Arrael Griffin Colliery, Six Bells – A History 1891-1988.
Mr John Lancaster Snr.
Mr John Lancaster (as seen left) first came to the valleys in 1877 to visit the area’s many coal mines and associated works with a view of leasing the Blaina collieries and works. He came back to sign the deal with the Nantyglo and Blaina Company in 1878.
In 1884 Mr John Lancaster passed away. His son Mr John Lancaster Jnr headed the company and later opened the South Griffin No2.
In 1890 the Lancaster Company began sinking the South Griffin No3 at the same colliery in Bournville, behind the Tilers Arms. The original Griffin Colliery was in Blaina, it was just known as the Griffin Colliery and named such long before Messrs J. Lancaster & Co came to Blaina, though the company carried on the name of Griffin. As the company sunk more pits they were also named Griffin Collieries, though numbered and prefixed with their location. In the early days Messrs Lancaster Co was only interested in developing collieries at Blaina, though later the company’s off-shoot of Lancaster & Speir leased Roseheyworth and Cwmtillery Collieries and Messrs Lancaster & Co moved further south to open the new colliery at Six Bells, Abertillery.
In 1890 planning began on the proposed new colliery at Six Bells, to keep numbering order they were called Griffin No4 and Griffin No5, they were designated the name Arrael Griffin Colliery. The name Arrael was more than probably given as to its location, the Arael Mountain, though it has been corrupted over the years and called Arael, Arrael and even Arrail as in the name of the Street.
Link to – The Mr John Lancaster Story.
The Arrael Griffin Colliery No4 and No5 Sinking Ceremony.
The site for the sinking of the two shafts was chosen on the western side of the valley between land owned by Messrs Hanbury Capel Leigh of Pontypool and Messrs Price.
The report from the 8th May 1891 of the turning the sod for the Lancaster Co new pits at Six Bells. The party of officials turned out on the Tuesday previous to cut the sod for the sinking of Arrael Griffin Nos 4 & 5.
A special train had been engaged to bring the directors and visitors from Blaina to the spot, on its arrival at Six Bells the train was received with a salvo of fog detonators. The following gentlemen were present – Mr J. Lancaster JP Chairman of the company; Mr George Granville Lancaster; Mr George W. Lancaster Directors; Mr John Dakers Managing Director; Mr Frank Wright Secretary; Messrs W. S. Jones, E. P. Jones, Newport and Cardiff agents to the company; Mr Thos Vachell mining agent; Dr Soper, Mr W. H. Chambers (Stephenson Clarke & Co); Rev Howell Howells; Rev F. Morgan; Rev T. F. Rees; Rev D. O. Evans; Rev Timothy; Mr T. P. D. Williams, Mr A. W. Thomas (Cory Bros); Mr Parfitt, Mr T. T. Dawson (Tillery Colliery Co); Mr W. E. Williams F.R.C.S. JP; Mr T Colbourne; Mr A. A. Williams JP Pontypool; Messrs T. Drew; Caleb Lewis; B. C. Lewis; C. J. Jones; A. Wilkins; T. Rosser; F. Athay; R. Pearson; J. Jeffreys; Jos Owen Swinburne; W. H. Whateley; D. A. Williams; W. Gregson; A. Aubrey; Boucher, Adye (G.W.R Superintendent); Roberts, Leach Abertillery and Bowen Blaina.
Mr Dakers presented a spade to Mr John Lancaster Jnr who cut the first sod and a move across to the site for the second shaft where that sod was cut by Mr Charles T. Part. Rev Howell Howells then addressed the meeting. Rev Howells read the 90th Psalm concluding with a prayer. The directors and officials were then photographed by Mr Cuthbert, Abertillery. The company then adjourned to a large marquee on site where Mr and Mrs Hancock of the Queens Hotel, Blaina provided luncheon, the tables were set out and a banner on the roof had the mottoes “Success to the new sinking” and “Success to Mr John Lancaster and Co”. Later all the workmen were entertained to dinner.
The sinking of the Arrael Griffin Collieries No4 and No5 took some time, there were many pit sinkers injured and killed during its construction and also water and flooding problems. The J. Lancaster Co hired pit sinkers with local newspapers (as seen right) issuing advertisements in connection with employing sinkers.
List of Arrael Griffin Colliery Fatalities.
During the life-span of the colliery there were many fatalities, caused during production and also while the colliery was being sunk. Following is a link to the victims names, dates and causes. The list is incomplete and more will be added as new information is received.
Link to – List of the Arrael Griffin Colliery Fatalities.
The Smoke Stacks.
In June 1894 at a meeting of the Board of Trade, Abertillery, Mr S. Mills, after receiving many complaints from the people of Six Bells, proposed that the colliery out-building’s smoke stacks be raised in height to try and ease the problem with smoke pollution in the village. It was said the belching black smoke was chocking Six Bells, it was even killing the plants and nothing would grow. Mr Job Gilligan and Mr Haylings moved and seconded the proposal to approach the J. Lancaster Co. Mr J. E. Phillips commented “Smoke kills vegetable life but it’s the salvation of human life at Six Bells”.
In October 1895 the Arrael Griffin Colliery, offices and out-buildings were illuminated by electric light produced by a dynamo.
Towards the end of the 1890’s the Arrael Griffin Colliery was sunk, completed and coal production began in 1897. The colliery was mining the Black Vein coal seam at that time.
Mr Jabez Jeffreys.
The first General Manager at the colliery was Mr Jabez Jeffreys M.E. Mr Jeffreys was appointed from the start and oversaw much of its completion. Mr J. Trilla was Under-Manager.
The Arrael Griffin Colliery Miners Institute.
In 1902 the Arrael Griffin Colliery Six Bells, owned by the Lancaster Co had a Miners Institute built at a cost of £3,000. The Institute was constructed at Arrail Street, Six Bells. Mr Charles T. Part J.P., St Albans, Herts one of the directors of the firm of Messrs John Lancaster & Co having performed the opening ceremony. It was intended that Mr Part would be the manager though there was a committee of management selected from the employees at the colliery. Mr J. J. Jeffreys the colliery manager was the chairman. Other members included Mr J. Trilla, under-manager, Mr A. Watkins, the Clerk, Mr T. Rosser, Overman and representative of various grades of workmen.
Link to – Arrael Griffin Miners Institute.
The Colliery Washery.
In October 1905 tenders were invited by the company for builders and contractors to construct a Coal Washery at the colliery.
In August 1906 the tender Mr Noel Bagley, building contractor of Rutland House, Oak Street, Abertillery was accepted for building work. He constructed the new works and installed an Evance Coppee Plant (as seen far right) at the colliery.
Mr Noel Bagley had constructed the new Railway Station, the Six Bells Hotel, the new Bon Marche building, the new Station Hotel, the Cwmtillery Reservoir and many other well known major building projects in Abertillery.
Mr T. G. Holder.
The second General Manager was Mr T. G. Holder he took over from Mr Jeffreys in the later 1900’s.
The Pithead Baths Proposal.
In October 1913 the matter received consideration of the Miners Federation. The miners at the Arrael Griffin Colliery, Six Bells had a meeting, chaired by miners agent Mr William Brace. Mr Brace tried to convince the workmen that a pithead baths would really be in their interest and that Section 77 of the Coal Mines Act of 1911 enacted that if a majority of the men at a colliery wanted a baths, the owners would have to make satisfactory provisions and build one. The cost of said baths would be shared, half by the owners and half by the men at a rate of no more than 1 farthing a day – 1 and a 1/2d per week. A ballot would be held at a later date but Mr Brace hoped the men would agree and vote yes to the proposal.
In June 1914 a report declared and reaffirmed Section 77 of the Coal Mines Act of 1911.
1/ Collieries exempt from this section of the Act are those employing 100 men or less.
2/ Those collieries whose leases terminate within 10 years or which are likely to be worked out within that time.
It was stated – The cost of maintenance must be shared and the management of the baths is entrusted to a committee of six, three representing the coal owners and three the colliers.
The report stated that the reason why there is lack of support for a pithead baths is that a very small proportion of miners have any notion as to what a pithead baths really are!
This pithead baths campaign seemed to come to a halt as war broke out in 1914 and was re-started in 1920, urged on by many women’s organisations, after the war there were many stoppages and discontent in the coalfield and I can’t find out much about its progress until 1931 when Rose Heyworth Colliery leased by the Ebbw Vale Company opened the first pit head baths in the western valley’s. At this time there were 54 such baths being contemplated and only 5 completed with Rose Heyworth being one of those five.
The Ebbw Vale Co Amalgamation.
In December 1915 Messrs D. Davis who owned collieries in the Rhondda Valley sold his shares in the J. Lancaster Company. They were purchased by the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Co Ltd and Messrs J. Beynon. I believe at this point in time the Ebbw Vale Company took over the management side of the interests in the Messrs J. Lancaster & Company collieries.
The Aberbeeg Super Pit.
In 1918 Messrs Lancaster & Co planned to open a new “Super Pit” at Aberbeeg. The opening was delayed as of the financial situation at that time. In 1920 the ceremony of the “cutting of the sod” went ahead. The colliery site was in the Cwm Valley, north of and not far from where the Fly Over Garage is today. Two shafts were started but the sinking was stopped and the new colliery was abandoned. The new colliery would have employed 2,500 men, been completely mechanised with conveyors and cutting machines and doing away with all horses.
Link to – Messrs Lancaster & Company’s Super Colliery, Aberbeeg.
Mr W. H. Leigh.
The third General Manager was Mr William Henry Leigh. Mr Leigh took over from Mr Holder in the 1920’s.
In 1922 during a period of dispute the axle of the main ventilation fan broke, the repair was so complicated it took over 2 weeks to resolve. It was however stated that the 2,000 men were out on strike anyway and were not affected by the long breakdown.
Mr John Jones M.E.
The fourth General Manager was Mr John Jones M.E. Mr Jones took over from Mr Leigh and started his duties in May 1928.
On Saturday 16th March 1929 a horse was being loaded onto the cage at the No4 colliery to descend the pit, it had been put into a gated wooden box constructed to put the horse into for its decent when just has the cage began to drop the horse became agitated and lashed out, it kicked the door off the box and the horse fell down the shaft. The horse was very experienced as it had previously been at the Vivian Colliery and valued at £60, equivalent to £3,588.00p in today’s money.
Horses with underground experience were hard to come by and really expensive. In 1917 horses from a local coal level, were being sold at an auction held at Brynmawr, the horses were a mixture of young and old. The Lancaster Company purchased many of the old experienced animals costing on average 34 guineas each and one even reached 84 guineas. Equivalent to £2,970.00p and £6,930.00 respectively, in today’s money. All the young horses were bought by farmers from Abergavenny.
On Thursday 30th January 1930 it was reported that the colliery had been deepened to the Old Coal, coal seam. The colliery was mining the Black Vein seam but had now gone deeper into the lower seam.
The Pithead Baths Vote.
In 1931 the idea of a pithead baths was still looked upon with scorn and suspicion by the majority of the workmen, even though they had been proposed in 1913 and introduced in the Western Valley’s at Rose Heyworth Colliery in 1931.
In June 1931 another vote proposing the construction of a pithead baths at the Arrael Griffin Colliery was put to the men which finally saw the 2/3rds majority reached. Though owing to another batch of industrial disputes and the closure of the colliery for several years during the 1930’s because of a down-turn in trade, the project was shelved. The Arrael Griffin Colliery workmen had to wait 22 years to see their pithead baths constructed.
Mr Wilfred Short.
During the mid 1930’s the acting Manager at the Arrael Griffin Colliery was Mr Wilfred Short M.E. Mr Short was appointed Under-Manager in 1931 and in 1935 was appointed acting Manager.
Messrs Partridge, Jones & John Paton Ltd.
In October 1936 the Partridge Jones and John Paton Ltd acquired the collieries of the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Co Ltd in the western and eastern valley’s. The Arrael Griffin Colliery was one of those taken over by the company.
Mr R. Lewis.
The fifth General Manager was Mr R. Lewis. Mr Lewis took over the permanent roll from the acting manager Mr Short.
On Friday 1st October 1937 a fire broke out at the fan house at the Arrael Griffin Colliery, 1,300 men were out of work until it was repaired. At this time it was reported that the colliery was producing 600,000 tons per year.
In June 1938 the Miners Holidays, one week paid, were allocated to the men in the month of July. Each colliery in the district had different dates, the Vivian Colliery men were given the dates of the 11th to the 16th July, the men at Six Bells were given the dates of the 18th to the 23rd of July, etc.
Mr W. H. Phipps.
The sixth General Manager was Mr W. H. Phipps. Mr Phipps took over from Mr Leigh.
The Colliery Pithead Baths.
After the Nationalisation of the British Collieries in 1947 the National Coal Board initiated the construction of pithead baths throughout the country. The Arrael Griffin Colliery at Six Bells was one of those.
The Contractors and Architect.
The National Coal Board used Messrs A. Roberts (Contractors) of Westminster, London with Mr Peter Wright. Messrs W. M. Traylor (Architect). Mr P. E. Walker (Senior Architect) and Mr J. L. James (Deputy Architect).
The Official Opening of the Pithead Baths, Medical Centre and Canteen.
On Saturday 11th April 1953 the Arrael Griffin Colliery Pithead Baths and Canteen were officially opened. The opening ceremony was conducted by Mr W. Sperring, President of the National Association of Colliery Overmen and Deputies. Also present were – Mr A. Tait, General Manager of the No6 Area N.C.B.; Mr W. H. Phipps, General Manager of the Arrael Griffin Colliery; Rev Llewellyn Williams M.P.; Mr Will Paynter, President of the South Wales Area of the N.U.M.; Mr Tom Eacott Chairman of the Colliery Lodge N.U.M.; Mr W. H. Hillman, Chairman of the Abertillery Council; Mr Dan Morgan, No6 Area Manager and Mr Brynley Evans:
Description of the Pithead Baths and Canteen.
The Pithead Baths were described as being the 17th built and the biggest in the area. The National Coal Board had scheduled 78 to be constructed in the South Western Division, there were 48 already built with 24 in various stages of construction. The baths had 3,696 lockers in total, 1,848 classed as dirty lockers and 1,848 clean lockers. The baths accommodated ample shower cubicles. The Canteen could supply cooked or cold meals and were able to supply the workers with food to take below ground. The Medical Centre was staffed by a Nursing Sister. There was also plans for a Pay Office to be built in the following summer.
It was reported that during the construction of the baths there was a major problem with ground stability on the site. Engineers had to drive 100 piles into the ground at a depth of at least 25 feet in order to carry the pithead baths and adjoining buildings.
In the 1950’s the colliery changed its name from the Arrael Griffin to the Six Bells Colliery. It was still known to many by the Arrael Griffin.
The seventh General Manager was Mr V. Luther. The under-manager was Mr Horace Stanley Johnston. Mr Johnston lived at Fair View, Six Bells, Abertillery.
On Tuesday 28th June 1960
On Tuesday 28th June 1960 at about 10.40am an explosion occurred in the No5 Pit, W-District at the Six Bells Colliery, Abertillery, with forty-five men sadly losing their lives.
It took many years to erect some form of official monument to remember the sad occasion and the other sad fatalities that occurred at the colliery. Following is a link to the history of the various monuments erected in their memory.
Link to – Six Bells Colliery Memorials and Monuments.
Towards the end of 1960 the official enquiry in connection with the Six Bells Colliery Explosion took place. The official Ministry of Power report and also the Monmouthshire Constabulary report was published. Following are links to both reports.
Link to – Official Enquiry.
The Official Monmouthshire Constabulary Report. This contains a minute-by-minute behind the scenes report of the Colliery Explosion from the Constabulary point of view.
Link to – The Monmouthshire Constabulary Official Report.
The Six Bells Colliery Later Years.
In the 1970’s the Arrael Griffin Colliery was linked to the Marine Colliery in Cwm. The linking was so that all coal produced at Six Bells was sent up the Marine Colliery, Six Bells Colliery then dismantled all the railway sidings in this valley.
The Dewatering Drivage – Rose Heyworth Colliery.
In 1980 the N.C.B., authorities had concerns of water affecting the Six Bells Colliery workings and the source was believed to underground reservoirs located somewhere under the Arael Mountain between Rose Heyworth Colliery and Six Bells. They decided to open a drivage from Rose Heyworth towards Six Bells under the Abertillery Park area to bore a series of holes with long distance borers in all different directions down through the drivage to locate the source/sources and drain these pockets of water using pumps.
Link to – The Dewatering Drivage.
Mr Jack Walters.
The last General Manager was Mr Jack Walters.
The Closure of the Colliery.
The Six Bells Colliery closed in 1988.
The colliery was later demolished and the area landscaped. The Guardian Monument was erected on the site in honour of the 45 men who died in the 1960 explosion and the surrounding area was given special funding.
In 2018 a new children’s school was planned and construction began on the old colliery site. The new school which will be named “The Six Bells Campus” was designed to take in about 300 pupils from the old Bryngwyn and Queen Street Schools which are planned to be demolished.