Residents were first alerted to the tragedy by a muffled bang followed by a loud roar from Burns Pit, West Stanley, at 3.45pm on February 16, 1909.

As flames shot more than 1,500ft into the air, thousands of men, women and children rushed to the colliery and immediately tried to get into the pit's workings.

But no trained rescue team was available and there was no suitable equipment to remove wreckage - and no one knew where the trapped miners were located.

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It was only 14 hours later that the first survivors could be brought to safety.

Meanwhile 168 miners lay dead underground, killed by the force of the explosion, from burns or carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Northern Echo: How The Northern Echo reported the disaster in 1909
How The Northern Echo reported the disaster in 1909

In one street of 14 houses, 12 men died.

The final toll included 59 under the age of 21, and as news of the disaster spread throughout the country, attempts to recover the bodies were being made day and night.

The operation involved dozens of volunteers, including Kevin Keegan's grandfather and Joseph Snaith.

A tiny gold medal - the size of a 2p piece - was awarded to Joseph Snaith "for services with the relief parties at the West Stanley Colliery explosion, February 16, 1909".

The medal is the same as awarded to Kevin Keegan's grandfather, Frank Keegan, who rescued dozens of survivors.

The ex-Magpies manager's grandfather Frank Keegan was one of the 36 who came out of the pit alive.

He was hailed as a hero for the way he managed to keep calm among the other survivors, and was also among the first to go back into the pit in the search for victims.

Kevin revealed that as a boy his father, who had left the area and moved to Yorkshire in search of work, had told him of his grandfather's exploits, including a story about him rescuing a pit pony after the blast.

By February 27, 166 bodies had been recovered, leaving two to remain below ground until 1933, when the pit was reopened.