FOCHRIW No.2. Gellingaer, Glamorganshire. 4th. June, 1902.

Fochriw Colliery was the property of Guest, Keen and Nettlefold’s, Limited and eight men lost their lives in an explosion. It was in the Parish of Gellingaer about three miles from Dowlais. There were two shafts; the No.1 was the upcast and the No.2 the downcast. They were 44 yards apart, oval, 22 feet by 12 feet and 420 yards deep. Coal was drawn up both shafts but only during the day. The Rhas Las and Red Coal seams were worked from the downcast and the Upper Four Feet and the Big Coal were worked from the upcast. All the seams produced steam coal and the colliery had worked for 30 to 40 years.

The agent was Mr. H.W. Martin, a mining engineer who Was assisted by his son, Mr. Stuart Martin. Mr. John H. Jones was the manager with Mr. Thomas Roberts, Snr. and Mr. Thomas Roberts, Jnr. as the undermanagers, one for each pit. On the day shift there were two overmen and four firemen in the No.1 Pit and three overmen and four firemen in the No.2 Pit. On the night shift there was one overman and three firemen in the No.2 Pit and an overman and three firemen in the No.2 Pit. The No.1 employed 397 men during the day and 111 at night and the No.2 Pit, 550 were employed by day and 114 by night but on the night of the explosion there were 105 persons at work.

The explosion affected only one ventilating district in the Rhas Las seam which was at a depth of 420 yards and was worked to the dip of the shafts by an engine or drift for a distance of 1,600 yards. The seam dipped 3 inches to the yard. The coal was worked by the longwall method that was practised in the district, with stall roads about 11 yards apart. In the longwall method, the whole of the seam was removed in one operation and the necessary roads were maintained through the goaves by means of pack walls. The roof immediately behind the working face was supported by cogs and props and the goaf filled with rubbish partly got from working the coal, and partly from falls, and the roof rippings on the roads. Double timbers stood on the roadways for supporting the roof and sides, where the management considered timbering necessary. There was no shotfiring in the seam.

The ventilation of the colliery was provided by a Schiele fan, 15 feet in diameter which was driven by a belt from an engine which had a 32-inch cylinder and a 3 feet stroke. When the engine was running at 50 revolutions and the fan at 152 revolutions per minute, 223,600 cubic feet of air was circulated through the mine at a water gauge of 3 inches. The air was well distributed and there was no doubt that the mine was well ventilated and 50,000 cubic feet per minute went into the west district of the Rhas Las seam in which the explosion occurred. This was supplied to two ventilating districts within the meaning of the “Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887”. Of this quantity, about 26,000 cubic feet per minute went to Clark’s district on the right-hand side of the engine plane and 26,000 passed round Gwilym’s level district. The whole of the district was worked by locked safety lamps which were Clanny’s which were bonneted and fitted with an old fashioned screw lock, during the night as the management thought that there was more danger from gas being liberated by repairing roadways and the falls of the roof that were necessary following such work, than during the day shift when the coal was won. As a result, naked lights were allowed on the day shift.

Firedamp was not given off freely as the seam had been worked downwards from the outcrop which had drained off the gas to a considerable extent. The only occasion that gas had been reported in 1902 was on the 9th January, when a fireman recorded, “A small diluted blower in Joseph Shapland’s No.9 heading.”

The main engine pane was naturally wet, especially on the floor owing to water running down it from the shafts and in places there was water pouring down from the roof. The double parting of Gwilym’s level was also wet. Although the workings inside that parting were dry, they could not be said to be very dusty but there was no watering down.

On the night of the 3rd. June, in the Rhas Las seam there were 37 persons at work engaged on repairers. On these 24 were in Clark’s district and 13 in Gwilym’s level district. Of the thirteen, three were engaged in clearing a fall, a haulier was taking away the rubbish that was produced and three men were stowing this rubbish. Another man was stowing rubbish that was being produced by a repairer on Gwilym’s level and brought to them by another man. Apart from these men there were three repairers at work on the main drift below Clark’s level. All these men ad safety lamps which had been locked at the lamp station before they went into the workings. They were supervised by two experienced firemen.

About 10 p.m., a fall took place on the main drift, 120 yards above Clark’s level. The two firemen, having been told of the fall, were quickly on the spot and set men to clear it. They succeeded in partially doing so several times, but fresh falls continually occurred, so that it was not until the day overman, who had been sent for, cleared a way through about 5 a.m. on the following day, that there was any reliance on keeping the passage over. Meanwhile, Griffith Davies, the fireman on Clark’s district examined his workings and found them clear of firedamp, and took the precaution to warn his men to be careful of their lamps and keep them near the floor, as there was not the usual amount of air circulating. William White, the fireman of Gwilym’s level district, stated on oath that he examined his workings about 1 a.m. and found nothing wrong. He, however, did not think it necessary to tell his men of the fall and warn them to be careful.

The fall was still being cleared when the explosion occurred at about 3 a.m. William White was in the main drift, just below Clark’s level and he felt the reversal of the air but heard no report or saw any flame. He and two me went down the drift and tried to get along Gwilym’s level but were beaten back by the afterdamp. They went further down the drift and made their way along the face as far as Edward Lewis’s dip but failed to go further and had to retrace their steps as the afterdamp was too strong. When they reached the main drift, they were joined by others and the fireman and one of the men became unconscious and had to be carried out.

Griffith Davies, the other fireman, went along Gwilym’s level a short time after and 88 yards up Lloyd’s heading, found the bodies of Edward Williams, William Eustace and William Strange and the body of a horse. The haulier and the horse were burned but the two other men were not probably through them having been in the rubbish stall at the moment of the explosion so that they were out of the course of the flame.

The manager arrived on the scene soon after and along with others, restored the ventilation, explored the workings and discovered the bodies of Robert Hughes and David Evans at the face of Lloyd’s stall, off Joseph Lloyd’s heading and the bodies of E.J. Cheek, William Jones and O.H. Williams of Lloyd’s heading. These were all the men in the district at the time. The other five had been taken to clear a fall and do some repair work on the main drift.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • William Eustace aged 19 years, labourer,
  • W.J. Strange aged 17 years, labourer,
  • Edward Williams aged 38 years, haulier,
  • R.T. Hughes aged 19 years, labourer,
  • David Evans aged 17 years, labourer,
  • E.J. Cheek aged 24 years, repairer,
  • William Jones aged 30 years, repairer,
  • O.H. Williams aged 48, labourer.

Mr. Gray, H.M. Inspector of Mines for the District, was at the Windsor Colliery when he heard of the disaster and caught the first available train and arrived at the colliery at about 2 p.m. and met the agent and the deputy agent with whom he had a consultation before descending. A good-sized passage had been made through the fall on the main drift through which adequate ventilation was passing.

They found a smell of afterdamp about 40 yards before they reached Gwilym’s level an found that the two separator doors had been blown out towards the main drift. There was evidence of great heat in this level all the way to the face. At the face of Lloyd’s stall, where two bodies had been found, they found a safety lamp with the gauze off. Two days later another lamp with part of the gauze removed was discovered where three bodies had been found.

The ventilating sheets had been blown down and the face had travelled over a large portion of the workings and it was clear that a considerable quantity of firedamp had been ignited. The explosion was stopped by the wet workings in the main drift and the wet staple pit in the return airway, otherwise the Inspector thought the effects of the blast would have been much more widespread.

The inquest took place on the 10th. June and the jury brought in the following verdict:

The jury find that the deceased met their deaths by an explosion of firedamp whilst following their occupation at the eastern workings off the west main drift of the No.2 Pit, Fochriw. That the fall in the main drift took place on Tuesday night, June, 3rd, caused an accumulation of gas interfering with the ventilation of the workings in question. That the evidence points to one or the other of the open lamps found as the cause of the explosion. The jury are of the opinion that when the fall took place the better course of action would have been to have withdrawn the men. We recommend the adoption of lamps for use in the pit fitted with a more secure type lock.

Mr. Gray thought the explosion was brought about in the following manner:

The fall in the main drift was of such a nature that the quantity of air which would find its way through it and over the timbers would be very small, and not sufficient to keep the workings clear of firedamp, therefore in four or five hours a quantity of firedamp would accumulate, which would, after a sufficient opening had been made through the fall, thus increasing the air current, be carried up the face, and be ignited at the naked light at the face of Lloyd’s stall.


The Mines Inspectors Report 1902. Mr. Gray.
”And they worked us to death” Vol.2. 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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