The Gresford Colliery Disaster

Crowds gather at the collieryToday marks the 81st anniversary of the Gresford colliery disaster which took place on 22 September 1934 at Gresford Colliery, near Wrexham, North Wales, when an explosion resulted in the deaths of 261 miners, three rescue men and a surface worker, leaving 591 widows, children, parents and other dependents.  The night shift on Friday 21st September 1934 was particularly busy as many miners were “doubling up” so they would be free to watch the local football derby, Wrexham against Tranmere Rovers, on Saturday afternoon.

The explosion took place in the Dennis section, one of three seams at the colliery, which produced industrial coal, but was notoriously prone to firedamp (usually methane, a highly inflammable gas). Only eleven bodies were ever recovered. Following the disaster, the colliery was closed for years putting 1,700 men on the dole.

Although the cause was never proved, an inquiry found that a number of factors such as failures in safety procedures and poor mine management led to the disaster. The remains of the other victims were left entombed within the mine. The colliery owners were fined a paltry sum for inadequate record keeping.

Messages of sympathy and donations came from all over Britain and from overseas. Almost £570,000 was donated during an appeal aided by the press who kept Gresford in the public eye. A relief fund paid allowances to the dead miners’ widows, children and dependants. For many, sympathy was tempered by anger at the harsh reality of the miners’ working conditions. Anger was so strong that many people gave money directly to the miners’ union as they feared otherwise it would never reach those in need.

One of the legacies of the disaster was that the miners were represented by Sir Stafford Cripps, who went on to be Prime Minister Clement Atlee’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Gresford Disaster Memorial
Gresford Disaster Memorial

Cripps used the inquiry to attack the system of private ownership of mines, arguing that this was not going to be an isolated incident and they should be nationalised – which they were after World War II in 1947.

Gresford Colliery finally closed on economic grounds in November 1973. In the 1980s the site was redeveloped as an industrial estate. In 1982 a memorial to the victims of the disaster was erected nearby; it was constructed using a wheel from the old pit-head winding gear. Wrexham Council has an excellent website about the disaster.