Warning: This story contains spoilers for season three of The Crown.
If you’re all caught up on The Crown, you might have been somewhat shaken by the third episode of season three. Titled “Aberfan,” the episode gives the viewer a look inside the catastrophic collapse that devastated the community of Aberfan, South Wales, in 1966. The disaster is depicted in detail on The Crown, with the show providing a look at normal life in Aberfan to underscore the severity of the collapse’s effect on the town.
Younger viewers might not know that the tragedy was very real; its effects are still being felt by Aberfan survivors, some of whom still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. If the Aberfan episode of The Crown’s third season moved you, here is the true story about the real-life disaster.
What led to the disaster in Aberfan?
A colliery spoil tip, or a pile of waste material removed during mining, was overlaid atop a natural spring on a mountain slope in Aberfan. Heavy rain led the buildup of water in the tip to turn into a slurry and slide downhill, with fatal consequences.
How many people died?
The slurry caused by the spoil tip’s collapse engulfed the nearby Pantglas Junior School, and the resulting death toll was high; 116 children—half the village’s children, in total—and 28 adults were killed, and an additional six adults and 29 children were injured. “Civil defense teams, miners, policemen, firemen and other volunteers toiled desperately, sometimes tearing at the coal rubble with their bare hands, to extricate the children,” reported the New York Times.
Who was responsible for the catastrophe?
There are several possible answers to this question, but the tip was the official responsibility of the National Coal Board. An official inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Edmund Davies criticized the NCB and its chair, Lord Robens, for not being transparent about their knowledge of the presence of water springs on the hillside, but there was no official censure regarding the landslide. However, the disaster was seen as symptomatic of the monarchy not being sufficiently invested in Wales.
Did Queen Elizabeth II really fail to respond?
Not quite—as pictured on The Crown, the queen sent a message of support to the victims—but she didn’t actually visit Aberfan until eight days after the disaster, sending Prince Philip in her place shortly after the collapse occurred. As seen on The Crown, the queen was criticized for not visiting the site of the tragedy earlier, and these criticisms appeared to stay with her; in 2002 it was reported that the queen had told her former private secretary that not visiting Aberfan immediately after the disaster was “her biggest regret.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue