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Aberfan Colliery spoil tramway - geograph.org.uk - 73636

The Aberfan Colliery spoil tramway in 1964. The spoil heaps are at top left and the school is the red brick building at mid left. Attribution: John Thorn.

Aberfan Memorial Garden-geograph-3379614-by-Stephen-McKay

Aberfan Memorial Garden in March 2013. Author: Stephen McKay.

OverviewEdit

The Aberfan disaster was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966, which killed 116 children and 28 adults. It was caused by a build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale, which suddenly started to slide downhill in the form of slurry. Over 1.4 million cubic feet (40,000 cu metres) of debris covered the village in minutes. The classrooms at Pantglas Junior School were immediately inundated; young children and teachers died from impact or suffocation. Many noted the poignancy of the situation: if the disaster had struck a few minutes earlier, the children would not have been in their classrooms, and if it had struck a few hours later, the school would have broken up for half-term.

Great rescue efforts were made, but the large numbers who crowded into the village tended to hamper the work of the trained rescue teams, and delayed the arrival of mine rescue workers from the Merthyr Vale Colliery. Only a few lives could be saved in any case.

The official inquiry blamed the National Coal Board for extreme negligence, and its Chairman, Lord Robens, for making misleading statements. Parliament soon passed new legislation about public safety in relation to mines and quarries.

The location and near by townEdit

Aberfan (Welsh pronunciation: [ˌabɛrˈvan]) is a former coal mining village in South Wales, 4 miles (6 km) south mining town of Merthyr Tydfil Town. The Taff Trail (locally known as the "Canal Bank" or just "the bank") runs through Aberfan from Troed-y-rhiw, to Treharris. The River Taff also flows through Aberfan.

On 21 October 1966, it became known for the Aberfan disaster, when a colliery spoil heap collapsed into homes and a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Like most South Welsh towns and villages, it was between small, but steep valley banks, agrivated by the unstable and steep spoil (slag) heaps) created by over 150 years of coal and stone mininig in the region.

BackgroundEdit

Welsh Coal mining areasEdit

The South Wales Coalfield extends from parts of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in the west, through Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend County Borough, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Caerphilly County Borough and Blaenau Gwent to Torfaen in the east. The rocks comprising this area were laid down during the Upper Carboniferous era. At that time warm seas invaded much of southern and northeastern Wales, coral reefs flourished and were laid down as limestone deposits. In South Wales particularly, extensive swamps developed where tree-size clubmosses and ferns grew. The decay of this vegetation as it died formed peat which became buried over the ensuing millennia by other sediments. Over long periods of time, the peat was consolidated and converted by the pressure of overlying rock and sand layers into seams of coal. Although thinner than the original peat layers, some of the coal deposits in South Wales are of great thickness and higher quality.

The North Wales Coalfield is divided into two parts, the Flintshire Coalfield to the north and the nearly contiguous Denbighshire Coalfield to the south. The Flintshire Coalfield extends from the Point of Ayr in the north, through Connah's Quay to Caergwrle in the south. It also extends under the Dee Estuary to the Neston area of the Wirral Peninsula. The Denbighshire Coalfield extends from near Caergwrle in the north, to Wrexham, Ruabon, Rhosllannerchrugog and Chirk in the south, a small part extending into Shropshire in the Oswestry area.

The coal and the steel industry became prominent in the region in mid Victorian times.

Aberfan and related valleysEdit

For many years, millions of cubic metres of excavated mining debris from the colliery were deposited on the side of Mynydd Merthyr, directly above the village of Aberfan on the opposite side of the valley. Huge piles, or "tips", of loose rock and mining spoil had been built up over a layer of highly porous sandstone that contained numerous underground springs, and several tips had been built up directly over these springs. Although local authorities had raised specific concerns in 1963 about spoil being tipped on the mountain above the village primary school, these were largely ignored by the National Coal Board's area management. 7 hillside slag tips towered over the village menacingly, the oldest being 70 years old and the youngest (including No. 7) being 40 years old. Tip No. 7 was built directly on a marshy spring and a related small lake or pond children played in during the 1910s and 1920s. Tips No. 2 and No. 4 were also built on springs and leaked water in various steams and ad-hock drains.

Early on the morning of Friday, 21 October 1966, after several days of heavy rain, a subsidence of about 3–6 metres occurred on the upper flank of colliery waste tip No. 7. At 9:15 a.m. more than 150,000 cubic metres of water-saturated debris broke away and flowed downhill at high speed. A mass of over 40,000 cubic metres of debris smashed into the village in a slurry 12 metres (39 ft) deep.

The slide destroyed a farm and twenty terraced houses along Moy Road, and slammed into the northern side of the Pantglas Junior School and part of the separate senior school, demolishing most of the structures and filling the classrooms with thick mud and rubble up to 10 metres (33 ft) deep. The mud and water from the slide flooded many other houses in the vicinity, forcing many villagers to evacuate their homes.

Mine tip safetyEdit

For 50 years up to 1966, millions of tonnes (cubic metres) of excavated mining debris from the (by then) National Coal Board s Merthyr Vale Colliery were deposited on the side of Mynydd Merthyr, directly above the village of Aberfan. Huge piles, or "tips", of loose rock and mining spoil had been built up over a layer of highly porous sandstone that contained numerous underground springs, and several tips had been built up directly over these springs. Local's worries about the tip were dismissed. Although Merthyr Tydfil Council raised specific concerns, most recently in letters to the NCB 1963, about spoil being tipped on the mountain above the village primary school, these were largely ignored by NCB area management. Despite assurances that tipping behind the school would cease, it carried on until the day of the disaster and nothing was done about the existing waste.

In 1964 local Councillor Gwyneth Williams warned that if the tip were to move suddenly it could threaten the whole school. In 1965 a petition against the tip from mothers at Pantglas school was presented by headmistress Ann Jennings to Merthyr County Borough Council. Ms Jennings and many of the petitioners' children subsequently died in the disaster. Aberfan resident Dai Tudor said "I’ve warned and campaigned for years about that tip. Nobody in authority took any notice. This is not just the greatest tragedy in Wales. It is the biggest scandal." Photographs, diagrams and an analysis of the 1966 flowslide, as well as locations of earlier slides at Aberfan are given in a paper by Prof. Alan Bishop.

Earlier landslips on the slagheapsEdit

  • 1939- Kilbuneth (lead to the Powell [safety] Memo on slag heaps).
  • 1947- Te-Maway (almost consumed the village, blocked off the River Taff and almost went in over the pit head (the top of the mine shaft and the winding gears).).
  • 1957- Tip No. 2 and No.4 (minor slag tip slips that were filled back in).
  • 1963- Tip No. 7. (covered up a stream, spring and pond in it's rebuilding).

The Powell MemoEdit

The local mining corporations and pit bosses drafted the Powell [safety] Memo on slag heaps in 1939 after Kilbuneth. The National Coal Board (the NCB) binned the Powell Memmo in 1947.

The memo recommended that slag heaps were not to be built on water coarse or springs, that they were not to exceed 20ft in high and were never to be built on a steep gradient (they had assumed it to be ~1:4 gradient) valley slope or it's self pilled up at a steep gradient (they had assumed it to be ~1:2 gradient).

The eventEdit

CollapseEdit

Aberfan Colliery spoil tramway - geograph.org.uk - 73636

The Aberfan Colliery spoil tramway in 1964. The spoil heaps are at top left and the school is the red brick building at mid left

Early on the morning of Friday, 21 October 1966, after several days of heavy rain, a subsidence of approximately 10 - 20 feet (3–6 mtrs) occurred on the upper flank of colliery spoil heap No. 7. At 9.15 am more than 150,000 cubic metres (5,300,000 cu ft) of water-saturated debris (some say slurry grade others say taillings grade) broke away and flowed downhill at high speed. It was sunny on the mountain but foggy in the village, with visibility only about fifty metres (160 ft). The tipping gang working on the mountain saw the landslide start but were unable to raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been stolen. The official inquiry later established that the slip happened so fast that a telephone warning would not have saved any lives.

The front part of the mass became iquefied due to the soil liquifation phinomona and moved down the slope at high speed as a series of viscous surges depositing 4,200,000 cubic feet (120,000 cu metres) of debris on the lower slopes of the mountain. A mass of more than 1,400,000 cubic feet (40,000 cu metres) of debris smashed into the village in a slurry 40 feet (13m) deep engulfing it in 150,000 tonnes of coal, shale and water. The slurry\tailings slide destroyed a farm and twenty terraced houses along Moy Road and slammed into the northern side of the Pantglas Junior School and part of the separate senior school, demolishing most of the structures and filling the classrooms with thick mud, sludge and rubble up to 30 foot (10 metres) depth. Mud and water from the slide flooded many other houses in the vicinity, forcing many villagers to evacuate their homes. The pupils of Pantglas Junior School had arrived only minutes earlier for the last day before the half-term holiday. The teachers had just begun to record the children's attendance in the registers when a great noise was heard outside.  They were in their classrooms when the landslide hit; the classrooms were on the side of the building nearest the landslide. Nobody in the village was able to see it, but everyone could hear the roar of the approaching landslide. Some at the school thought it was a jet about to crash and one teacher ordered his class to hide under their desks.

  • Gaynor Minett, then an eight-year-old at the school, later recalled:  
It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can't remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes.
  • Gaynor Madgewick, Aberfan: Struggling out of the darkness (Blaengarw: Valley & Vale, 1996), p.23

After the landslide there was total silence. George Williams, who was trapped in the wreckage, remembered:

In that silence you couldn't hear a bird or a child.

Rescue effortsEdit

After the main landslide stopped, frantic parents rushed to the scene and began digging through the rubble, some clawing at the debris with their bare hands, trying to uncover buried children. Police from Merthyr Tydfil arrived soon after and took charge of the search-and-rescue operations; as news spread, hundreds of people drove to Aberfan to try to help, but their efforts were largely in vain. A large amount of water and mud was still flowing down the slope, and the growing crowd of untrained volunteers further hampered the work of the trained rescue teams who were arriving. Hundreds of miners from local collieries rushed to Aberfan, especially from the nearby Merthyr Vale Colliery, as well as miners from Deep Navigation Colliery and Taff Merthyr Colliery in the neighbouring Taff Bargoed Valley, and also from pits across the South Wales coalfield, many in open lorries with their shovels in their hands, but by the time those miners reached the site, there was little they could do. A few children were pulled out alive in the first hour, but no survivors were found after 11 am.

By the next day, 2,000 emergency services workers and volunteers were on the scene, some of whom had worked continuously for more than 24 hours. Rescue work had to be temporarily halted during the day when water began pouring down the slope again, and because of the vast quantity and consistency of the spoil, it was nearly a week before all the bodies were recovered.

Bethania Chapel, 250 metres (273 yd) from the disaster site, was used as the temporary mortuary and missing persons bureau from 21 October until 4 November 1966 and its vestry was used to house Red Cross volunteers and St John Ambulance stretcher-bearers. The smaller Aberfan Calvinistic Chapel was used as a second mortuary from 22–29 October and became the final resting-place for the victims before their funerals.

Two doctors were given the job of making death certificates and examining the bodies; the causes of death were typically found to be asphyxia, fractured skull or multiple crush injuries. A team of 400 embalmers arrived in Aberfan on Sunday and under police supervision they cleaned and prepared over 100 bodies and placed them in coffins obtained from South Wales, the Midlands, Bristol and Northern Ireland. The bodies were released to the families from the morning of Monday 24 October. Due to the cramped conditions in the chapel/mortuary, parents could only be admitted one at a time to identify the bodies of their children. One mother later recalled being shown the bodies of almost every dead girl recovered from the school before identifying her own daughter.

The final death toll was 144. In addition to five of their teachers, 116 of the dead were children between the ages of 7 and 10 – almost half of the children at the Pantglas Junior School. Most of the victims were interred at Bryntaf Cemetery in Aberfan in a joint funeral held on 27 October 1966, attended by more than 2,000 people.

Actions of Lord RobensEdit

The chairman of the National Coal Board (NCB) at the time of the disaster was Alfred Lord Robens. Robens had been a senior union official in the 1930s and then served as a Labour MP, briefly becoming Minister of Power in the final days of the Attlee Labour government. His actions immediately after the Aberfan disaster and in the years that followed have been the subject of considerable criticism.

When word of the Aberfan disaster reached him, Robens did not immediately go to the scene; he instead went ahead with his investiture as Chancellor of the University of Surrey, and did not arrive at the village until the evening of the following day (Saturday). NCB officers covered up for Robens when contacted by the Secretary of State for Wales, Cledwyn Hughes, falsely claiming that Robens was personally directing relief work when he was not present.

When he reached Aberfan, Robens told a TV reporter that nothing could have been done to prevent the slide, attributing it to 'natural unknown springs' beneath the tip, a statement which the locals challenged – the NCB had in fact been tipping on top of known springs that were clearly marked on maps of the neighbourhood, and where villagers had played as children.

His evidence to the Tribunal of Inquiry was unsatisfactory; so much so that counsel for the NCB in their closing speech to the Tribunal asked for Robens' evidence to be ignored. He took a very narrow view of the NCB's responsibilities over the remaining Aberfan tips. His opposition to doing anything more than was needed to make the tips safe (even after the Prime Minister had promised villagers the tips would have to go) was overcome only by an additional grant from the government and a (bitterly opposed and subsequently much resented) contribution from the disaster fund of £150,000 (nearly 10% of the money raised).

Death tollEdit

In total, 116 children and 28 adults were killed.

Bethania Welsh Independent Chapel was built in 1876 and rebuilt in 1885. At the time of the Aberfan disaster in 1966 the chapel was used as a temporary mortuary where victims were taken to be identified by relatives. The chapel was demolished in 1967 and a new chapel erected in 1970. By 2007 the chapel had fallen into disrepair and was closed; memorial items from the disaster were relocated to Cardiff Bay.

The aftermathEdit

Aberfan Disaster Documentary

Aberfan Disaster Documentary

Thank you all for the kind comments and unbelievable stories of personal accounts. May all their innocent souls rest in peace. This was my first college project I did back in 2006. The archive footage is not mine, I don't hold any rights to it. I simply edited them in along with my own footage and interviews, along with the research I did. http://rachelevans.4ormat.com/

The traumatic effects of the disaster were wide-ranging and profound, as first-hand accounts gathered by Iain McLean and Martin Johnes indicate. During the rescue operation, the shock and grief of parents and townspeople were exacerbated by insensitive behaviour from the media – one unnamed rescue worker recalled hearing a press photographer tell a child to cry for her dead friends because it would make a good picture. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Aberfan on 29 October to pay their respects to those who had died. The Queen received a posy from a three-year-old girl with the inscription: "From the remaining children of Aberfan". Onlookers said she was close to tears.

Anger at the NCB erupted during the inquest into the deaths of 30 of the children. The Merthyr Express reported that there were shouts of "murderers" as children's names were read out. When one child's name was read out and the cause of death was given as asphyxia and multiple injuries, the father said "No, sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board". The coroner replied: "I know your grief is much that you may not be realising what you are saying" but the father repeated:

I want it recorded – "Buried alive by the National Coal Board." That is what I want to see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate.

A social worker later noted that many people in the village were prescribed sedatives but did not take them when it was raining because they were afraid to go to sleep, and that surviving children did not close their bedroom doors for fear of being trapped. A doctor reported that although an expected surge in heart attacks did not occur, the trauma manifested itself in other ways – the birth rate went up, alcohol-related problems increased, as did health problems for those with pre-existing illnesses, and many parents suffered breakdowns over the next few years. Many people suffered from the effects of guilt, such as parents who had sent children to school who did not want to go. Tensions arose between families who had lost children and those who had not. A surviving school child recalled that they did not go out to play for a long time because families who had lost children could not bear to see them, and they felt guilty that they had survived.

A study into the disaster's long-term psychological effects was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2003. It found that half the survivors suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some time in their lives, that they were more than three times more likely to have developed lifetime PTSD than a comparison group of individuals who had experienced other life-threatening traumas, and that 34% of survivors who took part in the study reported that they still experienced bad dreams or difficulty sleeping due to intrusive thoughts about the disaster.

The Davies inquiryEdit

On 26 October 1966, after resolutions in both Houses of Parliament, the Secretary of State for Wales appointed a tribunal to inquire into the causes of and circumstances relating to the Aberfan disaster. It was chaired by respected Welsh barrister and Privy Councillor Lord Justice Edmund Davies. Before the tribunal began, the Attorney General imposed restrictions on speculation in the media about the causes of the disaster.

The tribunal sat for 76 days – the longest inquiry of its type in British history up to that time – interviewing 136 witnesses, examining 300 exhibits and hearing 2,500,000 words of testimony, which ranged from the history of mining in the area to the region's geological conditions. Robens made a dramatic appearance during its final days to give testimony, at which point he conceded that the NCB had been at fault. Had the admission been made at the outset, much of the inquiry would have been unnecessary. The tribunal retired on 28 April 1967 to consider its verdict. Its report, published on 3 August, found that the blame for the disaster rested entirely with the National Coal Board, and that the basic cause was the NCB's "total absence of [a] tipping policy". 

The report noted that the NCB was:

…following in the footsteps of their predecessors. They were not guided either by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries or by legislation … [there is] no legislation dealing with the safety of tips in force in this or any country, except in part of West Germany and in South Africa." 
…we reject out of hand Mr. Ackner's observation that what has been revealed here is "callous indifference" by senior National Coal Board officials to the fears of a tip-slide expressed to them. Callousness betokens villainy, and in truth there are no villains in this harrowing story. In one way, it might possibly be less alarming if there were, for villains are few and far between. But the Aberfan disaster is a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above. Not villains, but decent men, led astray by foolishness or by ignorance or by both in combination, are responsible for what happened at Aberfan. That, in all conscience, is a burden heavy enough for them to have to bear without the additional brand of villainy. 
Blame for the disaster rests upon the National Coal Board. This is shared, though in varying degrees, among the NCB headquarters, the South Western Divisional Board, and certain individuals … The legal liability of the NCB to pay compensation of the personal injuries, fatal or otherwise, and damage to property, is incontestable and uncontested.

The specific cause of the collapse was a build-up of water in the pile; when a small rotational slip occurred, the disturbance caused the saturated, fine material of the tip to liquefy (thixotropy) and flow down the mountain. Although it was estimated that tailings constituted about 10% of the tip at the time of the disaster, the inquiry concluded that they were not a contributory factor in the fatal slide: "Owing to the geological and geographical features and the size of the tip, the expert evidence is that there would have been a major slide even had no tailings been placed on it." 

In 1958, the tip had been sited on a known stream (as shown on Ordnance Survey maps) and had previously suffered several minor slips. Its instability was known both to colliery management and to tip workers, but very little was done about it. Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and the National Union of Mineworkers were cleared of any wrongdoing; they had assumed that the NCB was acting on the basis of sound technical advice. 

The tips were the responsibility of mechanical engineers who had only a layman's understanding of tip stability issues. The attention of colliery management and engineers (whom the tribunal noted to be generally devoted and over-worked) was directed elsewhere:

...the great bulk of mining operations take place below ground and that most of the best men in the industry are employed there. It is there that coal is won and in that direction that the attention of those employed in the industry is naturally turned. Rubbish tips are a necessary and inevitable adjunct to a coal mine, even as a dustbin is to a house, but it is plain that miners devote certainly no more attention to rubbish tips than householders do to dustbins.
... We found that many witnesses … had been oblivious of what lay before their eyes. It did not enter their consciousness. They were like moles being asked about the habits of birds. 

The disregard of the NCB and the colliery staff for the tip's unstable geological conditions and its failure to act after previous smaller slides were found to have been major factors that contributed to the catastrophe. The tribunal found that the tips had never been surveyed, and up to the time of the landslide were continuously being added to in a chaotic and unplanned manner. Repeated warnings about the tip's dangerous condition had been ignored; even after representations from Merthyr Borough Council, NCB civil engineers (who should have realised the dangerous state of the tip had they seen it) had not been involved: "if there had been a proper investigation with a view to allaying the fears and resolving the doubts, the effect on the course of events must, in our opinion, have been dramatic and decisive." The tribunal also described as 'an aspect which we have not overlooked' the argument of Geoffrey Howe on behalf of the colliery managers that tailings had played an important role in the mismanagement of the tip: "they were believed to be the significant hazard, and with their stoppage, with their discontinuance on the site, it was believed that the hazard had been removed". 

The NCB paid out £160,000 in compensation: £500 for each fatality, plus money for traumatised survivors and damaged property. Nine senior NCB staff were named as having some degree of responsibility for the accident and the tribunal report was scathing in its criticism of evidence given by the principal NCB witnesses. Lord Robens, addressing the National Union of Mineworkers in 1963 had said "If we are going to make pits safer for men we shall have to discipline the wrongdoer. I have no sympathy at all for those people—whether men, management or officials—who act in any way which endangers the lives and limbs of others." No NCB staff were demoted, sacked or prosecuted as a consequence of the Aberfan disaster or for evidence given to the inquiry (one notably unsatisfactory witness had been promoted by the time Parliament debated the Davies Report); Lord Robens and the board of the NCB retained their positions. 

Following the report's publication, Robens wrote to the Minister of Power, Richard Marsh, offering his resignation. Although Robens had a combative relationship with the government and several cabinet ministers argued strongly that he should go, in September 1967 the Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Marsh refused to accept Robens's resignation offer. According to Ronald Dearing, a senior member of staff at the Ministry of Power, who briefed Marsh on the matter, the fact that Robens was "taking the coal industry through a period of painful contraction without big strikes" and the strong support for him within the coal industry and the union movement were crucial to the decision to retain him. Leo Abse spoke for many other critics: "..when I saw what I regarded as the graceless pavane danced by Lord Robens and the Minister, as the Chairman of the Coal Board coyly offered his resignation and, equally coyly, the Minister rejected the offer, I thought that it was a disgraceful spectacle." Papers released in 1997 under the Thirty-year rule show that Robens worked with the NUM to gather support, then agreed the wording of a letter from Marsh refusing Robens' resignation before offering his supposed resignation. In an interview broadcast in 2006, Marsh, after talking about a discussion with Robens, said:

We went through this and I said "Well, you send me in your resignation, and I will send you back a letter saying 'quite understand it, but I don't accept it'"
  • — Richard Marsh 

Disaster fundEdit

Aberfan and old coal tips - geograph.org.uk - 673825

"A psychological, emotional danger" - Aberfan Colliery spoil heaps in 1968. Tip 5 is furthest from the camera. Attribution: Tudor Williams.

The public demonstrated its sympathy by donating money with little idea of how it would be spent. Donations flooded in to an appeal initiated by the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil and within a few months, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totalling £1,606,929 (equivalent to £27 million in 2015). Management of the fund caused considerable controversy over the years. The fund was put on a firm legal footing under the auspices of a permanent committee with clear local representation and a trust deed that specified the money was to be used:

  1. For the relief of all persons who have suffered as a result of the said disaster and are thereby in need.
  2. Subject as aforesaid for any charitable purpose for the benefit of persons who were inhabitants of Aberfan and its immediate neighbourhood (hereinafter called 'the area of benefit') on the 21st day of October 1966 or now are or hereafter become inhabitants of the area of benefit and in particular (but without prejudice to the generality of the last foregoing trust) for any charitable purpose for the benefit of children who were on the 21st day of October 1966 or who now are or hereafter may become resident in the area of benefit.

Many aspects of the aftermath of the disaster remained hidden until 1997, when the British Public Records Office released previously embargoed documents under the thirty-year rule. The documents revealed new information about the actions of Lord Robens, the NCB and the Charity Commission in the wake of the disaster.

At one point the Charity Commission "duty-bound to uphold an outdated and inflexible law", intervened and obstructed payments by the fund to individual victims and for the cemetery memorial. Commission staff considered whether to insist that before any payment was made to bereaved parents, each case should be reviewed to ascertain if the parents had been close to their children and were likely to be suffering mentally. At another meeting, the commission threatened to remove trustees of the disaster fund or make a financial order against them if they made grants to parents of children who had not been physically injured that day, and the trustees were forced to abandon the payments.

"A psychological, emotional danger" - Aberfan Colliery spoil heaps in 1968. Tip 5 is furthest from the camera.

In the Commons debate on the Inquiry Report it was asserted by the Government on the advice of the NCB and supported by comments in the tribunal report that the remaining tips above Aberfan were not dangerous and did not warrant removal (estimated by the tribunal to cost £3 million), but merely required landscaping, a much cheaper option. The assertion was promptly contradicted by the local MP, S.O. Davies; as Margaret Thatcher pointed out the report noted that "One may conclude that No. 5" (tip) "has been standing and is standing at a very low factor of safety." Despite the government opposition, public pressure led to a decision to remove the remaining tips: the Secretary of State for Wales stressed that they were safe but that he knew from contacts with the people of Aberfan "that they constitute a psychological, emotional danger". If the tips were not physically dangerous, Robens saw no obligation on the NCB to pay the cost of their removal. The government made a grant of £200,000 towards the cost of removing the tips, and under "intolerable pressure" from the government, the trustees of the disaster fund agreed to contribute £150,000. At the time, the Charity Commission made no objection to this action, but it has subsequently been criticised as "unquestionably unlawful" under charity law.

An important part of the fund is still alive and running. The disaster committee set up a fund to help pupils and it is still available for pupils from the village or for children whose parents were living in Aberfan at the time of the disaster.

LegislationEdit

As a result of concerns raised by the disaster, and in line with Finding XVII of the Davies Report, in 1969 the British government framed new legislation to remedy the absence of laws and regulations governing mine and quarry waste tips and spoil heaps. The Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 was designed "to make further provision in relation to tips associated with mines and quarries; to prevent disused tips constituting a danger to members of the public; and for purposes connected with those matters".

The Act was an extension of the earlier Mines and Quarries Act 1954. As the Davies Tribunal had found, the Act did not mention tips in its provisions, the only reference to public safety was a section dealing with fencing abandoned or disused mines and quarries to prevent people falling into them. Under the terms of the 1954 Act, the Aberfan disaster was not required to be formally reported to HM Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries because it did not take place on colliery property and no mine workers had been injured or killed.

To address the problem of safety legislation being largely reactive, health and safety legislation was put on a different footing with the passage of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It established a catch-all general duty on employers (with a similar clause for the self-employed) "to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety." The Act addressed the recommendations of a committee set up by Barbara Castle to look at modernising UK health and safety legislation. The committee was chaired by Lord Robens.

Subsequent eventsEdit

Aberfan Memorial Garden-geograph-3379614-by-Stephen-McKay

Aberfan Memorial Garden in March 2013. Author: Stephen McKay.

Aberfan Memorial Garden 3031760 6dc3d0ac

Aberfan Memorial Garden in March 2012. Attribution: Jaggery.

The fund had nigh on run out by the early 1980s. Merthyr Vale Colliery closed in 1989. In 1997 the incoming Labour government of Tony Blair repaid to the disaster fund the £150,000 that it had been induced to contribute, by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, towards the cost of tip removal. No allowance was made for inflation or the interest that would have been earned over the intervening period. 

On 9 May 1997 the Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh planted a flowering cherry tree at the Aberfan Memorial Garden. The Queen spoke to the largest ever gathering of survivors and relatives of the victims. Many of them were meeting for the first time since the day of the disaster. The memorial garden is on the site of Pantglas Junior School and includes stone walls to show where the classrooms stood.

In 2005 Imperial Tobacco settled out of court to end a wrongful dismissal suit brought against the company by an Aberfan survivor Janice Evans, who had been employed by Imperial's Rizla cigarette paper factory near Pontypridd. Evans had been sacked after she refused to continue working night shifts, alleging that it had brought on flashbacks of her ordeal in 1966, when she had been buried waist-deep in the landslide while walking to school. Although Evans survived, a friend who had been walking with her was killed. Some have suggest that the locals have exsplited thier plite or used it to gain atetntion over the years.

In February 2007 the Welsh Assembly announced a donation of £1.5 million to the Aberfan Memorial Charity and £500,000 to the Aberfan Education Charity. No connection was made to the shortfall of the 1997 repayment.

Who took the blameEdit

No one was formally blamed or incriminated, but the NCB was found guilty of recklessness and neglect on a corporate level. They refused to pay compensation until 1972.

Fiscal issuesEdit

The NCB initially offered the families of the dead £50 (1,038.48 by 2000 monitory values); the sum was later increased to £500 (10,384.80 by 2000 monitory values). The NCB called it "a generous offer".

New safety lawsEdit

The Powell Memo briefly became law, but soon became obsolete with the passing of the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969. The law on not dumping on springs or bodies of water became a major law until 1972, when other stricter laws occurred steadily until the early 1980s.

Aberfan Cemetery and Aberfan Disaster MemorialsEdit

Aberfan Memorial Garden and Cemetery, Aberfan

White arches in Bryntaf Cemetery, Aberfan mark the graves of children killed in the disaster.

Aberfan Cemetery

Aberfan Park Memorial.

After the disaster the Mayor of Merthyr immediately launched a Disaster Fund to aid the village and the bereaved. By the time the Fund closed in January 1967, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totalling £1,606,929. The Fund's final sum was approximately £1,750,000 (£22.3 million equivalent in 2016 after inflation). The concerns of the village and donors grew about how the money in the fund would be used: some felt it should be used to compensate the bereaved, whilst others felt it should benefit the wider community. The funds paid for the memorial garden and cemetery along with other facilities to aid the regeneration of Aberfan both physically and emotionally.

The cemetery is where many of the victims are buried. The original Portland and Nabresina Stone memorials erected shortly after the disaster began to deteriorate, and in 2007 the Aberfan Memorial Charity refurbished the garden area, including all of the archways and memorials. The weathered masonry was replaced with polished pearl white granite, all inscriptions were re-engraved and additional archways were erected.

A memorial garden was opened on the site of Pantglas Primary School, which was destroyed during the disaster. The park was partly opened by the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, on her visit to Aberfan in 1974.

The Coventry PlaygroundEdit

The Coventry Playground was built in 1972 on the site of the old Merthyr Vale School, with money collected by the people of Coventry. The playground was officially opened by the mayor of Coventry.

The Aberfan Memorial CharityEdit

The Aberfan Memorial Charity was founded in 1989 and is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the cemetery and memorial garden.

Aberfan MemorialEdit

After the disaster the Mayor of Merthyr immediately launched a Disaster Fund to aid the village and the bereaved. The fund’s final sum totaled approximately £1,750,000. In 1997 this represented approximately £17.5 million in donations. The concerns of the village and donors grew about how the money in the fund would be used, with the community split between compensating the bereaved, whilst others felt it should benefit the wider community. The funds paid for the memorial garden and cemetery along with other facilities to aid the regeneration of Aberfan both physically and emotionally.

Aberfan Memorial Garden and CemeteryEdit

The Memorial Garden and cemetery is where many of the victims are buried. The original Portland and Nabresina Stone memorials erected shortly after the disaster began to deteriorate and in 2007 the Aberfan Memorial Charity refurbished the Memorial Garden area including all of the archways and memorials. The weathered masonry was replaced with polished pearl white granite, all inscriptions were re-engraved and additional archways were erected.

Spellbrook Memorial WoodlandEdit

Spelbrook memorial sign - geograph.org.uk - 320968

Spellbrook Memorial Woodland singe. Attribution: nantcoly.

Shortly after the disaster children and staff at the primary school at Spellbrook, near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, collected £20–16s–0d (£20.80) for trees to be planted on a nearby tip. The forest plantation remains to this day.

Aberfan Park MemorialEdit

The Coventry Playground was built in 1972 on the site of the old Merthyr Vale School, with the monies collected by the people of Coventry. The playground was officially opened by the mayor of Coventry.

A playground was opened on the site of Pantglas Primary school, which was destroyed during the disaster, the park was partly opened by the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh on her visit to Aberfan in 1974.

The Aberfan Memorial Charity was founded in 1989 and is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the cemetery and memorial garden.

Aberfan & Merthyr Vale Community CentreEdit

Aberfan & Merthyr Vale Community Centre - a community centre with a swimming pool, fitness room, weights room, cafe and a hall.

Popular cultureEdit

LiteratureEdit

  1. "Aberfan: Under the Arc Lights," in The Spectator, 28 October 1966, reprinted in Best Poems of 1966: Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards: A Compilation of Original Poetry Published in Magazines of the English-Speaking World in 1966, Volume XIX, Pacific Book Publishers, Palo Alto California, 1967.
  2. Riddle of the Pyramids by Kurt Mendelssohn, 1974, finds a clue to the construction of the Egypian pyramids in the physics of the Aberfan disaster.
  3. The Aberfan disaster appears in the plot of David Lodge's novel How Far Can You Go.

MusicEdit

  1. "The Aberfan Coal Tip Tragedy", a song by Thom Parrott, included on the Smithsonian Folkways CD set Best of Broadside.
  2. "Aberfan", a song by David Ackles, included on his album Five & Dime.
  3. "Grey October", a song by Peggy Seeger. 
  4. "Sing To My Soul", a song by Welsh musician Martyn Joseph refers to his memories of October 1966.
  5. "Aberfan", a song by Ohio-based Celtic band Dulahan on their 2005 album Not against my Own. 
  6. "Palaces of Gold", a song by Leon Rosselson, originally recorded for his 1968 album A Laugh, a Song, and a Hand-Grenade and used as the title track for his 1975 album. The song was covered in 1976 by Martin Carthy on his album Crown of Horn. 
  7. "A Mountain Moved", a song by John Sloman. from his album "13 Storeys" 2006.
  8. "The Price of Coal", a song by Alex Glasgow, which has been sung by artists including Paul Child and David Alexander, references the disaster. 
  9. According to the liner notes for their box-set Tales from the Brothers Gibb (1990), the disaster was the inspiration behind the Bee Gees' song "New York Mining Disaster 1941".
  10. "Not All The Flowers Grow", a song by Dave Cousins and performed by the Strawbs on their 2001 album Baroque & Roll.
  11. Cantata Memoria: For the children, a choral work by Karl Jenkins, with libretto by Mererid Hopwood, was written for a memorial concert for the 50th anniversary of the disaster. The work, commissioned by S4C, was performed at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 8 October 2016, before being broadcast on S4C on 9 October and released as an album by Deutsche Grammophon.

DocumentaryEdit

  1. Title unknown, but there was a Sky News documentry on it in 2011.
  2. Aberfan: The Fight for Justice, a BBC One documentary on 18 October 2016, included dramatic reconstruction of some of the tribunal proceedings and eye-witness accounts. 

Also seeEdit

  1. Mining
  2. The NCB
  3. Disasters
  4. Energy industry
  5. Cambrian Colliery
  6. Ebbw Vale Steelworks
  7. Energy and resources
  8. Knockshinnoch Disaster
  9. Lofthouse Colliery disaster
  10. Lord Louis Mountbatten's very British coup
  11. Mineral mining, smelting and shipping videos
  12. Neftegorsk (Sakhalin Oblast) May 28, 1995, Earthquake

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