Llay Main Colliery was the last major mine to be sunk on the southern part of the North Wales Coalfield, Llay Main was completed in 1921, after sinking work had been postponed by the First World War. The mine was a joint venture between the Hickleman Main Colliery Co Ltd of Thurnscoe, Yorkshire and Messrs Rea Ltd, Coal Exporters of Liverpool. No.1 Shaft alone cost £1m to complete, being 905 yards deep whilst No. 2 Shaft was 830 yards deep. Coal production began in earnest in 1923, with an output of 8,000 tons per week. In December 1925, the colliery had its worst disaster with the loss of nine men and boys in an explosion in the North Two Yard Seam. Rescuers worked in relays to clear the fall and search for the missing men. Great bravery was shown by three underground officials who, without waiting for respirators, got to the scene of the accident and recovered several bodies. Edward German, the 15-year-old engine boy, was found dead sitting by his haulage engine with his hand on the lever. In that same year, the colliery changed hands and was acquired by the Carlton Main Colliery Company. They proved to be enlightened employers who fostered a good relationship with the North Wales Miners’ Association at a time when owners and men at other pits were locked in confrontation.
In 1929, its record year, 1,057,592 tons were produced and in 1930 pit head baths and a canteen with accommodation for 3,000 men were constructed at a cost of £35,000. Under TW Mottram, colliery manager from 1928-1947, safety was made a priority and matters improved again after nationalisation. Prior to that, a local saying had been “Join the Navy and see the world, join Llay Main and see the next”. Nationalisation in 1947 did not make such a great difference to working life at Llay Main but, in 1952, new funds became available to be able to extend the bottom of No.1 Shaft to 1,009 yards, thus making it the deepest winding shaft in the country. The limited ‘take’ of the colliery meant that most important reserves were exhausted relatively quickly and the workforce was run down after 1959
From the start only the most up to date equipment was used at Llay Main. Its steam winding engines by Markhams were considered to be the best in the world. The cages could carry 50 men and the underground working was illuminated by electric light. The coal was machine cut and filled onto conveyor belts by hand. The tubs were moved along the haulage system by relays of stationary engines powering endless ropes. No ponies were ever used to haul coal. All stones and other waste material, taken from the coal in the screens, was placed in hoppers and conveyed to the top of the tip by means of an endless aerial ropeway which emptied automatically. In addition to those 450 families installed in Llay’s two housing schemes, workers commuted to the pit from every other mining community within a 15 mile radius.
The seams worked at Llay Main were Main Coal, Two Yard, Quaker, Prince and Crown Coal. At its peak this colliery employed 2,500 men and boys, the largest workforce of any mine in Wales. By 1966, however, as a result of geological problems and reductions in the workforce, the annual output was down to 240,767 tons. The colliery closed in March 1966 and it took six months to fill both shafts with 60,000 tons of mine waste.
Source: Ithel Kelly; Vic Tyler-Jones.