A FORMER mining community has re-dedicated a memorial to a pit disaster yards from where widows and relatives once waited for the bodies of their loved ones to be brought to the surface.

It was almost midnight on August 22, 1947, when tragedy struck Stanley, County Durham, costing the lives of 22 men and shaking a community to its core.

The two dozen miners were underground in the “fourth north district”, between the Louisa Pit and the Morrison North Pit, in the area of Kyo bogs when a huge explosion of firedamp, most likely a pocket of methane gas, ripped through the pit workings.

Of the 24 men working the coal seam, 22 were killed, including two “Bevin Boys”.

The two pits were linked underground, so the men were from both collieries and had descended from both ends of the shaft.

Nearly 50 years on, local historian local historian Jack Hair recruited the help of the then vicar of St Aidan’s church, Annfield Plain, Reverend Geoff Lawes, along with fellow historian Ron Hindhaugh and Terry Fenwick, whose father Norman was among the victims, to raise money for a permanent memorial in the grounds of the church.

It was dedicated by the former Bishop of Durham, The Right Reverend David Jenkins, with family members and descendants of the deceased present on on August 23, 1997.

Mr Hair, who commissioned the stone, recalled: “It was really unbelievable. You could feel the pride of those widows when they were scratching their fingers over the headstone with their husbands’ names on.

“For me that was reward enough. It was one of my proudest moments.”

The memorial was placed under threat, when it was announced in February 2016 that St Aidan’s Church was to close.

Mr Hair moved quickly, and with the help of Stanley Town Council, ensured the memorial was saved.

Following lengthy discussions, the council funded the relocation of the stone, which is now outside the Louisa Centre, near the site of the former Morrison North Pit.

Town Mayor Councillor Alex Clegg said: “After almost two years of negotiations, we finally got the green light to relocate the stone, just in time for the 71st Anniversary of the disaster and it is fitting that now sits so close to where some of those hardworking men made their final journey underground.”

“This disaster was an important part of our area’s mining history and it’s right that the men should be remembered.

“I’m delighted that we have not only been able to secure the future of the memorial for future generations but that we have been able to place it in a prominent location so that many more people will be able to see the memorial in the setting of the former site of the Louisa Colliery.”

Stanley Town Council leader Councillor David Marshall, said: “Like most this part of County Durham, the town of Stanley was hewn from the coalface – our proud history inexorably linked to the coal mining industry.

“It is only right and proper that we continue to educate people about and pay tribute to the brave souls who gave their life down the pit. They worked for long hours in horrendous conditions for a modest income all to make sure there was food on the table for their families. We will remember them and make sure others do for generations to come.”