The Sinking of the Vivian and the Gray Collieries 1889.
The Vivian and the Gray Collieries were sunk at the same time under the directorship of the owners Powell’s Tillery Steam Coal Company. Tenders were invited for the sinking in January 1889.
The Cutting of the Sod Ceremony.
On Tuesday 19th February 1889 the ceremony of “Cutting the Sod” took place at both collieries. At 10.00am a special train with several spacious saloon carriages was laid on for the dignitaries which travelled from Cardiff to Newport and then shunted through Newport up the Western valley to Abertillery Station, they then made their way and gathered at the site of the proposed Gray Colliery. The group chosen to cut the sod of the new collieries were led by Mr John Hacquoil the Cardiff agent for Powells Tillery Co on behalf of Mr T. W. Powell who regretted not being there as he was in Australia, also present were Mr Dawson the company manager and Mr E. C. P. Hull a director of the company who accompanied the ladies in the party.
A brief address was given by Mr Dawson and the honour of cutting the first sod was given to Miss Hacquoil, Mr Hacquoil, Miss Alice Hacquoil, Miss Dawson, Mr Dawson and Mr Hull cut the others on that site. The group later submitted themselves and posed for many photographs. They then proceeded to the Vivian Colliery were the same procedure went through and the cutting of that sod on the marked out area was given to the ladies again. Afterwards the Rev Mr Walters (vicar) added a few words of congratulations and formally named the two collieries the “Vivian and Gray”….. During the cutting of the sod pieces of Gold was placed in the holes from were the sod came out, this was done as a gift to the workmen.
The sinking of the collieries were in the capable hands of Mr F. Coulson (Durham) and the Head Sinker Mr Joseph Briggs.
The party went back into town to the Tillery Reading Rooms for lunch, then all made their way back to Cardiff.
In November 1889 the Vivian Colliery sinking was put on standstill through the influx of water. The sinkers were to widen the shaft that had already been sunk to aid the pumping of water from the shaft. The sinking teams had previously been put to work at the Penybont Colliery as the management wanted to keep the sinking teams together.
The Vivian Colliery Sinking Tragedy of 1890.
On Monday 7th December 1890 three Sinkers were killed whilst engaged in the sinking of the Vivian Colliery. As mentioned the firing was conducted by means of an electric blasting machine, the cartridges being ignited by the electric battery from the surface. At half past five on the morning of the accident nine sumping holes were fired by the charge men. The day gang went down half an hour later and proceeded to clear away the debris, this clearing went on until one o’clock in the afternoon when for no apparent reason a terrific explosion occurred. The Inquiry stated that one cartridge may have not fired in the initial blasting and exploded later when the workmen accidentally hit it with their tools.
The Vivian Colliery Sinking teams consisted of the following – Contractor Mr F. Gleeson; Mr Joseph Briggs (Master Sinker); Mr James Gibbon (Assistant);
Mr James Bannister – Bridge Street, Abertillery; Mr Thomas Rees – Panty-pwdyn, Abertillery; Mr George Millard – Cross Street, Abertillery; Mr Matthew Clark – Panty-pwdyn, Abertillery; Mr Henry Jordan – Bridge Street, Abertillery; Mr James Fear – Carmel Street, Abertillery; Mr Jacob Kyle – Panty-pwdyn, Abertillery; Mr James Johnston – Tillery Street, Abertillery:
Mr James Bannister, Mr Thomas Rees and Mr George Millard were killed, the rest were injured. Mr James Fear was unscathed.
On May 16th 1891 the Vivian and Gray sinkers held a testimonial in the Railway Inn for Mr John Burgess the organiser for the fund for the widows and children of the sinkers who had lost their lives in the tragedy of Dec 1890 during the sinking of the Vivian Pit. The sinkers who presented the gift to Mr John Burgess were – Mr Joseph Briggs (Head Sinker); Mr Johnson Briggs; Mr Thomas Carney; Mr Matthew Clarke and James Powell:
Some names of the men who originally worked at the Vivian Colliery.
Mr Charles Stainer.
Mr Stainer of No 9 James Terrace Abertillery. A native of Dorset was the Winderman he landed the first ever Dram of Coal at the Vivian. He worked to 72 years of age.
Mr Albert Edwin Holbrook.
Mr Albert Edwin Holbrook was from Somerset, in his youth became an engineer and was engaged on the building of the Severn Railway Bridge in the 1870s which he did all his work from a diving-bell. He later worked on erecting Cleopatra’s Needle on the Thames Embankment. At one time a Pleasure Steamer sank on the River Thames and he was the diver employed on the salvage work.
He then went on to work on driving the Severn Tunnel in the late 1870s – 1880s.
In later years he showed great knowledge in the South Wales Coalfield and became one of the top Pit Contractors in the Western Valley’s. He lived in Cromwell Street, Abertillery was engaged in sinking operations in many of the pits, he deepened the Roseheyworth Colliery to the deeper seams and drove the connection from the Gray to the Vivian Colliery for ventilation purposes.
Before he died in 1934 at the age of 78 he lived in No 38 Victoria Street, Blaenau Gwent.
(More names and information to come).