Abram remembers pit disaster victims

William Wolsey was one of the lucky ones. He hadn't thought so before the terrible explosion that killed 75 men and boys deep under the headgear of Abram's Maypole Colliery 100 years ago.

William had lost a foot in a haulage rope accident some years before, so colliery owners Pearson and Knowles had put him to work, on less money, in the pit bank weighhouse tallying the tubs of coal which would record a collier's pay as they were disgorged.

When the blast shot through the cannel mine and then up the shaft into daylight it literally blew the wooden weigh-house building from around him.

Astonishingly, he escaped with little more than shock and bruises.

He was one of the men remembered yesterday, particularly by his daughter, 77-year-old Margaret Lange nee Wolsey as she reflected by the memorial monument to the lost miners during Sunday's moving centenary rededication service.

The physical affects on the village (and even as far away as Ireland) were profound and would last for generations which may give a clue as to why more than 1,000 relatives, descendants and friends, led by Tyldesley Brass Band and Parkside Colliery Male Voice Choir, filled the large procession of remembrance.

Former Navy Minister in the Callaghan Government, Sir Patrick Duffy – who was born in Warrington Road, Abram and who also lost a relative in the blast – had earlier unveiled a stone memorial to the lost miners co-funded by Bloor Homes, the developers whose housing estate now completely covers the former pit site.

He was a close Parliamentary friend of Makerfield MP Ian McCartney who was born in the Scottish village of Kirkintilloch which is home to the worst mine disaster north of the border.

Mayor of Wigan, Coun Rona Winkworth, also welcomed a delegation from County Mayo headed by their Cathaoirleach (Mayor) Coun Joe Mellett who laid a wreath to specifically honour 13 of the tragic miners who had emigrated from rural Ireland to escape desperate economic conditions only to be claimed in the disaster. There will be a similar ceremony in the West of Ireland next month.

The rededication service was led by the Vicar of Abram, the Rev Canon June Steventon on behalf of organisers Abram Community Link, who provided the stewarding.

The infamous Maypole blast, caused by the miner's number one enemy, firedamp (methane), instantly made 44 women widows and robbed more than 120 children of their fathers and, in these pre-social security times, a bread winner.

Mrs Lange, of Warrington Road, was herself was the daughter of one of the famed Lancashire pit brow lassies.

And she would venture down the rebuilt Maypole pit – it lived on until 1959 – herself as a teenager just before the outbreak of the Second World War in an unofficial descent arranged by her father.

She said: "It felt strange going down to where so many men had lost their lives and I was glad when it was time to get back up to the light again.

"With my mother working on the brow where she had met my father, I was brought up with pits as were most people in Abram at that time and working at a colliery was the natural thing to do.

"But the explosion stayed with people and the first thing I did when I got married and moved into my own house was made sure that the gas was taken out straight away because I never trusted it after what it did to Abram."

Click next page for more ...Retired precision engineer Brian Robinson, 64, had travelled from the Fylde Coast to Abram to take part in the historic occasion.

His late grandfather once ran the village butchers shop.

But in 1908 the ominous pawl of smoke over Maypole would mean his family had lost three in the blast: great uncle Ozias Robinson, plus two great uncles by marriage, the late Robert Pimblett and Thomas H Pimblett. He said: "My nephew did our family tree and it fills me with pride to see what my surviving relations had thrown at them and how they overcame it.

"Life in the mines at the time with no tea breaks, no toilets and no hospitals certainly puts the whinging today about a nine-to-five 40-hour week in some warm and comfortable office or factory into perspective.

"I think that the number of people here at the centenary is absolutely fantastic and a fitting tribute to all those lost in the disaster."

Abram Bevin Boy Samuel Weigh, 83, from Warrington Road was conscripted into the mines but ended up enjoying the camaraderie so much he would spend the following 20 years or so beneath Mains colliery and latterly Maypole pitheads.

He said he was also marching behind the relatives of those taken by the "widowmaker" as a mark of respect for the loss of industry and what he believes it did for our area.

Mr Weigh remembers opening his bedroom curtains as a young man to see a forrest of pitheads on the skyline dotted around Abram.

He said: "It doesn't do to dwell too much when you are underground and at the Maypole later we didn't talk too much about the explosion.

"But I remember the part of the mine where the fire was had been walled off but there was a length of copper tube shoved through a hole which would be pulled out every now and again to check the temperature.

"It was still red hot years and years afterwards."

Mining historian Geoff Jones of Astley Green Colliery Museum, who also lives in Abram, told the gathering: "The true cost of coal can only be measured in the loss of lives it has caused over the decades."