Ex-miner spearheads new pit disaster tribute

Former miner Tony Hogan
Former miner Tony Hogan

MINERS lost in one of the country’s worst ever pit disasters are being remembered with a poignant new symbol.

MP Julie Hilling will host an event on Friday at Pretoria Memorial Wood to dedicate memorial stones which pay tribute to every miner who lost his life in the infamous mine explosion.

The event will be a fitting dedication to Tony Hogan, a former Parsonage pitman for whom erecting and siting the memorial stones has been a two-year labour of love.

He has a personal reason for his tireless drive to see the project completed: his great-grandad, John Austin, was killed in the mining disaster.

Mr Hogan knocked on the then newly elected MP Ms Hilling’s door to outline his plans for the site shortly after her election before the centenary in 2010 and enlisted her firm support.

Ceremonies have been held at the site, between Atherton and Westhoughton, for the past two years.

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

They 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.

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

Mr Hogan has 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 have helped with the flowers and donated the bench, while all the groundworks have been completed by supporter David Partington over the past two years.

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.”

The event will be a dedication of the two stones bearing each of the fallen miners’ names.

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

There will be songs from Parkside Colliery Choir, prayers and Andrea Finney will read her moving poem.

Mr Hogan, who since retiring as a miner has helped to keep the memory of Parsonage alive by organising re-unions of mineworkers, at his home 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 door step so we owe it to them to mark their passing.”