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’.