The Pretoria Pit disaster was a mining accident on 21 December 1910, when an underground explosion occurred at the Hulton Bank Colliery No. 3 Pit, known as the Pretoria Pit, in Over Hulton, Westhoughton,
The Pretoria disaster happened as the day shift started work at a mine complex which employed 2,500 people. A build-up of gas in the Yard mine was ignited, causing an explosion which was heard two miles away
The floors shake and the sound is heard above the noise of the machines. What's happened? No one knows. Then in comes the over looker, foreman or manager to say "Sorry, but I've got to tell you there's been an explosion at Pretoria Pit. If any of you have relatives working there, get home to find out what's happened and if they're alright".
The pit was part of the collieries owned by the Hultons, known as number 3 bank pit. Not a very old one, it consisted of two shafts. These were no 3, or the up cast, sunk in 1900 and no 4, the down cast, sunk in 1901. The shaft were 75 yards apart and the numbers working there at the time were 344 in number three and 545 in number four. There were five coal seems being worked, Trencherbone, Plodder, Yard, Three-quarter and the deepest, the Arley, at 434 yards. The manager Mr Tongue describes the scene when he arrived at the pit-head. "There was smoke coming out of the upcast shaft making it impossible to travel down and the cage was stuck in the downcast."
The Howe Bridge rescue team, from near Leigh, were informed at five past eight and, after getting all their equipment together, they reached the scene thirty-five minutes later at 8.40am.
This was very good indeed. Later they ware highly recommended for their efficiency and speed under the charge of Sergeant Major Hill. At the pit there were five men qualified in the use of rescue equipment, such as breathing apparatus. Only one was available at the time, but during the rescue 148 trained men were used, prior to this disaster, owners and managers of the collieries around the country had been sceptical about rescue teams, for nothing was known about them. The Howe Bridge team proved to be a necessity. So despite the catastrophe of 1910 resulting in a great loss of life, it did prove the value of organised rescues.
It was the first time, according to reports, that a team of men had been used in this way. They cleared the cage from the downcast and made away to get out the entombed men. Those men in the no 4 were all got out, some slightly injured some suffering from fumes, they were the Trencherbone and Arley mines, but the explosion had occurred in the number 3. Only one came out alive, a youth aged 15. He was found with his clothing and hair blown off and lived for a short time when brought to the surface. Another man had a lucky escape. According to the Bolton Evening News the day after the disaster, the man from Churchbank Bolton had got up late. His wife said "Never mind have a day off for the new year it was making up day yesterday". He found out later that day that his workmates had been killed at the coal.
A long and detailed enquiry found out what had caused the explosion. It seems that a large fault traversed the mineral track from east to west and at right angles. This allowed three seams to be worked at one level in the no 3 shaft. These were the Plodder, Three-quarter and the Yard. It was at this level that the explosion had occurred, originating at a point where the men had been working on an existing fall. This was near the farthest intake airway for no 2 face on the north Plodder. A second fall took place, setting free an amount of gas. This in turn, was set alight by a lamp either becoming over heated as it fell through the gas, or by being damaged by a fall of stone. Dust then carried the explosion into the main haulage road and through the rest of the mine in a matter of minutes. This dry dust, which had transmitted the explosion, was stated to be common in Lancashire mines.
Afterwards, a fund was set up to help the widows, orphans and dependent of what was, up to then, the worst tragedy to date in the mining industry. A memorial was erected over the spot where most of the bodies where found. But these do not compensate for the tragic loss hundreds of families in the area endured.
The Pretoria Pit explosion on December 21, 1910, was one of the worst mining disaster in British history, with 344 men and boys losing their lives.
Pretoria Pit Disaster 1910 - Howe Bridge Rescue Station Team
Pretoria Pit Disaster fundraising wagon.