Pretoria Pit Disaster
The explosion occurred at 7.50am on 21 Dec 1910, originating at the west end of North Plodder No.2 coal face, some 640 yards (580m) NNW of No.3 Pit, under the fields north of Wood End Farm on the Hulton estates.
The official report into the disaster concluded that a damaged safety lamp ignited gas (methane/firedamp) pouring from an extensive roof fall. The exploding gas triggered a devastating coal dust explosion that propagated through the brows, levels and jigs of No.3 Pit , reaching all the Plodder, Yard and Three Quarters coal faces. The furthest distance from the ignition point was almost a mile away, in the Yard Mine Downbrow District, some 1025 yards (940m) to the SSE of No.3 Pit, where men were driving a heading beneath the Atherton-Bolton road.
The official total of 344 deaths, comprising 328 colliery employees and 16 contractors and their staff, was set on 30 Dec 1910 some 6 weeks before the last body to be found was recovered. The Lancashire & Cheshire Miners Federation compiled a register of victims for relief fund use, and the BEN published this ‘complete’ list on 30 Dec 1910.
There is no reasonable doubt that more than 300 lives have been lost in the disaster at Pretoria Pit.
"There is not a single shadow of hope that there is a man in the pit alive," said Mr. Gerrard, the Inspector Mines. Rescue parties were in the pit all night, and they have been working ceaselessly throughout the day, but they have seen no sign of life or anything that could lead them to suppose that life could possibly be supported beyond the area of their investigations.
When the exploring party returned to the pithead at 3 o'clock this afternoon Mr Gerrard announced that they had almost arrived at the coal face, and had found an accumulation of afterdamp and gas which stopped further progress and proved that nobody could be alive in that district.
On our way down we encountered obstacles in the shaft, broken signal wires and bearers, and we were in considerable alarm as to whether the cage was going to stick or not. But it kept freeing itself and broke through all the obstacles. We got to the Yard mouthing and, on going in, saw the underground fan blown inwards towards the downcast pit. Going forward through the electric haulage house, which was the main route to the upcast shaft bottom, we found great wreckage and got through into the No.3 pit bottom shunts where we found a boy. There was afterdamp and it was hot but we went forward. We picked up the boy and sent him back up the pit.”— Mr. Alfred Tonge, General Manager of Hulton Colliery