In its three seasons, The Crown has educated many of its viewers on events that their history books may have skipped, such as the Profumo affair, the Great Smog of 1952, and the life and death of Princess Alice. “Aberfan,” the third episode of season 3, tells the story of a particularly horrifying day in U.K. history: The Aberfan mining disaster, which killed over 100 children at the Pantaglas Junior High School.
The Netflix series also attempts to explain why it took eight days for the queen to pay a visit to the site of the tragedy. Here’s what really happened at the Aberfan disaster portrayed on The Crown, and how Queen Elizabeth II reportedly feels about her reaction years later.
How did the Aberfan disaster happen?
It was a Friday morning on October 21, 1966, shortly after 9:00 a.m. In the South Wales coal mining village of Aberfan, students at the Pantglas Junior School had just began their day’s lessons after singing the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” as they did on every other school day before it.
And then, as a woman who lost both her brother and sister in the disaster told England’s Channel 4 News in 2016, there was “just a traumatic loud, loud banging noise, and it just got louder and louder and louder. Something was coming.” The approaching sound was in fact a landslide of liquified coal waste descending down a mountain slope above, and it decimated several farm cottages on the slope before it reached the school.
There had been weeks of heavy rainfall in the village, according to The Independent, and rainwater had saturated the colliery tip. For those whose knowledge of mining could fit in a thimble (ahem), a colliery tip is a pile made of spoil—a.k.a. coal mining waste material—and the rain buildup caused that particular colliery tip to collapse.
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