A LOW-key approach has been taken to the 110th anniversary of the area's worst-ever mining disaster.

Three hundred and forty-four men and boys lost their lives in the 1910 Pretoria Pit tragedy, following an underground explosion on December 21.

And each year services have taken place in Westhoughton and Atherton to pay tribute to their memories.

But pandemic restrictions and social distancing have put paid to any such large-scale gatherings for 2020.

In past years Westhoughton Town Council has been behind commemorations, including one at the centenary memorial in Ditchfield Garden.

A church service has still taken place at St Bartholomew's CE, where a separate memorial to the dead, who were mainly from the Westhoughton area, also stands.

An official inquiry, in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, found that there had been a large roof collapse the day before.

This is said to have led to a build-up of gas, which had been ignited by a faulty lamp in the pit, which was officially known as Hulton Colliery.

The only two mining disasters with more fatalities were at Caerphilly (439) in 1913 and Barnsley (383) in 1866.

Earlier this month Garth Ratcliffe, the vice-chairman of Westhoughton Local History Group, who knows of four ancestors who perished there, gave an illustrated talk on the disaster, to keep the memories of the 344 alive.

The history group has also reprinted a 50-page paperback on the tragedy, compiled by the late Pam Clarke, details of which can be obtained by e-mailing howfenhistory@gmail.com