The price of coal

Hundreds of men and boys paid the ultimate price underground

A statue in Horden Welfare Park to signify the heart being ripped out of the village’s coal mining community

On 22 September 1934, hundreds of men and boys went to work at Gresford Colliery, Wrexham.

A brutal job, coal mining was the beating heart of the industrial powerhouse which was the UK in the 1930s. By the end of the day, an underground gas explosion at the colliery had resulted in the deaths of 266 workers.

This was one of the worst mining disasters of the 20th century, and it was one of many throughout the century that cost the lives of working class people.

Hundreds of men and boys died whilst deep in the bowels of the earth. For decades, they toiled underground in dangerous conditions and for poor pay.

It was a hard job, but whilst the country was reliant on coal during the era of industrial pioneering, it was a vital job.

The importance of coal mining to the UK can be best explained by the need for miners to be kept at home during both world wars. As a reserved occupation, the coal dug by miners was needed to keep the fires burning both at home and on the battlefield.

During the Great War, as a result of their skills back home, miners were drafted over to the Western Front to take part in daring operations under enemy lines. Tasked with laying mines under trenches, they would often come across enemy tunnellers.

This led to terrifying struggles in darkness deep underground. These men left a frightening role back home to an even more terrifying job at war.

Upon their return, if they did return, they would be straight back down their coal mine to resume their day job.

The coal industry helped to build the UK into a nation which made some people very wealthy. Yet it was the men, boys and their families who, despite being the ones to make these people rich, risked their lives underground and made the wealth for these people.

Coal miners would say that coal was in their blood, and this may have been metaphorical as well as literal due to the nature of the work, but it also worked the other way around.

The impact of large scale mining disasters was devastating. On 9 September 1880 at Seaham Colliery, 161 men and boys were killed in an underground explosion.

The dead left one hundred and five widows, one hundred and twenty-six sons, one hundred and thirty-nine daughters, six mothers, four sisters and two grandchildren, a total of three hundred and eighty-two people who would require relief.

Over 500 people in a close-knit mining community were either directly or indirectly affected by this disaster, a significant number given the population of the town at the time.

Coal mining, up until significant safety improvements were made later in the 20th century, was an industry soaked with the blood of men and boys who toiled underground.

The sacrifice of these families for generations in communities all across the UK will never really be fully understood, but the way in which they were treated through the years by the powers that be is a disgrace which should never be forgotten.

I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. Passionate writing about politics, culture, sport, society and more