Friday, April 3, 2009

One Mystery Solved - An Uncle and The Mining Disaster

Another of my Bellew men was a bit of a mystery. Not one that I went chasing after too much, but an early death, not really much information. That is until recently.

William Bellew, the son of Patrick Bellew & Elizabeth Hall was my great grand uncle. Born in 1891 in Preston, Lancashire, England. I found his death record registered in 1910 and was told some years ago that he worked in the mines and died from that. Actually it was put to me "He worked in the mines... and he died". I never really knew what he died from - assuming (incorrectly) that it was of some disease caused by that kind of work.. but so young?

I've not been doing much lately with regards to my research and I was recently contacted by another researcher of this family. William's name flashed across my screen a few times in the last two days and I began to wonder what happened to him. This other researcher, I'll call them "D" suggested that I look into any mining accidents of the time. His death was not registered in Preston, but rather in Bolton.

Well a quick search on Google and it only took about two minutes for me to find what I was looking for. A website with an incredible amount of information and a major mining disaster in the history of England - actually listed as the 3rd worst ever in England - The Pretoria Pit Disaster - occurred at 7:50am on December 21, 1910. With 344 men and boys confirmed dead and only 3 survivors, it was a horrific tragedy. My Uncle William Bellew was among the dead, he was 19 years old.

The recovery of bodies was such an undertaking that they gave each one a number at the time it was located and marked it's position on a map of the mine. They also marked the last known place of the worker at the time of the explosion on the map - black numbers where they were working and red numbers where they were found. As I made my way around the site, getting the information for William I couldn't help but feel the loss of all these men but what really hit home was the map with little black and red numbers all over it. You could clearly see where the men piled up to make their escape from the disaster, only to succomb to the gas that was filling the tunnels where they spent their days. Each recovered body was given another number, Uncle William was recovered on December 24th 1910, he was recovery number 147.

All the personal details available for each man are also there on the site. William was living at 3 Library Street, Westhoughton (a lodging place for the miners). He was listed as born in Preston, body recovered 90 yards above No.2 jig (a term on the map). Identified by his father Patrick Bellew of 180 St. Georges Road, Preston. Cause of death was gas. He was survived by his parents Patrick and Elizabeth Bellew (both 47), and siblings John 21, Frances 16, Isabella 10.

Much of the information contained in this post and the images contained are from the following website:


  1. Thank you for sharing this story. Even when we are aware that many of our ancestors died in some kind of tragedy, it is often shocking when you find the actual details. This reminds me of finding ancestors who died in the influenza epidemic (the husband and wife died on the same day). They left behind two daughters, a baby and the older teenaged sister who raised her.

  2. What a tremendous find to locate so much information on that web site about such a tragic mining disaster.