Llay Main

Llay Main Colliery Memorial Winding Wheel

Rev. David Griffiths with Menna Jones and Malcolm Williams

The opening ceremony and dedication of the Llay Main Colliery Memorial Winding Wheel took place at Llay Miners’ Welfare on 5th December 2012. This was the culmination of a twelve month project to establish a memorial to those who worked at Llay Main Colliery. This colliery was active between 1922 and 1966 and at one time was the deepest coal mine in Europe and the largest pit in Wales.

On a very cold day Canon David Griffiths, a former Llay miner led the dedication. Children of Llay mining families were chosen to perform the opening ceremony. Representing today’s Llay children Tami Halfpenny and Owen Fox of Park CP School Llay cut the ribbons to unveil  the information sign.

Tami Halfpenny with Vic Tyler-Jones. Owen Fox is behind Tami

 

The climax of the opening ceremony was the cutting of the ribbons around the wheel. The blue and yellow ribbons, the colours of Llay Miners’ Heritage Centre and Llai Local History Society, were cut by Menna Jones [nee Hughes]. Menna’s father Owen Hughes was killed at Llay Main Colliery in 1959 and Menna officially opened the memorial on behalf of all the children of miners who died in such tragic circumstances at the colliery. At least eighty men lost their lives at the colliery.

Menna Jones cuts the ribbon to open the memorial


The Project

The wheel now in place at Llay Miners’ Welfare was installed on 16th October 2012 as a result of a project commissioned by the Steering Committee of Llay Miners’ Heritage Centre.

We would very much have liked to have installed one of the wheels from Llay Main Colliery but these could not be found and we were told that they were cut up for scrap iron in or around 1968, the pit having closed in 1966. In those days most people were not as concerned about their mining heritage as they should have been.

Our wheel weighs around 2.5 tonnes with a diameter of 13.5 feet [4.12 metres] and was formerly used at Point of Ayr Colliery on No.1 shaft. This colliery closed in 1996 and in 1997 the wheel was acquired by Stuart Tomlins on behalf of the Shropshire Mines Trust and kept at his yard at Halfway House near Shrewsbury. Stuart kindly offered to donate this wheel for our purposes and in January 2012 joined a small team at Llay to take the project forward. The project objectives then were; –

1.       To provide a suitable site for the memorial
2        To refurbish the wheel
3.       To transport the wheel to Llay
4.       To erect the wheel at the Llay site

The Trustees of Llay Miners’ Welfare soon gave their approval to siting the wheel on the forecourt in front of the main building. This spot was felt to be particularly suitable as we needed the wheel to be highly visible to passers by but also to be situated in a secure location. Michael Adams, formerly of Llay, did the initial artist’s impression of the memorial and this design was approved by the planning authority.

We were fortunate to have two experts join the project team. Geoff Williams, a structural engineering surveyor, designed the memorial structure and Paul Dean, a paints expert, drew up the refurbishment specifications. Between them they worked with Colorado Corrosion Engineering of Dyserth to bring the project to its successful conclusion.

Dennis Owen of Rhostyllen worked in a small team to maintain all the colliery winding wheels in the North Wales area. He worked on the Llay Main wheels and those at Point of Ayr and confirmed the colour of these as being dark grey.

Funding for the project was obtained through Northern Marches Cymru. A total grant of over £11,000 was supplemented by the donation of the wheel by Shropshire Mines Trust and of concrete for the plinth from a local firm. The project would not have been possible without this help.

The wheel was installed at Llay on the 16th October 2012.

The wheel being dropped into its frame 16.10.2012


The Project Team

Malcolm Williams Llay Miners’ Heritage Centre (LMHC) (Chair)
John Parry Llay Miners’ Welfare
Ken Cupit Llay Miners’ Welfare
Malcolm Jones Llay Miners’ Welfare
Stuart Tomlins Shropshire Mines Trust
Alan Jones North Wales Miners’ Association Trust Ltd (NWMAT)
Vic Tyler-Jones Llai Local History Society (Secretary)
Geoff Williams Technical expert
Paul Dean Technical expert

 

left to right:  Alan Jones, Malcolm Williams, Geoff Williams, Wayne
Tonks [Colorado Corrosion], John Parry, Vic Tyler-Jones, Paul Dean.

[article by Vic Tyler-Jones    24.1.2013]

The logo of Llai Local History Society

The logo was adopted by the Society in 2011 and comprises two elements:-

• the arms of Sandde Hardd (Sandde the handsome)
• the colours of the National Coal Board.

The background colour of Sandde’s shield is usually green. We have replaced this with the blue of the National Coal Board’s blue to remember the coal mining heritage of Llay.

Sandde [born about 1095] was the first of a line of Lords of Mortyn [Burton] and Llai. His shield contains a golden lion with broom spills (broom pods). In battle, these may have been worn on hats or tunics by his men to signify which side they were fighting on. Broom may have been plentiful in the Llai area as the sandy soil is most suitable for growth. In the Tithe Apportionment of 1842/2 for Llai, a ‘Broomy Field’ is found next to Cae Mawr farm on Gegin Lane and a ‘Broomy Croft’ on Pant Mawr near Bradley Lane indicate the spread of the plant right across the area.

The lands called Mortyn and Llai lie north of the River Alyn River adjacent to townships called Trefalun and Gresford; these neighbouring lands were given in a grant “for services in battle” to a man called Eunydd. South of the river was held by the family of Tudor Trevor and indeed the river is thought to have been the northern border of Maelor when the 12th century dawned, with everything above the Alyn (and east of Yr Hob) a part of the Lordship of Chester.

Darrell Wolcott of the Center for Studies of Ancient Wales suggests that it may well have been the Earl of Chester who made the gift of land to Sandde Hardd for services rendered in his quarrels with King Stephen, and gives the following explanantion.

In 1135, Stephen had been crowned King of England in spite of widespread knowledge that Henry II had promised the crown to his daughter Matilda. By 1141, Stephen had created many enemies among his barons. During the Christmas season of that year, Ranulf the Earl of Chester and his half-brother William the Earl of Lincoln seized the royal castle at Lincoln. Within days, Stephen arrived with an army and laid siege to the castle now held by men who had claimed to be his friends. Ranulf slipped away after dark and went in search of assistance. When the messengers appeared in Gwynedd seeking volunteers for Earl Ranulf’s army, it could be that Sandde Hardd and his son signed on.

In any event, the Earl of Chester amassed an army of Welsh mercenaries- “a dreadful and unendurable mass of Welsh” according to William of Malmsbury. Together with some disinherited Englishmen they returned to Lincoln and attacked Stephen’s army as it continued to lay siege to the castle. A number of Stephen’s barons fled the field as the battle was joined and soon Stephen himself was captured. We are told that the Welsh contingent was poorly armed against the armoured knights ‘but full of spirits’ . Nevertheless they were and beaten by Earl William Aumale of York and the professional soldier William of Ypres. They in turn were themselves routed ‘in a moment’ by the well-ordered military might of Earl Ranulph who stood out from the mass in ‘his bright armour’.

We don’t know if Sandde Hardd or Eunydd were present nor what role they may have played, but this could explain why both men received the lands on the north bank of the River Alyn. These lands may have remained a part of England until some later time when it was brought under the lordship of Maelor.

Article by Vic Tyler-Jones 9.1.2013

Refs: ‘ Sandde Hardd of Mortyn’ by Darrell Wolcott, 2010
‘Ranulf, 1st Earl of Chester by David Robarts

LLAI (LLAY) – A COMMUNITY BUILT ON COAL

Situated about 4 miles north of Wrexham, North Wales, for centuries Llai had been a land mainly devoted to agriculture, its peaceful meadows disturbed only by the occasional rumblings of mills in the Alyn Valley. Records of the area in 1906 show that by this time things were no different.

(Fig.1 Llay in 1906)

This postcard gives an idea of what the township of Llay looked like in 1906 – just fields. Gresford Lodge is the white house just across the River Alyn. It was 1906 when coal was discovered in Llay.

1906 – Llay – a tourist haven
A shortage of water in the district saw the advent of mains water and a comment in a local newspaper that ..

‘The district of Llay becomes each year increasingly popular with Tourists as a holiday resort, being strongly recommended by the medical faculty, owing to its dry and elevated position.’ [2]

Bill Millington (1894-1990) of Laburnum Cottage was a long standing Llay resident and described the area in 1906 as…

‘A straggling district with a cottage here and a small farm over there.’ No roads, just footpaths. No work other than on the railway and on the three large farms of Llay Hall (Mr. George Lloyd), Home Farm (Mr. J R Lewis) and Cae Mawr (Mr. Thomas Alderman).There was no post office in Llay but it didn’t matter when there were no pensions or allowances to be paid out and the postman always brought a supply of stamps with him from Gresford. There were no telephones, no electricity and no piped water. People had to carry their drinking water from wells in the woods and fields.’ [3]

1913 Aug. 7th Llay Main Collieries Ltd formed

The Clark family, who owned Llay Hall Colliery near Cefn-y-Bedd, had financed the initial survey work and had bought most of the estates and mining rights in the Llay area. Edwin Stanley Clark who lived at Oak Alyn Hall, Cefn-y-Bedd. bought Llay Hall Colliery out of liquidation in 1885. When he died in 1900, his son Edward Stuart took over the family business.

It became clear that even though viable quantities of high grade coal were available there would be difficulties in raising it from such great depths, a considerable investment was needed to fund the enterprise. This was beyond the means of the local entrepreneurs and the mining rights were sold to Sir Arthur Markham who controlled Hickleton Main Colliery Ltd. of Yorkshire (Doncaster), and Messrs Rea Ltd. – shipping agents of Liverpool and on August 7th 1913 Llay Main Collieries Ltd was formed. The Markhams were wealthy successful Victorian engineers who pioneered mechanisation in British coalfields, iron & steel and shipbuilding industries. In September 1913 a trial well was started

(Fig 2 1913 Trial well on Rackery Lane)

1914 Sinking Operations

A problem hampering development of the mine was the presence of a thick layer of sand and gravel near the surface. This was left by the last retreat of the ice sheet fourteen thousand years ago. The solution was to freeze this unstable mass and to then cut through the now solid soil, placing circular steel collars to prevent the unfrozen sand from collapsing inward.

(Fig 3 Freezing units in place on No.1 and No.2 shafts)

This specialised task was given to a German firm, the Rheinisch West Falische company but their job did not last long as at 11 p.m. on August 4th Britain declared war on Germany after Belgium was invaded. On August 14th the freezing contract was withdrawn and the German workers were interned and on December 16th the job was taken up by Simon Carves Co. of Manchester.

By the end of 1914 The engine house and stores had been built and boring of No.1 shaft started. The railway viaduct over the Alyn was completed so that building materials could be brought directly to the colliery site from the main line at Caergwrle.

(Fig 4 1914 – Viaduct over the River Alyn towards Abermorddu)

1914 – 1915 The First Colliery Manager at Llay

The first manager was Captain Robert Gardner. He rented rooms at Home Farm and on the 4th August he was called to muster at Abergavenny, his home town, headquarters of his volunteer regiment, the Monmouthshires. On the 10th August 1914 the 3rd Battalion of the Monmouthshires moved to camp at Oswestry and from there to Northampton for training. Robert Gardner landed in France on the 14th February and in March his battalion was thrust into the front line of 28th Division, near Ypres, Belgium.

By the 7th May 1915 the Germans were only 2 miles from Ypres and shells flew over the heads of the frontline Monmouths and pounded the city to rubble. On the 8th May a determined attack by the Monmouths saved the day but at great cost. They succeeded in stopping the German advance into Ypres, from where the route would have been open to the channel ports but Captain Gardner was killed, aged 31.

 

1922  NEW COLLIERY AND NEW VILLAGE

1922 New Colliery and New Village

Llay Main Colliery started production in 1922 and the new village began at the same time. Built on the fields of two local estates, the colliery and village received the most up to date equipment and facilities and colliers houses were a far cry from their grimy equivalents in the valleys.

(Fig 5 The Llay Village Railway – The ‘Coffee Pot’)

A small steam engine nicknamed ‘Coffee Pot’ moved materials around the colliery site on a narrow gauge line. The line also served the developing village and ran down First Avenue to the gravel hole on Nant-y-Gaer Road.
Gravel was taken from there to the colliery and used to make concrete. From the colliery, building materials were taken into the village to build houses. This loco was built in 1914 by Orenstein & Koppel of Germany and delivered new to Llay Main Colliery. The records show the customer for the loco as Hickleton Main Colliery – Sir Arthur Markham, who owned Hickleton, was the joint owner of Llay Main. When Markham sold the colliery to Carleton Walker in 1926 surplus plant was sold, and this included the ‘Coffee Pot’.

The village was designed by the architect Barry Parker, a devotee of the socialist Arts and Crafts movement and built as a model village in the mode of Port Sunlight. It was intended to be three times its present size but the decline in world demand for coal meant that this expansion did not take place.

Houses were well in advance of working class dwellings of their day and each had an inside toilet and bath and direct current electricity. They were built at 8 per acre which meant that each ‘cottage’ had plenty of garden space for growing vegetables or for keeping hens.

(Fig 6 1922 House building – Second Avenue)

Building materials were moved from the colliery to house building sites by horse and cart as well as by the ‘coffee pot.

In this photograph ‘Titch’ with his horse and cart stands proudly in front of some newly built houses. The presence of curtains indicate that the house on the left is already occupied. Houses in Second Avenue were completed by March 1923 in the first building phase.

Miners were attracted to the new village from far and wide, but it was the policy of the colliery owners to employ local men as far as possible. Many families migrated the short distances from established mining villages such as Brymbo and Coedpoeth. Others came from the coalfields of Kent, Lancashire and Yorkshire and many pit sinkers came from Ireland. Folk of different languages [4] religions and customs were thrust together in an endeavour to form a new village and to establish a successful colliery.

Their struggle forged a community out of ‘comrades in adversity’ and as a result both pit and village grew from strength to strength. Mine officials from the manager downwards were allocated houses in the new village. Ministers of religion, policemen, doctors were neighbours to the working miner and his family. Churches, clubs, schools, shops, a recreation ground and cinema were all built on land donated by the colliery. In accord with the Christian Socialist principles of the first mine owners the parish church of St. Martin’s (1925) was located at the centre of the village whereas the single public house, The Crown, (c.1930) was placed at it’s edge and was not part of the original plan.

Village sports teams, music and social societies and events were heavily subsidised by the colliery owners and even after nationalisation in 1947 men and equipment continued to be supplied to stage gardening shows, fetes, carnivals and pantomimes. These proceedings are manifestations of a successful community at the height of it’s maturity.

(Fig 7 October 1947 Llay Miners’ Welfare Silver Prize Band in Hyde Park)

The band took part in the ‘Miner comes to Town’ – a celebration of the nationalisation of the coal industry.

By the late 1950s it was clear that a combination of dwindling coal markets and geological difficulties was pointing towards the demise of Llay Main. So it was that the largest and most technologically advanced colliery in Wales and the deepest mine in Europe met its untimely closure only fifty years after the first shaft was sunk.

The colliery closed in 1966 and an industrial estate was built on the site. The village has continued to expand with the addition of several private housing schemes though its workforce is no longer focused on the single entity which brought it about.

Llai Local History Society was formed in 1998 to record the story of this unique place.

 

[1] The word Llai is Welsh and can mean ‘small’, however in the context of a place name it means ‘lea’ in English – a meadow – as in Coedllai (Leeswood). Always pronounced in the Welsh manner, the spelling Llay is the English written version, as also was ‘Thlay’ and ‘Itchlay’, used by English clerks to record the sound of the name in the middle ages. In this piece we use the spelling appropriate to the date of individual items.

[2] Wrexham Advertiser Saturday 25th August, 1906

[3] Millington. W, memoirs, unpublished, 1980, p34. (copy with Llai Local History Society)

[4] by 1931 of a total population of 3,627, 633 were Welsh speaking and additionally there were 17 who could speak Welsh but not English. (Census 1931)

Figures

1 Postcard 1906. courtesy of Graham Hughes
2 Trial Well. photograph courtesy of Rod Challoner
3 Freezing units. photograph courtesy of Peter Chadwick
4 Viaduct. photograph courtesy of Peter Chadwick
5 The ‘Coffee Pot’. photograph courtesy of Rod Challoner
6 House building in Second Avenue. photograph courtesy of Greville Williams
7 Welfare Band. photograph courtesy of Tony Williams

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