AN eyewitness account of the aftermath of the Pretoria Pit disaster has turned up, nearly 100 years after the event.
The 11-page document was unearthed as final preparations are made for this weekend’s service to remember the miners who lost their lives.
In total, 344 men and boys died in an explosion at the Hulton Colliery in Westhoughton on December 21, 1910.
A remembrance service will be held at St Bartholomew’s Church, in Market Street, at 10am tomorrow.
The newly-discovered account was written by an anonymous man who accompanied the rescue team and appears to be a draft of an engineer or investigator’s report on the catastrophe.
The writer details the exploration of the North jig of the mine after the explosion, including the finding of 12 bodies, and goes on to discuss how the explosion could have happened.
Some details are terribly poignant — he tells of how a boy killed in the explosion was found lying in a wagon with his food still wrapped in his handkerchief beside him — yet others are highly pragmatic — he admires the working of the “new Fleuss apparatus”, suggesting an engineer’s eye for mechanics.
Towards the end of his report he writes: “The final explanation of the explosion is practically accomplished. Everything points to it in my belief.
“I heard a whisper that the lamps were no good for detecting gas and a complaint that they do not go out in gas but rather burn brighter. This is a most vital point and if true every lamp wants destroying and get fresh ones.”
The document is currently in the possession of Fred Sharples, aged 81, from Westhoughton. It is on loan from a friend in Blackrod, who believes it was originally owned by her aunt.
Mr Sharples, a retired teacher and councillor, said: “I’m old enough to remember when the pits were working and lots of other people were killed, but it’s just fascinating to see the detail in this.
“I haven’t seen anything else that is specifically about being there. There’s still a strong connection between Westhoughton and the disaster — it’s the worst thing that’s happened to the town, worse even than the World Wars.”
Of the 347 miners working in the pit, just three survived the explosion, which is believed to be the largest loss of life in an accident in any English pit.
Investigations found that it was caused by a roof fall underground which trapped the miners and caused methane gas to escape into the shafts. The gas was then ignited by a damaged safety lamp, triggering the explosion.
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