The classic 1939 book by Richard Llewellyn (made into a movie of the same name) ‘How Green was My Valley’ was one of my favourites when I was young. It described the transformation of agricultural valleys and ancient, green rolling hills into an industrial wasteland with the toll it took on workers and their families. The Wales of my youth wasn’t too far removed from that time. My maternal grandfather walked down the street to enter the Windsor colliery which stood within the village of Abertridwr. As a child I went to the pit to meet him after his shift and always remember the smell of damp coal dust, the soot that coated everything and the slag heap across the road from my grandparents home.
My paternal Grandfather had survived the Senghenydd colliery explosion of 1913 because he had just come off the night shift – he was washing at the well outside the family farm when the earth shook, the pit-head whistles started shrieking and people poured out into the streets, running towards the mine – 439 miners were killed that morning. Senghenydd and Abertridwr became villages of widows. (more about this disaster can be found in The Valley of the Shadow by John H. Brown).
The historic photo below needs no elaboration.
The centenary of the Senghenydd Explosion is this year and a memorial will be held this fall.
The mines have long since left the Valley and the coalfields of Wales are no longer worked – Margaret Thatcher closed them all down in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Where the Windsor Colliery once stood a memorial now stands.
Where once the railcars left the valleys loaded with coal a simple reminder is tucked away in a park.
One hundred years later the Valleys are green again – except for the occasional new housing estate.
Almost no sign remains of those dark mining towns except the monuments. When I take my granddaughter how can I ever make her understand what those times were like? How her family once lived and that there ever was ‘the valley of the shadow’.
Is it a better time now? Of course it’s better than the early days of the industrial revolution…but later after the miners unions had grown stronger, the struggles for better working conditions and rights were being won and communities knew their neighbours..it’s harder to categorically say it’s better today.
…but my how green are those Valleys again!
What a terrible disaster and 439 lives lost. I imagine everyone in the community would’ve been affected.
Thanks for coming back to visit. The villages became even bleaker with everyone losing fathers, brothers and sons…then came WW1 just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse!
Certainly a heart breaking time.
I had no idea you were from Wales and how close the coal mine disasters were to your family. We carry the lessons of our families’ past with us throughout our lives. A very touching story.
Thank you so much for sharing this little visit into some of my family history. So true that we carry the lessons of our families’ past – so glad I could share just a touch with my granddaughters.
I think the experience has also been extra special for your granddaughters having shared it with you ❤
Hope all is well, we haven’t heard anything from you in quite awhile.
Whew, 439 people is a huge number of individuals to die in one explosion. Your grandfather was very fortunate to have survived.
It was the worse in Britains history. He went back as part of the rescue team but it was really recovery. Sad thing is that WW1 started shortly after and lots more young men were slaughtered again. Tough stuff! I enjoy your blog.