Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Monday, 28 June 2010 15:49 UK
Statue commemorates Six Bells colliery disaster

Mining disaster memorial unveiled

The deaths of 45 men killed 50 years ago in a colliery explosion have been remembered with a service at the site.

A gas explosion ripped through the Six Bells colliery near Abertillery, Blaenau Gwent at 10.45am on 28 June 1960.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, led a service of remembrance at the site.

He also unveiled a memorial to the tragedy, a 20m high sculpture of a miner by Sebastian Boyesen.

Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury said many paid a 'terrible price'

Mair Sheen, Six Bells Communities First co-ordinator, said the tribute had been launched as a relatively small project, but had grown with support from local councils and the Welsh Assembly Government's Heads of the Valleys programme.

"We have been able to realise the community's strong desire to create a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives in 1960 and mining communities everywhere," she said.

"It has also provided us with the opportunity to pay tribute and recognition to mine rescue teams and the incredibly dangerous and important role they undertook.

"We are keen to remember our past and celebrate our future and look forward to continuing our successful partnerships to further regenerate Six Bells and Blaenau Gwent."

At the service, the archbishop said: "Today is a reminder of the terrible price that was paid by so many who put their lives daily at risk in the mining industry for the sake of the well-being and prosperity of the whole country and community.

"We celebrate their courage and mourn the loss of life here and in many other places; and we shall be praying too for all across the world who still today work in conditions of mortal danger."

The fatal explosion occurred 1,000ft (300m) below ground, believed to have been caused by a build up of coal gas being ignited by a spark from a falling stone.

All but three of the 48 men working at W district of the old coal seam were killed.

Waiting for news outside the colliery

The death toll could have been greater were it not for the fact that maintenance work was being carried out on a face where 125 men usually worked.

Six teams of rescuers were assembled but their efforts were hampered by roof falls caused by the explosion.

The disaster had a devastating effect on the local community as the majority of the men killed came from the local area including two fathers and sons.

The colliery closed in March 1986.

Artist and sculptor Sebastian Boyesen - who has previously created the Chartist Man sculpture at Blackwood and the Lost Sailor in Newport - has been commissioned to create a landmark sculpture to commemorate the anniversary.

Boyesen has spent the past two years visiting the community and listening to stories of the disaster. The statue, known as the Guardian, will stand 12m high on top of a 7.4m plinth bearing the names of all those killed in the disaster.

The sculpture has been created using a complex process of thousands of fabricated ribbons of steel.

Boyesen wanted to create something that people would relate to and not an abstract piece.

Timelapse of 20m statue set-up

"I feel this is a unique opportunity to say something about an event which happened in 1960 but is still felt deeply today by the local community," he said.

"The fact is that the industrial revolution was fired by Welsh coal and ultimately the British Empire was built using Welsh coal.

"People have forgotten this and the incredibly high cost that coal had on the local communities."

Alongside the service of remembrance, there are a number activities taking place on and around the colliery site on Monday 28 June to commemorate the anniversary and celebrate the future of Six Bells.

This includes an exhibition of the work of artists 'Chopper' Davies and Valerie Ganz which will be on display at St John's Church, Six Bells.

Valerie lived in the area for a year and painted the former colliery and the miners. Chopper Davies was a former miner who started painting following the disaster in 1960 to promote safety in mining.

There is also an opportunity to view 17 digital stories of people's memories of 28 June 1960 at the Six Bells Community Centre.

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