Llay Main Colliery Accident 5th December 1924
The Llay Main Colliery was one of the largest and the most modern colliery in the North Wales coalfield. Sinking had begun in December 1914 and completed in the summer of 1916. It employed 2,600 men at the time and produced 10,000 tons of coal a week. At the time of the explosion, which occurred in the early hours of Friday morning, 416 men were working in the mine. The flames travelled only a short distance and killed 9 men and boys, the other 406 escaped from the mine. Firedamp had not been reported in the North Two Yard District since 26th. November and previously on 16th November and in both cases, it was found on the right or higher side of the No.17 against the shaft pillar. At the inquiry into the disaster, the firemen, John C. Williams, who was the brother of a man who was killed in the disaster and Charles Richardson were emphatic that there had been no gas in the district on the two shifts before the explosion. Compressed air was used to drive the haulage engines and the exhaust air was used to ventilate a break near the shaft pillar. It was an easy way of overcoming a difficulty but no brattice was erected to supply extra air to the break. The permitted explosive used at the Colliery was Penrhyn Powder and it was taken into the mine in locked canisters for which only the fireman had a key. William Ernest Williams, the fireman on the shift, drew the canister containing one pound of explosive and it was taken underground by one of the workmen. He was issued with 20 No.7 low tension detonators in the locked detonator box. The lamps used in the mine were of the ‘Oldham’ electric safety lamps and the ‘Prestwich Patent Protector’ type. More of the electric types were used. The mine was well stone dusted and the firemen wee provided with tins that the carried stone dust for use in shotfiring operations.
At about 1.15 a.m., two men were working on the face about 200 yards on the return side of the No.17 gateway, when they heard a slight noise and felt a difference in air pressure which was followed by a cloud of dust. Another party of men, working on a roadway, about 300 yards from the sight of the explosion, had a similar experience and made their way towards the shaft. Immediately after the explosion great bravery was shown by three officials. They went to the explosion area and recovered several of the bodies without respirators. After passing the end of the No.17 road they met others coming in bye, and Samuel Challinor, along with others retraced their steps and went along the No.17 road. They found nothing disturbed until they came to a small fall of roof at the end of an old gate, two girders had been displaced, about fifty yards from the site of the explosion. Seven or eight yards further on they came upon the bodies of Isaac Evans and John Williams. They were close to a compressed air hauling engine and both were badly burnt. Close to the bodies were two electric safety lamps lying on the floor. Both were still working but a flame safety lamp that was hanging nearby was extinguished. Having seen that there was no hope for the two men, the party went back. Help soon arrived and they returned. Twenty yards past the first two bodies discovered they found the bodies of William Ernest Williams, a fireman and John Humphreys.
The fireman’s lamp was found two yards further up and was not lit. Close to it there was a low tension firing battery and the end of a shot cable, two yards away. The battery key and a detonator box containing seventeen detonators were found close to the bodies. The cable was afterwards found to extend about twenty yards to the No.17 face where one or more shots had been fired in the ripping, five yards back from the coal. Williams had probably been sheltering in a slight recess next to a chock while he fired the fatal shot and he had been able to move a short distance after the explosion. Rescue parties were rushed from the North Wales Rescue Station at Wrexham, led by Sergeant-Major Herbert and from neighbouring collieries. Fortunately, the ventilation restored itself quickly and the rescuers who went forward without beating apparatus all returned safely. The Rescue Teams found the remaining bodies about fifteen yards further on and the last body was recovered the next morning. It had been under a very heavy fall which had exposed the Powell Coal, twelve feet above the Two Yard Seam. The fall had taken place after the explosions burying the man and had not furnished the gas which caused the explosion.
The agent and manager of the colliery, Mr. F.A. Hughes, gave a statement to the Press “The range of the explosion was extraordinarily limited, but I attribute this to the fact that we have been in the habit of stone dusting very profusely in this new mine, and you can take it as fact that the stone dusting has saved the pit. The flame has not travelled very far, not more than 20 to 30 yards in any one direction from the seat of the explosion the shift had been down since 10 o’clock on Thursday night. It included 416 men, but in this particular district were probably not more than 20 men working. Of them, only nine were within the range of the explosion, and these have all been killed. The others working in the same district were a considerable distance away. These survivors state that they felt the air propulsion, and it was immediately followed by a cloud of mixed coal dust and stone dust. It was these men who gave the first warning of what had occurred and subsequent enquiries have shown that nobody else working in the pit knew anything at all about it. The three officials came part of the way out and then turned back and went on right up to the phone where the explosion had occurred and there they came across the fist bodies, three in number. These bodies were not buried, nor were five others who have since been recovered. Only one man was buried. It is fortunate for these men who turned back to see if they could be of help to the injured that the ventilation restored itself so quickly as it did. Otherwise they would have been caught in afterdamp but the ventilation restored itself at once and that saved them.
It is an undoubted fact that the fireman in charge of the district now dead (W.E. Williams) was in the act of firing a shot and if that is so, that would be the means of igniting a pocket of gas. it need have been only a small pocket of gas in one of the numerous breaks in the roof which the act of shot firing would liberate. The whole of the bodies were lying within a short distance of 20 to 30 yards and were probably blown to the places where they were found from the spot at which they were grouped. In my opinion, they were taking their ‘snap’ and were sitting down while the shot was fired.” During the day, the colliery was visited by Mr. A.D. Nicholson, the Chief Inspector of Mines for Lancashire and North Wales and Mr. D.H.F. Matthews the District Inspector and the managers of others collieries offered all the assistance they could to the Llay Main officials. During the Friday morning, there were large crowds of workmen at the pit head and a deep knot of sorrow everywhere in the district. Eight of the bodies had been brought to the surface before 9 a.m. on that Friday morning but the ninth was buried under a fall and was not recovered until Saturday morning after the rescue parties had been working for many hours. Edward German was found sitting at his haulage engine with his hand on the lever. he was much liked by his workmates and in the words of one who knew him “he seemed to have died with a smile on his lips.”
Those who lost their lives were: –
Isaac Evans – aged 19 years of 45, Garden Place, Mold. His left leg was badly smashed and his right shoulder smashed and dislocated. He also had head injuries and burns to the head and neck
John William Hughes – aged 22 years of 35, Shone’s Lanes, Llay. He had severe burns to the head body and neck and a scalp wound on the left side of the head,
William Ernest Williams – aged 41 years of Fourth Avenue, Llay. He was the fireman of the district and was married with seven children from 20 to 2 years old. He had severe burns,
John Humphries – aged 53 years of Maeshafan, Lanferres, near Mold. He had severe burns to the head, neck and body,
Joseph Reginald Evans – aged 53 years of The Cottage, Abermorddu who was married with two children. He had severe burns,
Edward Henry German – aged 15 years, a haulage hand of 14, Springfield Terrace, Rhosddu. He had severe burns,
Henry Jones – aged 36 years of 6, Oak Tree Avenue, Llay who was married with a child. He had severe burns,
Thomas Charles Fletcher – aged 45 years of Bridge Inn, Mold. He had severe burns,
Robert Percival Evans aged 32 years of Oak Mount, Cefn-y-bedd who was Reginald Evans brother.
The local clergy did what they could to comfort the bereaved families and visited them in their homes. The Reverend Bransby Jones, Church of England, Reverend J., Lewis Evans, Presbyterian and Reverend R. Lewis Jenkins, Primitive Methodist made the visits. The inquest into the deaths of the men was held on 22nd and 23rd December before Mr. Llewellyn Kenrick, Coroner for East Denbighshire. The proceedings were opened on Saturday afternoon when the evidence of identification was taken. After a full hearing the jury returned the following verdict “We, as the jury, came to the conclusion that, firstly, we believe and find that the death was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, together with shock due to the explosion. Secondly: We advise the Colliery Company in future to have an adequate supply of clay in a convenient place in each district. Thirdly: We advise that the ordinary system of ventilation be used wherever applicable, and that brattice cloths used in future to prevent the short-circuiting of air. Fourthly we advise that the man in charge of each set of men be responsible for the bringing in and the taking out of explosives during each shift.” Arthur Nicholson, at the end of his report into the causes and circumstances of the disaster, commented “With regard to these recommendations. I agree with the first and third. as regards the second, it was the usual practice to send clay from the surface to each district, but apparently the firemen did not always use it. On this occasion clay had been sent to the district two days prior to the accident, and was within 100 yards of the site of the accident. The fourth recommendation, as to the issue of explosives, has no bearing on this disaster, but might usefully be adopted, although the canisters are locked when given put, and only the fireman possess the key.”
The Mayor of Wrexham, Councillor Owen. E. Rickman, opened a Relief Fund with £50 and hoped to raise a four figure sum by Christmas. Arrangements were made for the banks in Wrexham and the Borough Treasurer’s Office to collect the donations The official into the explosion, ‘Report on the Causes and of the Circumstances attending the Explosion which occurred at the Llay Main Colliery, Wrexham, Denbighshire on the 5th. December 1924’, was made by Arthur D. Nicholson, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines and presented to Parliament as Command Document 2365 in 1925. Mr. Nicholson was critical of the ventilation system, which used the exhaust air from a haulage engine. He said, in the report “I am satisfied that if a brattice sheet had been erected at No.6 gate and another at No.17 gate, the ventilation of the high side where the roof break existed would have been much more adequate. The canvas doors or sheets in the Nos. 46 and 48 gates should have been doubled. The fast side corner at the face of No.17 was the highest point in the while district, and if gas was to be found in the district, this would have been the most likely place to find it.”
The firing of shots was a critical area that the inquiry examined. From the quantity of explosive that the fireman took down the mine and the quantity that was found in the canister after the explosion it was found that he had fired three shots and if he had followed the usual practice, it was probable that he fired a 2 ounce shot in the ‘blind’ coal and 12 ounces of explosive for the two shots in the stone. There was no evidence to show the direction or position of the shotholes drilled. the Inspector thought the roof had been broke by the second shot and the third was fired in the roof on the left side of the gateway. This shot had little to do as the roof was broken by the second shot. It was obvious that there was gas present when the third shot was fired and there was no time for the gas to accumulate in the cavity left by the firing of the second shot. The inference must be that the gas already existed in quantity on the high side of No.17 along the breaks against the shaft pillar. During the recovery of the bodies and for a few days after gas was detected on the high side of No.17. The position of the bodies of the fireman and four other persons indicated that they were taking cover while a shot was being fired and it was reasonable to assume that this was the cause of the accident.