Pretoria Pit Disaster
The Pretoria Pit disaster was a mining accident that occurred on 21 December 1910, when there was an underground explosion at the Hulton Bank Colliery No. 3 Pit, known as the Pretoria Pit, in Over Hulton, Westhoughton, then in the historic county of Lancashire, in North West England. A total of 344 men lost their lives.
There were approximately 2500 workers employed by the Hulton Colliery Company in 1910. On the morning of 21 December, approximately 900 workers arrived for the day shift. They were working five coal seams of the Manchester Coalfield; the Trencherbone, Plodder, Yard, Three-Quarters and Arley mines.
At 7:50am, there was an explosion in the Plodder Mine, which was thought to have been caused by an accumulation of gas from a roof collapse the previous day.
That day 349 workers descended the No 3 bank pit shaft to work in the Plodder, Yard and Three Quarters mines. Of those, only four survived to be brought to the surface. One died immediately and one the next day. The two survivors were Joseph Staveley and William Davenport. In addition one man died in the Arley Mine of No. 4 Pit, bringing the total to 344. There was a final fatality that day, William Turton, who died while fighting a fire in No. 3 pit. The men who were working the other mines in the pit worked from No.4 shaft were unharmed.
This was the second worst mining accident in England, and the third worst in Britain.
Many of the fatalities were from the same family. The worst affected was the Tyldesley family in which Mrs Miriam Tyldesley lost her husband, four sons and two brothers. A relief fund was established for the families and dependents and a total of £145,000 was raised. In 1911, dependents were compensated and given annuities from a number of sources (including the fund). All the victims were members of Permanent Relief Societies to which they paid contributions weekly and most had private life insurance with friendly societies and all were covered by the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1906 which brought together all (except the private insurance) the compensation to produce a lump sum and annuity for the dependents.
John Baxter was the last recipient of payments from the Hulton Colliery Explosion (1910) Relief Fund when he died in January 1973 (The Westhoughton Journal 26 Jan 1973). The fund was dissolved in 1975 and the remaining assets transferred to other miners' relief funds.
There is a memorial to the victims in Westhoughton cemetery. A memorial service is held there each year and a selection of artifacts from the disaster is displayed in Westhoughton Central Library. A statue opposite Westhoughton church by Jane Robbins was unveiled on 19 December 2010 almost 100 years after the disaster.
On 19 December 2008, an account of the Pretoria Pit disaster was discovered, written anonymously by a man who accompanied the rescue team.
The locomotive which brought the coal from the pit to Westhoughton is kept in the compound of the local recycling company.
A play, Sleep, Comrade Sleep, was written and performed in 2005 by the staff and students of Westhoughton High School and reprised for the centennial in 2010.
- "HULTON No. 8. Pretoria Pit. Atherton, Lancashire. 21st. December, 1910." (PDF). The Coalmining History Research Centre. pp. 62–78. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
- "Pretoria Pit Disaster". LOPC. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- "Pretoria Pit". Bolton.org. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
- "Pretoria pit disaster memories revealed". The Bolton News (Newsquest Media Group). 19 December 2008. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
- http://clc2.uniservity.com/GroupHomepage.asp?GroupId=278528 Westhoughton High School
- The Pretoria Pit Disaster LANOPC
- Bolton Museum & Archive Service
- Joseph Shearer Staveley, Pretoria Pit Survivor
- Eyewitness account of the Disaster
- Pretoria Disaster grave photographs
- 344 - A Story of the Pretoria Pit Disaster by Andrea Jane Finney