A DENTON man was instrumental in getting a memorial for the 38, including nine children aged 15 or younger, who lost their lives in a mining disaster in Dukinfield 153 years ago.
It was eight years ago that Charles Cooper suggested a blue plaque to remember the victims of the Lakes/Astley coal pit disaster of June 14, 1866.
And it was a proud moment for Charles when the memorial was finally unveiled by Tameside Civic Mayor Cllr Denise Ward with local MP Andrew Gwynne in attendance at All Saints Catholic College, the site of the disaster.
Charles, who was born and bred in Dukinfield, said: “I assisted in getting the information for the memorial and it was nice to see it reach fruition.
“I am from a mining family – my dad, grandfather and great grandfather were all miners – and it was sad there was not a blue plaque as there was for the Astley Deep Pit disaster.”
In that disaster in 1874, 54 men and boys lost their lives.
Cllr Ward relived the Lakes/Astley disaster in her speech, saying: “In Tameside today it’s hard to believe that coal mining was once one of the key industries.
“There used to be dozens of collieries in the borough and in Dukinfield we had the deepest one in England at the top of King Street.
“It largely died out 100m years ago, but it would be wrong to forget about the industry and the colliers led a very brutal existence.
“We should not forget how hard it used to be for ordinary working people, not just in mining but in the rest of industry. They endured long hours, horrendous conditions and precious little in the way of health and safety.”
Cllr Ward described Lakes/Astley as a “tragedy in every sense of the word”, pointing out John Buckley was the youngest victim aged 11 and Richard France left a wife and five children.
She added the disaster had a knock-on effect as family would have struggled badly without their breadwinner.
Cllr Ward added: “One thing mining communities were famous for was they stuck together and supported each other. Qualities such as those are just as important in 2019, and I believe we have them in Tameside.
“We must never forget events like the Lakes Pit Disaster. Just as we remember wars in the hope they’ll never be repeated, we should do the same with industrial disasters so they never happen again.”
Father Oliver O’Doherty, parish priest at St Mary’s Chapel, gave a blessing and there were readings by headteacher Linda Emmett and a poem about the tragedy by pupil Paige Iborra.
All Saints Catholic College’s technology technician and admin support Andrea Coleman worked with Charles to make the memorial become a reality.
And the memorial was made by college site manager Bob Campbell to keep costs to a minimum.
Deputy headteacher Gus Diamond said: “We have talked about the disaster in assemblies and the impact it had on Dukinfield.
“The children were fascinated by something they had not realised happened here.
“It is a reminder about the past. We learn about wars, but this is history on our doorstep and they walk on the site of the colliery every day.”
Gus added the disaster also had a resonance with the college’s core values of resilience and families pointing out it was even more tragic that many of the victims were so young.”
The effects of mining are still visible at All Saints Catholic College where the spoil from the colliery has resulted in drainage issues with the sports field.
Gus said: “We know from the end of October we will be unable to use the playing fields.
“They become flooded and we get used to the arrival of the geese each year.
“It is a superstition like the ravens at the Tower of London and, once they arrive, we know everything will be alright.”