YESTERDAY, September 11, marked the 141st anniversary of one of Britain’s worst mining disasters.

An explosion ripped through the Prince of Wales Colliery at Abercarn, leaving 268 men and boys dead.

The disaster happened at around 12.15pm on September 11, 1878, when the area was shaken by an explosion.

South Wales Argus:

(John Harris - who received a medal for his part in the rescue operation)

Rescue teams were confronted by smoke and fire as they were lowered into the pit, with the dangers proving too much.

Despite local opposition, the shaft was sealed and mine flooded with 35 gallons of water to put the fire out, with those who died being left underground.

A mines inspector’s report later concluded that the explosion was probably caused by the ignition of gas by a safety lamp.


John Harris was given the Albert Medal for gallantry in 1879 to recognise his efforts in helping to save 90 people in the disaster. It was the predecessor to the George Cross and is one of only 45 ever awarded for saving life on land.

Disregarding his own safety, Mr Harris joined rescuers and slid down a guide rope after a cage got stuck 295 feet underground.

There he stayed for many hours until all who were alive reached him and were taken to the surface.

Passed down the generations to distant relative Pat Eatwell, of Blaina, his medal lay forgotten in a drawer for more than 40 years before it was put up for auction, eventually selling for for £5,400.

South Wales Argus:

(John Maiden who carved the original crest for the memorial)

In 1998, the residents association gained £5,000 from Caerphilly council, £500 from a local businessman and raised more than £1,000 themselves to place a memorial of a pit wheel and bronze plaque at the site to mark the 120th anniversary.

John Maiden, 81, who made the bronze plaque, is related to one of the men killed in the disaster.

Back in 2010, a memorial stone was finally unveiled for the colliers who lost their lives.

South Wales Argus:

(Cllr Denver Preece at the ceremony in Abercarn Cemetery)

The stone, at Abercarn Cemetery, cost £15,000 and was paid for by Caerphilly Council after lobbying from Cllr Denver Preece and National Union of Miners member Ray Lawrence, who discovered there was no memorial in the area giving the names of those who died.

However, controversy soon arose after residents complained that they weren’t consulted and claimed that the memorial could have been more appropriately placed at the former colliery site.

A further memorial was erected in 2014, when an untitled painting by Newbridge-born artist Roy Guy was installed at the Newbridge Memo.

South Wales Argus:

(Roy Guy created the memorial artwork for the Newbridge Memo)

It features claustrophobic scenes of miners toiling underground, but its centrepiece is a grieving woman and children.

The painting, accompanied by a poem by local poet Grahame Davies was unveiled by Manic Street Preachers vocalist and guitarist James Dean Bradfield.

South Wales Argus: