The Pretoria Pit Disaster – Remembered in perpetuity

2 Dec 2019 02:20
Published by: Daniel Almond


Westhoughton is well-known beyond its boundaries for such positive reasons as the historic Howfen Wakes, the renowned Wingates Band, the much-loved folk group The Houghton Weavers, and a significant coterie of international sportsmen and women, but sadly the town’s name resonates most strongly with innumerable people nationally and internationally for the most negative of reasons The Pretoria Pit Disaster of 1910.

In an instant, at precisely 7:50am on the morning of Wednesday, 21st December, 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 3rd 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.

Saturday, 21st December 2019 marks the 119th anniversary of Pretoria, when there will be three separate memorial services held locally. The first commences at 7:40am at the Centenary Memorial in Ditchfield Gardens, Westhoughton (at the junction of Market Street and Church Street), when the short open-air ceremony includes the symbolic tying of a handkerchief around the neck of the bronze statue of a kneeling miner, followed by the detonation of ‘maroons’ at 7:50am, replicating the precise time of the ill-fated explosion. This short service is followed by the long-established memorial service in St Bartholomew’s Parish Church, commencing at 10am, after which many wreaths will be laid at the marble obelisk in the adjacent churchyard, long perceived as the ‘official’ Pretoria memorial, although in reality it is the mass grave of 24 unidentified bodies.

Finally, at 2pm, there is another open-air service at the memorial site at the end of Broadway, off New Brook Road, Atherton, which has been significantly developed in recent years by member of the Over Hulton and Atherton communities.


For members of Westhoughton Local History Group (WLHG), perpetuating 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.

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.


Westhoughton Local History Group meets on the first and third Thursdays of each month on the upper-level of Westhoughton Library, from 10am to noon.


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