray pointed out that a similar lamp had caused an explosion at the Aberaman Colliery on 30th December 1904 when a bratticeman man was putting up a sheet under a cavity where an accumulation of gas had been discovered. The gas exploded in his lamp which was on his belt. He saw the flame and ran away leaving the sheet on fire. The gauze of the lamp was found to be loose.

During the building of the stopping several men were affected by the atmosphere and Mr. Gray had felt an acute pain at the back of his head and when he returned to the surface Dr. Morgan found that his pulse rate was between 108 and 130 beats per minute and his face was crimson. His right arm was partially paralysed and the headache lasted for five hours during which time he shivered and suffered from tight constriction across his chest.

After inspecting the mine on the 21st March after four and half hours at the face he felt the symptoms of carbon monoxide. He said:

The worst feature of carbon monoxide is that it causes no difficulty in the burning of a light, in fact it makes it more brilliant, and so deceives the uninitiated and shows no “cap” on the flame of the lamp.

The deadliness of the gas was demonstrated by Dr. John Haldane who stated:

As little as 2 per cent of carbon monoxide in air may produce fatal effects if breathed for over an hour and 1 per cent will gradually disable a man completely. Even 0.05 per cent, if breathed for several hours, may cause fainting and dizziness on exertion and probably anything over 0.02 per cent, will, after some time, reduce distinctly a man’s power of doing work.

The jury brought in the following verdict:

  1. We are unanimously of the opinion that the explosion occurred in No.6 crosscut of the No.5 district.
  2. We are also of the opinion that the explosion occurred in consequence of something happening to David Enoch’s lamp.
  3. That no blame whatever can be attached to anyone for the explosion.

They added the following rider:

We recommend the management to spare no effort to enforce Rule 179. We desire to express our appreciation of the heroic efforts made by the explorers and rescuers.

Mr. Gray commented:

I think the verdict very reasonable and I agree with the rider that Special Rule 179 should be enforced. The rule is as follows “every lamp shall have a number and so far as practicable, the same lamp shall consistently given to the same person for use”.

The rider was the result of evidence of some of the witnesses, that they were not given the same lamp consistently. The agent explained the reason was, that the method of relighting was being altered, and the alteration necessitated the keeping in of lamps for some days.


The Mines Inspectors Report.
Report to His Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Circumstances attending an explosion which occurred at Cambrian Collieries, Clydach Vale, on the 10th March 1905 by F.A. Gray, one of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 17th March 1905, p.467, 24th March, p.494, 28th April, p.702.
”And they worked us to death” Vol.1. Ben Fieldhouse and Jackie Dunn. Gwent Family History Society.

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

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