Making sure borough pit disaster will never be forgotten

Andrew Bullen, collator of the book with Brian Rawsthorne, Golborne disaster survivor and Eric Foster from Golborne ex-miners
Andrew Bullen, collator of the book with Brian Rawsthorne, Golborne disaster survivor and Eric Foster from Golborne ex-miners

The terrible events that rocked a borough mining community four decades ago are being told once more in a new book being released to mark the anniversary.

The Golborne Colliery Disaster: 40 Years Remembrance has been put together telling how 10 lives were lost in a devastating explosion at the pit in 1979, and the aftermath of the tragedy.

Written in tribute to those who died and their families, the book contains accounts of the disaster and the life of miners in Golborne, as well as sharing memories from those who were there that day and those who have lived with the consequences.

Author Andrew Bullen has collated an impressive amount of material with the support of Eric Foster, the secretary and treasurer of Golborne Ex-Miners.

Brian Rawsthorne, who suffered 56 per cent burns in the disaster and needed 34 hospital operations, is also among those who have told their stories for the book, which is released next month.

Mr Bullen, from Ashton, said: “It’s so important the children and grandchildren of those who suffered get the story of what happened to their ancestors.

“It was my desire to make sure these stories were told. It’s not about me, though, it’s about the people who died and survived.

“There are lots of things in there even the families didn’t know. When we got more than one person in a room they always said they were finding out new things.

“This 40th anniversary has been fantastic. It has allowed those affected to talk to one another and ease their minds about things they share.”

The book was originally going to be a pamphlet around 15 pages long, but once Andrew started speaking to people about their memories it was clear the final work would be somewhat more ambitious.

In the end, there are more than 80 pages of historical background, descriptions of the disaster itself, references to the inquests and safety reports produced in the wake of the explosion and testimonies from rescuers, friends and families.

Few of those stories are as dramatic as that of Mr Rawsthorne, who was a 20-year-old apprentice electrician on the day of the explosion and had to spent

18 weeks in hospital after being brought to the surface.

He told of coming to terms with the fact he lived when other families were torn apart forever, and the importance of committing what happened that day to print.

Mr Rawsthorne, 60, said: “My overwhelming feeling because that came out of the day until recently was a tremendous guilt that I survived and 10 people didn’t.

“Every time we went to the memorial I had that at the back of my mind: why did I survive?

“My physical scars healed up but mentally I didn’t begin to heal until last year when a social media page was set up and ex-miners and their families joined from all over the country and as far afield as Australia. We started talking to each other.

“Talking to Andrew for the book has really helped me, but for me the best thing is seeing the things the families have put in there.

“They were mostly children, I think the eldest was about 15 and some were as young as four, and they went most of their lives with no dad.

“I thought if they were brave enough to come on board and have their input into the book then I had to include my experience as well.”

All the research, which took around six months to put together into its final form, will also be put in the borough’s archives for future generations of historians and residents.

In the run-up to the 40-year commemorations school pupils in the borough have received visits to teach them about the area’s mining past.

Mr Foster, who is also a former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) official, says he is delighted by the interest in local industrial history, and hailed the new book as an important part of the 40th anniversary commemorations.

He said: “I’m really proud of the book and Golborne Ex-Miners are deeply indebted to Andrew for working so hard and so long on it.

“We are supplying a bit of history to educate future generations about mining, something we think a great deal of.

“We are reaching out to everybody to remember the lives of the men who went down the pit and those who have gone, not just in the explosion.

“We want to bring the community together, promote local mining history and put some pride and life back into Golborne.

“First and foremost this anniversary and this book is to remember the 10 lads who were killed and their families.”

Mr Bullen said he was very clear when putting the book together how he wanted the account of the disaster and what happened afterwards to be read.

He said: “I don’t want anybody taking the blame. I want to share the experiences of the disaster in Golborne which affected the local community.

“Here is a chance to read what people have said about it and to sympathise with them.

“It’s a story about building up resilience to the things that happened in life and how they have coped with them.”

The book will be launched at a special event at Golborne Library on Tanners Lane on Tuesday, August 6 at 10am.

Copies will then go on sale priced at £4.