2013 sees the centenary of RSGB but it also marks the centenary of the worst British mining accident and one of the most serious in the world in terms of loss of life.
But why would I, an Englishman now living in Wales, be interested in a Welsh mining village about 10 miles away from where I'm living? Let me try to explain;
Much has been written about the two Colliery disasters, which I lightly cover here as the 1913 disaster is what Senghenydd is really known for, but what about the town itself?
Senghenydd (to help the non-Welsh with pronunciation: Seng-hen-ith) is roughly 4 miles north-west of Caerphilly, 2¼ miles north-east of Pontypridd and about 10 miles north-north-west of Cardiff. The map on the right shows it's location.
When the 1891 census was taken Senghenydd was a rural farming community located at the head of the Aber Valley. It was so small that it was not even listed as a village in that census!
The map, left (click for a much larger view in a new window), shows the Senghenydd area around the (yet to be) mine circa 1875. The coloured markings are the same here as on a map shown later however, there are fewer markings on this map:
At the end of the 19th century coal was much in demand for steam power for everything from water pumps to warships and great profits were there for those that owned the collieries. New workings were opening up wherever they found coal in large amounts and Senghenydd was one such location.
In 1891, after the census had been taken, the Universal Steam Coal Company (a subsidiary of the Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Ltd.) started sinking the first of two shafts; Lancaster (downcast) and York (upcast), each ended up being 650 yards (594 Metres) deep, making the Universal colliery one of the deepest mines in the South Wales coalfield. The company was to supply high quality steam coal to the Royal Navy for use on it's warships.
Local stone was quarried from the surrounding mountains to build much needed houses for the miners, other workers and their families plus mine buildings, shops, stables etc. At one stage it was said that the quarries were working harder than the mine! One such, now abandoned, quarry can be seen in the mountainside overlooking the town above Lower Brynhyfryd Terrace, the photo was taken from Parc Terrace looking East (Click on the photo for a larger view). The town soon started to take shape around the colliery with houses, shops, chapels and other buildings springing up as fast as they could be built.
In early 1894 the 3½ mile Senghenydd branch line opened from Aber Junction, north of Caerphilly, on the Rhymney Railway to serve the growing colliery and the town. The line also had stations at Penyrheol and Abertridwr. A short branch from this line served the Windsor Colliery in Abertridwr (which opened in 1895).
By the time full production started in 1896 there were 236 men employed in the Senghenydd colliery and by 1900 around 500 tons of coal were being produced per day.
Workers who moved into the area to work in the colliery were first accommodated in a terrace of huts just outside the colliery while they awaited the building of a house for them and their family. These huts were just simple two-roomed corrugated iron huts that were erected to house the first shaft sinkers and the railway workers. The "temporary" huts were erected in 1891 and still in use in 1914 (and possibily later). Sanitation was primitive ("bucket & chuck-it" method!) and they would have been quite draughty, at least there was plenty of coal to burn to keep warm!
It was not unusual to have two or three families living in one of these two room huts, in shifts. As a family left to go to work (women and children also worked, either at the colliery or in the clearing of land and construction of dwellings or other support work) another family would return to the hut to sleep.
Three of the huts in the terrace can be seen in the top of the image on the right, the lower portion shows the hut's location as it is today, the site of a local vehicle repairers, the remainder of the area where the huts were is currently fenced off bushy scrub land with some temporary looking sheds.
The eye disorder Nystagmus, caused in this instance by working in very low light levels, was also a great problem. Much of the underground work only being dimly lit by the miner's own oil lamp, (pictured left) which was not very bright at all. Nystagmus had the added danger that it could cause insanity if left untreated!
The map on the right (click for a much larger view in a new window), shows the Senghenydd area around the mine circa 1900, just 9 years after the first exploratory shaft-sinking and 25 years after the earlier map.
Just look how things have changed in such a short while! Some of the coloured markings on the map correspond with the markings on the previous map. Those and the others are used to show various roads and other points of interest and are explained below.