Skip to main content

Pretoria Pit Disaster 1910

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of Britain’s third worst mining disaster, which took place on 21st December 1910 in the parish of Westhoughton, around five miles from Bolton, Lancashire.

Four days before Christmas, on Wednesday 21st December 1910, 889 miners arrived for work at the No. 3 and 4 Bank Pit of the Hulton Colliery Company in Westhoughton. Known as the Pretoria Pit, the mine operated five seams. No 3 Pit worked the Plodder, Yard and Three Quarters Mines. No 4 Pit worked the Trencherbone, Three Quarters and Arley Mines, and was connected to the No 3 shaft at the level of the Yard Mine. At 7.50 a.m. a huge explosion swept through the Yard Mine, killing all but two of the men and boys who were working there. The shaft to No 4 and ventilation fans were damaged, causing access problems and danger of gas. There were only two survivors in the Yard Mine, Joe Staveley and William Davenport, who were found alive by the rescue team.

In the wake of the blast, afterdamp, a toxic mixture of gases created by the explosion, swept through the mines, killing Richard Clayton in Arley Mine. Survivors from No 4 Pit were brought to the surface and tended to by doctors and nurses who had been called urgently to the pithead. Some of the nurses and other volunteers would stay by the pit, working for up to fifty hours.

Crowds gathered at the pit, anxiously awaiting news of their family and friends. The Chief Inspector of Mines for Lancashire, Mr J. Gerrard, rushed to the scene. The mine's General Manager, Alfred Tonge, led the first exploration and rescue attempt using the only working cage in the No 4 shaft. He and other rescuers spent four hours in the pit searching for survivors and putting out small fires. William Turton, a fireman, was ordered into the mine by the General Manager to put out a small fire. Almost immediately, he was killed by the afterdamp. Other rescue volunteers came from the Howe Bridge Rescue Station of the Lancashire and Cheshire Coal Owners’ Association. The members of the rescue party were later awarded the King Edward Medal for their bravery.

King George V sent a message of condolence as it became clear that this was one of the worst mining disasters in decades. The Bishop of Manchester visited in the afternoon and conducted a service on the embankment next to the pit. By the end of Wednesday, everyone knew that over 300 lives had been lost. Some would wait throughout the night to watch bodies being brought to the surface. This process would take weeks as some bodies were only recovered as late as February 1911.

Next came the grim process of identification. Day by day, more bodies were brought from the mine. A small number of bodies were too badly damaged to be identified. Most of the men and boys who died lived at Westhoughton, Bolton, and nearby Atherton. Their families all suffered in different ways. Some women lost not only their husbands, but also their sons in the disaster. The Times declared that a Mrs Darbyshire lost her father, husband and two brothers. However, Peter Wood from the LAN-OPC Pretoria Pit Disaster website has pointed out that no-one called Darbyshire was killed. He suggests that the woman may have been Mrs Darlington (nee Eccleston), whose father, husband and two brothers were killed.

By using the ‘Grave details’ section on the database, you can identify other members of a family who died on the same day and were buried in the same grave, such as Thomas and Sydney Delafield. They were buried on different days at Westhoughton Cemetery and are found in different parts of the burial register.

This page in the burial register of Westhoughton Cemetery shows the entries of Sydney Delafield and of seven unidentified colliers

Overall, there were 344 fatalities at the Pretoria Pit. Criticisms were later made over the safety of the mine, the presence of gas, and the use of too many young firemen in the colliery. A full list of the victims can be found at the Lancashire Online Parish Clerk’s website: http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Westhoughton/Pretoria/index.html This also gives details of the burial places of the victims. Most of the victims lived in Westhoughton. 171 victims were buried at Westhoughton Cemetery, but others can be found in the DOL database in nearby grounds, such as Heaton Cemetery.

Register of Heaton Cemetery showing a victim of the Pretoria Pit disaster

Twenty-four bodies remained unidentified were buried in a vault at Westhoughton Cemetery; their names were entered into the burial register as ‘Unknown’. Eight were later identified from clothing and property but not reinterred.

As with the explosion at the Woolwich Arsenal a few years before, a Relief Fund was set up. Contributions were received from the King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, the Lord Mayor of London, several MPs and leading industrialists. 

The Memorial at Westhoughton Cemetery

Almost a year after the disaster, on 24 November 1911, a beautiful memorial was unveiled at Westhoughton Cemetery. It reads:

Sacred
to the memory of
344 MEN AND BOYS WHO LOST
THEIR LIVES BY AN EXPLOSION
AT THE PRETORIA PIT OF THE
HULTON COLLIERY CO. ON
THE 21ST DECEMBER 1910, 24
OF WHOM SLEEP UNDER THIS
MONUMENT, BEING UNIDENTIFIED
AT THE TIME OF BURIAL.
THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED
BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION, AS A
TOKEN OF SYMPATHY WITH
THE WIDOWS AND RELATIVES
OF THE VICTIMS, 171 OF WHOM
ARE BURIED IN THIS CEMETERY,
45 IN WINGATES, 20 IN DAISY
HILL, 3 IN THE CONGREGATIONAL
CHURCHYARDS, AND THE
REMAINDER IN VARIOUS
BURIAL GROUNDS.

"BE YE THEREFORE READY ALSO,
FOR THE SON OF MAN COOMETH
AT AN HOUR WHEN YE THINK NOT."
St Luke XII. 40.

The entire set of records for all seven cemeteries managed by Bolton Council are now on the Deceased Online website. All of them feature cemetery maps to help find grave locations, as well as grave details and digital scans of burial registers.

Sources:
Many thanks to Peter Wood of the LAN-OPC Pretoria Pit Disaster site who has clarified several details in this post. The website has been very well researched and is warmly recommended for those who want to learn more about this disaster.

"The Story Of The Disaster." Times [London, England] 22 Dec. 1910: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"The Story Of The Disaster." Times [London, England] 22 Dec. 1910: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"The Lancashire Colliery Accident." Times [London, England] 27 Dec. 1910: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"The Lancashire Colliery Disaster." Times [London, England] 29 Dec. 1910: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

London's Spa Fields

Deceased Online has just uploaded around 114,000 burial records from Spa Fields in the modern London borough of Islington Spa Fields today, with the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer in the background Spa Fields Burial Ground became notorious in the 19th century for its overcrowded and insanitary conditions. Located in the parish of St James, Clerkenwell, the grave yard was not far from the ever-increasing City of London. Spa Fields was known also as Clerkenwell Fields and Ducking-pond Fields in the late 18th century, hinting at a dark side to what was then a summer evening resort for north Londoners. What would become a cemetery was a ducking pond in the rural grounds of a Spa Fields public house. It was here in 1683 that six children were drowned while playing on the ice. In his History of Clerkenwell (1865) William J. Pinks wrote that visitors, "came hither to witness the rude sports that were in vogue a century ago, such as duck-hunting, prize-fighting, bull-baiting

Wakefield Collection: Cremation Records now available on Deceased Online

Records for both crematoria in Wakefield, Yorkshire have been added to the Deceased Online database Above: Pontefract Crematorium The two sets of crematoria records have been added to Deceased Online 's Wakefield Collection .  Wakefield district contains nineteen cemeteries and two crematoria. Many of the records go back to the mid and late 19th century when the cemeteries opened, and range across a wide geographical area. The full list of  Wakefield  cemeteries live on Deceased Online,  with opening dates in brackets,   is as follows: 1.  Altofts Cemetery  – Church Road, Altofts, Normanton  (1878)   2.  Alverthorpe Cemetery  – St Paul’s Drive, Alverthorpe, Wakefield  (registers from 1955) 3. Castleford Cemetery  – Headfield Road, Castleford  (1857) 4.  Crigglestone Cemetery  – Standbridge Lane, Crigglestone, Wakefield  (1882) 5. Featherstone Cemetery  – Cutsyke Road, North Featherstone  (1874) 6. Ferrybridge Cemetery  – Pontefract Road, Ferrybridge, P

Churck (Rock) Cemetery, Nottingham

Coming soon to the Deceased Online database: two historic cemeteries from Nottingham City Council to add to the Nottingham Collection . This week, I explore the history of the renowned Church Cemetery (also known as the Rock Cemetery) . At first glance, the modern visitor to Nottingham's Church Cemetery may think they have wandered into Kensal Green , or another of London's Magnificent Seven cemeteries. The 13 acre site abounds with the kind of gothic stone monuments and large sarcophogi with which the mid-Victorians liked to remember their dead. Yet look harder and you will find something unique to Nottingham - sandstone caves. Since the middle ages, the area around Nottingham was quarried for its sandstone, now known by the name of a nearby village as "Bulwell sandstone". From 1851, after the cemetery was laid out on the former sandpits, local people grew to know it simply as "The Rock".  Church Cemetery Otherwise known as the Rock Cemetery on a