The Death Pit

Opened by John Russell of the Risca Iron and Coal Company in the1840s to work the very rich “Black vein” seam at a depth of 186 yards. This seam in places reached a thickness of fourteen feet or more and averaged ten feet. Because of it gaseous nature pits that worked the Black vein seam were known as fiery pits and many of the explosions occurred in Collieries working this seam.

In 1846 an explosion at this pit caused by the naked flame of a candle igniting a pocket of firedamp, cost the lives of 35 men.

Two men died in an accident in 1849, a year later three men were killed and eight more badly burned in a gas explosion. Just three years later in 1853 a further 10 lives were lost in another explosion.

Because of the large number of fatal accidents the colliery became known as the “death pit”.

During 1858 mechanical means of ventilation was installed, this replaced the previous furnace method.

The lesson of the earlier explosions was ignored and naked lights were still being used underground at this pit with disastrous consequences, when on 1st of December 1860 yet another explosion took the lives of 146 men and boys.

From the pit bottom of this colliery the main roadway followed the natural dip of the Blackvein seam into the coal basin and other districts were driven off this roadway. It was in one of these districts that the explosion occurred.

The tremendous force of the blast brought down a huge fall, which cut off the ventilation causing the after-damp to be trapped, which killed the majority of the victims. But over 60 of the bodies recovered were so badly burned or disfigured they were unable to be identified. They were buried in a communal grave without coffins on the mountainside above Risca.

This was the worst mining disaster recorded to date.

After the explosion the arbitrator ordered a return to the furnace ventilating system, as “he did not approve of ventilation by machinery”

Following the this Blackvein disaster John Russell sold his home at Piercefield to provide a Trust fund for the families of the dead and he later went to live in Gloucestershire.
There is more on John Russell below.


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