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Special display reunites historic ceremonial spades

1 February 2017

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Two historic ceremonial spades with a close connection to North Wales have been reunited for the first time in over a century for a special display at Wrexham County Borough Museum & Archives.

The two ornate oak and silver spades were used at a special ceremony at Acton Grange, near Wrexham, on 6 November 1907. The directors of the United Westminster and Wrexham Collieries Co. had hired two special rail cars to transport VIPs and other guests to what would become the pitheads of the Dennis and Martin shafts of Gresford Colliery.

The ceremony was the traditional ceremonial cutting of the first sod prior to work beginning on sinking the new shafts. The directors presented a spade to Sir Theodore Martin, chairman of the company and close friend of Queen Victoria, and to Mrs Mabel Dennis, wife of Henry Dyke Dennis, the managing director and invited them to cut the first sods of each shaft, which were respectively named after them.

The ‘Dennis’ spade was later given to the Denbighshire Technical Institute, now Wrexham Glyndwr University, by Ithel Kelly, the last manager of Gresford Colliery, following the closure of that pit in 1973.

The ‘Martin’ spade was in private hands until it recently appeared at auction and was purchased by Wrexham County Borough Council with the generous support of the Friends of Wrexham Museums.

Councillor Hugh Jones, Lead Member for Communities and Regeneration, said “It is rare that two spades should have such an important position in the heritage of any community. However, these two 110 year old spades started the sinking of a colliery at Gresford whose name is known around the world.

"It is extremely fortunate that we were able to bring the ‘Martin’ spade back from England and reunite it with its pair for this display. I would like to thank the Vice-Chancellor of Glyndŵr University, Professor Maria Hinfelaar, and the Friends of Wrexham Museums for making this possible.

Since its return, the ‘Martin’ spade has already attracted the interest of the media, appearing in a programme on the ‘Yesterday’ channel."

David Elcock, Director of Finance, Wrexham Glyndŵr University, said: “Wrexham Glyndŵr University is pleased to assist in the display of the Gresford Colliery spades. The university in its early days was closely connected to the mining industry locally through the training courses delivered at the then Denbighshire Technical College.

"I am sure the display will be of great interest to those with an interest in the area’s mining heritage and to the many people with a family connection to the colliery.”

For more information, please contact the museum: 01978 297 460