ALMOST 900 men and boys went to work at the Pretoria Pit on December 21,1910 - 344 never returned home.

In an instant, 344 men and boys (the youngest just 13) lost their lives as a result of an underground explosion, making it the second worst disaster in British coal-mining history, until it was relegated to third place just three years later, following the Universal Colliery disaster at Senghenydd, in South Wales.

The magnitude of the Pretoria disaster was such that its impact and aftermath will never be forgotten, with each anniversary of the tragedy being commemorated locally with just as much fervour, sincerity and poignancy as the commemorations of the two World Wars.

For members of Westhoughton Local History Group (WLHG), retelling the Pretoria story is a never-ending project, with new information regularly coming to light, and being carefully documented in the group’s archive collection. WLHG played a leading role in the multi-faceted centenary commemorations in 2010, when one of the six Pretoria-related publications that year was a booklet authored by the group’s late president, Pamela Clarke, entitled: 344 Victims of Pretoria Pit – Some Facts. Having proved extremely popular, the booklet sold out some time ago, but in response to continuing requests for it, it has now been re-printed.

WLHG chairman, David Kaye, said: “Pam was arguably the most prolific of the many fine local historians whose collective works have so comprehensively documented Westhoughton’s long and fascinating history.

“Our inspiration president was taken from us in cruel and untimely fashion, but her memory is perpetuated by her incomparable legacy. Continuing requests for this succinct summary of the tragic events of December 1910 have prompted this reprint and Pam would have been thrilled.”

The 52-page booklet provides a succinct and superb overview of the somewhat complex Pretoria story, (including a comprehensive list of all the victims, their ages, occupations and places of birth), and hence is of particular interest to the younger generation, and local schools. Copies of the booklet (price £4) can be ordered via email ( or by calling 01204 696984/07970 131460.