The Maypole Colliery in Abram opened in 1895 and by 1898 it was fully operational, employing several hundred people by 1908. Many Irish recruits were employed as "contractor's men” hired by sub contractors, many themselves Irish in origin, and working in groups of up to twenty. Such men were responsible for repair work underground after the main "getting" shift had ended.
On August 18th 1908, a few minutes past 5pm, approximately 75 minutes into the shift, a massive explosion occurred in the No 1, Cannel Mine of the Maypole Colliery - a blast so great that it destroyed the pit headgear, and "shattered a 2ft thick brick wall into atoms” and was felt for miles around.
The pit manager Arthur Rushton was returning from his holidays with his wife and family. When he was about forty yards from his own house, which adjoined the colliery, he heard the explosion. As the grim reality of what had occurred hit him, he was reported as" jumping from the wagonette, throwing away his straw hat, seizing the cap of a passer by and rushing to the aid of the men at his colliery".
The rescue party was organised quickly and equipped with apparatus from the rescue station at Atherton. They found the mine filled with gaseous fumes. Many of them became exhausted, were brought to the mouth of the pit and revived, but again and again returned to the awful scene. They described what they saw as utter devastation with " mounds of earth, bodies of dead pit ponies and Miner after Miner found lying dead, some unrecognisable, some as if they were asleep".
At the pit head, desperate people waited for news of their friends and relatives. When there was a cry for volunteers, men reacted immediately stripping to the waist and rushing to the cage which would take them down the mine.
Three survivors were found - Edward Farrell, William Doran and Richard Fairhurst. They were rescued at the Junction Colliery shaft and had been working near the communicating line of the Wigan Junction and Maypole No 2 Collieries, in an area that was cleared by ventilation. William Doran described how he was knocked down by the explosion and fell face down with the other two rescued men. They tried to travel forward but as they were unable to see, they decided to remain in a "manhole" and wait to be rescued. A fourth man, William Moore was included in the list of those underground but had lost his tally and had to return to the surface half an hour before the explosion.
The final total was that 75 lives were lost that day, with contractor's men being prominent among the deceased. The manager, Arthur Rushton, understood the sorrow of the bereaved families as his uncle, Levi Rushton, was one of those killed.
In the weeks that followed, over 100 million gallons of water were poured down the shaft in an attempt to douse the fire that was still raging in a large part of the mine, causing further explosions almost as violent as the first one.
In response to this tragedy a relief fund was established to benefit the wives and families of those who perished in the disaster. Subscriptions were received from all parts of the country, with the King donating £100. It was estimated that 36 wives had been widowed and 102 children were rendered fatherless.
The remains of some of those who died were laid to rest beneath the memorial in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist Church in Abram.
This year Abram Heritage and History Group are repeating a Village Commemoration that started during lockdown last year. We printed the list of all the 75 victims and people volunteered to be matched to one of those who lost their lives. This ensures that everyone is remembered as an individual as well as part of a group united in those tragic circumstances.
We are hoping that this year will be the poignant, respectful commemoration that developed in 2020. We have asked everyone to place a candle in the window of their home, dedicated to their individual Coalminer, or to the group of victims, at the time of the explosion, 5.10pm on Wednesday 18th August. This way, at the exact time this tragedy happened, there will be a huge outpouring of remembrance for the lost souls, many from Ireland, who were never to return home to their families and loved ones, some buried beneath the memorial, some buried individually and sadly some still entombed within the disused workings of the Maypole Colliery.
Please join us, wherever you are in the world …… Thankyou!
The end of the day 18th August 2020 at the Churchyard Memorial: