Guardian monument, Six Bells, near Abertillery

This monument was created in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Bells colliery disaster, in which 45 men died. See below for more about the disaster. The photo of the colliery c.1905 is shown here courtesy of the National Library of Wales (image ref: Ridley 2045).

abertillery_colliery_at_six_bellsStanding 20 metres tall, the sculpture is a landmark in the valley. It stands at the site of the colliery and was designed and created by Sebastien Boysen. The figure on the stone plinth is made of strips of steel. From a distance it has a semi-transparent ghostly appearance, but it looks solid when you view it from near the plinth.

The Guardian was dedicated during a commemoration service on 28 June 2010. The service was led by Rowan Williams, then the Archbishop of Canterbury and now Baron Williams of Oystermouth (Swansea).

The sculpture is in Parc Arael Griffin. The park is named after Arrael Griffin colliery. Cefn yr Arael (or Arail) is the ridge to the north. There was a series of “Griffin Collieries” in the valley before Arrael Griffin opened in 1891.

Another public art installation, beside Foundry Bridge in Abertillery, commemorates the valley’s six collieries.

The disaster at Arrael Griffin shocked Britain because by 1960 collieries operated to much tighter safety standards, and with better technology, than they had in Victorian and Edwardian times. The 45 victims were working the morning shift deep underground on 28 June when a gas explosion caused fire, smoke and roof collapses. Nobody on the surface realised anything was amiss until three men managed to reach the bottom of the pit shaft. The three men had been injured despite working c.900 metres away from the site of the explosion.

Word quickly spread and anxious relatives gathered at the colliery. Rescuers tried to find survivors but only found bodies as they laboured to clear debris. The bodies went to makeshift mortuaries in colliery buildings, where they were cleaned by nurses. A doctor certified the deaths and the bodies were shrouded before relatives came to identify them.

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With thanks to Graham Bennett.
More about the colliery on Graham Bennett’s website