In Dead Man’s Gold, the Gresford disaster is an important event in Edryd (Ed) Evans’s consciousness. The gas leak and subsequent explosion killed 266 people and in terms of lives lost it was the second worst in the history of Welsh coal mining.
The uncle for which Edryd is named was killed there, and in Dead Man’s Gold Edryd wears a pendent that was purchased using the “compensation” given to each of the miners’ families.
Because the explosion happened half way through the shift, the compensation was set at half a shift’s pay.
Presumably the Westminster and United Collieries Group felt that this was entirely adequate given that the board of inquiry failed to definitively find that it was the company’s own unsafe working practices that were the direct cause of the explosion.
The mine manager falsified records after the disaster to make it look as if some data on ventilation levels had been recorded. As a result, the company was ordered to pay £40 with £350 costs. Using average RPI since 1934, the fine would be around £2, 500 (www.measuringworth.com) in today’s money.
As Phil Carradice states, very succinctly,
“The inquiry that began on 25 October 1934 highlighted a lack of safety measures and bad working practices in the colliery. The owners faced possible criminal charges over negligence, and they brought in a formidable team of barristers to fight their corner. They refused permission for anyone to enter the closed-off pit, something that was widely seen as a deliberate cover up.
The owners were never prosecuted and no single cause for the disaster was ever found, although Sir Stafford Cripps, the miners’ legal representative, did later use evidence given to the Inquiry as one of the arguments for the nationalisation of coal mines in 1947.
As part of the nationalisation agreement, however, all records of the disaster and the colliery itself were destroyed – yet another betrayal by those in power.”
Ceinwen Thomas wrote to me after having read Dead Man’s Gold, and this was what she said:
“It was especially poignant / significant to me on several fronts. I had two “Taid”s of course, and lived on a farm not unlike in the book, then lived in Tanzania for 12 years. When Ian and I went to Tanganyika – as it was then in 1960 – we first lived for 3 months on the shores of Lake Victoria then got moved to a village of 300 ‘souls’ to teach in a boarding school for boys – the 4 years pre -O level. So the attitudes of many “ex-pat Brits” was similar to that of the characters in the book. E.g. at a “party” a missionary (!!) told me ‘the locals had only just come down from the trees’.
Then – when Gresford is mentioned, I had to stop reading – I was quite overwhelmed. The disaster at the pit – just outside Wrexham – was so recent in my early life – and of course, mining was a major, major industry in my home area, so it was particularly meaningful.
For my geography 6th form “special essay” I went down Bersham pit with a miner friend, and of course I shall never forget that experience. Also, a few years after living here ? 1980 – ish, I took a group of Middle school children to N. Wales and took them down the slate mines. I was determined that they should experience for themselves the conditions under which so many miners had worked.
So – yes – reading “Dead Man’s Gold” was quite a roller-coaster of emotion.”