Big House Landshipping

Personal Reflections on the Big House Landshipping Pembrokeshire Restoration Project

West Wales Mining Disasters

The sadness of the coal mining disaster in Landshipping is tangible, even today. The disaster at Gleision Colliery, near Pontardawe on Setember 16 2011, has again brought Welsh mining into the headlines after four men were killed when water broke into the drift mine. In Landshipping, a special service is held on Valentine's Day, at nearby St Burnett's Hill Chapel to commemorate the Landshipping disaster that happened in 1844, and flowers are laid at the plinth overlooking the site of the disaster. 

The development of the Big House into a 'fine country house' on the river with its own quay to arrive and leave in style (and not, local landowners insist, used for shifting coal, as was suggested by the BBC in their recent programme) is all linked to the wealth of the mine owners who first built the house, compared to the reality of working life as a coal miner. 

The Landshipping disaster has been documented in several books, including a book about the history of Welsh mining disasters and the 'appalling' conditions of 19th century coal-mining industry. 

Working in mining was compared to be as risky as going to war. 'The Black Mystery' - the first comprehensive study into mining across Pembrokeshire and south/west Wales, written by Ronald Rees, reports on the Valentine's Day disaster in 1844 when (he states) 33 miners were drowned as the river flooded the coal seam they were working in under the eastern Cleddau at Landshipping's Garden Pit. 

The disaster was all but forgotten until a memorial was erected in honour of those who lost their lives - some believed to have been young boys and women. Pembrokeshire was never urbanised to the extent of the south Wales valleys and most of its coal mining heritage has been forgotten as tourism has taken over as the main industry. However, much of the county's wealth and infrastructure was due to coal mining and export. 

Interviewed by the Western Mail, the author said: "According to impartial observers, there was no other land occupation that had so many ways of causing injury and death, making it equivalent to “sending raw unarmed troops into battle against a well-equipped enemy”.

“Conditions were terrible but a paradox is that even though working conditions were awful and dangerous, miners were reluctant to leave the mines,” said Mr Rees, a retired lecturer whose books include King Copper, a history of the copper industry in the Swansea area, and Heroic Science, an account of the achievements of a group of renowned scientists at the Royal Institution of South Wales during the 19th century.

“They speak of the mine as a close-knit community, the development of a brotherhood formed out of the danger of the work.

“Growing up in Skewen I knew a lot of miners but I never met one who wouldn’t go back underground. In West Wales, the mines were generally small, not inspected and not well-managed so death and accident rates were high.

“The worst disasters were drownings in mines – I can’t imagine anything worse. The smaller accidents were often due to firedamp – a mixture of methane and air – being ignited by cigarettes or candles.

“But because they were smaller and so common, many accidents were rarely recorded.”

The excellent 'Welsh Coal Mines' website has compiled a record of the newspaper reports at the time, which do make harrowing reading and are worth studying:
Coal mining activities played a big part in the commerce of this small Pembrokeshire village as far back as the mid eighteenth century, with most of the anthracite coal being exported.

"Garden Pit was re-established in 1788, after it had been closed for some time. The shaft was 67 yards deep and much of the workings run beneath the estuarial waters of the Cleddau and Daucleddau rivers.
In around 1800 it became one of the first collieries to use the modern technology, when a steam engine was installed for haulage and pumping. This machinery greatly increased productivity and the output reached over 10,000 tons per year.

On the 14th of February 1844, miners were at their work, when the usual water seepage, which was encountered at this mine suddenly began to increase in volume. This concerned the miners in so much that they left the mine only to be sent back after being reassured that all was well. One hour later the sea broke into the workings in such a deluge that 40 miners were drowned unable to escape the torrent.
Blame was placed on an unusually high tide putting extra weight on the shallow workings

The Victims as shown on the Memorial Plaque, which was erected by local people in 2002:

Thomas Gray


Benjamin Picton


Benjamin Hart


Richard Cole


William Llewellin


William Hughes


John Llewellin


James Jenkins


Thomas Llewellin


William Hitchings


William Llewellin


John Nowfield


Benjamin Jones


Thomas Day


Joseph Picton


John Cole


James Picton


Thomas Cole


Mark Picton


Richard Jones


Joseph Picton


Miner Wilkins


John Cole


Miner Hart


John Hitchings


Miner Llewellin


John Richards


Miner John


Isaac Owen


Miner Davies


Josua Davies


John Butland


Thomas John


Thomas Butland


Edward John


Miner Thomas


Joseph Picton


Unknown Miner


It is thought that some, if not all, of the names listed "Miner" were probably women, this shows that the exploitation of women and children working in the mines was still happening even though an act of Parliament banning women from working underground, as were boys under the age of ten was past just two years earlier.

Awful Catastrophe- Forty Lives Lost.

Haverfordwest, Feb. 14th. This neighbourhood has just become the scene of an awful visitation, as tremendous in its effects as it is happily rare in its extent. Late last evening, a messenger arrived from Landshipping, a colliery, about five miles from this town, with the intelligence, that an accident had happened in one of the pits, by which no less than 40 individuals were hurried into eternity.

On ascertaining the truth of the report, we hastened as early yesterday morning as possible to the spot, where we gathered the following particulars, which doubtless, your readers will receive with painful interest.

It appears, that in one of the most extensive pits, called the Garden Pit, which has been worked for the last two years, and the ways of which had been carried a great distance under the tide, at the conjunction of the rivers Cleddy and Daugleddy.

About 60 persons have been employed for the last few days, after a cessation of a month.

Nothing appeared to indicate any danger, until the moment of the catastrophe, when the whole affair seems to have taken place with the suddenness of a dream,- a few moments of horror, and all was over, as far as regarded the sufferings, whose first intimation of danger must have been the single stroke of the king of terrors.

About half-past three or four o´clock, in the afternoon of Wednesday, when there were 58 persons at work down below; the parties at the mouth of the pit became aware of some accident having occurred, by a powerful current of air making up the pit, so strong, to use the language of one of the bystanders, as to bear up a hand when held unresistingly over it; and the same instant, the water at a little distance from the shore, became much agitated, eddies being visible to a considerable extent. Shortly afterwards, several persons rushed out into the shaft of the pit shrieking wildly for assistance. The man at the whim immediately put the horses to the gallop, and succeeded in rescuing 4 men and 14 boys, when the water rushing with tremendous force up towards the mouth of the pit, which filled at the rate of 7 fathoms in a minute, rendered all further exertions unavailing.

From the mouth of one of the survivors we received the following account:- He and another man were alarmed by a rushing wind, stronger than any storm he had ever witnessed, which completely carried them off their legs, and at the same time extinguished their lights. He called to his companion to stand still, as he thought it was occasioned by the explosion of fire damp in same part of the works; but having discovered his mistake, he at once saw that their only chance was to fly to the mouth of the pit; in his way thither, his companion appears to have lost his footing, as he heard him exclaim, "O Lord, have mercy on my soul." He himself was overtaken by the water, which almost prevented his progress, dashing him several times against the sides of the pit; when he got into the light, he rushed past another man who was about to get into the bucket, and was hauled up in safety, the water following him so closely, that the next and last man was only saved by climbing up the side of the pit, until the bucket, which descended to the other was raised, reached him. The water appears to have broken in at a comparatively small distance from the shore, and 33 persons being at work a good way farther in, their retreat was instantly cut off, the water pouring down in a body between them and the entrance of the pit; the remaining seven who were at work nearer out, must have been overtaken in their endeavours to escape.

A very violent explosion took place yesterday morning in the middle of the river, occasioned by the pressure of the water on the air confined in the recesses of the pit, large pieces of timber being thrown up to the height of from thirty to forty feet.

The following are a few of the distressing bereavements occasioned by the above melancholy occurrence; we sincerely trust a subscription will be immediately set on foot for the benefit of the survivors; Joseph Picton, with three sons, drowned , leaving a widow and five children; James Davies and one son drowned, leaving a widow and five children; five other men have left widows, with 18 children between them.

A most lamentable and heart-rending accident occurred on Wednesday last, at the Landshipping Colliery, near Pembroke; by which we grieve to say thirty-nine lives are, hurried without a moment's preparation into eternity.

From some cause at present unknown, the bed of the river under which the seam of coal has been worked to a considerable distance gave way and almost instantly filled the Colliery with water.

Without attaching blame to any party, we cannot but express a strong desire that a strict and searching examination be made, to ascertain the cause of this melancholy event. We do not mean to say, but that in spite of all human efforts accidents will occur, but we know that in many past cases they might have been averted, if due diligence and skill had been observed on the part of the MINING AGENTS. Of course these remarks are intended not to apply to the Landshipping Colliery in particular, but to mines generally.

The proprietors of mines have no right in law, to appoint any unskilful or untried man to attend to the important duties of mining agent, for in their hands are placed the lives of many fellow beings.

Government would do well to appoint mining inspectors, to occasionally examine the state of all mines, and ascertain the qualifications of the managers; and thus so far, give an additional protection to the poor miners, who under the assurance and guidance of the agent, think their lives are safe and free from danger.

From the Times February 19th 1844

FRIGHTFUL ACCIDENT – HAVERFORDWEST FEB 16 Last evening intelligence was brought to this place of a dreadful accident at Landshipping Colliery, in this neighbourhood. While the men and boys, amounting in number to 58, were at work in one of the pits which extend under the river, the water broke in at about half tide, and so sudden was the rush that 18 only of the number were enabled to make their escape. The remainder were either instantly drowned or crushed beneath the slip.

The work of this pit is completely destroyed. No blame appears to be laid to any party, as the persons whose duty it was to survey the work had considered it safe. It had been never before worked at high water, when the pressure must have been much greater than when the above accident took place. Among the numbers who have perished there are several who were fathers, with large families dependent on them for support. The distress of the widows and other can scarcely be conceived. – Britannia.

The Times, London February 20 1844 

THE LANDSHIPPING COLLIERY, On the afternoon of Wednesday last, one of the most dreadful and destructive events ever known in Pembrokeshire took place a Landshipping Colliery, the property of Colonel Owen. The short time which has intervened has not allowed a sufficient opportunity to obtain full particulars of the sad catastrophe; but the following circumstances connected with it are believed to be substantially correct. The colliery has for very many years been in full work, giving employment to a large number of men, women and boys. It appears that on Monday last a lot of men and boys were set to work in a level which was about a quarter of a mile long, and extended a considerable distance under the bed of the river Daugleddy, and which had not for about three years previously been worked, for the reason , it is said, that it was not considered safe to carry on operations there, the colliers having reported that in one place there was a leak of salt-water over their heads.

In the afternoon of Wednesday there were between 40 and 50 men and boys employed in various parts of the level. Three of the boys who were the nearest to the mouth of the pit were alarmed by hearing a violent rush of water in the interior of the work; they instantly ran to the pit´s mouth, and were only just in time to save their lives, by climbing up the sides of the pit, before the filled the level – had they been a moment later, the water would have overwhelmed them, as it did all their unfortunate companions who were in the interior. It was immediately afterwards found that a portion of the ground underneath the mud on the side of the river, had given way, and the tide, which was then flowing, was observed to rush with great force into the fissure, so as to drown the works, and render the escape of the hapless colliers utterly hopeless. Tidings of the sad calamity were quickly conveyed to the village where the workmen had resided, and as soon as the nature and extent of it were ascertained, a scene of the most heart-rending kind was exhibited among the surviving wives, mothers, and other relatives of the unfortunate colliers, which it is far easier to imagine than to describe. Immediately after the poor boys had come above ground the landing-tub was lowered to assist any who might be at the bottom of the pit, but when it was pulled up it was found to contain nothing but water. Some short time afterwards the steward of the works went down, but he could discover nothing but pieces of timber floating on the water. The greater portion of the men who have thus met a violent and untimely death have left wives and large families to deplore their loss. In addition to the incalculable amount of distress and destitution which the surviving relatives must inevitably sustain, the injury to the proprietor, and the other colliers in his employ, is tremendous, as it is thought that all the works on the estate communicate internally with each other, so that it is probable that water has extended through the whole, which may possibly occasion a total cessation of them, or, at all events, a vast outlay of money to stop the fissure and stop the water. Cambrian.

A previous disaster in Landshipping
In my research, I have also found reference to another mining disaster that brought death and misery to the previous residents of Landshipping, the miners who died being buried in the nearby village of Martletwy. 
Pembrokeshire local historian Gerry Brawn’s has written an article about it in Pembrokeshire Life magazine - another, less known disaster at a colliery in Landshipping. It is important because, Gerry Brawn asserts, it is the start of a sequence of increasingly serious accidents in the Pembrokeshire coalfield which culminated with 'yet another' at Landshipping in 1844.  

According to the article “Landshipping, although some way from the coal mines of Begelly and its environs, deserves a mention because of the substantial coal workings in this area, known both as “The mines to the east of the Cleddau”, and also for the infamous accident at the Garden Pitin 1844 where some 40 lives were lost when the River Cleddau broke into the workings.

However on 3rd August 1830 a disaster occurred at Landshipping Colliery which was owned by Sir John Owen. Reported in The Cambrian newspaper of the 7th & 21stAugust 1830, it was the result of an explosion of firedamp and claimed the lives of 5 miners.  This is a list of the victims together with the dates of their burial and abode.

6th August ~ John Rees of Weston, age 24

6th August ~ David Rees of Weston, 20

6th August ~ Roger John of Weston, 17

8th August ~ Thomas Eynon of Landshipping, 19

23rd August ~ John Dally of Millbank, 16

(They were interred at St Marcellus Church, Martletwy - A church that stands on the route pilgrims took on their way to St Davids and staged its final service in Jan 2011. Worshippers have gathered on the site of St Marcellus Church in Martletwy for around 1,000 years, but with a congregation of just five, the church is due to be partially demolished and managed as a ruin with the graveyard still used for burials).

A fuller account of this disaster is published in Pembrokeshire Life magazine January 2011 issue. The information above is published in the Pembrokeshire Mining Community blog, which is proving a most interesting read for me now that I am discovering the mining heritage of my new home near Bonville's Court in Saundersfoot. 

As I have been looking again at the history of mining in Landshipping and in other parts of south Pembrokeshire, a mining disaster has occurred in a drift mine in the Swansea valley, at Resolven, a location steeped with mining history that Alun and I visited with the children and took photos of a few years ago. Four men were killed and another is still seriously hurt at time of writing. Two escaped. The families of the lost miners had an agonising wait as rescue teams went to reach them, hoping to find them alive. This modern day tragedy has reminded us all in west Wales of the mining heritage of the area and of the culture, with so many families having coal mining in their pasts, and has been widely reported and inspired much emotion and grief over the dangerous task of mining 'black gold'.

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