One hundred and fifty six years ago today, on 19 February 1862, Merthyr was rocked by the news of a horrific explosion at the Gethin Colliery in Abercanaid.
Gethin Colliery comprised of two seperate pits – Lower Pit (Gethin Colliery No 1) and Upper Pit (Gethin Colliery No 2). The Gethin Pit was established in 1849, when it was sunk by William Crawshay II to provide coal for the Cyfarthfa Works.
As the coal had been worked the gas had drained away naturally. At the time of the explosion the mines were being sunk to a greater depth and giving off greater quantities of gas which demanded greater skill and attention in their management.
At the time of the disaster, the mine was being managed by John Moody and various others including his son (Thomas Moody). Thomas Thomas, the fireman who ran the safety checks of the mine reported: “All is right, but there is a little gas in John Jones’ heading…….No.20 about 10 yards back from the face there had been a bit of a fall above the timbers and gas was lodged there.”
Thomas Thomas was actually at work when the explosion occurred. He had just examined the Nos. 16 to 19 cross headings, found everything all right and was on his way for his dinner. He reached the No. 14 heading when he was knocked down from behind and burnt by the blast. It was about 2 p.m.
Mr G.H. Laverick, viewer at the Plymouth Works heard the explosion at 2 p.m. He went to the pit where he met Mr Bedlington Kirkhouse, mineral agent of the Cyfarthfa Colliery, and went down the pit. He examined the doors at the No. 13 and 14 headings and a great many bodies had been brought there. He reported:
“I then proceeded to the No.18 when I got up about 50 yards on the road I picked up a burnt handkerchief. At the bottom of the No.19 heading there was a horse blown across the level. Attached to the chain was a train of coal the train was off the road, about eight or nine feet from the north side level. On the west side of the heading saw a portion of what seemed to have been a door did not observe anything of the other doors there had been a fall of earth between the level and the windroad could not proceed any further because of the chokedamp. I believe that the door at the bottom of No.19 must have been kept open at the time, otherwise it would have been shattered to pieces. The haulier was jammed between the rib and the trams. They had to left the tram to remove his body. The horse was blown across with it’s head inclined to the west, indicating that the blast had come down the heading from the north. Further up we came across four men who appeared to have had their dinners, for the stoppers being out of their bottles. They appeared to be suffocated.”
In all, 47 men and boys were killed in the explosion.
The enquiry into the explosion, which took nine days, found that the presence of poor ventilation, fire-damp (an accumulation of gases, mostly methane, that occurs in coal mines) and the irresponsible use of naked flames for lighting were the root causes of the explosion.
John Moody, after testifying, was acquitted of two charges, however he was found guilty of manslaughter by the jury. Later, a grand jury heard the evidence and produced the verdict of “No true bill”.
Just three years later, on 20 December 1865, another explosion occurred at the Gethin Colliery, this time at No 2 Pit, killing 36 men and boys. The cause of the explosion was found to be exactly the same as the first, yet once again John Moody was acquitted of manslaughter at the subsequent trial.
Coal production ceased at the Gethin Colliery in the 1920’s and it was used as a pumping station until its closure in 1947.