William Harris – The Sole Survivor of 1901 Universal Colliery Disaster

On the 24th May 1901, the first major disaster at Universal Colliery took place. Rescue parties rushed to the site and they fought their way through massive roof falls to a devastating scene. They came upon the body of what they thought was William Harris – an Ostler at the colliery, who was lying by the side of his dead horse. He was severely burned on his head, face and hands. William’s appearance led most of the party to believe he was dead but as Dr Burke the Medical Officer to Llanbradach Colliery came to examine him he moved his arm and groaned. William was taken up to the surface, examined, cleaned and treated in the Lamp Room then taken to his home swathed in bandages. At that time there was little hope of his survival.

The excitement of discovering William was electrifying and filled the rescuers with hope but sadly no more miners were found alive.

William Harris eventually recovered physically but was grievously disfigured on his hands & head and was mentally confused.  He was firmly convinced that he alone had sustained an accident underground and that no other men had been involved.

He recovered slowly and in 1908, with wife, Amy, was able to purchase a newly built house on the new main road also called Caerphilly Road in Senghenydd. He eventually returned to work on the surface of the Windsor Colliery nearby. There are no records to show if he every returned to the Universal Colliery.

William and Amy had 6 children: William, Beatrice, David, Annie, Evelyn and Eileen, some of whose descendants still live in the area today.

William died peacefully in 1936 and was laid to rest in Penyrheol Cemetery.

On 24th May 2022, Aber Valley Heritage Group and the descendents of William Harris held a memorial service at Penyrheol Cemetery and unveiled a kneeler in his honour.