MARINE. Cwm, Monmouthshire. 1st. March, 1927.

The Marine Colliery was about three miles from Ebbw Vale and was owned by the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company. There were two shafts at the colliery which were sunk to the Old Coal Seam at 404 yards. The seams that were worked at the colliery were the Old Coal and the Black Vein from the No.1 shaft which was the upcast and the Threequarter, Elled and Big Vein from the No.2 shaft which was the downcast.

The explosion occurred in the Black Vein Seam at 350 yards down. It was reached by means of cross measure drifts, on of which was the intake from the Old Coal Seam and the other from the Meadow Vein which was the return. The Black Vein Seam was about five feet thick with a strong roof above which was a bed of sandstone. At the time of the explosion, the seam was worked by three long faces and the coal was transported by jigging conveyors to the trams on the levels. The conveyors were operated by compressed air engines.

The personnel at the colliery were as follows, Mr. H. McVicar was the general manager of all the collieries of the Company with Mr. W.H. John as the agent. Mr. E.J. Gay was the certificated manager with Mr. D.J. Michael and Mr. W. Wakely as certificated undermanagers. There were nine overmen, two assistant overmen and twenty-five firemen employed at the colliery. In the Black Vein District there was one overman and one fireman on the morning shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., one overman and one fireman on the afternoon shift from 3.20 p.m. o 11.20 p.m. and on the night shift which was from 10.30 p.m. to 6. 30 a.m., there was one fireman with the overman in charge of all the No.1 Pit workings during this shift. The inspection that was required by the Coal Mines Act 1911, was made within two hours of the commencement of work and the report made by the fireman of the preceding shift. The total number of men employed at the colliery on the three shifts was 1,385 of whom thirty-two were in the Black Vein and twenty-seven in the Old Coal at the time of the disaster.

Mr. McVicar went underground from time to time and he last inspected the Black Vein workings on 14th, February. He was accompanied by Mr. John and Mr. Gay. Mr John again inspected the workings on 25th February with Mr. Gay. Mr. Michael’s duties were confined to the workings of the No.1 Pit and he visited the Black Vein District about four times a week while Mr. Wakely attended to the workings of the No.2 Pit.

The ventilation of the colliery was by a Walker Indestructible fan at the top of the No.1 shaft. It was capable of circulation 350,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a 6-inch water gauge but at the time of the explosion, it was producing 240,000 cubic feet per minute at a 5-inch water gauge. Following the long stoppage of work during 1926, the return airway was in need of repairs some of which had been completed and other work was nearing completion. at the time of the explosion, the smallest airway measured seven feet by four and a half feet. In the Black Vein District, flame safety lamps were used by the officials and firemen and the workmen were provided with electric safety lamps.

The compressed air haulage engines were placed in the intake cross measure drift, at the top of the No.2 heading, halfway along the “B” level and done rather more than halfway along the “A” level. the signals for the engines were given by electric bells powered by Leclanche cells and other than this, there was no electricity in the mine.

There was no shotfiring in the seam and as a precaution against coal dust, the roads were stone dusted and ten tons of stone dust was sent down the pit each week. The men were searched at the pit bottom at the beginning of each shift. The person appointed to search the men on the night shift was William Matthews who was the overman. About a fortnight before the disaster, a match had been found in the small pocket of the overcoat of a workman and there was some debate as to whether it was advisable to search underground and not on the surface at the inquiry.

The explosion occurred at 12.50 a.m. and the manager was sent for at once by a man who had ascended the No.1 shaft. He arrived at the colliery at 1.05 a.m. when he was told that there had been an explosion by two men who had been working at the bottom of the No.1 shaft. They said:

They were suddenly knocked down and, on rising, saw clouds of smoke coming from the East.

They had at once signalled to the banksman and were wound up the pit. The undermanager of the No.2 Pit, Mr. Wakely, arrived and after a consultation with the banksman, they both went to test the return air in the fan drift and found that it was undamaged. They had thought they smelt smoke which indicated an underground fire but fortunately, this proved not to be so.

Mr. McVicar, the general manager and Mr. John, the agent were summoned to the colliery. The Rescue Station at Crumlin was alerted and the ambulance store attached to the colliery and local Doctors were called. The manager signalled down the pit but there was no reply. He gave orders for the cages to run and the cage arrived at the surface with two badly injured men. The cage was raised and lowered but no one else came up the pit.

Evan Evans, an overman had arrived at the pit and he, McVicar and Gay descended the No.2 Pit leaving Wakely in charge at the surface.

When they arrived at the pit bottom they decided to make their way along the intake airway in the Elled seam to the top of a staple pit. This was known as the Spiral Staircase and was found to be damaged but they managed to descend fifteen yards to the Threequarter Seam. They went down the cross measure drift to the Black Vein along Enoch Wood’s road to the No1 Heading. They could go no further because of gas but they followed the intake air which was short-circuiting and found Robert Pester and Robert Button alive but badly injured. They later died from their injuries.

There was a heavy fall and they could go no further. By this time the agent, Mr. John, had arrived at the pit bottom with three workmen. At the No.1 heading they met the first party and explained to McVicar that the men were ascending the No.1 Pit. The two injured men were left with three workmen and the remainder of the party went to the surface for help.

They arrived at the surface at 3.30 a.m. where they found the Managing Director, Mr. F.P. Hann and several doctors. One of the doctors, Dr. Florence O’Sullivan, descended at once with a squad of ambulance men to tend to the two injured men who had been found. It was also learned that seven men, who had been working in the Old Coal Seam, east district, had got out of the pit by the No.1 shaft after coming out through the return airway.

The story of how the seven escaped was given by Thomas Joseph Brown, a repairer who was at work with Harry Eversley and Bert Mitchell at 1.55 a.m. when the last two shouted that they could smell something. Albert Button, Sydney Hill, William Davies, William Pickford, Thomas Price and Samuel Gronow were coming down the face and they said that there was something the matter as the place was filled with smoke and gas from below. Brown told them not to get excited and gave Button a lamp and told him to go to look for a fireman. As he parted the sheets on the crosscut leading to Penny’s Dip he saw two dead ponies and found the dip full of yellow smoke. He told the others what he had seen and they decided to leave by the return airway. They turned back and met Charles Rich, William Michael, John Clarke and Thomas Morris.

When they arrived at the East Level at the innermost door on the return side they found that some of them were missing. Michael thought he heard a door bang and on going through, he saw several lights in front of him. He shouted that no one could get through that way and by this time he was in difficulties and he was dragged through the door into the return.

There were four men ahead of them in the return, Eversley, Mitchell, Brain and Archie Parsons and Brown and Michael were weak and shouted for help. Eversley, Mitchell and Brain came back and together with Rich tried to carry Davies but they had to leave him and they got to the No.1 shaft only with the greatest difficulty.

On the information that seven men had got out of the East Old Coal District, two parties went down to try to get into the Black Vein workings. A message was sent to the men working in the West side, which had not been affected by the explosion, to get out of the mine. A part Led by McVicar tried to get into the workings and another led by Gay tried to get into the Old Coal workings.

Both parties travelled along the Main East Level to a point where the intake cross measures branched off to the Black Vein. They found that their progress was barred by a heavy fall. McVicar’s party then decided to try to go by the way of Griffith’s Slant and the return airway and the other party went to the pit bottom tried to get into the East Old Coal workings by the route that the seven men who had escaped had taken. at 5 a.m. a party consisting of Mr. Gay, Mr. John, Mr. Hann, Mr. W.J. Oliver, the manager of Waun Llwyd Colliery, Mr. W.H. Leigh, agent of Arrail Griffin, Mr. A.T. Winborn, the superintendent of the Crumlin Rescue Station and four rescue men set off to the Old Coal workings. The party travelled along the “Fault Level” and were affected by afterdamp. John was left in the airway and could not get out by himself and the other members of the party were not in a position to offer assistance. However, they did get out but Mr. Hann and Mr. John were severely affected and it was a little time before it was known for sure that they would recover fully. At the Inquiry, Henry Walker was very critical of their actions and commented:

This attempt to go inbye by way of a return airway might easily have resulted in further loss of life. The part had with them neither a small bird nor a mouse with which to test for carbon monoxide.

In the meantime, Mr. McVicar, Mr. Michael, the undermanager of the Colliery, Evan Evans, the overman, Mr. S.M. Collings, the manager of the Cwmtillery Collieries and Mr. Wilkinson, a Rescue man, who carried a canary made their way into the Black Vein cross measure drift, Griffith’s slant and across the top of the falls. The cross measure drift was explored and a set of tools found but there was no sign of the men who had been working there. They returned to Enoch Wood’s road and found that the rescue men had arrived with apparatus and two of them climbed over the fall and travelled up the No.2 Heading as far as the “B” Level without finding any bodies. They reported that the heading was filled with gas. It was at this time, McVicar heard the news that Hann, John, Gay and others had tried to get into the Main East District by the return airway and had been gassed, John so badly that he had been left in the return.

McVicar went to the Fault Level by way of the Black Vein return where he found that John was receiving attention. He then went towards the place where Hann, Gay and John had been when John was gassed into the Old Coal District with Evan Evans, the overman and Albert Samuels, a rescue man. He told Collings and Michael, the undermanager to follow with a couple of men. The party found the body of William George Davies and on opening the doors across the Main East Level they found the bodies of Thomas John Morris and William Charles Pickford. Samuel George Gronow and Thomas John Price were found alive and Samuels, the rescue man gave them oxygen.

They could see other bodies further up and McVicar, Collings and Evan Evans went through another door to the top of Penny’s Dip where Collings became exhausted and was left. McVicar and Evans went on and found the bodies of Richard Nation, Charles Henry Cox and Wilfred James Probert. They returned to the top of Penny’s Dip and told Collings to tell Michael and Samuels to follow them down the dip where they found the bodies of Trevor and Herbert Matthews. They were joined by Samuels and Michael and they explored the whole of the Old Coal workings without finding any of the dead.

The party then returned to the Main East Level and travelled outbye where they found the bodies of John Rogers, Thomas Lewis, William Bryant, Henry Brain, William Warren, Charles Green, Frederick Trowbridge, William Crowley and Edwin Wilcox and were joined by Mr. O.L. Gibbon, the manager of the Elliot Colliery and Mr. Idris Williams, manager of the Prince of Wales Colliery. They tried to get directly to the shaft but fond he way blocked by falls. They returned to Penny’s Dip and McVicar gave orders for the bodies to be removed but these orders were not understood and only the two survivors, Gronow and Price were brought out.

McVicar went to the surface and there was a meeting with Mr. J.M. Carey and Mr. P.T. Jenkins, H.M. Inspectors of Mines who were briefed on the situation. A party consisting of McVicar, Carey, Jenkins, J.R.N. Kirkwood agent of the New Tredegar Colliery, David Evans, agent of the Oakdale Colliery, J.H. Austin, agent of the Markham Colliery, H.E. Thomas, agent of the Mardy Colliery, David Griffiths, agent of the Britannia and Bargoed Collieries and a squad of rescue men went to explore the Black Vein Seam.

They erected a brattice stopping at the No.1 Heading on the low side of Enoch’s road and the ventilation was partly restored so the party could travel up the No.1 Heading, across the No.2 Heading and down to the “A” level. Further progress was not possible due to bad ventilation. The body of a haulier, Thomas Morris, was found in the crosscut between Nos. 1 and 2 Headings.

Nothing was done in the Black Vein the following day but the day after that a party which included W.D. Woolley, the managing director of the Tredegar Coal and Iron Company, D.L. Davies and Arthur Jenkins of the South Wales Miner’s Federation entered the district after erecting a brattice in the Top Level and this level was explored as far as the fall. Beyond this point, the level was explored by rescue men but no bodies were found and they got to within 15 yards of the face and later two rescue men David John Martin and Albert Trevor Borrows explored the face and found the bodies of David Evans, Richard and Thomas Monaghan, Albert Wright, Joseph Chapell, Edward Miles, and William Matthews.

Burrows and Martin then went to the “B” Level where they located the bodies of Charles Lee, Alfred Griffiths, Harold Reed, Gordon Reddick, Arthur Medland and Thomas Gatehouse. The bodies of James Vaughan, Ellis Williams, Llewellyn Jenkins and William Penny were seen in the “A” Level. From this point onwards, there was steady progress and all the bodies were recovered by the 11th March.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • David James Evans aged 33 years; a labourer who had burns to the face had blood oozing from his right ear. He also had a fractured skull and died from shock caused by burns and his injuries.
  • Richard Monaghan aged 21 years, a ripper. He had severe burns to the upper part of the body and his arms. He died from shock following the injuries and burns.
  • Albert Wright aged 35 years, a labourer. He had burns to the upper body, face and hands. He died of shock following the burns.
  • Joseph Chappell aged 26 years, a collier’s assistant. He had burns to the head and died of shock due to the burns.
  • Thomas Charles Monaghan aged 28 years, a collier. He had severe burns to the upper body and a fractured skull. He died from his injuries and burns.
  • Edward Coleston John Miles aged 36 years, a collier. He was severely burnt and died from shock.
  • William Matthews aged 52 years, an overman. He had burns to the upper body and died from shock following the burns.
  • Charles George Lee aged 21 years, a labourer. He had burns to the upper body and died from shock following the burns.
  • Alfred Griffiths aged 57 years, a collier. He was badly mutilated with an arm off and a very bad head injury. He died from his injuries.
  • Harold Edward Reed aged 21 years, a fitter. He had a fractured skull and severe burns to the upper body, forearms and hands. He died from shock following his injuries.
  • Gordon Reddick aged 30 years, a labourer. He was severely burnt and had a fractured skull he died from his injuries and burns.
  • Arthur John Medland aged 18 years, a collier’s assistant. He suffered a fractured skull and was burnt. He died from shock due to his injuries.
  • Thomas John Gatehouse aged 19 years; a labourer. He had burns to the upper body, a fractured skull and a broken neck. He died from his injuries.
  • Reginald Eric Davies aged 43 years, a repairer. He had a fractured skull and was burnt. He died from shock and his injuries.
  • James Samuel Vaughan aged 41 years, a repairer. He was mutilated about the head, burnt and had a fractured skull.
  • Ellis Williams aged 50 years, a fireman. He had severe burns to the upper body and fractured arms legs and skull.
  • Llewellyn Jenkins aged 29 years, a repairer. He had severe burns to his hands and face and upper body. He died of shock from his injuries.
  • Thomas John Morris aged 39 years, a haulier. He was severely burnt about the head and face.
  • Benjamin Stibbs aged 21 years, a collier’s assistant. He suffered fractured ribs and pelvis and was burnt.
  • William Jones aged 30 years, a collier. He suffered fractured ribs and spine.
  • Walter Alexander Shelard aged 21 years, a collier. He had a broken leg and burns to the upper body.
  • John Collum Rogers aged 29 years, a ropeman. He had a fractured skull and burns to the upper body.
  • Thomas John Tarr aged 21 years, a labourer. He had a fractured spine and burns to the upper body.
  • Edwin George Mason aged 33 years, a labourer who had a fractured leg and burns to the head and legs.
  • John Henry Hobbs aged 45 years, a labourer who had a fractured leg and burns to the body and legs.
  • William Henry Penny aged 22 years, a labourer. He had a fractured pelvis and skull as well as burns.
  • William Mark Dudley aged 33 years, a labourer who had broken limbs and burns to the back.
  • Samuel Harbin aged 40 years, a labourer. He had a bad head injury and burns to the body.
  • Frederick George Green aged 47 years, a repairer who was very badly injured and burnt, Walter John Mathlin aged 33 years. He was very badly injured and burnt.
  • Robert Pester aged 39 years, a haulier who died from a fractured skull.
  • Robert Wilfred Button aged 19 years who was badly burnt and looked as if he had been scalded.

Many of the victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • John Rogers aged 50 years, a fireman.
  • Sidney Hill, aged 36 years, a repairer.
  • Charles Green, aged 57 years, a repairer.
  • William Bryant, aged 61 years, a repairer.
  • Edwin Harold Wilcox, aged 30 years, a ropeman.
  • Frederick Trowbridge, aged 22 years, a labourer.
  • Charles Henry Cox, aged 24 years, a haulier.
  • Richard Nation, aged 38 years, a haulier.
  • Henry Brain, aged 26 years, a labourer.
  • Wilfred James Probert, aged 22 years, a labourer.
  • Thomas Lewis, aged 70, and engineman.
  • William Henry Warren, aged 25 years, a collier’s assistant.
  • John Clarke, aged 47 years, a collier.
  • Trevor Matthews, aged 28 years, a collier.
  • Herbert Matthews, aged 29 years, a collier.
  • Thomas John Morris, aged 26 years, a collier.
  • William Charles Pickford, aged 26 years, a collier’s assistant.
  • Arthur Herbert Button, aged 35 years, a collier.
  • William George Davies, aged 35 years, a repairer.
  • William Crowley, aged 43 years, a repairer.

The inquest and the inquiry were held concurrently. With the permission of the Coroner, the witnesses were summoned and evidence taken. Mr. Henry Walker made the official report into the disaster.

The inquest into the men’s deaths was held by Mr. W.R. Dauncey the Coroner for the Abergavenny district of Monmouthshire. The proceedings took place at the Town Hall, Tredegar on 12th July 1927 and was completed on 3rd August and evidence was heard from seventy nine witnesses. The Coroner summed up by putting the following questions to the jury:

  1. Was the explosion in its origination one of gas or coal dust and if of gas was it subsequently increased and carried on by the presence of coal dust?
  2. Where did the gas come from?
  3. Where was ignition produced?
  4. By what means was ignition produced?
  5. Was the explosion purely accidental?
  6. Was the explosion the result of the negligent act or omission of anyone, and, if so, of whom and what was the act of omission?
  7. If the answer to question No.6 is in the affirmative, was the degree of negligence a) Criminal b) Less than criminal c) A mere error of judgement?

The answers of the jury to the first five questions were:

  1. Yes. Gas is carried on by coal dust.
  2. C. Face and Top C. Level.
  3. C, face.
  4. we have not sufficient evidence to be definite but suggest that i) the missing lamp, and ii) the blast pipe may have caused ignition.
  5. Yes.

The following recommendations were made by the jury:

  1. That 20 per cent of the lamps used underground be oil lamps.
  2. That reports of the Colliery Examiners include more details.
  3. The Colliery Examiner’s duties are confined to colliery examinations only.
  4. That Colliery workmen be searched before descending the shaft.

There was no general agreement on the cause of the explosion and the point at which it occurred. Mr. Michael thought that there had been fall on the “A” face and that had released gas which was ignited by sparks from the falling material or, more likely, at sparks from the haulage engine. The manager, Mr. Gay, thought the gas came from the “A” face and ignited at the haulage engine. He thought a fall had occurred but it was not close enough to the face to check the ventilating current.

The Miner’s Agent, Mr. D.L. Davies, thought the explosion originated on the “C” face from one of three possible causes:

  1. The missing electric lamp.
  2. Sparks from the nozzle of the compressed air blower in the “C” face, or
  3. Heat set up by the conveyor trays rubbing against props being absorbed by coal dust.

This would have resulted in spontaneous combustion that could heat oil vapour from the exhaust of the conveyor engine.

Extensive experiments were made to try to find the exact cause but the evidence was not conclusive. With regard to the cause of ignition, Mr. Walker considered two possibilities, the missing lamp and stones falling on already fallen.

With regard to the lamps, of the seven bodies that were found at the inbye end of the “C” level only six lamps were found. The missing lamp had the number “E.L. 2147” and was issued to Edward Mile but the lamp that was found near his body was lamp number “E.L. 2019”. There had been an exchange of lamps for some reason but the reason was not known. Sparks from falling stones were known to have caused explosions and there was a large body of expert evidence to show that this was a possible source of ignition.

Mr. Walker concluded that the explosion occurred at the “C” face. He said:

I consider an explosive mixture of firedamp and air existed in the “C” face and at the face by the “C” Level that this explosive mixture was ignited either by stones falling on stones already fallen or at the bare glowing filament of an electric lamp and that the area of the explosion was increased and its volume magnified by the presence of coal dust.

On the recommendations of the jury, he commented:

I should be in entire agreement with the recommendations if I were convinced that the workmen would make use of a flame safety lamp for testing for firedamp, but, until I am convinced, I feel that the possibility of an accident is greater with flame safety lamps than it is with electric lamps. The only alternative, when electric lamps are generally in use, is to rely on the fireman and in such case his district should be small, and this is what was done here.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Marine Colliery, Cwm, Monmouthshire on the 1st March 1927.
Colliery Guardian, 4th March 1927, p.12, 9th March 1928, p.943, 23rd March, p.1141.
”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.

Return to previous page