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James Polley Surface Manager - Pretoria Pit

By Ronald James Polley, Horsham, West Sussex

James Polley Surface Manager - Pretoria Pit

The man standing at the left of the picture is my grandfather James Polley. He was 31 at the time and was the Surface Manager of the colliery. He lived on north side of the A6 main road in Chequerbent, close by the then Chequerbent Station of the LNWR. Just before he died in 1944 and just prior to my call up, he told me the story of his involvement. He used to walk to work along a footpath, that ran alongside the railway line branch that served the colliery. This took him 15 to 20mins and he was scheduled to start work at 8am. On the day he was only 5 minutes walk away from the pit when at 7.50 the ground heaved and loud bang was heard followed by bits of the pit head machinery going skywards. A locomotive was just passing at the time heading for the pit and he was offered a lift which he accepted. On arrival he realised that the pit head machinery required attention before a suitable cage could be lowered. He arranged for himself to be lowered slowly, prior to any rescue attempt, to inspect the shaft. He said it was a shallow mine and did not take long. He reported that the shaft was clear and that he did not note any survivors. Another level of the mine was still alright with miners ready to start any rescue once a cage could be ready.

The rest is as you report. James Polley received the same medals as Mr Tonge. I have the full set with the Edward and Humane medals engraved with his name round the edge. I have to make up my mind shortly who to pass them on to. James Polley received his Edward Medal at the Palace on a Tuesday, from King George the 5th. The King told him that this was the first investiture of his reign. I believe it was in July 1911. My grandfather in August 1911 took up an appointment as Surface Manager at Silkstone Colliery, near Barnsley, Yorkshire. The local paper, date unknown, had an article about the future Surface Manager of Silkstone, being invested with the Edward Medal by the King.

Further notes. In the early 1980s I was working, away from home, near Manchester and paid a visit to Westhoughton cemetery one sunny evening just after work. You enter past a row of cottages on the right and the monument is just past them and right in front of you. I had passed an old man sitting in a chair in his front garden. When I stopped at the monument and was reading from it the old man appeared at my side and a conversation took place. He was just 14 in December 1910 and was due to start work in the pit 2 days after Christmas. He showed me the head stones of his 2 older brothers and his father. I did not take note at the time of the name. He did tell me to visit the new public house, the Pretoria Pit, whose walls were covered in newspaper articles on the disaster, which I did. He also instructed me how to visit the remains of the pit, which I did. I did find the shaft which had a thick concrete cover over it with the remains of the brick foundations of the winding house. A wash pond was adjacent. I did note that one of the air shaft covers had been incorrectly named as the site of the pit shaft.

PS as further interest, James Polley,s father, James Polley was the captain of the first ship, SS Snowdrop, to sail up the new Manchester Ship Canal, on January 1st 1894. The ship a 300 ton twin screw belonging to Wallasey Local Board was lost at sea with all hands in 1895. The captains name was missquoted as James Potter.

See also Pretoria Pit Disaster 1910