At ten minutes past eight on the morning of 14 October 1913 the 950 men on the day shift at the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd had just began work when a huge explosion ripped through the workings. The blast was so powerful that it sent the two ton cage shooting up the Lancaster Shaft into the headgear.
The men working on the east side of the underground workings were all safely brought to the surface but the west side was a raging inferno from which only a few escaped. By 20 October the death toll had reached 440 including one rescue worker.
The explosion at the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd was the worst mining disaster in the history of the British coalfields.
The subsequent inquiry could not determine the origin of the explosion although it was agreed that methane gas (‘firedamp’) was involved. However, it was apparent that there had been a number of violations of the 1911 Coal Mines Act. In May 1914 the manager, Edward Shaw, faced 17 charges while the colliery owners, the Lewis Merthyr Coal Company, faced 4 charges.
Edward Shaw was convicted of 8 of the charges and fined £24 leading a local newspaper to lead with the headline ‘Miners Lives at 5 1/2d each’. The owners were convicted of the single charge of not fitting reversible ventilation fans and were fined £10 with £5.25 costs. Of the disaster victims, 60 were less than 20 years old, 8 of those being only 14 years of age. The disaster left 205 widows, 542 children and 62 dependent parents.
This was the second explosion at the Universal Colliery; in 1901, 81 men had died. The Universal Colliery closed in March 1928.
Amgueddfa Cymru's Industry Department has a large number of images and objects connected with the disaster, a selection of which can be viewed in the gallery below.
For a full list please visit our Images of Industry online collection database >>
Some of the objects below can be seen in a permanent display on the 1913 explosion in the Pithead Baths at Big Pit National Coal Museum.
The 1913 explosion at the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd: Museum collections
Below is a video of the military funeral procession of the victims of the disaster, which took place 23 November 1913.
- 31 July 2013
View the notebooks made by the Inspector of Mines as he walked around the devistated workings immediately following the explosion at the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd - the worst mining disaster in the history of the British coalfields.
- 6 July 2012