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The Gresford Colliery Disaster - The Real Price of Coal

Gresford lies in the North Wales coalfield, a band of collieries that stretched from Point of Ayr on the Flintshire coast to Ifton on the Shropshire border.

Rhos Silver Band c1910 - © Denbighshire Record Office

There are references to mining locally as early as the 15th century. The mining industry expanded massively from the 18th century. By 1900 there were 12,500 miners in North Wales producing three million tonnes of coal a year.

In the whole British empire there is no occupation in which a man may meet his end in so many different ways as that of a miner.

Friedrich Engels

Industrial relations were always poor. In the 1920s relations between the miners and colliery owners worsened further. With high unemployment and defeat in the 1926 strike, the miner in work was in a desperate position: overworked and underpaid. Meanwhile, the colliery owners found making higher profits increasingly difficult and so looked to cut costs to the minimum. Locally collieries were closing - Westminster, Wrexham & Acton, Vauxhall and Gatewen shut in quick succession during the 1920s and 1930s.

Rhos Boot Centre c1926 - © Denbighshire Record Office

Working conditions were little better. In 1932 there were 907 fatal accidents in British coal mines. A miner was ten times more likely to be killed at work than a factory worker. The miner also had a one in seven chance of a serious injury. Mechanisation, with its increased noise and dust, actually made working conditions worse. Regulation of the collieries had slowly increased since the 19th century, but no government was prepared to properly enforce the rules and generally the owners opposed all reforms.

I should have thought that the miners' leaders were the stupidest men in the kingdom, if I had not met the owners.

Attributed to Lord Birkenhead, 1926

Gresford Colliery c1920 - copy; Denbighshire Record Office

The current system of ownership and working in the coal industry stand condemned.

Mr Justice Sankey, Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, 1919