THREE moving services have been held to remember the 344 men who lost their lives in one of the country’s worst ever mining disasters.

More than 100 people gathered at the site of the Pretoria Pit disaster, which happened on December, 21, 1910.

A ceremony close to the site on the edge of the Hulton Estate, off Newbrook Road, Atherton, took place to dedicate two memorial stones, which are engraved with the names of the fallen miners.

Bolton West MP Julie Hilling led the ceremony, which involved a poem recital from Andrea Finney, who wrote Where’s Mi Dad, about the tragedy, along with songs from Parkside Colliery Male Voice Choir.

Ms Hilling said: “I think it’s quite hard for us to imagine how the communities were so devastated, the communities of Westhoughton, Atherton and Daisy Hill. Some families lost all of the men in their family, not only a husband, but some a father and their son.

“It’s hard to imagine how cold and hungry people must have been. I think it’s so right that we remember people who worked to build our future.”

The memorial stones were erected after exminer Tony Hogan, from Atherton, whose great grandfather John Austin was one of the victims of the disaster, spent two years campaigning and fundraising for a lasting tribute.

He said: “My mum, Eileen Hogan, told me about the aftermath of the disaster and I have done this for her.

“It all started two years ago when I knocked on Ms Hilling’s door and they have been fully supportive since.

“I visit the site every day. I am so humble, I have told my children and grand-children about what happened — lest we forget.”

Cllr Ryan Battersby, Mayor of Westhoughton, organised a service at 7.40am at the “lone miner” statue in Ditchfield Gardens, which was attended by more than 30 people.

St Bartholomew’s Church in Westhoughton, where a service has been held for more than 20 years to remember those who died, also marked the event.

Cllr Batterbsy said: “There’s not really a family in Westhoughton that isn’t touched by the disaster.”

The Mayor of Bolton, Cllr Guy Harkin, speaking at the memorial stones dedication, said the list of the names of the deceased are still names commonly found in Westhoughton, Daubhill and other areas of Bolton and Atherton.