A lost memorial to miners killed in a devastating explosion at a notorious pit 150 years ago has been uncovered after years of neglect thanks to a team of offenders.
They were cutting down overgrown shrubs and bushes when they discovered the stone memorial, built on the hillside overlooking the site of the tragedy which claimed 142 lives at the Old Black Vein Colliery at Risca in Wales, in 1860.
Ex-miner and local historian Ray Lawrence has researched the history of the area but he admitted: 'I only live a couple of miles away and even I didn’t know this memorial was here.'
Now the brambles and undergrowth have gone, cleared by offenders on a Community Payback project run by Wales Probation and Ray said: 'The team has done a great job because it was just neglected until they came along.
'When I first came up here you couldn’t see where it was because the brambles were six foot high and no-one ever came here but in the 19th century this was a very busy area.'
The 1860 explosion saw some miners killed by the force of the explosion and others suffocated as the oxygen was sucked up by the fire.
The youngest victim was George Watson who was only ten and who died alongside his 12-year-old brother Isaac and their father Abraham.
The Risca Colliery which finally closed in 1966, leaving the memorial and its graves to be swallowed up by nature on the hillside.
Offender Danny Williams, aged 19, is one of those working at the memorial site where gravestones now rise above the newly-cut grass and where Scots pine and laurel stand sentinel.
He said: 'It’s been a good place to work but we’ve been hard at it, clearing the area, strimming and tidying it up. I’m used to using strimmers so hopefully I’ve been able to do a good job.'
Another offender, Phillip, 21, added: 'It’s been good working here and although it’s been hard I’ve enjoyed it and found it rewarding because we are giving something back to the community.'
Wales Probation Trust Supervisor Ray Mogford said: 'We had asked for suggestions for projects that we could get the offenders involved with on Community Payback and someone had suggested the canal down below and that’s what got us up here.'
Community Payback Manager for Gwent, Mike Mogford, added: 'This is Community Payback in action. It is a constructive form of punishment because the members of the team are making reparation for their wrong doings.
'Everyone’s a winner with this kind of scheme because the offenders are putting something back into the community, the community benefits and the environment is improved.
'We feel that this is just the kind of thing which people want to see offenders doing – making a positive contribution to the community and making a difference.'
To nominate a project please visit the Wales Probabtion Trust website.