This year marks 80 years since the disaster at Gresford Colliery near Wrexham in September 1934. It remains one of Britain’s worst coal mining disasters, where an unprecedented explosion killed 266 men.
In 1934, 2200 miners were employed at the colliery, 1850 working underground and 350 on the surface. On September 22 1934 at 2:08 a.m. a violent explosion shook the Dennis section of the mine, over a mile from the bottom of the shaft to the surface, and fire quickly took hold. At the time 500 men were working on the night shift, an unusually high number as many were working a double shift, in order to attend a carnival and football match the following day.
Only six men managed to escape from the Dennis section: Ted Andrew, Cyril Challinor, Thomas Fisher, David Jones, Albert Samuels and John Samuels. A detailed written account of both John and Albert Samuels’ ordeals are held at Denbighshire Archives, in the East Denbighshire Coroner’s records. In their statements they mention seeing the body of William Hughes whose body was tragically not recovered from the pit. Further explosions occurred later, during one of which the seal on the shaft blew, and surface worker George Brown became the final victim of the disaster, killed by flying debris; one of only 12 bodies recovered after the disaster.
A Coroner’s Inquest for each of the deceased can be found at Denbighshire Archives, within the East Denbighshire Coroner’s records. All of these inquests record the cause of death as ‘Carbon Monoxide poisoning as a result of an explosion but there is not sufficient evidence to show what caused the explosion’.
Within a few hours of the first explosion, large crowds of miners and relatives had gathered in silence at the pit head waiting for news. Others fought the fire until the evening of following day but made little progress. By this time it was certain that all of the miners were dead and conditions in the pit were so dangerous that it was decided to cap both shafts to seal off the fire. The Dennis section of the mine was never reopened and the bodies of 254 victims were sealed inside the mine.
800 children lost their fathers and more then 200 women lost their partners on that fateful day. Relief funds were set up by the Mayor of Wrexham, the Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire and the Lord Mayor of London, raising a total of over £500,000 for the dependents of the victims. Records of the Gresford Colliery Disaster Relief Fund are held within the Glyndwr MSS at Denbighshire Archives.
An inquiry opened on 25 October 1934, which highlighted management failures, lack of safety measures, bad working practices and poor ventilation in the pit. The miners were represented at the inquiry by Sir Stafford Cripps. The Colliery reopened six months after the disaster with coal production resuming in January 1936.
In 1937 legal proceedings were started in Wrexham against the Pit Manager, the Under-Manager and the United and Westminster Collieries Limited, the owners of the mine. The court found the mine’s management guilty only of inadequate record-keeping.
Gresford Colliery finally closed on economic grounds in November 1973 and the site was developed as an industrial estate. In 1982 a memorial to the victims of the disaster was erected near to the former colliery; constructed from the wheel of the old pit head winding gear.
Further information relating to our holidings can be found on our website.
We currently have a small inhouse exhibition relating to the disaster, you are welcome to visit the office to view the exhibition during our normal opening hours.