The Albion Colliery, 50 Years On

By Dave Gwyer, Assistant Curator

September 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd.  Although two generations have grown up since then, and no trace of the pit remains, there are reminders of it throughout the village.  The Albion cafe and the Albion flats bear its name, while the Albion Industrial Estate occupies land where the colliery once stood. This is only fitting because more than any other part of Pontypridd, Cilfynydd owes its existence to the local coal industry.

Albion Colliery Miners descend to pit bottom for the last time in 1966

Albion Colliery miners descend to pit bottom for the last time in 1966

It grew up as an archetypal pit village built around the Albion Colliery which was sunk there in 1884.  Before this there was no settlement of note, just a few scattered farms supporting a population of less than 100.  Within a few years of coal production starting, that had all changed.  By 1890 terraced houses clung to the valley hillsides running north-south in a series of parallel rows.  The population had grown to over 3,000 and a school, several chapels, pubs and a workmen’s hall formed the building blocks of a tight-knit community.

But the Albion survives in the memory of more than just the local population.  It is more widely remembered for the devastating explosion which took place there in 1894, a disaster which claimed the second worst loss of life in any British colliery accident; only the Senghenydd explosion of 1913 took a greater toll.

For 7 years after the colliery was opened, Cilfynydd flourished until disaster struck in June, 1894.  Like many collieries in South Wales, the Albion’s coal produced large amounts of fire-damp, a highly inflammable gas.  On Saturday, 23rd June, 1894 at around 3.50pm two loud explosions were heard at the surface of the colliery.  Dust, debris and smoke rushed out of the 2 shafts and men at the surface were blown over.  No one knew for sure how many men were underground at the time.  It took until the inquest in July for a figure of 295 to emerge and only 5 of these survived.

Such a traumatic event could have killed the village but, with remarkable resilience, the people rebuilt their shattered lives and by September 1894 the pit was back in full working order producing nearly 45,000 tons of coal a month.  It was to stay at the heart of the community until its closure in September 1966.

Colliery Model from the time of the 1894 disaster, now in Pontypridd Museum

Colliery model from the time of the 1894 disaster, now in Pontypridd Museum

Pontypridd Museum has a working model of the Albion Colliery which was originally steam powered.  It was made shortly after the disaster to raise funds for the widows and children who had lost their breadwinners.  There is also a memorial book which contains the names of all those who were killed in the explosion.  A small temporary exhibition on Cilfynydd and the Albion is on show throughout September, 2016.

The Albion Colliery site was finally cleared in the 1980s and in 1984, a new secondary school was built there.  It is known as Pontypridd High School and a memorial there commemorates the victims of the Albion explosion.