2017-01-12 Pretoria Pit Disaster..
[Report under construction]
On the 12th January 2017, our members had a splendid and enthusiastic talk by Mr Alan Davies about the Pretoria Coal Pit Disaster in Westhoughton in 2010. The personal experience of Mr Davies as an author, miner and archivist came though to give a most vivid recreating in the minds of those listening of the daily life and hardships of the working miners (both male and female) and the extreme effect of the disaster on the folk in the mine at the time of the explosion.
At the outcome of the enquiry it was determined that a rock fall caused some events; the covering and death of a miner under the rock fall, the breaking or exposure of the flame in the miner’s lamp which ignited gas (perhaps from the rock fall) which then ignited coal dust in a chain reaction to give an explosive flow of fire and gas through the mine workings.
They went to work, they did not come home.
(Report with thanks to the website to which all readers are referred) See link:
The outcome was an official death toll total of 344 deaths, comprising 328 colliery employees and 16 contractors and their staff, which was set on 30 Dec 1910 (BEN [Bolton Evening News] 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. Taking into account errors and duplication, this ‘complete’ list missed four names – Robert Curwen, John Prescott, Henry Price and Robert Whittaker. Despite strenuous efforts by exploration teams, only 343 bodies were recovered and 343 deaths registered. As late as 6 Mar 1911 the BEN reported that “Work is still being pushed forward for the recovery of the remaining body in the Pretoria pit, so far no trace of it has been found.” – no trace ever was found. 342 men and boys at work in the No.3 Pit districts at the time of the explosion were killed. One man (Richard Clayton) died in the Arley Mine at No.4 Pit, and one member of a rescue team (William Turton) died on the first day while attempting to put out a fire in the South Plodder District of No.3 Pit. Only one of the dead from the Yard Mine (Fountain Byers) lived long enough to reach Bolton Infirmary, where he succumbed to injuries next day (22 Dec 1910). A badly burned and shocked boy, Simeon Gibson, was found unconscious but still breathing near No.3 shaft by the first exploration team. He was sent to the surface but soon died. No one knows how long the other victims survived after the explosion. Some must have been killed outright by the blast, particularly in the shaft area. Others at the far end of the Downbrow District appear to have had time to travel 300 yards from their work places before lethal gas stopped them.
The talk illustrated the way of work and the conditions and ages of the employees in a vivid fashion and some links and photographs with permission appear below.
A book by Mr Alan Davies on the disaster is given below in the links.
The Pretoria Pit Disaster by Alan Davies, Paperback, Special Price:£13.49
Other Books by Alan Davies [active link]
Local Memorial Service.
The Westhoughton Local History Group have a page and links to the event and there is an annual short memorial service.
A YouTube video of the 2016 memorial service can be viewed at:
Memorial. At site above ground of the explosion point.
A short note on Mr Alan Davies.
Mr Davies was born in Atherton, Lancashire. The town had three collieries operating at the time, probably where Alan's interest came from, as well
as through family members working in the industry.
Alan worked in mining at five collieries, Parkside, Coventry, Bickershaw, Castle Drift, Wigan and was recently managing Hilltop Colliery, Bacup.
He studied mining at St Helens College, and art and design at Wigan and Bristol for four years gaining his B.A.(Hons).
He was Curator of the Lancashire Mining Museum, Salford for fifteen years until closure in 2000. He qualified as an archivist with
Liverpool University, and became in charge of Wigan Record Office until 2007. He working in various archives until 2011.
Recently returning to mining as colliery manager, Hilltop Colliery drift, Bacup, Lancashire’s last coal mine.
See the YouTube video on the Hilltop Colliery, Bacup mine.
Since then he has carrying on speaking to local societies and leading guided walks and researching books.
His other personal interests include flying light aircraft, aerial, general and underground photography,
writing mining historical works, riding classic motorcycles.
We, the members of Culcheth Local History Group, send him our sincere thanks for a good talk and an enjoyable evening.
Moses Holden, 18th Century Celebrity Astronomer.
20161230 Moses Holden, 18th Century Celebrity Astronomer.
Mr Stephen R Halliwell gave an illustrated talk about a self taught person, Moses Holden, who became a 'celebrity' from his researches and made his own astronomical tools and lenses and theatre props. He gave paid lectures all over the north of England to earn a vast amount for these days, after having started out as a Methodist Lay Preacher.
His earnings once established on the lecture circuit of 18th century England were comparable only with a 'celebrity' footballer or singer in
today's terms. Ultimately he had a modern research telescope named after him, “The Moses Holden Telescope” at the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, UCLAN, itself named after Moses Holden’s boyhood hero astronomer Jeremiah Horrox.
Refer to "Further Study" at end of this page to obtain photographs and diagrams which can illuminate the popular astronomers who followed in Moses Holden's footsteps.
We learned at the end of the talk that this Moses Holden telescope was opened by our speaker. A most notable event for his biographer.
The telescope team has reported investigations and discoveries in fields which are listed on the UCLAN website with details of the folk involved:
The current astronomers:
A link to the opening of the telescope by Stephen R Halliwell.
University of Central Lancashire [UCLAN] link to opening:
Meanwhile to the report of the interesting talk, which by its opening about his early theological activities as a Methodist Lay Preacher
might have indicated a dreary talk, but no! It was a talk of a bold young man determined to learn about his hero Jeremiah Horrocks and
learn among many other subjects astronomy, which meant of course learning mathematics and physics and making his own lenses and apparatus, which he also made and sold to others. The cost for his books when learning were very great relative to his income level,
however he got them to improve himself.
A report from a University of The Third Age at Todmorden on a similar talk by Mr Halliwell gives a better description than the
current writer could do, so it is quoted in full:
Moses Holden talk at Todmorden U3a
Moses Holden, Autodidact of Preston written by Anthony Peter
Steve Halliwell with Gill Radford, Vice Chair of Todmorden U3a
Steve Halliwell, Todmorden U3A’s guest speaker on Thursday 15th September, is a man who clearly knew a lot about a Preston man, Moses Holden, who also knew a lot. Consequently, by the end of Steve’s lecture we had been as well enlightened as those who attended Moses Holden’s packed lectures on the science of ‘ouranology’ in the first half of the nineteenth century would have been.
Steve’s first slide showed we were in for a less dull ride than the phrase ‘methodist evangelist’ might have suggested to many of us:
‘Moses Holden: self-taught genius, the Mozart of the astronomical world, a founder of UCLAN, constructor of telescopes, travelling
lecturer (pre-railway) – From hand-loom weaver to Freeman of Preston’.
And so it proved. Steve’s interest in local history had led him to research Preston’s Learned Societies that grew out of the town’s
early Literary and Philosophical Society, and which, when it established its Mechanics’ Institute in 1828, named it instead its
Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge at the suggestion of one Moses Holden.
Indeed, The University of Central Lancashire regards itself as the descendant of that Institute.
Moses Holden was undoubtedly a remarkable man. Born in Bolton in 1777, his father, a hand-loom weaver, moved the family to Preston in 1784.
Father Holden liked to read stories to his children, and Moses, after hearing about Jeremiah Horrocks and his recording of the Transit of Venus
in 1639, determined that he would be an astronomer when he grew up.
Moses followed his father into the cloth industry as a weaver and married a woman from Whitehaven with whom he had three children with the
exciting names of William Archimedes, John Horatio and Annie Leonora.
The fact that the boys were born in Pontefract and Banbury tells a story itself. Moses became a travelling preacher and lecturer.
In 1810 he undertook an eighteen month circuit tour of the north-west for the Methodist Church, based in Poulton-le-Fylde. He ran Sunday Schools and Bible Groups and was known for a good sermon. He probably travelled on foot.
However, by 1815 his private studies of mathematics and astronomy enabled him to offer triennial lectures at the Theatre Royal in Preston.
These would be lectures given over a period of three evenings, each lecture packing the building. In time, Moses toured these lectures, and
Steve’s researches of where the lectures were held led him to conclude that Moses was using the canals (much as Mikron Theatre do today).
This presumed use of canals explains the circumstances of the Holden sons’ births.
The lectures were quite something, featuring a magic lantern and an orrery (mechanical model of the solar system), both of Moses’ own making.
Doubtless, he would also have made some profit from sales of his ‘Celestial Handbook and Almanac’, copies of which he sent to both William IV
and William Rogerson, the Astronomer Royal with whom he became very friendly.
Nevertheless, after his death in 1864, Mrs Holden advertised the almanac as available by post at the knock-down price of 2/-.
Perhaps by then they were cluttering up her house!
As a lecturer, Moses could turn a pretty penny. In 1844, in Liverpool he was in such demand that he could packs halls for three sets
of three lectures. And in 1852, his account books show that his set of farewell lectures in Preston netted him about £120 with only
£21 expenses (which included a consideration for ‘oils’ with which to freshen the air of the theatre).
For this writer, ( "Anthony Peter") Moses was most impressively a self-taught man excited by knowledge and its capacity to enrich life. He was also skilled in making and selling telescopes. His achievements have recently been celebrated and commemorated by UCLAN who have named their ‘70 cm diameter state-of-the-art robotic telescope’ the Moses Holden Telescope at a ceremony Steve was delighted to have attended.
There is a brief note in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900,Volume 27 on “Holden, Moses; by Charles William Sutton
Some of his letters are held in Lancashire Archives:
Mr Halliwell’s biography is available from him at a cost of £11.99 including postage or from booksellers.
University of The Third Age [ U3a] links:
UCLAN, University of Central Lancashire links:
The University of Central Lancashire's Jeremiah Horrocks Institute sometimes offers a series of free public observing nights
at their Alston Observatory (http://www.star.uclan.ac.uk/alston/) over the winter months.
Link to photo of telescope:
University_publicity_posters. The man and the curent work.
The portrait (copy of one in a relative's possession) and note on Moses Holden published by UCLAN
At the conclusion o fthe talk, the audience of CLHG members and visitors gave a warm appreciation to the speaker at our Archivists vote of thanks.
Webmaster's notes. Further Study.
For the members and guests of CLHG who are interested in the 'popularisation' of astronomy, during the 1800s
of whom Moses Holden was an early and learned example, and who are interested in views/diagrams/photos of the
machines involved, there is a reference to a Ph. D. Thesis and articles by Dr Hsiang-Fu Huang.
The diagrams and photographs are at the end in the appendices on pages 385 to 416 and include beautiful photographs
of various orreries and possible interpretation of the big 16 feet (5m) or more accross great orreries.
Dr. Huang's Ph. D. thesis reference.
Title: Commercial and Sublime: Popular Astronomy Lectures in Nineteenth Century Britain
Author: Hsiang-Fu Huang
Academic institute: UCL (University Colledge London); Department of Science and Technology Studies
Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in History and Philosophy of Science March 2015
Text and illustration of thesis available at
The Manchester Martyrs.
On November 10th 2016, the group was told in vivid detail by Alan Hayhurst about the incidents in Manchester which lead
to the killing of a policeman and the events leading up to it and its resolution.
The talk was on the events in Manchester during the upheavals of the time arising from Irish persons engaged in the
Fenian Movement ” which had two very separate but interlinked loose organisations, from New York, USA, “The Fenian Brotherhood”
and from Dublin “The Irish Republican Brotherhood. These events lead to the killing of a Manchester policeman, upheavals in politics,
government and trials which lead to the death sentence for some persons.
Like all political events between two cultures there are always two stories written about the events, and Mr Alan Hayhurst gave a spirited
and illustrated talk about the events and showing the start, the events unfolding and the resulting trials, with their deadly outcomes.
From the USA library of Congress record of prints, use acknowledged.
Print of “The Fenian martyrs of Ireland”
Digital ID: (digital file from original print) pga 01474 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.01474
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-pga-01474 (digital file from original print) LC-USZ62-31498 (b&w film copy neg.)
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print
The policeman. Police Sergeant Charles Brett.
Sergeant Brett, an escort to prisoners in a prison van travelling inside the van with the keys, was shot and killed
as the attackers attempted to force the van open by blowing the lock. Sergeant Brett was the first Manchester City Police
officer to be killed while on duty.
As recorded in the Police Roll of Honour Trust; Greater Manchester Police:
Manchester City Police
Sergeant Charles Brett
Died 18 September 1867, aged 51
Shot dead after refusing to give the keys of his prison van to gunmen.
Memorial in church and broken gravestone.
Ex Manchester Orange Order website (c)
Ex Manchester Orange Order website (c)
The Guardian gives a report on that killing and subsequent police killings in
An account and report with extracts from the original trial and prison records is given in
which is under the copyright of the author Gerard Lodge
The "Two Sides" of history.
There are many articles written of these events as the political unrest of the day was reflected in reports, articles and books
published then and now in the USA, Republic of Ireland and some in the United Kingdom, albeit these events are lost to local memory in Manchester.
Warburton, the village and the church was a talk with many illustrations given by Dr Michael Nevell to the group
which told of the surprise, enjoyment, frustration and very considerable time over many years with volunteers to
establish the history of the village of Warburton.
It included the ‘invasion’ of houses to part demolish them to get at the underlying fabric and story of construction
and decoration, including the farms and removal of items from their original place for ‘convenience’ but leaving
tell tale modern coins beneath the structures.
History is not always what you see at first, but needs verification and proof.
A good evening was enjoyed and some bought Dr Nevell’s book, noted below which gives greater detail of our past knowledge.
Some photographs are reproduced below with the very short wikipedia summary.
Dr Nevell's sumary of his talk.
Warburton lies in an ancient landscape, on the border of East Cheshire and Trafford,
Greater Manchester, in North West England. Today it is best known for the busy toll-bridge
that crosses the now dry river bed of the Mersey, and its two parish churches. Warburton
hides a rich landscape history with origins in the late prehistoric and Roman periods.
My talk reviewed 19 years of archaeological and historical investigation in Warburton covering
development of the landscape and village, the archaeology and history of the old church
(one of only 29 medieval timber churches and chapels in England and Wales), the buildings
of the area, and a study of the people of the parish from 1600 to 1900 using the manorial
and probate documents. Archaeology highlights ranged from a Roman coinhoard, through the
medieval church which was also the site of priory, to the 24 surviving timber-framed buildings
in the township and a surviving Tudor wall painting in one of the farms. The survey work at
Warburton provides a detailed record of a rural community on the edge of the great industrial
and social changes of the post-medieval period.
The photograph below of old part of the church is coutesy of Dr Nevell.
Old part of church.
The rich archaeological and historical landscape of Warburton is currently threatened
by 21st century development in the form of the proposed high-speed railway line from
Birmingham to Manchester. A feeder line is projected to cut across this rural township
from north to south, potentially altering its character permanently. Such threats to the
landscape of Warburton are not new.
Book on Warburton.
The book is on sale from Salford University shop for Ten pounds plus postage £2.50.
WARBURTON Glimpses of Rural Life
The Archaeology and History of a Cheshire Village
Edited by Michael Nevell with Marjorie Carney Jenny Cracknell Jim Haworth Chris Hill & Denise Jubb
© University of Salford and the authors 2015
ISBN 978-0-9565947-8 5 e-book version ISBN 978-0-9565947-9-2
University of Salford Archaeological Monographs Volume 4
First published by the Centre for Applied Archaeology, School of the Built Environment, University of Salford.
Extract from book:
Some limited evidence has been found of activity on the site of Warburton dating from the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age and Roman periods; these include a flint blade, six Mesolithic tools, pieces of quernstone, and a snake bracelet. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area around Warburton has been used agriculturally since at least the Roman times. In the Domesday Book, the name was Warburgtune which name has evolved to today's 'Warburton'. The suffix –ton means a settlement or farmstead in Old English, indicating that the settlement has pre-Conquest origins. It has been suggested that Warburton was the site of an Anglo-Saxon burgh or defended settlement, possibly either called "Toppingburgh" or Weard byrig, established by Aethelflaed, Queen of the Mercians, in 915 during the wars with the Vikings. However, it now seems likely that site lay on the Wales–Cheshire border.
The first documented reference to Warburton occurs in the Domesday Book, where the two manors of Warburton were recorded; the manors were united by the late 12th century. Before the Norman conquest, the area was controlled by the Anglo-Saxon thegn Aelfward. Although the Domesday Book records no church in Warburton, it is possible that the church dedicated to Saint Werburgh is pre-Conquest. The omission of the church may not be significant, as not all pre-Conquest churches or chapels were recorded in the Domesday survey. The first documented evidence of a church in Warburton was in a deed of 1187, when it was a chapel of ease for the parish of Lymm. Warburton became a separate parish in the 13th century. The church is surrounded by a ditch and bank, probably dating to at least the 14th century. Warburton is also the site of a medieval priory, near the Church of St Werburgh; although the priory was only formed in the 13th century, it was dissolved in 1270.
Warburton was predominantly a farming village during the medieval period. The north western corner of the township was used as a deer park. Warburton grew as an agricultural town during the medieval period, and it remained almost untouched by the Industrial Revolution; this is reflected in the population change between 1801 and 1901, dropping from 466 to 403, with little variation at a time when the rest of Trafford was expanding rapidly.
Annual Archeology Event.
The University also runs a “Greater Manchester Archaeology Day”, which this year it is on Saturday 26Th November Link below:
Photo: Description. St Werburgh's parish church, Wigsey Lane, Warburton, Greater Manchester.This view is taken the wall beside the road.
Date 27 December 2008 Source Own work by Author: Parrot of Doom. Licence: CCbySA
CLHG Meeting 8th September The Lion Salt Works
Thursday 8 September 2016,
Speaker: Peter Solan,
Topic: Lion Salt Works
There is a "YouTube" short video on the restoration which was greatly aided by The National Lottery.
This meeting marked the first of our winter programme and we were able to welcome returning members,
alongside some new ones, to our new venue, the Culcheth Centre on Jackson Avenue.
Peter Solan is a Trustee of the Lion Salt Works and a researcher into its history.
At the start of his presentation he proudly announced that the Lion Salt Works had received a National Lottery award
as it had been voted UK's Best Heritage Project of 2016. (See YouTube link above)
Then using maps and plans Peter explained the geology of the Northwich area and the reasons for the accumulation
of salt bearing strata. He described how the salt brine was lifted and processed, how it differed from rock salt and
explained, in some detail, the development of the works under various members of the Thompson family, until its sale
to the Salt Union in 1888.
Peter had some interesting slides and stories about some of the characters involved in the salt extraction, including
the greed, theft of 'brine' conflicts, deaths by misadventure (!) and the general conflict of early competing firms.
We thank him for his excellent presentation. and would recommend a visit to the site (pay for entry) a part of
West Cheshire Museums. (See contact link above.)
Our Tenth Aniversary.
2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the History Group so to round off the meeting and as a special treat to celebrate
We had cake, lots of cake!
An exterior view of the Lion Salt Works prior to entrance.
Somme Memorial Display of Those Recorded on Culcheth War Memorial.
During the summer of 2016 a display board was placed in the Culcheth Library (Livewire) showing
photographs of the recorded war graves of three soldiers entered on the war memorial.
This was a timely reminder of the battles that took place at the Somme one hundred years ago.
The display was then shown at the first groups meeting during September 2016.
The display was a reminder to reflect and pause during the usual casual visit to the library
Below are photographs of the display.
The visitors admire the Greenall Window.
Our visitors are given details of the crypt.
General views under CC by SA licence by others.
Town view of St Elphins. By David Dixon.
Entrance to St Elphin's Church, Warrington.
Looking past the Ring o'Bells, towards the entrance to St Elphin's Church.
Mr David Dixon's notes to the photograph:
Entrance to St Elphin's Church, Warrington
Looking past the Ring o'Bells, towards the entrance to St Elphin's Church.
St Elphin's Church, Warrington is the town’s parish church. It has been designated as a
Grade II* listed building (National Heritage List for England).
The gateway to the church dates from the 18th century and is itself Grade II listed (National Heritage
List for England) as are the cobbles and pavement leading to the gateway (National Heritage List for
England). The gateway consists of two stone rusticated gate piers which are surmounted by a cornice
and urns. Between these are two iron gates with a curved iron arch. To the sides are low stone side
walls and small iron side gates for pedestrians.
Most of the fabric of the present church is Victorian, the result of an extensive restoration between 1859
and 1867 although the earliest part of the church is in the chancel and the crypt which survive from an
earlier church built in 1354. That church was badly damaged during the Civil War and following this,
the tower was rebuilt in 1696 and the nave in 1770. The south aisle was added in the early 19th century.
The spire was added during the nineteenth century restoration.
A view from the river. By Colin Park
Report on the visit by members to the 14th Centrury St Elphins Church Warrington.
On the afternoon of 17 August 2016 twenty one members of CLHG met at St Elphins Parish Church, Warrington for a guided tour of this ancient church.
We were greeted by Kathryn Hayes, one of the Church Wardens, who, after seating us in pews, proceeded to give us a brief history of St Elphin's from
earliest times to the Victorian re-modelling of the church and later developments.
Miss Hayes explained that there has been a place of worship on the site since the mid 7th century and Domesday records a priest at Warrington. However l
ittle is known of the person to whom the church is dedicated although traditionally Elphin is said to have been a companion of St Oswald and the first priest
to minister on the site. The Parish Church is unique, being the only church in Britain to be thus dedicated.
Our group then separated into two parties, one led by Miss Hayes and other by her colleague Margaret, to tour the church and have its features explained.
We were shown the Lady Chapel, originally endowed by Sir John Boteler, which is now dedicated to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment; St Ann's Chapel
containing monuments to the Massey and Patten families and the Chancel which dates from 1354. We descended into the 14 century crypt and then up
onto the south gallery to view the church laid out beneath us.
Everyone admired the many stained glass windows which looked beautiful in the afternoon sunshine, particularly the Greenall window which faces west
and appeared to glow with colour.
All the group members found the visit both enjoyable and informative and our thanks to the guides.
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