Page last updated at 05:41 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 06:41 UK

266 miners remembered 75 years on


1965 Tonight package - Gresford

A series of events is being staged in Wrexham to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a mining disaster which killed 266 men.

On 22 September, 1934, an explosion - possibly caused by a spark off a tool - ripped through Gresford colliery.

An air raid siren sounded in the town at 1100 BST, while Wrexham FC will play on Tuesday in commemorative shirts and will release 266 black balloons.

Albert Rowlands, 89, is thought to be the last survivor of the gas blast.

Mr Rowlands' father, John, was killed in the explosion, along with many who were "doubling up" that Friday to get time off to watch Wrexham play Tranmere Rovers the following day.

I was always hoping to see my dad...but he never came back
Albert Rowlands, survivor

He said: "Us boys in the lamp room had to be there as soon as the men started arriving for work.

"We were cycling to work with my dad and he told us to get on or we'd be late so we went on ahead.

"He picked up his lamp at the other window so I never saw him again.

"Two others of his friends were with us and they were lost as well. They're all still down there."

Recalling the rescue attempt that followed, Mr Rowlands said: "I was always hoping to see my dad.

Albert Rowlands
Albert Rowlands has not been down a mine since the disaster

"You could always tell him even when they all looked alike, covered in coal dust, because he always had a big grin and lovely white teeth.

"But he never came back and his tally was left there hanging on its hook."

The likely cause was an explosion caused by a build-up of gas, chiefly methane. It was ignited at about 0200 BST, possibly by a spark from a metal tool in the 2,263 ft (690m) deep Dennis shaft.

Every man on the shift was killed apart from six miners who managed to escape. By the next evening, three rescue workers had also been killed.

The blast left 166 widows, and 229 children without fathers.

In April 1937, at Wrexham Petty Sessions, 42 charges were laid against the colliery company, the manager and officials.

Gresford colliery
Crowds gathered to hear news of loved ones after the blast

Most were withdrawn or dismissed and the mine's management were guilty of inadequate record-keeping.

On Tuesday, an air raid siren at Wrexham County Borough Museum sounded for two minutes at 1100 BST, to coincide with a memorial service at the Gresford Memorial.

Councillor Bob Dutton, the council's deputy leader, said: "The Gresford disaster is something that communities in Wrexham will never forget and we believe this is a fitting tribute to those men who so tragically lost their lives on that fateful morning.

"I hope many will choose this time to reflect on not only those who lost their lives but the resulting hardship and difficulties faced by those dependents left behind."

Wrexham FC players will wear memorial shirts, and a minute's silence will be held before their match with Luton Town.

The club will release a black balloon for each of the men who died and manager Dean Saunders will lay a wreath on the centre circle at The Racecourse.

A programme about the disaster, Gresford - The Terrible Price is on BBC 2 Wales on Wednesday, 30 September, at 1900 BST.

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