Wynnstay Colliery, Ruabon

also known as The Green Pit

Wynnstay Colliery

Wynnstay Colliery or The Green Pit. Ruabon.

The New British Iron Company owned the colliery.  The workings were ventilated by a split of the air at the extremity of the horse road and then behind brattice cloth, through an opening into the level above from which the two upbrows were ventilated by brattice. One of the upbrows was intended to be a self-acting incline, which had been driven from the main road. At the bottom of this there was a single door, which separated the intake and return air currents. The door had to be opened and closed as every wagon passed.

Wynnstay Colliery
Wynnstay Colliery location map

Wynnstay Colliery
Wynnstay Colliery 1914 (c)Keith Griffiths

On 9th December 1863, the door was broken by a loaded wagon. The foreman helped to repair it and then went into the upbrow workings to fire shots for the colliers. He ignited the fuse and retired to the level below. The resulting explosion caused the deaths of thirteen men and boys and injury to six others.

The men who died were: –
Thomas Williams aged 26 years, driver.
Edward Evans aged 40 years, collier.
Elias Jones aged 29 years, collier.
Benjamin Thomas aged 27 years, collier.
Thomas Davies aged 25 years, collier.
David Jones aged 41 years, collier.
Samuel Thellwall aged 13 years, driver.
Thomas Stephens aged 22 years, drawer.
John Blower aged 40 years, collier.
William Jones aged 48 years, collier.
William Williams aged 17 years, drawer.
John Davies aged 36 years, collier.

The Inspector, Mr. Peter Higson was about to descend another of the Company’s collieries when news of the disaster reached him and he got to the scene of the explosion a very short time after it had occurred. He stated in his report “the greatest exertions to recover the unfortunate men had been made, until the strength of the brave men who eagerly undertook the task was all but exhausted, while explosive gas and afterdamp had become impenetrable barriers to further explorations, still seven persons were missing and the anxious but mournfully quiet appearance of the spectators who stood around the mouth of the pit seemed to say, ‘there are seven more missing’. Another effort was made, and the lifeless bodies of the seven unfortunate men were brought to the surface.”

On the south side of the pit in the Main Coal seam. on 30th September 1868 three up brows had been driven to the rise within a short distance of the pit eye.  The upbrows were ventilated by a split of air from the main current going along the horse road below and on to the top by doors and stoppings placed in the endways. In the second level or endway from the bottom, there had been a door for some time but it was removed a few days before the explosion. A bricksetter was employed to build a brick stopping in its place and he was working at this task on the day of the accident. Immediately after the stopping was completed, the explosion took place. All the dead were found near the pit eye.

Those who died were :-
Thomas Ward,
Henry Davies,
Moses Andrew,
David Roberts,
John Lloyd,
James Davies,
Hugh Edwards,
Edward Edwards,
Meshech Jones
John Brown.

Mr. Peter Higson, the Inspector thought that the places had been fouled with gas when there was no door since the current would take the shortest path to the upcast shaft. When the ventilation was restored, the gas would be carried round and was ignited by a spark. Mr. Higson found that there were sparks from the furnace which was fed by fresh air and two daywageman who were working nearby had locked safety lamps.  The inquiry into the accident was long and searching and great efforts were made as to how the gas was ignited but they failed completely. The Inspector thought it was possible that some of the victims might have gone into there turn airway for a smoke and ignited the gas with a naked light but he was also suspicious of e sparks from the furnace and pointed out to the manager that this could be improved. Mr. Higson concluded his report- “The fireman told the jury that he had examined and found the upbrows safe on the morning of the casualty, but that statement could hardly be relied on inasmuch as it was not supported by the evidence of several trustworthy witnesses my own impression being that those places had not been visited for sometime by anyone. As there was no trace of burning in or near the upcast pit, the gas, I think, could not have been ignited by anything that came from the furnace.

As reported in The Times, Friday, Oct 02, 1868

On Wednesday morning last, one of the most terrific acci­dents that has ever happened in this locality occurred at The Green Pit, belonging to the New British Iron Company, Near Ruabon, by which 10 men were killed and 15 injured.

The cause of this appalling accident was an explosion of gas, which occurred a little after 11 o’clock, and the effect of which was not only severely felt over all the working-, but also at a distance of two miles. It was also felt and heard at Ruabon, as also some distance on the Llangollen line of railway, and at other places of equal distance from the scene of the explosion. It shook the very foundation of Plasmadoc the residence of Mr. Whalley, and greatly frightened the inmates.

The floor in the vicinity of the mouth of the shaft was torn up, and fully testified to the great force of the explosion. The No. 1 shaft was, of course, blocked up for some time ‘ – Mr. Ralph Darlington, under­ground manager of the pits, and Mr. Robert Taylor, under-looker of the No. 2 pit, were the first who descended the No. 2 shaft after the explosion. Dr. Burton, with Mr. T. Lloyd Evans, arrived at the scene of the accident in 20 minutes after it occurred, and shortly afterwards Dr. Burton, with Mr. Evans, the manager of the New British Iron Com­pany, and Mr. Popplewell, engineer, descended the pit for this purpose of ascertaining the number of dead and wounded, and to make arrangements for those who were only injured to be brought up first. There was, of course, great difficulty in finding all who were killed, owing to the rubbish beneath which some of them were buried.

The ex­citement in the pit was so great after the accident that the men from all points rushed to the pit’s mouth, and were the first to be drawn to-the bank. The men were afterwards wound up, and immediately upon their arrival at the bank they were attended to by Dr. Burton and his assistant, and conveyed home in carts, which were ordered for the purpose.

As soon as the accident became known the scene of excitement throughout the neighbourhood was in-tease, and half-frantic women and children were to be seen running from all directions to the pit, where the ex­citement was increased by seeing some of their relatives or friends brought up either dead or injure& Six of the dead bodies and all the injured men and boys were wound up the No. 2 pit, and those; who were killed were placed in the lamp-room, and were soon identified. They were soon after­wards taken to their houses in conveyances.

The remaining four dead bodies were drawn up the No. I pit and placed in carts in readiness. The scene of restoring the injured, some of whom seemed in a very lifeless state, was one of the most exciting character and in a few instances it required a good deal of time to bring some of them round.

The following is the list of those who were brought up from the pit dead: Henry Davies, Acrefair, a married man, who leaves a wife and two children; Mesech Jones, Acrefair, who leaves a wife and child; Edward Edwards, Garth, who leaves a wife and five or six children; David Roberts, Garth, who leaves a wife and six or seven young children; John Lloyd, Garth, who leaves a young wife; Moses Andre, of Brymbo, who lodges with Mr. John Hughes, Crane, Cefn; John Bowen, of Cefn, a boy 13 or 14 years old; Hugh Ed­wards, Rhosymedre, who leaves a wife and two children; James Davies, Afoneitha, Ruabon, who leaves a wife and three children Thomas Ward, Penycae, a boy about 12 years old. This list is likely to be enlarged by the death of one or two of those who are seriously hurt. It will be seen by this list that three of those killed belong to Garth, where one of those killed in the last great accident resided. One of those likely to sink under their injuries is a boy named Joseph Edwards, son of Edward Edwards, who was killed. Mesech Jones, one of the dead, is also a native of Garth.

On 24th April 1873 another explosion occurred in the workings. Which dipped at one in three and was worked with locked lamps, causing the deaths of seven persons. There were three shafts at the colliery. Nos.1 and 2 were downcast and No.3 was the upcast for all the colliery and had a furnace at the bottom. The disaster occurred in the workings of the No.1 pit in the New Coal Seam which was 308 yards deep and 820 yards from the pit eye in a south west direction. The colliers were allowed to use gunpowder to get coal after it had been holed and a fireman was appointed to light the shots. His instructions were to examine the places for gas before the shots were fired. Two levels were being driven and colliers in both places were ready to have shots fired. The fireman, Griffith Hughes, went into the lower level and fired a shot which was all right and witnessed by John Hughes. Shortly afterwards, Hughes heard another shot in the higher level and the explosion followed immediately. John Hughes, a collier gave his account of the explosion at the inquest and said “On the day of the accident I was down about 6am.  I worked in a deep place off the low level I heard a shot fired shortly after noon as I thought, in the lower level, which went off all right about 10 minutes after I heard another shot go off in what I believe to be the higher level, closely followed by a great rush of wind and flash of fire which threw me down into my working place as soon as I could I got up and saw sparks in he level on getting to the top of my place I fell and could go no further than the main road where I found Richard Thomas who had been killed I was nearly smothered with dust before getting out.” Another account came from Thomas Phillips, a fourteen years old horse driver “I was in the pit on the day of the explosion and was near to where Richard Thomas was killed about a minute before it happened I had spoken to Thomas, who was taking a tub to be filled when he met the blast, which threw over the tub over to the other side of him and did not see him alive after that. I was sitting down at the time and was burnt on my hands and face. I saw flames coming along the level close to my head and them I was blown over by a great rush of wind.”

The men who died were: –

Griffith Hughes aged 35 years, fireman,
Joshua Davis aged 34 years, collier,
George Edwards aged 33 years, collier,
Richard Thomas aged 22 years, collier,
Edward Williams aged 27 years, collier,
John Jones aged 16 years, filler and
Peter Darlington aged 18 years, roadman.

The inquest was held at Rhos-y-Medre before the Denbighshire Coroner, Mr. B.H. Thelwall. Ralph Darlington was the first to be examined. He was the manager of the colliery and knew all the dead personally. He had not been down the pit on the fatal day but he had examined the pit the day before but not the place where the explosion took place. He said that the pit was too big to be examined by one man and there were three certificated managers. The fireman had seen the place that morning and his report stated, “I have duly examined the above district and find all the working places free from gas and dirt and in good order.” Ralph Darlington believed that the shot was over charged and was badly placed. It was the duty of George Edwards to bore the hole, which the witness thought should have been twelve inches deeper and the shot blew out igniting gas that had accumulated. There was no rule that the firemen should inspect the holes before charging but he thought that if the hole had been drilled properly, the accident would not have happened. The men nearest the shot were 45 yards away from the face and other 180 yards away. He thought that the second shot went off about two minutes after the first and it was this one that caused the disaster. Joseph Darlington was the manager of the No.2 pit in which the explosion took place and he thought the men had been burnt from the effects of blown out shots. He thought they were not deep enough and that they were not correctly rammed. Two shots had been lighted together against orders, and the lower side one going off first would raise the dust, and the second shot blowing out would set fire to it and in his opinion, the flame would continue to burn and he thought this is what burnt the men. He was about 600 yards from the seat of the explosion and felt the shock and the rush of wind. David Roberts, a collier was one of the Workmen’s Committee for inspecting the mine which was authorised by the new Mines Regulation Act. He had seen the place where the men were burnt but he had never seen gas in the place.

Mr. Thomas Bell was the Assistant Inspector as Mr. Higson was ill. He gave his evidence and an account of the shot holes. He continued “I am of the opinion that one of two things must have occurred to cause the explosion and to do the damage to the mine which the shot itself could not do first, a shot was fired on the lower level about 10 minutes before the explosion, and any gas that night be liberated at that point would be carried by the current of air to the upper level, where it would just have about time to reach, When the first shot went off, when it would probably be augmented by gas coming from the slip or break in the coal, and there might be sufficient to foul a portion of the place, and would be ignited by the second shot second, the effect of the second shot being blown out with sufficient force would be to create a partial vacuum in the place, which would immediately be filled with gas from the cavities in the coal and would at once become mixed with sufficient of the atmospheric air to make it explosive, and would be ignited by the burning embers of the shot. The suggestion of Mr. Darlington to have all holes examined by a competent person before the powder is put in is a very good one, and will lead to the prevention of a great number of accidents which are daily taking place in this district, and I should be glad to see it generally adopted by colliery managers.” The Coroner addressed the jury and they retired. After a few minutes deliberation the foreman, Mr. Joshua Roberts, delivered the following verdict “That from the evidence before us, the accident occurred from an explosion of powder arising from the drill holes not being sufficiently bored, and the ramming being improperly secured, and we attach to our verdict a recommendation to the company to carry out the suggestion that has been made, as to having the holes examined before the powder is put in.”

Sources: Photographs Graham Lloyd. Keith Griffiths. Collieries of Denbighshire. Ithel Kelly – North Wales Coalfields. The Times, Friday, Oct 02, 1868; Terrific Explosion At The Green Pit. Ruabon.

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