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Trouble Underground

The Inquiry concentrated on conditions in the Dennis section: the ventilation, the presence of gas, the amount of coal dust and whether working practices were safe.

Gresford Colliery Recovery Brigades outside the North Wales Coal Owners' Association's rescue training centre on Maesgwyn Road, Wrexham. © Wrexham Archives

Ventilation provides fresh air to the miners and removes gases like firedamp (methane) that can cause explosions. Ventilation was a problem in the Dennis section. However, the evidence presented was conflicting. Witnesses even disagreed over which way the air moved round the mine.

The return airway from the 14s face had been neglected for such a time that it had got so small you could only crawl through it.

Samuel Roberts, collier

The poor state of the airways and their lack of maintenance hindered the ventilation and allowed the build up of dangerous levels of firedamp in 14s and 29s districts, especially on the coal faces. Numerous miners attested to the frequent presence of gas, yet the firemen strenuously denied this. Bonsall, moreover, throughout the inquiry showed a wilful ignorance of conditions in the mine.

 

On the main intake between the Clutch and the turn off for 29s the coal dust was sometimes so bad that you could not see your mate when walking out.

James Hughes, coal getter

Late on in the inquiry, William Idris Cuffin, the Assistant Surveyor, admitted that he had faked the July & August 1934 air measurements for the Dennis section. Bonsall had told Cuffin to stop taking the measurements in June. He had made up these measurements after the explosion on the manager's orders.

Coal dust in mines can cause explosions. Dusting with stone powder lessens this risk and was required by law to ensure safe working conditions. The manager claimed the mine had been properly stone dusted, but the amount of stone dust being delivered down the pit and miners' testimony cast doubt on this.

 

We have seen shotfirers come away without firing because of the gas and the regular fireman go up, saying 'If you can't clear it, you're no use here.' The regular fireman then shot the shots.

James Griffiths, collier

Inevitably working practices were put under close scrutiny. Shot firing to break up the coal was a point of contention. Cripps argued that shot firing procedures in the Dennis were unsafe. The firemen neglected their own duties and forced the shot firers to break the rules: using incorrect stemming materials in the shot holes, firing the shot holes in rapid succession, not checking properly for gas before firing and not withdrawing the men properly.

The miners and officials frequently contested each other's evidence on conditions in the mine. However, the real question was: who should bear the responsibility for this, as it turned out, fatal state of affairs.

 

I have worked eighteen years in the mines and I can safely say this is the worst place I have worked in.

David Roberts, collier

Everyone who worked in the pit had the feeling that sometime, something serious was going to happen.

Robert Edwards, miner

Fireman: Originally the miner who dealt with firedamp. Later his job was to supervise a district in a mine. Also known as a deputy.