Parc Slip Nature Reserve has not always been the wonderful wildlife haven it now is. Until the 1980’s, the area was mined for coal and was a busy hive of industry. In the nineteenth century, with the discovery of large coal deposits in South Wales, deep mines sprung up throughout South Wales, including the Parc Slip Colliery which was sited within the present Nature Reserve.
On August 26, 1892, a tragic disaster occurred within the Parc Slip Colliery. An explosion cost the lives of 112 men and boys. These miners are remembered today with a memorial fountain in the Southern end of the reserve, adjacent to the cycle track and bridle path. Local resident Rebecca Jones recalls her memories of growing up in Bridgend 100 years on from the disaster, where the memories of the disaster and the miners who died still live on today:
‘In summer 1992, I was a seven year old girl, living in Bridgend, South Wales. I remember, one weekend, going into Pyle Library with my grandmother, and seeing a picture I had drawn at school on display there. I remembered drawing the sketch of a black-faced miner, and recognised it instantly. It transpired that I had won first prize in a drawing competition. Naturally, I remember being very pleased. What I think was slightly wasted on me at the time, however, was the event that the competition had been set to celebrate – 100 years since the Parc Slip Disaster.
Today, the site of Parc Slip, at Aberkenfig near Bridgend, is a nature reserve. Ducks, cycle paths, picnic tables and other peaceful and beautiful things belie what happened there on 26th August 1892. The entire reserve stands as a growing, living, organic monument to the 112 boys and men who died in an explosion in the colliery which had existed there since the 1860s. At around 8.20am on the morning of the 26th, the explosion set into motion a rescue attempt that lasted for several days.
Sources vary on the number of men who were in the mine at the time of the explosion, but it is generally accepted that 146 workers were in the pit at 8.20am. The memorial at the Parc Slip Nature Reserve commemorates 112 men and boys killed in the Parc Slip Disaster, both as the result of the explosion and subsequent roof collapses, and death after rescue. The majority of the men who went into the mine on the morning of the 26th August never returned home to their families. The disaster left many women widowed, and many children without a father. There were also 16 pit horses in the mine at the time of the explosion, all of whom perished. The pit itself eventually closed in 1904.
Despite the magnitude of this disaster, it is largely unheard of, especially outside of the immediate area. Sunday 26th August 2012 is the 120th anniversary of the Parc Slip Disaster, and the facts still make for saddening reading. Today, we are relatively familiar with the incredibly harsh nature of coal mining in the late nineteenth century. The conditions, the risks – Parc Slip is horribly indicative of just how dangerous a livelihood this really was, and we should always recognise how these men and boys lived, how they died, and who they left behind. We can also reflect on what the rescuers stood to risk by entering the mine in the days that followed the explosion, and what a wonderful testament to community and empathy they left to history.’
After the Colliery closed in 1904, it remained as a derelict area of old coal tips until British Coal Opencast started removing the old coal tips and mining the remaining coal reserves in the 1960’s. Restoration of the land began in the early 1980’s with the backfilling of the opencast mine.
The Parc Slip Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre itself began life in 1994, built by the Coal Board for educational purposes on the site of a previous open cast coal mine. Now it is the base of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, who have restored the open cast coal mine into a beautiful nature reserve consisting of wildflower meadows, grassland, woodland and wetlands. Come along and visit us on the reserve for a fantastic day of wildlife discovery.