CHURCH bells will toll 168 times to mark the 100th anniversary of one of region’s worst coal mining disasters.

A service will take place 100 years to the moment after the explosion ripped through West Stanley Colliery, in County Durham, on February, 16, 1909.

Two events have been organised to commemorate the lives of the 168 men and boys who perished in the Burn’s Pit tragedy that devastated the community.

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Local historians Jack Hair and Bob Drake have organised a centenary memorial service, which will be held at St Andrew’s Parish Church, in Stanley, on Saturday, February 14, at noon.

Mr Hair, of Mandela Close, Stanley, said: “This is to pay tribute to the men and boys who lost their lives in that disaster and all of those who were killed or injured in mining accidents.

“The idea is to mark a time in our history.”

The Right Reverend Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, will give an address at the service, which will be attended by Catholic, Protestant, Methodist and United Reformed Church churchmen.

Music will be provided by Craghead Colliery Band, with singing from Annfield Plain Gleemen Male Voice Choir.

On February 16, a service will be held at the site of the tragedy.

Derwentside District Council has organised a service of commemoration, at 3.15pm, next to the pit wheel memorial to the dead.

The memorial, which was opened in 1995 by former Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan, whose grandfather, Frank, was one of more than 30 men who survived the blast and risked his life by going to help others escape, has been refurbished and restored by the council over the past few months.

A marquee is being put up over the memorial, which will be open sided to let as many people as possible take part.

During the service, bugles from the South Shields branch of the Durham Light Infantry Association will play the Last Post, before the bell of St Andrew’s Church is rung 168 times, while members of the community observe a two-minute silence.

Derwentside District Council leader Councillor Alex Watson said: “This is extremely important for the whole of Derwentside, as it was a huge disaster and should not be forgotten.

“People of Stanley still remember the family they lost during the tragedy and it is only fit and proper that it is commemorated.”