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Taking a wrong turn, as per usual,

out of Wrexham, I found myself driving

to Llay* up that gradual gradient,

looking for signposts to places I knew

to set me right but reached the colliery houses –

built in the ’20s with indoor toilet,

bath and the electric at nine pence a week –

on First Avenue, Second Avenue

and so forth to the Ninth as if the owner

could not be arsed to find proper, local  names.

Llay Main was the deepest pit in Britain.

The seams were worked out by ’66

so the village missed the Scargill/Thatcher show.


I saw the sign for Rossett and knew my way –

but then, on the brow of the rise, saw

the white neo-Edwardian Baroque

of the Miner’s Welfare Institute –

the large lettered name picked out in gold

like a movie palace or a music hall –

built with dues paid by each miner (hence

the apostrophe) for books and billiards,

cricket and pantomimes, talks and meetings.


I slowed, moved by its pristine survival:

a community venue for quizzes

and sports, for carnivals and weddings.

As I drove down towards Rossett, I could see

the distant refineries at Stanlow

on the far edge of the Cheshire Plain

and thought how we are close to forgetting

our history, of acting as if coal

leapt ready hewn from the earth or turned itself

into gas to make the world too warm.


Once, within a radius of fifteen miles

of Llay, among the hills, meadows, rivers,

woods, were two steel works and sixty pits.

It was lethal work in the stuffy dark

under the crushing heat of rock and earth,

uncared for and unregarded work.


In Gresford pit, fewer than two miles from Llay

two hundred and sixty six men and boys

were killed in one explosion – all but eleven

entombed in the abandoned galleries.

Among the thwarted rescuers were teams

of miners from Llay.  The words ‘whited

sepulchre’ come unbidden – hiding

exploitation, pain, loss.



*Llay rhymes with ‘die’ and ‘lie’.




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Steve Crewe
    August 28, 2016

    The last direct link to the Gresford mine disaster, Mr Eddie Edwards, who had begun working at the mine at the age of 14 and participated in the rescue efforts, died this January at the age of 102.

    A sign of the times that 3 days after the disaster 1,100 men signed on the unemployment register. It was a dangerous job with around 1,000 deaths recorded each year and miners having a one in seven chance of suffering a serous injury each year.

  • Catherine Reynolds
    September 3, 2016

    A unique insight into the locality and its past built on the labour of miners and steelworkers. I have been reading Betjeman and you have the same wonderful observational eye for the landscape, its places and the people. As a Wrexham resident, I empathise with your tendency to take a wrong turn out of the township.

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