Victory follows long relatives’ campaign

Pretoria Pit disaster memorial to those who died in 1910 - Tony Hogan with the memorial
Pretoria Pit disaster memorial to those who died in 1910 - Tony Hogan with the memorial

IT is one of the darkest-ever chapters in British mining history.

When the huge explosion had finished its deadly race through the galleries deep under the headgear of Pretoria pit, 350 men and boys had died.

Now the victims have been individually remembered ... after a campaign by a former miner whose own great grandad was claimed by the disaster.

Atherton MP Julie Hilling unveiled engraved stones positioned in the Memorial Wood which was itself formally dedicated on the centenary of the explosion in 2010.

But it was truly also a source of great pride for Tony Hogan, an ex Parsonage face worker and great grandson of victim John Austin, for who erecting and siting the stones has been a two-year labour of love.

Mr Hogan knocked on the then newly elected MP Ms Hilling’s door to outline his plans almost immediately after she was elected to enlist her firm support.

Ceremonies have been held at the site, between the towns of Atherton and Westhoughton but with many Wigan victims, for the past two years.

The two stones have been added to the simple marker that was originally put in place by the late former Wigan MP Roger Stott.

They now carry the names and ages of all 350 men and boys killed in the catastrophic explosion that ripped through Pretoria colliery on December 21, 102 years ago.

Mr Hogan, who lives in Hillside Avenue, Atherton, said: “It is important that the memory of all those lost is kept alive for future generations.

“There were quite a lot of young boys killed which is very striking but then, when you reached the age of 13 living around here 100 years ago, it was a choice of the pits, the mills or the bolt makers and nothing else.

“Pretoria was the third biggest mining disaster in the history of the British industry and it was right here on our doorstep so we owe it to them to mark their passing.”

The ceremony was conducted by MP Ms Hilling and the dedication of the stones will be done by Rev Gary Lawson and Rev John Howard Norman.

Mr Hogan had enlisted the support of Peel Holdings, Viridor Credits, Abbey Funeral Care, The Co-operative Funeral Care and Lancashire Area National Union of Mineworkers.

He has also received support from Philip Harrison Ornamental Ironworks in Westhoughton, which has constructed the gates at cost price only, along with Gerald Butler and committee of the Atherton charity football cup competition. Terry Daly, Keith Sumner and the Bridger’s community group helped with the flowers and donated the bench, with groundworks completed by supporter David Partington.

Ms Hilling said: “I have nothing but admiration for Tony and all that he has achieved at the Pretoria Memorial Wood.

“It is a tribute to his tenacity, and the community spirit of all who have helped him, that the stones have been erected and the site is in such good condition to host this special event.”

It also serves as a thank you to all those, she said, that have helped Mr Hogan achieve his goal.

There were songs, appropriately enough, from Parkside Colliery Choir, prayers, while Andrea Finney read her moving poem of dedication to the lost colliers.

On that fateful day in 1910, more than 900 of the 2,500 workers employed by the Hulton Colliery Company arrived for the day shift, working five coal seams of the Manchester Coalfield.

The fatal explosion was in the Plodder Mine, which was thought to have been caused by an accumulation of gas from a roof collapse the previous day, would claim all but four of the shift.