We are fast approaching the 100th anniversary of the tragic mining disaster at Universal Colliery in the Aber Valley which cost 440 men and boys their lives. The infamous fine issued to the mine owners valued the compensation at 5 and half pence for each life lost.
After hearing about the incredible effort by made by local people to commemorate this history, we asked Karen from the Aber Valley Heritage Project to tell us their inspiring story.
Yet again, we feature a group of people who do the Valleys and its history proud. These are the people who bust every myth spun out by the snide production team at MTV. We are proud to feature Aber Valley Heritage Project at the Valleys Are Here.
This is their story:
The Universal Colliery, Senghenydd in the Aber Valley was on the 14th October 1913, the scene of Britain’s worst mining disaster, killing 440 men and boys. This followed an earlier explosion in May 1901 in which 81 died. As a result of these two disasters and the onset of World War 1 the Aber Valley therefore lost many of its men in a very short number of years.
The Aber Valley Heritage Group was established to ensure that these two disasters would never be forgotten. A committee of people was set up and a Heritage Museum established. Local volunteers have been recruited via newsletters and events and now the voluntary run Museum is open to the public, free of charge, Monday – Saturday. Visitors come from all over the country and even the world to look at the exhibits, watch archive films and trace relatives. Schools from throughout the area, who study the disasters as part of the School curriculum, also visit the Museum to find out more.
Next to the Museum is SYDIC, a youth drop in centre. Young people from SYDIC have long been supporters of the Aber Valley Heritage Group and representatives of the group are members of our committee. Young people attending the drop in have also been involved in inter-generational activities with us to develop films and digital stories and have also taken part in project activities such as ceramics workshops.
Visitors and local people coming to the Museum have always expressed some disappointment that the old Memorial did not include more details of the men killed. As a result to mark this year’s centenary of the 1913 disaster the committee have campaigned and fundraised to create a fitting Memorial. The new Memorial Garden will include a Memorial Wall on which will be mounted individual ceramic name tiles for each person killed. These were made at a number of volunteer and school workshops. The Wall will surround a central plinth on which a bronze sculpture, entitled ‘The Rescue’ will be installed. A path of ceramic paviers will also be laid on which will be inscribed the details of every Welsh mining disaster, making the new Memorial Garden the first National Mining Memorial for Wales.
A CD entitled ‘A Miner’s Song’ was also especially written to help raise funds for the new Memorial. This involved several local school choirs, bands along with a number of Welsh celebrities.
A Memorial Service will be held in October at which children from throughout the valley will carry lanterns in the style of miner’s lamps to represent all the children left fatherless as a result of the two explosions.
The community has shown great support for the Memorial, attending fundraising events and consultation days. The annual Memorial Service has always been well attended by the community, including all the primary and secondary schools but the community really showed its overwhelming support by sponsoring all 521 name tiles (and helping to raise over £26,000).
The world of coal, its economy, society and culture has disappeared from our valleys but we must never forget the sacrifices made by those men who inspired us to make Wales what it is today. Both the Universal Memorial and the Welsh National Mining Memorial will be an everlasting testimony to their memory.