The Peopling of Easington District

The Peopling of Easington District

by Tony Whitehead

Few modern-day Northeasterners can truthfully claim that their roots in the region go much deeper than the 19th. century. Most of us are descendants of newcomers who arrived from elsewhere in the British Isles at some point in the Victorian era. In 1801 the Northeast of England was almost empty in comparison to today. County Durham for instance had just 150,000 people and there is no reason to suppose its population had ever been much bigger. By 1901 the population of County Durham had increased more than twelve-fold to 1.88 million due to the increasing demand for coal for home and industry and the resultant expansion of the known coalfield into East Durham where there had never been coalmines before. The same story of expansion of coalfields and population was repeated in Northumberland and Cumberland. Where did all these newcomers, my ancestors and probably yours, arrive from? Which areas of Great Britain contributed most to the Northeastern melting-pot? The story I describe below was repeated across Northumberland and Durham in the 19th. century and applies equally to people from Ashington and Bishop Auckland as to those whose roots lie in Easington District.

In 1801 the total population of County Durham was just 150,000. Over a third of these people lived in the ancient towns of Hartlepool (1,047), Barnard Castle (2,966), Stockton (4,009), Darlington (4,670), Durham (about 7,500), Gateshead (8,597), South Shields (with Westoe about 11,000) and Sunderland (about 18,000). Even that great metropolis of the far North, Newcastle, just across the Tyne in Northumberland, had only 30,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 19th. century, little more than Greater Seaham has today. The rest of the county of Durham, not just the high ground as now, was as empty as some parts of western Ireland are today. The tiny farming communities which together made up what we now call Easington District had just 2,310 souls in the year 1801, about the same as modern-day Wingate. By 1901 Easington District had some 50,000 inhabitants, an incredible 21-fold increase. The reason was the discovery of coal – deep and therefore expensive to get at (which meant super-pits and huge colliery villages) but in seams up to seven feet thick !

The eastern half of the Durham coalfield, upon which Easington District is situated, is concealed by many hundreds of feet of Permian magnesian limestone, the Durham Plateau. The powerful steam engines required to drain deep mines did not exist until the early 1820s. As the third decade of the nineteenth century dawned technological advances had been made which made it possible at last to investigate just what lay under the rolling limestone hills of East Durham. At Rainton, four miles west of Seaham, coal is just below the ground. A few hundred yards away to the east at Hetton, at the start of the limestone escarpment of the Durham Plateau, the coal is several hundred feet below the surface. It was there on December 19, 1820 that the new machinery was put to the test.

coalfield-nbl-durNorthumberland & Durham coalfield

This map is by no means definitive for there were many outcrops outside the marked coalfield such as the area to the north of Haltwhistle in Northumberland and the moorland to the south of Barnard Castle. At Tan Hill (now just inside County Durham but well inside North Yorkshire pre-1974), site of the highest pub in Great Britain and probably the most unhospitable place to live in England, there was a drift mine and a small mining community for decades. Even today there are places in western Durham where people can literally dig up coal in their back gardens. It is not very good quality and nobody will buy it but it will burn.

Deep mining was an entirely new, dangerous and expensive business, far beyond the financial means of most coal owners, and necessitated the creation of a large company for the purpose, the Hetton Colliery Company. Whilst digging proceeded the famous engineer and pioneer of steam engines, George Stephenson, began construction of a railway from the pithead at Hetton to Sunderland in March 1821. The new line, the first in the world to be designed to use locomotives, was some eight miles in length and ran to the Hetton Company’s own staiths on the river Wear, where coal could be loaded directly on to large vessels, thus missing out a number of middlemen at Penshaw and on the river. The excellent publicity received launched the Stephensons on to even greater things, as the world knows. More importantly for the history of County Durham in general and Easington District in particular, coal was found at the Hetton Lyons Blossom Pit sinking, at 650 and 900 feet, in seams six and a half feet thick! By 1832 Hetton Lyons and its two sister pits Eppleton and Elemore were annually producing 318,000 tons of coal worth £174,000, and the combine was the largest mine in England. Hetton Colliery and its railway proved that 900 feet of limestone, water and quicksand and a large hill (Warden Law) blocking the way to Sunderland were not insurmountable obstacles to the exploitation of the rich reserves of coal and that achievement did not go unnoticed. Before long others, such as Lord Londonderry, Lord Lambton (1st. Earl of Durham), Lord Howden and Colonel Thomas Braddyll of Haswell, would enter the arena and the tapping of the deeply concealed Durham coalfield began in earnest. Their target was the tranquil idyll of Easington District.

The first two collieries in Easington District were at South Hetton and Haswell. Once these had begun production (1833 & 1835 respectively) and proved they were viable the stampede into East Durham was on. By 1841 Thornley and Wingate collieries were also in production and four other pits were being sunk (Murton, Shotton, Castle Eden and South Wingate). By the time of the 1851 census Seaton and Seaham collieries (later amalgamated as ‘Seaham’ in 1864) were being prepared. All of the then existing 8 collieries in Easington were on the western edge of the district for the technology did not yet exist to contemplate even deeper mines on the coast.

No new collieries were sunk in the decade 1851-61. In fact the district experienced its first pit closure with the collapse of South Wingate Colliery in 1857. In 1869 the sinking of Wheatley Hill commenced and this was followed a year later by two other new ventures at nearby Deaf Hill and Hutton Henry. Wheatley Hill was severely handicapped by under-capitalisation and went bankrupt at least twice before the turn of the century but eventually proved itself. Shotton Colliery closed in 1877 and became a ghost village for the next 23 years until it was reopened by the new Horden Coal Company in 1900. Castle Eden Colliery folded in 1893, Haswell in 1896 and Hutton Henry in 1897. The early 20th. century saw the opening of the coastal super-pits at Dawdon, Easington, Horden, Blackhall and Vane Tempest and the creation of new mining communities in East Durham.

All of the deep coalmines of East Durham have now closed and their sites have been cleared but behind them they have left tens of thousands of people, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the newcomers who arrived to populate Easington District long ago, left high and dry, often without jobs or hope. Coal alone sustained the population for 150 years but the coalmines have gone now and one has to wonder what will become of Easington District in the decades to come.

This short series of essays investigates those parts of the British Isles which sent significant contingents to people Easington District a century and more ago and whose descendants inhabit the area today. The primary feeders for the Klondike of East Durham were the other, older coalfields of Great Britain. We should remind ourselves of where these were. The map below (1967) omits certain small and ancient coalfields such as South Shropshire, Somerset and Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire which were already abandoned or insignificant nationally. The tiny Kent coalfield was not developed until the 20th. century so few Northeasterners can trace their roots to Aylesham, Womenswold and Betteshanger though the reverse is far from true.

coalfields-britishBritish Coalfields

The Cumbrian Coalfield

One of the most important contributing coalfields was also the nearest – the Cumbrian coalfield, tiny in comparison to the Northumberland and Durham coalfield, which ran from south of St. Bees Head up the coast to beyond Maryport (about 22 miles) and inland for only four or five miles, a total size of some 100 square miles and whose epicentres were the towns and ports of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. The Cumbrian coalfield existed initially to service the Emerald Isle, just across the Irish Sea, which had no fossil fuel of its own other than peat. Later Cumbrian coal was used in the production of steel at Workington. The Irish connection was particularly powerful in Whitehaven and Victorian census returns show the port to have been full of them, many using the town as a jumping off point for other places in Great Britain. A primary target was the Durham coalfield, where there were hundreds of mines compared to the few dozen in Cumberland and a complete absence of any work in their native land. The Irish infiltrated every part of the Northeast, especially after the Famine 1847-51. Many colliery villages became noticably Irish. A good example of this was Usworth Colliery which received hundreds of Irish families in the second half of the nineteenth century, most via Whitehaven. Usworth colliery was wrecked by an explosion in March 1885 and was out of action for couple of years. It seems that most of the village, by then predominantly Whitehaven Irish, simply got on Shank’s Pony and moved en masse six miles southeast to Seaham Colliery. This pit village, by then scheduled for demolition, was replaced by a council estate at Parkside in 1939 and so the population of Seaham Colliery moved, almost in entirety, to there. So today a clear line can be traced from Ireland to Whitehaven to Usworth to Seaham Colliery to Parkside and is the explanation for the extraordinarily high percentage of Catholics in Seaham today.

The Cumbrian coalfield extended right into the town of Whitehaven itself where some of the coal was worked from under the Irish Sea, decades before the same thing could be tried on the North Sea coast where the black gold was much deeper. Colliery villages included such places as Egremont, Cleator, Cleator Moor, Moresby, Parton, Camerton, Broughton, Flimby, Dearham and Cockermouth. Many modern-day Northeasterners have some or all of these places mentioned in their family trees.

coalfield-cumberlandCumbrian coalfield

The Scottish Coalfields: Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Fifeshire and Midlothian

The Scottish coalfields, scattered across four counties, made only a modest contribution to the peopling of Easington District though many Irish landed there in their escape from the Famine and eventually made their way down to East Durham.

Lancashire Coalfield

Originally the Lancashire coalfield exploited outcrops in the foothills of the Pennines but these reserves were soon exhausted and mining advanced westwards to the Lancashire Lowlands where many deep collieries were sunk. The epicentre of this new coalfield was the countryside around and between the towns of Wigan and St. Helens – such villages as Standish, Ince, Hindley, Holland, Ashton-in-Makerfield and Billinge. In the Lancashire coalbelt Rugby League was and still is king and football comes a poor runner-up. This helps further differentiate the coalfield from surrounding places like Preston, Liverpool and Manchester. George Orwell described the appalling poverty of the Lancashire coalminers in the 1930s in The Road to Wigan Pier. Lancashire made a significant contribution to Easington District.

North Wales Coalfield

Divided into two distinct parts with a small gap between. The first ran along the northernmost coast of Wales, that part opposite to the Wirral, which was entirely in the county of Flintshire. This included such mining communities as Mostyn, Greenfield, Holywell, Bagillt, Flint, Mold and Buckley. The second, not very far away, was in Denbighshire and had the town of Wrexham as its epicentre. Just to the north of Wrexham is the village of Gresford, site of a major mining disaster which inspired a hymn for brass bands. Everafter the playing of ‘Gresford’ was always the most solemn and eye-moistening moment at the Miners’ Galas in Durham and elsewhere. North Wales was a major contributor to Easington District and there can be few modern-day Easingtonians who are not descended from this connection.

South Shropshire Coalfield

Bypassed by the M6 and squeezed between Staffordshire and Wales, Shropshire is arguably England’s prettiest county and its least known. It was also the site of one of the country’s smallest and most unusual coalfields. On the North Sea Coast mining took place some 2,000 feet below the sea. In the Clee Hills of South Shropshire it took place at 900 feet above sea level. You would never guess now driving through this stunning countryside that such villages as Clee St. Margaret and Burwarton were once mining communities which exported their surplus population to Easington District and other places in Northeast England. Shropshire coal helped fuel the Industrial Revolution at Coalbrookdale but could not meet the rising demand and the coalfield became uneconomic due to the greater efficiency of much larger mines opened up in other new coalfields.

North Staffs Coalfield

In two parts, the larger being centred around Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme and the smaller being centred on the town of Cheadle in the Pennine foothills. Such villages as Silverdale, Talke, Golden Hill, Mow Cop, Leycett, Finney Green, Madeley and Trentham all contributed to the Easington District melting pot. To see how Staffordshire mineowners lived go to Keele University, which is just off the M6 and near to Newcastle-under-Lyme and which welcomes visitors. This postwar educational establishment has been superimposed on a mediaeval enclosed manorial estate whose epicentre is Keele Hall. The estate, Keele village and much of the surrounding countryside was owned by the Sneyd family who also had the mineral rights for much of the coalfield. The collieries were not visible from the Hall, being hidden away in nearby valleys like Silverdale so as not to disturb the sensitivities of the Sneyds and their guests. Gaze in wonder at the huge and ornate marble fireplace at Keele Hall and imagine how many colliers gave their lives to provide it.

coalfields-staff-warMap of Staffordshire and Warwickshire Coalfields

South Staffs Coalfield

Also known as Cannock Chase Coalfield, this was the main energy source for the Industrial Revolution which shaped the modern world and was to give the Black Country its nickname. Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale were supplied in the 18th. century from here where shallow mining had already been practised for centuries. Today the Chase is pockmarked with abandoned mine workings and occasionally a person or a pet falls down an old air vent and needs to be rescued. Contributing communities to Easington District included Hednesford, Willenhall, Bloxwich, Bilston, Darlaston and Wednesbury.

Warwickshire Coalfield

Centred on the area to the west and northwest of the towns of Coventry and Nuneaton. Negligible contribution to the burgeoning population of Easington District in the 19th. century.

Leicestershire Coalfield

Situated in the far west of the county where Leicestershire meets Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Communites included Ashby-de-la-Zouch and COALville. Few colliers from this coalfield migrated to Easington District. In the 20 th. century a new coalfield was opened in the northeast of the county in the Vale of Beauvoir (pronounced Beaver), bordering on Nottinghamshire. It seems likely that this will be the site of the last deep coal mining in Great Britain when it has ceased everywhere else.

Yorks, Derbys & Notts Coalfield

The largest of Britain’s former coalfields, it stretched from the Leeds area to south Notts where that county borders with Leicestershire. Mining began in the foothills of the Pennines in places like Silkstone Common and Thurgoland in south Yorkshire. Later the coalfield moved east taking in places like Barnsley and Mexborough. From Woolworths in Barnsley town centre several collieries and pit heaps were visible until after the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85. They are all gone now. Late in the 20th. century a new coalfield was discovered at Selby in Yorkshire but at the time of writing (July 2002) it has just been announced that even this will close shortly. The Yorks, Notts and Derbys coalfield was among the major contributors to the peopling of East Durham in the 19th. century. As in Lancashire many of the Yorkshire coalfield towns, like Castleford, Featherstone and Wakefield are distinguished from surrounding cities like Sheffield and Huddersfield because of their passion for Rugby League rather than football. It is certainly strange that the 13-man game never made it in the Northeast.

Forest of Dean Coalfield

Small scale mining still goes on in this ancient coalfield that was exploited by the Romans among others. The past is remembered in the names of communities like CINDERford and COLEford. A few souls from this coalfield found their way to Easington District but most were deflected to nearby South Wales.

Bristol Coalfield

Apart from those with serious subsidence problems, most Bristolians have largely forgotten that their city sits upon a small but ancient coalfield. The older (and very hilly) part of Bristol is in fact riddled with underground workings and tunnels from drift mines of long ago. This coalfield was working until well into the 20th. century. Few Bristolian colliers made their way to the Northeast for the South Wales coalfield was booming and not far away.

North Somerset Coalfield

Included such places as Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Kilmersdon, Writhington, Paulton, Camerton and Timsbury. Bath is just a few miles away. Dying by the middle of the 19th. century many of the coalfield’s colliers made their way north to County Durham and Easington District in particular.

The South Wales Coalfield

The eastern part of this coalfield is deeply trenched by river valleys with floors accomodating such mining communities as Rhonnda, Mountain Ash and Pontypool. In between are uplands, 1,000 to 2,000 feet high, bleak and uninhabited. Coal came to the surface in the valleys and was collected from the river beds and later from the valley sides. The western part of the coalfield is less elevated, and its valley floors more open. Welsh ‘steam’coal was in high demand for its quality and thus the coalfield boomed after the invention of the railways. As there was usually enough work for everyone there was no need to migrate to distant places like County Durham. There was a small and regular exchange of populations between the Northeast and South Wales but this was insignificant compared to the migration fron the North Wales coalfield to places like Easington District.

The Peopling of Easington District, Part 2
Cornwall & Devon

It has been said that a mine is a hole in the ground with a Cornishman at the bottom. Traces of mining work may be found in almost every parish in the county and Cornish skills are a byword in mining camps the world over. The world famous School of Mining is situated at Camborne. Mining has been practised in both Devon and Cornwall for perhaps as long as four thousand years. The early workings were for tin, washed from the gravels in the beds of streams or dug from the shallow deposits which could be worked as open pits. Underground mining began in the 16th. century and as the workings went deeper other valuable metallic minerals were found – usually copper but also arsenic, lead, zinc, wolfram, silver, nickel, cobalt, bismuth, ochre, sulphur, barytes and fluorspar.

The booms and slumps in metal prices, which reflected the difference between supply and demand, were an unavoidable risk and from time to time nearly brought mining in the southwest peninsula to a halt. The most serious challenge to date came in the 1860s when it was discovered that the mud of the alluvial plains of Malayan rivers contained a remarkably high level of tin. This did not need to be mined – just scooped up. At much the same time large copper deposits were located in both North and South America. The price of both metals tumbled and many Cornish and Devonian mines were forced to amalgamate or close. Their workforces made their way, 3rd. class on Britain’s embryonic railway system, to coalfields far and near. A major target was County Durham. In Easington District three distinct clusters of Southwesterners can be identified in the census returns of the late 19th. century.

The first arrivals were at Wingate Grange Colliery in the south of Easington District in the late 1860s. Local legend has it that their ancestors all arrived on the same day in open-topped trucks, soaked to the skin, freezing-cold and hungry after a three day non-stop journey from one end of England to the other. A little later another contingent arrived at Murton Colliery, but this proved to be merely a scouting party for a far greater influx. Eventually an entire district at Murton became known as ‘Cornwall’. Just about everybody at modern-day Murton includes some of these migrants in their family trees. The third site in Easington District which absorbed southwesterners was Seaham Colliery where a row of colliery houses was named Cornish Street. In Seaham too you will find many people who have a connection with the southwest peninsula – with surnames like Beer, Pascoe, Jane, Trewitt, Tremayne and Hocking.

The disastrous trade slump of the early 1890s led to the closure of all but a handful of mines in Cornwall and Devon and triggered further movement to the Northeast, often to those places which already had a large contingent of their relatives. In the 20th. century Cornish mining kept declining but certain of the mines somehow manged to survive almost until the present day. One or two are now maintained as museums.

The Peopling of Easington District, Part 3: Ireland

Let’s look at the massive invasion from the Emerald Isle which took place in the middle of the 19th century.

The death from ovarian cancer in November 1558 of Mary I (Bloody Mary) and the accession of her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I sounded the death knell also for Roman Catholicism in England. The new queen had to be crowned by the senior surviving Protestant prelate, the Bishop of Carlisle, for all of his superiors had been burned at the stake. In Catholic eyes Elizabeth was an illegitimate usurper and the rightful claimant was her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. Persecution of Catholics became official policy and the bulk of the population, wanting only a quiet life, sensibly shifted their allegiance from Rome to London. Elizabeth crushed the Catholic Rising of the North, eventually executed her Scottish cousin and defeated the Spanish Armada sent to avenge Mary. By the time of Elizabeth’s death Catholics had become a feared and despised minority whose loyalties were believed to lie outside the kingdom. English Catholicism retreated to Norfolk where alone they still constituted a majority and that county is still the spiritual home of the creed in the kingdom today. The leading English Catholic today is the Duke of Norfolk, surname Fitzalan-Howard, a distant kinsman of Elizabeth.

Scotland too became predominantly Protestant and Catholicism survived only among certain clans of the Highlands and islands. In primitive Ireland however it seemed nothing would change the allegiance of the inhabitants. Elizabeth and her successor James I (& VI of Scotland) thought differently and authorised land grants in Ulster to Protestant settlers from both England and Scotland. An alien ruling minority was imposed on the Irish and all of the British Isles still suffer today from the results. In 1798, taking advantage of Britain’s war with Revolutionary France, the Irish rose in revolt but they were soon crushed and their leaders executed or driven into exile.

The resultant Act of Union with Ireland in 1800 joined that troubled island to the existing United Kingdom and made Parliament at Westminster supreme over 4 million Irish Roman Catholics. Emancipation, that is the concession of political rights to them and their few co-religionists in Great Britain, became a serious issue. In 1815 the law excluded Protestant Dissenters to a great extent and Roman Catholics almost entirely from public office. King George III and his successor George IV personally vetoed any attempt to resolve the matter. In January 1828 the Duke of Wellington became Prime Minister. He soon became convinced that Catholic Emancipation was the only thing which could prevent civil war in Ireland. In March of that year he repealed the 17th. Century Test and Corporation Acts which, in theory at least, had debarred Dissenters from public office. In April 1829 he also carried Catholic Emancipation by talking over King George IV. A Catholic still had to swear an elaborate oath before taking office and could not aspire to be Regent, Lord Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland or High Comissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (heaven forbid!) but otherwise he was now on an equal legal footing with Anglicans for the first time since the Armada. Religious toleration was still far from complete: only Anglican priests and, strangely enough, Quakers and Jews, could perform marriages valid in law. There was as yet no secular or civil marriage. This was introduced at the same time as the registration of births, marriages and deaths began in England & Wales – on July 1 1837, 10 days after the accession of the 18 year old Queen Victoria. Catholics (and women) still could not go to University and would not be able to for half a century more.

In mediaeval times Ireland’s population was probably a fairly constant figure of about 1 million, all that the country could sustain from the few crops it produced. Then a new plant was introduced from the New World which thrived in Erin’s cold and wet climate – the potato – and which required little care or attention other then good drainage. This new crop was however highly susceptible to disease and there were many examples of failure over the next two centuries. These blights were usually localised and of short duration. There had never been a complete failure which extended over several years but this disaster finally occurred in the second half of the 1840s. By the time of the 1841 census Ireland had 8 million people, twice the modern level and equal to over half the population of England & Wales at that date. A million died of starvation and associated disease between 1845 and 1849, the last peacetime famine in Western Europe. Roughly the same number emigrated to Britain and her colonies and to the United States. In 1851 Ireland had 6.5 million people. In 1861 she had 5.8 million. Today all of the island of Ireland has less than 5 million people. However there are at least 17 million Americans and four or five million Canadians and Australians who claim Irish descent.

According to the census of 1851 the population of the island of Great Britain was 21 million, a figure which included some 734,000 Irishmen and approximately 1.5 million of their womenfolk and children, about half of whom had arrived in the previous decade. If the same figures are extrapolated to today Great Britain with 60 million people would have to absorb over 6 million economic refugees from Ireland, more people than the island actually possesses. We complain bitterly enough today about the numbers of illegal immigrants trying to reach our shores but have apparently forgotten that once we had to cope with far, far more, my own ancestors among them and possibly yours too. In 1850 Pope Benedict XIV thought it opportune at last to establish a normal hierarchy of bishops in England, hitherto treated as a schismatic country requiring special arrangements. In the Northeast of England the see of Hexham & Newcastle was created as a result.

The influx affected every part of Great Britain and especially the Northeast of England which was near to the ports of Cumberland which received Irish traffic. As now the newcomers were far from popular – they were perceived as a threat to their livelihoods by the English working classes for they would work for little more than a roof over their heads and some food in their bellies. There were anti-Irish riots in Salford, London and a number of other places but no serious disturbances were reported from County Durham. The Irish infiltrated every corner of the county and can be detected in massive numbers in the 1861 census at Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields, Hartlepool and Seaham Harbour – they, being poverty-stricken, always ended up in the poorest quarters, and at Seaham for instance they took over the back alleys and tenements and ghettoized themselves in what became known as ‘Irish Back Street’. Though there were no anti-Irish riots at Seaham there were many affrays it seems and especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Gangs of young English miners from Seaham Colliery walked the mile or so to the port of Seaham Harbour every weekend in the expectation of several beers and then a punch-up with the Irish. The Sons (and Daughters) of Erin, hot-blooded and keen to settle accounts with the English, any English, usually obliged. There were similar scenes at many of the other colliery villages of Easington District – at Wingate for instance the English and Irish gangs had their own drinking holes and it was not until the late evening that the different beers met up in the centre of the village to settle their differences and the violence began. The extraordinarily high proprtion of Catholics in modern-day Seaham Harbour can be dated back to this period. Every Sunday at the main Catholic church in Seaham, St. Mary Magdalene’s, it is standing room only for all of the masses – almost all of the congregation are fourth or fifth generation descendants of Irish immigrants from those troubled times long ago.

Sunderland too, just four miles up the coast from Seaham, received a huge number of Irish, attracted by the shipbuilding and glassblowing trades and any other work that was going. All that some of the newcomers, the young single women, had to offer was their bodies and the origin of the port’s huge red-light district, almost exclusively populated by the sisters of sweet Molly Malone, lies in this period. In the mid-19th. century Sunderland’s brothels were the international equivalent of modern-day Patpong in Thailand. The vice trade was an important part of the town’s economy, dependent as it already was on the thousands of international seamen who passed through.

The Peopling of Easington District, Part 4

In this chapter, we look at the influx of agricultural labourers from many rural districts of the kingdom but especially East Anglia which took place in the late 19th. century.

The most spectacular example of this in the Northeast that I have so far uncovered lies outside Easington District – look at the census returns from 1861 onwards for all of the colliery villages of Chester-le-Street District and start counting the number of households which originated in the flat Suffolk countryside which surrounds the town of Mildenhall. The soil in this part of England is sandy and poor in nutrients and little could grow here until the introduction of artificial fertilisers in the late 19th. century. So poor is the soil in places that only lichen can grow, hence the name of the neighbouring township of Lakenheath (Lichen-Heath). Chester-le-Street district censuses 1861-91 inclusive mention literally hundreds of households who came north from such villages as Barton Mills, Icklingham, Back Row, Tuddenham and Lackford and brought their ancient Suffolk-specific surnames like Dorling and Garnham with them. The census returns for Mildenhall District in the same period show a consequent decline in population and most of these absentees can be found in County Durham. It is clear that thousands of modern-day residents of Chester-le-Street must descend from this influx, though many of them will be unaware of it for they have yet to dicover the hobby of genealogy and the memory of the connection has faded from their family legends. Ironically Mildenhall is now a very prosperous district, sustained and nourished by the two giant American air bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath and by improvements in agricultural techniques. The surnames Dorling and Garnham are still present in some numbers in the local telephone books just as they are in Chester-le-Street.

In 1801, with the Industrial Revolution barely begun, England & Wales were predominantly rural countries and there were few large towns outside London, Norwich and Bristol. Over the course of the next century however Britain became an overwhelmingly urban land with many large industrial towns. There was a massive movement from the land to the cities in search of the work created by the new factories, accelerated at times by the periodic and cyclical depressions which afflicted agriculture and by the overtures of head-hunting agents of industrialists who could offer higher wages in the mines of County Durham or the factories of Birmingham.

Easington District too received its share of East Anglians though from all parts of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and not just specific small areas. Many of them came from coastal villages such as Cley and Sea Palling which already had trade connections with ports in County Durham. Collier vessels brought coal and limestone from such places as Seaham Harbour and went back with agricultural produce, peat and emigrants looking for work in the hundreds of coalmines which then existed in Durham. Agricultural labourers earned poor wages, lived isolated lives and worked very long hours. They usually lived in tied cottages which had to be surrendered when they changed employment. There were bonuses at harvest time but many were obliged to supplement their income with poaching and other activities which could bring instant dismissal and eviction. In County Durham wages were higher and more consistent, there was a free house and free coal for the fire. After 1869 there was also a powerful union, the DMA, to protect the miners, something non-existent in the countryside where individual labourers were at the mercy of ruthless landowners. Many Durham mining villages also had free schools supplied by the mineowners and these gave the children of the East Anglians educational opportunities which did not exist in the counties they had left.

Trimdon Colliery Disaster of 1882

The Trimdon Disaster of 1882

The Trimdon Colliery Disaster, a mine explosion, occurred on Thursday, February 16, 1882. Seventy-four people were killed. The below information draws on info from the Durham Chronicle and the census of 1881. Following the death lists are short lists of who identified certain bodies.


Trimdon Grange (Five Houses) was sunk in 1845. Mr. Cooke was resident manager. Mr. W.O. Wood was head manager at Trimdon Grange Colliery. TGC was owned by Mr. Walter Scott.

67 got out at Trimdon Grange and 6 at Kelloe (East Hetton) . One of these survivors, Peter Brown (59 year old furnaceman) died of his injuries after being pulled out.

Trimdon Grange and Kelloe pits were linked underground, separated by a door which was forced open by the explosion. The “after damp” (poisonous gases created by the explosion) killed some of the would-be rescuers from Kelloe.

Inquest held at the Trimdon Grange Inn. Opened and adjourned.

44 of the victims were buried in a mass grave at Old Trimdon. 26 were buried at Kelloe, 1 at Croxdale, 1 at Cassop and 2 at Shadforth.

One young woman was to have been married on the Saturday afternoon but at the appointed time she attended her betrothed’s funeral. Another victim, father of 2 small children, was working his last shift prior to emigrating to America. Another man was arrested in the pit yard before the shift for non-payment of a fine. His 2 ‘marrers’ were killed.

Death List from Trimdon Grange Colliery Village

Name Age on Death List Age in 1881 census Occupation Dependents Residence Birthplace per 1881 census
1 William Robson 46 deputy widow and 1 child 13 Lane Row Quarrington
2 John Errington 36 32 weighman (or waggonwayman) widow and 3 children Plantation Row Trimdon
3 Samuel Richardson 16 single Plantation Row Usworth
4 James Stubbs 30 widow and 3 children Plantation Row Bowden Close
5 Thomas Priestley 29 widow and 1 child Plantation Row Etherley
6 John Douglas boy 12 Plantation Row Trimdon
7 Thomas Sharp (not found) single
8 John Hughes 50 (or 30) 35 hewer single Rose Street Wales
9 Thomas Hunter 36 widow and 6 children Plantation Row Kelloe
10 Andrew Smith 23 hewer single Plantation Row Cassop
11 Cornelius Jones boy 17 Plantation Row Wales
12 John F.(?) Jones 38 34 hewer single Plantation Row Wales
13 Robert Soulsby 59 hewer widow and grown-up family Plantation Row South Shields.
14 Joseph Hyde 22 hewer single Lane Row Ireland
15 John Ramsay or Ramsey 28 25 onsetter single Lane Row Trimdon
16 Joseph Dormand 18 13 driver Lane Row Wingate
17 Thomas Dormand boy 11 Lane Row Trimdon
18 William Jefferson 18 17 onsetter single Lane Row South Hetton
19 George Jefferson 16 13 switch-boy single Lane Row South Hetton
20 John Allison or Ellison 18 hewer single Lane Row Elwick
21 Henry Burke 39 widow and 4 children Office Row Ireland
22 Edward Spencer 16 single (or 19, married) Office Row Wales
23 George Wigham 25 widow and 3 children Office Row Wrekenton (lodger)
24 Frederick Bowen 23 23 hewer widow and 2 children Office Row Sunderland
25 William Madrell or Maddrell 40 married 17 Office Row in 1881
26 John Williams or Williamson 50 hewer widow and 1 child Reading Room Row Wales
27 Thomas Peate or Peale or Peel 20 single Reading Room Row Trimdon
28 George Richardson 26 29 widow and 2 children Reading Room Row Easington.
29 Michael Hart or Hatt 44 hewer widow and 7 children Reading Room Row Ireland
30 Thomas Horden (not found) back overman widow and grown-up family
31 George Lishman (not found) single
32 William Bowen 16 16 single Reading Room Row Thornley (lodger)
33 John Wilson (or Beaton; stepfather was Cornelius Beaton) 16 14 single Hammonds Houses Trimdon
34 Matthew Day boy 12 driver Station Terrace Monk Hesleden.
35 Henry Joyce 17 (not found) single
36 Richard Thwaites 24 23 deputy widower Overmans Row Trimdon
37 George Dobson 23 hewer single Overmans Row Sedgefield
38 Ralph Mercer 18 17 putter Overman’s Row Rosedale, Yorkshire
39 Richard Dawe 20 single Longwood Row Cornwall
40 David Griffiths boy 18 putter Longwood Row Stafford
41 Enoch Sayers 18 17 single Plantation Row Aysgarth, Yorkshire
42 John Samuel Edmunds 14 12 driver Longwood Row Bridgend, Glam, Wales
43 William Parker boy 15 Longwood Seaton, County Durham
44 Ralph Robinson 19 (not found) putter single
45 Robert Edwards 18 (not found) single
46 David Edwards 16 (not found) driver
47 Jacob Soulsby 22 26 hewer widow Duff Heap Row Trimdon
48 John Wilson 31 widow and 3 children Reading Room Row Durham City

William Jefferson, an engineman of Lane Row, Trimdon Grange identified his 2 sons.
Joseph Dormand of Lane Row identified his son Joseph.
David Elderwick of Trimdon Colliery identified the body of his son-in-law John Harrington.
William Edwards of Surgery Row, Trimdon, identified Robert Edwards.

Death List from Trimdon Colliery Village

Name Age on Death List Age in 1881 census Occupation Dependents Residence Birthplace per 1881 census
1 William Hyde (not found) widow and 1 child
2 William Williams 30 widow and 3 children Hogg’s-Pratt’s Street Cornwall
3 Henry Miller 24 single Hogg’s-Pratt’s Street Kidsgrove, Staffs (lodger)
4 John Smith 25 widow and 2 (or 3) children Office Row Liverpool
5 Thomas Prior or Pryor 24 25 single Hogg’s-Pratt’s Street Gateshead
6 Thomas Clarke 27 widow and 2 children, Hogg’s-Pratt’s Street Clay Cross, Derbys
7 William Walker 22 widow and 2 children Reading Room Row (Trimdon Grange) Ferryhill(?)
8 Michael Docherty 20 19 hewer single Coffee Pot Row Ireland
9 Joseph Whitfield Burnett 22 (or 23) putter single
10 George Colling Burnett 18 (or 19) shaftsman or assistant onsetter single Burnett’s Row Trimdon
11 James White Burnett 17 landing minder single Burnett’s Row Trimdon
12 Robert Maitland (not found) widow and 3 children
13 Matthew French boy, 13 (not found) trapper

The Burnetts were identified by their brother Thomas, a boiler-minder living at Spennymoor.
William Hyde identified Joseph Hyde.

Death List from Old Trimdon Village

Name Age on Death List Age in 1881 census Occupation Dependents Residence Birthplace per 1881 census
1 James Boyd (actually named McDonald and brought up by his Boyd grandparents.) boy, 14 12 coupler County Durham
2 Michael McCall or McHale 22 18 single
3 John McCall or McHale 17 17 driver single
4 Thomas McCall or McHale 13 13 driver single
5 William Jennings boy 16 assistant shaftsman Salter’s Lane (Trimdon Grange) Ireland.
6 Patrick Durkin boy, 12 Ireland.

Samuel Boyd identified his ‘son’ (grandson) James (McDonald) .
Ann Jennings of Old Trimdon identified her only son. She was left with a widowed daughter.
Patrick McCall, Quarryman of Old Trimdon, identified his two brothers. The body of a third brother had not yet been recovered.

Death List from Kelloe (East Hetton)

Name Age on Death List Age in 1881 census Occupation Dependents Residence Birthplace per 1881 census
1 Herman Schler 73 Underviewer at Kelloe
2 George Slack single
3 Thomas Blenkinsop master wasteman widow and 4 children
4 Jacob Barryman or Berryman or Berriman widow and 3 children
5 Christopher Prest widow and 3 children
6 Frank Ramshaw 17 single

— by Tony Whitehead

Colliery Railways: Seaham to Hartlepool, 1905-?

Seaham to Hartlepool, 1905-?

The Past

In 1899 the N.E.R. began to construct the Seaham-Hartlepool connection. This necessitated the construction of viaducts over four large denes and several smaller ones. The most spectacular of these are at Seaton Carew, Hawthorn Dene and Dawdon Field Dene. Dawdon Viaduct was finished in 1905 to complete the new line. Seaham was at last connected to the south and was no longer a railway deadend. There were stations at Hartlepool, Hart Station, Blackhall, Horden, Easington (Colliery), Seaham, Ryhope (East) and Sunderland. Over the years the number of stations was gradually reduced until there was only one stop between Hartlepool and Sunderland – Seaham.

The Present

In recent decades all of the pits the Seaham to Hartlepool extension was constructed to serve – Blackhall, Horden, Easington, Dawdon and Vane Tempest have closed. The Durham coalfield is history. The line from Seaham to Hartlepool and beyond has never been a success as a passenger railway. Watch the passenger trains as they shuttle past. Hardly a soul on board.

The Future

If the Seaham to Hartlepool connection does go then surely a magnificent coastal walkway can be created from the trackbed. There is even the possibily of a steam service in summer time.

— by Tony Whitehead

Colliery Railways: Londonderry Seaham & Sunderland 1854/55- ?

Londonderry Seaham & Sunderland 1854/55- ?

The Past

Seaton and Seaham collieries came on stream in 1852. The docks at Seaham Harbour were by now receiving coal from nearly 20 inland pits and were seriously overloaded. Something had to be done to ease the pressure. The solution was to create a railway to the much larger facilities at the port of Sunderland. On a bitterly cold day, February 8 1853, the first turf of the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland Railway was dug by the 3rd. Marquess, now aged 75. He was fated not to see the completion of this project. On January 17 1854 Frances Anne celebrated her 54th. birthday at Wynyard, the last she would share with her husband. On the same day the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland Railway was completed as far as Ryhope where it met up with the Durham (Shincliffe) and Sunderland Railway. This company would not share its rails or its station at Ryhope (West) with the newcomer which was obliged to lay its own tracks alongside the others on the remaining stretch from Ryhope to Sunderland. This explains why the trackbed today is so wide between Ryhope and Hendon. Passenger traffic finally began on the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland on July 1 1855 with stations at Seaham, Seaham Colliery, Seaham Hall (for the private use of the Londonderrys and their guests) and Ryhope (East). The town was at last connected to the outside world by a passenger rail service. From 1854 to 1868 the LS&S had its own station in Sunderland. From 1868 until 1879 the terminus was at Hendon Burn until the new central station opened.

The new railway terminated at Seaham, there was no southward connection to Hartlepool and Teesside. For this it was necessary to travel on the LS&S north to Ryhope (East) and change there to a D&S (rope-hauled) southbound train to Haswell and change again there to a loco-hauled train of the HD&R. This situation of dozens of independent railway companies serving the northeast was about to come to an end. A giant appeared amongst them. The North Eastern Railway was formed in 1854 by the amalgamation of four large railway companies: the York and North Midland; the York, Newcastle & Berwick; the Leeds Northern; the Malton and Driffield. In the following decades the N.E.R. gobbled up many others including the Stockton & Darlington, the Durham and Sunderland, the Hartlepool Dock and Railway and, eventually, the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland. From HQ in York the company at its peak controlled over 500 stations, with 1700 miles of track and the right to use another 300 miles belonging to other companies. The N.E.R. and Hartlepool Dock & Railway amalgamated in 1857. The D&S was gobbled up a little later. A single station was constructed at Haswell and through trains now ran from Sunderland to Hartlepool.

The 3rd. Marquess died in March 1854 and his widow took over the running of all the Londonderry businesses. On December 12 1859 she laid the foundation stone for the Seaham Harbour Blast Furnaces at a site near Dawdon Hill Farm. An extension to the LS&S, the Blastfurnace Branch, was constructed to connect with this new and high-risk venture and Frances Anne’s second son Adolphus was put in charge. This was possibly not the wisest of choices given that Adolphus was having serious mental problems at the time. Quarrels between Frances Anne and her chief agent John Ravenshaw over the entire scheme brought about his resignation and delayed completion of the project until 1862. The furnaces were supplied with coal from Seaham Colliery and iron ore from Cleveland which was brought by rail to Seaton Bank and then down the Rainton line and on to the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland railway. The newly built extension to this line led straight into the furnaces. Lime was brought on another short railway branch from the quarry at Fox Cover. National overproduction and falling prices threatened the scheme by the time of Frances Anne’s death three years later and it did in fact fold by the end of 1865. In 1869 the site was leased out to a chemical company for the production of soda and magnesia and occasionally pig-iron when the market revived. Both Chemical Works and Blastfurnaces finally closed in 1885. The Blastfurnace Branch line was taken over to service Dawdon Colliery whch appeared near to the furnace site in 1899. The branch line to Fox Cover Quarry remained in use until about 1919.

In the mid-1890s new deep collieries were planned along the Durham coast – Blackhall, Horden, Easington and Dawdon. The 6th. Marquess contemplated extending the LS&S southward to Easington and perhaps beyond. However the N.E.R. was also on the scene and wanted to build its own railway to connect Seaham (and all the new pits in between) with Hartlepool. The N.E.R. already owned Hartlepool Dock. A clash was inevitable and for months legal action and counter-action ensued. Londonderry opposed a new N.E.R. line, the N.E.R. opposed the dock project and the proposed extension of the LS&S. Finally the two sides came to their senses and agreed to cooperate.

In 1898 the 6th. Marquess sponsored the Seaham Harbour Dock Act which established the Seaham Harbour Dock Company and gave it powers to construct new harbour works, including two outer protective piers and an enclosed dock equipped with new coal staiths. SHDC was unusual as one of the few private companies to be established by special Act of Parliament. The capital of the Company in 1898 was £450,000. Both the N.E.R. and Lord Londonderry were major shareholders in this new concern which took over the docks and the LS&S wagonways and stock of coal wagons. As part of the deal the rest of the LS&S, in almost its entirety, was sold to the N.E.R. for £400,000 and it was incorporated in their network. The Londonderry family also gained a seat on the board of the N.E.R. Two small exceptions were made to the sale of the LS&S lock, stock and barrel: Seaham Hall station remained the private property of the family and the Marquess retained the right ‘to stop other than express trains within reasonable limits’ (between 1900 and 1923 this privilege was used only four times, an indication of how little the family used Seaham Hall by then. In 1923 the 7th. Marquess, who had by then recently abandoned Seaham Hall, was persuaded by the new L.N.E.R. to surrender this right.); The Station Hotel in Seaham also remained the property of the Marquess. This public house had an entrance straight from the platform. Seaham Colliery station became the new main station for Seaham for through-trains but the old station remained as the terminus for the local service from Sunderland. It was closed on September 11 1939 as a a wartime measure and never reopened. It and the public house were demolished in the 1970s. The N.E.R. became the L.N.E.R. after the Great War and part of British Railways after the Second World War.

The Present

Seaham lost its own unique private railway in 1898. The trackbed of the LS&SR is now part of the coastal Sunderland-Seaham-Hartlepool-Teesside branch railway. Virtually the only visible reminders of the old private railway are to be seen just to the north of the former Ryhope junction with the inland Sunderland-Haswell-Hartlepool line. Back in the 1850s the original owners of the inland railway refused to share either their station at Ryhope or their existing tracks from there to Sunderland with the new LS&SR. This not only necessitated a second station at Ryhope (Ryhope East) but also a second bridge over the obstacle of the dene just to the north of Ryhope Junction and a second set of tracks alongside the other all the way from there in to Sunderland. Hence the trackbed between Ryhope and Sunderland being so wide for the next couple of miles. The second bridge thrown across the dene was made with metal and even to this day the legend ‘LS&SR’ can be seen stamped on it.

The Future

The future of trackbed of the former LS&SR seems to be reasonably secure. Without coal pits, Seaham is rapidly becoming a mere satellite of Sunderland, which is soon to be connected up to the Tyneside Metro system. It seems likely that Seaham too will be connected up one day.

— by Tony Whitehead

Colliery Railways: Hartlepool to Sunderland via Haswell 1835/36-1993

Hartlepool to Sunderland via Haswell 1835/36-1993

The Past

In 1832 the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company began to build a passenger/freight line from Hartlepool to Haswell (via Hart Station, Hesleden, Wellfield and Shotton) with the intention of pushing through to Pittington, Moorsley, Rainton and beyond and hopefully diverting coal trade from collieries en route towards Hartlepool. In the same year a rival company, the Sunderland Dock & Railway, started to build a line from Sunderland to Haswell (via Ryhope, Seaton, Murton and South Hetton), which opened on August 30 1836. Both lines terminated at Haswell but initially there was no connection between them as they were on different levels and almost at right angles to each other. There were two separate stations.

Between 1836 and 1839 the Durham and Sunderland also constructed a western branch line from Murton Junction to Durham (Shincliffe) via Hetton, Pittington and Sherburn House. This extension reached the very places (Moorsley and Rainton) that the Hartlepool Dock and Railway had been aiming for and so that company abandoned any idea of expanding their line beyond Haswell. A proper junction was then created at Haswell so that passengers could change trains and companies with the minimum of fuss and inconvenience but there were still two stations. Seaham was bypassed by the Sunderland to Haswell/Shincliffe railway but a long walk to any of the three stations at Murton, Seaton or Ryhope gave access to the rest of the world. From Seaton Sunderland was now just a ten minute train journey away and Durham (Shincliffe) fifty minutes. The Rainton and Seaham line crossed the new railway at a point just south of Seaton and a junction was created to enable Rainton coals to be sent on the new line to Sunderland docks. A junction was also effected between the new railway south of Haswell and the South Hetton line (the Londonderry Pesspool branch). The Hartlepool Dock and Railway was gobbled up by the new, giant N.E.R. in 1857. The Durham and Sunderland was also snapped up not long after. A single station was then constructed at Haswell and through trains began running from Hartlepool to Sunderland.

The directors of the new Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) & Haswell Railway in 1832 had been unconvinced by the early locomotives produced by George Stephenson and others and instead opted for fixed engines which could manage steep gradients far better. Later locomotives had the power to cope with gradients but by then it was too late and the company was stuck with the archaic method of transport until it was taken over by the giant North Eastern Railway in the 1850s.

The advantage of fixed engines was that they overcame the necessity for much of the excavation work required to make a railway line as level as possible. Consequently, for reasons of economy, the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) & Haswell ended up with some of the steepest gradients in the British railway network and was later used to test the power and brakes on new models of locomotives. From Ryhope to Haswell via Seaton, Murton Junction and South Hetton was a continuous upslope. One night in the 1890s the brakes on a downtrack loco failed at Murton and the runaway train raced past Seaton before derailing itself on the curve ahead. Several people were killed.

The disadvantage to fixed engines was that they made a journey tortuous in the extreme due to the need to change haulage equipment for each leg of a journey. From Sunderland to Ryhope, which was flat, the trains were hauled by a locomotive. There the loco was replaced by a chain connected to the fixed engine house at Murton Junction. The coaches were than pulled uphill, stopping at Seaton on the way. At Murton the chain was changed for another one connected to Haswell fixed engine house. To get to Durham was even more complicated. It was necessary to change trains at Murton Junction and gravity brought the coaches (still connected by a chain) downhill to Hetton. From there to Durham (Shincliffe) via Pittington, Broomside and Sherburn House was comparatively flat but there were several more fixed engines to attatch to en route. It was barely quicker than walking but this method of transport was used some 20 years after the development of powerful locos which could do the entire journey on their own regardless of the gradients.

In 1880 the N.E.R. constructed a branch from the Hartlepool and Sunderland line at Wellfield to Stockton via Wynyard Park. This created a connection between Wynyard and Seaham via Wellfield, Murton Junction and Ryhope. Coal travelled from Seaham Colliery to heat Wynyard Hall and the Londonderry family travelled between their two Durham residences on their own private train with private stations at either end. As well as a rental for the use of his land the 5th. Marquess was given the right to halt any trains he wished in order that he could get on board, regardless of the inconvenience to other passengers.

In the early 1890’s the 6th. Marquess’ younger son Reginald, in his teens, developed an interest in engineering and would spend days on end travelling in the cab of a train on the family’s private locomotives between Wynyard, Seaham and Sunderland. He learned to drive the train, ate with the drivers and stokers and often returned home begrimed. He took a greater interest in the family’s northeast businesses and possessions than anybody since his great-grandmother Lady Frances Anne Vane Tempest. Reginald developed TB and was sent first to a sanatorium in South Africa and then to stay with Cecil Rhodes as his guest. His health kept declining and in May 1898 his mother had to travel out from Britain to bring him home, which to him was Seaham Hall. He died there on October 9 1899, aged 20. The shops in Seaham remained shut during the funeral service and six enginemen acted as his pallbearers. According to his wishes he was buried at St. Mary the Virgin at Seaham Hall, the only member of the Londonderry family to lie in the town they created. A large Celtic stone cross was erected over the grave but this has since been removed for safety by the current Marquess of Londonderry. The passenger service on the so-called Castle Eden branch line between Wellfield and Stckton via Wynyard ended on November 2 1931. It remained open for goods traffic until 1951. It was finally closed between 1966-68 and the line was dismantled. It has now become the splendid Castle Eden Walkway. Passenger service on the Hartlepool and Sunderland via Haswell was withdrawn on June 9 1952. The line remained open for freight and minerals until the mid 1960s when it was dismantled. The northern section from Hawthorn Shaft to Ryhope remained open until the closure of Murton colliery in 1991. This last segment was dismantled at the end of 1993.

The Present

At the risk of repeating myself a walkway now exists from Ryhope (old A19 Flyover) to Hart Station, just north of Hartlepool. With a little diversion it is also possible to walk from Ryhope to Stockton via Wynyard. With a much bigger diversion because of a 200 yard gap at Murton, it is also possible to walk from Ryhope to the edge of the Cathedral City. Needless to say Seaham is not connected to this because ‘The Yellow Brick Road’ stops short at Cold Hesledon.

The Future

There needs to be a connection to bridge the short gap at Murton.

Colliery Railways: South Hetton line or Braddyll’s Railway 1833-1984

The South Hetton line or Braddyll’s Railway 1833-1984

The Past

The main section of the Rainton and Seaham railway was completed in 1831. Almost immediately work began to construct a second railway from the new harbour to the hinterland, paid for by Colonel Braddyll, owner of the new pit at South Hetton. This, the South Hetton and Seaham line (aka The Braddyll Railway), also utilised gravity on its final legs and was completed in 1833. It ran from the new winning past the still tiny hamlet of Murton, on past the ancient village of Cold Hesledon and through green fields down to the clifftops. One day it would separate Seaham Golf Course from Parkside estate but that day was still over a hundred years in the future.

Initially the South Hetton line served only the one colliery. In 1835 Haswell Colliery was opened and the wagonway was extended to it. In 1841 Shotton Colliery was sunk and a further extension was pushed to there. This 2 mile extension was later abandoned in favour of a branch line from Shotton to the Sunderland-Haswell-Hartlepool line. The only surviving traces of this Shotton connection are the buttresses of the bridge which carried the waggonway over the Sunderland-Haswell-Hartlepool line which can be seen by strollers on the Haswell to Hart Walkway. Murton Colliery, another Braddyll pit, opened in 1843 and it too was connected up to the South Hetton line. In 1844 an explosion killed 96 at Haswell and the pit was always problematical after that, opening and closing several times. It closed for good in 1896. After the final closure of Haswell in the South Hetton line served only two collieries – Murton and South Hetton and this situation continued for the next 62 years.

From 1958/59 the coals from Eppleton, Elemore and Murton Collieries were sent underground to Hawthorn Shaft for raising to the surface. From there most was sent to Sunderland (on the rump Hartlepool to Sunderland line) and some passed down the South Hetton line. One by one the four feeder collieries closed down and only Murton was left by the time of the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85. During the 151 years of its existence millions of tons of coal had been sent down it to Seaham Harbour, bringing work and revenue to the new town.

The Strike, the longest and most bitter of them all, was calculated to stop the closure of the surviving collieries, in Durham and elsewhere. An early victim was the South Hetton line, destroyed at Parkside by local people digging for coal in that grim winter. As with the Rainton and Seaham line the nucleus of the embankments had been made with the cheapest and most readily available material at hand, pea to marble sized pieces of coal. In its time the line had carried millions of tons of coal and served six inland collieries (none of them owned by the Londonderrys), and accounted for more than one life and limb. It would have been abandoned anyway with the closure of the last of the feeder pits, Murton Colliery, in 1991.

The Present

Today the old Braddyll Railway is a very pleasant walkway from Seaham Harbour to Cold Hesledon but after that it is almost obliterated by the gigantic slag heap left behind by the Hawthorn Shaft combine. Beyond the slag heap the line connects with the old Sunderland-Haswell-Hartlepool railway. From there it is possible to follow old railway lines continuously all the way to Ryhope, Hartlepool and Stockton. The course of the old wagonway from South Hetton to Haswell Colliery is still clearly visible all the way from Hawthorn shaft to Haswell village but is is now like a rollercoaster, suggesting that the embankments suffered the same fate as those at Parkside sometime in the past. The course of the wagonway from Haswell village to Haswell Colliery and on to Shotton Colliery has long since returned to fields.

The Future

There needs to be a path from Cold Hesledon to connect with the old Sunderland-Haswell-Hartlepool line at South Hetton. Otherwise, Seaham will be cut off from the developing national network of old railways which have been turned into walkways. Surely it is not beyond Seaham and Easington councils to obtain a strip of land no wider than 20 feet to make the connection ?

— by Tony Whitehead

Colliery Railways: Rainton and Seaham Railway 1831-1988

Rainton and Seaham Railway 1831-1988

The Past

In 1813 Sir Henry Vane Tempest of Wynyard, MP for County Durham, died from an apopleptic fit at the age of 42 and left his considerable fortune and his mines at Penshaw and Rainton to his only legitimate child, 13 year old Frances Anne. At a stroke, as it were, she became the second largest exporter of coal from the River Wear with an income of £60,000 per year, a tidy sum now, a fortune then. ‘Rainton Colliery’ was a collective term for several old, shallow pits, some of which had been worked since at least 1650. The coal in the Rainton district is just below the surface and in all probability mining had gone on there for a millenium or two before that.

The entire ‘Rainton Royalty’ was owned by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral and leased to Frances Anne. At the time that she inherited the Rainton complex incorporated six main pits and many small ones covering an area of some 9 square miles. The main pits were the Nicholson’s, Rainton Meadows, the Plain Pit, Woodside, Hunter’s House and Resolution. The smaller pits, some of which were worked directly by Frances Anne and the others leased out to independent operators, included the Quarry Pit, Annabella, the North Pit, The Knott, Old Engine and Pontop Pit. The Rainton and Penshaw collieries were complemented by workshops at Chilton Moor. The coal was pulled by horses from the Rainton pits on a wagonway (which had probably existed since the opening of Rainton Colliery) to the staiths at Penshaw (via Colliery Row, Junction Row and Shiney Row), from which point the Wear was navigable. There it was loaded on to small vessels and taken to Wearmouth where it was transferred to larger vessels for the onward sea voyage. Wages for this and the local port tax of six shillings a chaldron amounted to £10,000 per year. A port at nearby Seaham, linked to Rainton by a wagonway, would have enabled Frances Anne to save paying this and gain an edge on her competitors.

For the moment the heiress was a minor under the care of guardians and her business was run by agents appointed by the Court of Chancery. In 1819 Frances Anne, as old as the century, married a man old enough to be her father – 41 year old Lord Charles Stewart, a five foot nothing reactionary and minor hero of the Napoleonic Wars. ‘Fighting Charlie’, as the family called him, had never been to County Durham in his life and knew nothing about his new wife’s business, coal. On the credit side he stood to eventually inherit a marquessate, money and land from his father and childless elder half-brother Robert Stewart. That same half-brother, better known as Viscount Castlereagh, was Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons and Prime Minister in all but name and able to exert immense influence on behalf of his friends and relatives.

Sir Ralph Milbanke’s plan for a harbour at Seaham (‘Port Milbanke’) now came to Stewart’s knowledge and he determined to buy the estates of Seaham and Dalden when he heard that they were to be sold at a public auction. This took place on October 13 1821 and his bid of £63,000 was successful. He raised part of the money by charging it on his brother’s Irish property. Stewart simply wanted to avoid middlemen on the Wear and be independent of the port of Sunderland. As yet there was no thought that coal might lie under Seaham itself, but such ideas could not be far away. Chosen spot for the proposed harbour was the limestone promontory called Dalden (or Dawdon) Ness on his new estates. Frances Anne was rich but her money was controlled by trustees who had no confidence in the venture and for the next seven years Stewart failed to find financial backing despite obtaining the favourable views of leading engineers of the day such as Rennie, Telford and Logan.

Stewart was certainly not idle during this waiting period. A seventh large pit, Adventure, was sunk at Rainton from 1820 to 1822, and an eighth, the Alexandrina or Letch, in 1824. A completely new colliery complex was sunk at Pittington (consisting of the Londonderry, Adolphus and Buddle pits) from 1826 to 1828 on land leased from others. Stewart also leased land at Hetton in 1820 from the estate of the Earl of Strathmore. Here the future North Hetton Colliery (later called Moorsley) would appear in 1838. In 1825 Stewart combined this tract of land with an adjacent part of the Rainton Royalty, which he leased from the Dean and Chapter and where two more pits (Dun Well and Hazard) were planned, and sub-leased the lot to William Russell of Brancepeth. Included in the deal was the nearby North pit and permission to use the old wagonway to Penshaw and the staiths there. Stewart received rent and royalties and also had a share in the new North Hetton Coal Company that was established. When the Rainton to Seaham line was constructed in 1831 he made sure that the last four named pits were roped into his rail network.

When Castlereagh committed suicide in 1822 his half-brother Charles became the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry. If he had been able to build his railway and harbour in the first years of the 1820s Charles Stewart would have gained an immense advantage over his competitors. The savings made on cutting out the Wear middlemen would have enabled him to deliver his coal to the export market at a price that ensured a fat profit. In 1820 another option had been available. His chief ‘viewer’ John Buddle recommended that a connection was built from the Rainton & Penshaw wagonway to link up with another wagonway from Newbottle Colliery to staiths near to Wearmouth. This colliery and wagonway were the property of the Nesham family who were keen to strike a deal. Doubts about the wagonway’s ability to handle all of the additional coal from Rainton and Penshaw collieries and the fact that he would be dependent on others discouraged Stewart from proceeding. In 1822 Lord Lambton snapped up both Nesham’s Wagonway and Newbottle Colliery. The wagonway was then extended southwestwards to join up with Lambton’s other collieries at Cocken, Littletown and Sherburn. This shrewd move gave Lambton the same advantage as the Hetton Company, independence from the Wear middlemen.

The opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 enabled pits west and northwest of Darlington to send their coal cheaply to the new port at Middlesbrough. Next came the Clarence Railway which further connected Teeside (Port Clarence) to inland pits. Vast new docks were also planned for Sunderland. Finally the information that Colonel Thomas Braddyll planned to build a harbour at Hawthorn Hythe and a railway from there to his new colliery at South Hetton spurred the Marquess into action. It was no longer a question of gaining an advantage but of survival in a very competitive industry. Without the new harbour and railway it was only a matter of time before his collieries were gobbled up by others and incorporated into their railway systems. The problem in 1828 was that he still did not have the money for such an undertaking. Hearing that Londonderry was determined to proceed Braddyll abandoned his own impractical scheme and tried to buy a share in the project but the Marquess decided to go it alone. Braddyll was however persuaded to lend Londonderry £17,000 on condition that his future South Hetton coals would be shipped from the new port and facilities at Seaham Harbour.

Because of money problems the construction and running of the Rainton line was contracted out to Shakespear Reed of Thornhill who put up the cash and charged so much per chaldron carried. Their contractor was Benjamin Thompson and so inevitably the railway became known as Benny’s Bank. Shakespear Reed got 3/- per chaldron for the guaranteed 50,000 chaldrons to be shipped each year, with a reducing rate thereafter. The line cost them £20,000 to construct. In 1840 Londonderry was able to exercise his option to buy out Shakespear Reed for £22,721 16s 1d. The deal thus proved very profitable to both parties.

Breakdown of costs of the Rainton and Seaham Railway.

Seaham Self-Acting Plane £ 779 15 2
Londonderry Engine Plane £ 1770 15 7
Seaton Self-Acting Plane £ 759 0 7
Gregson’s Plane £ 991 12 1
Warden Law Engine Plane £ 1548 6 1
Copt Hill Engine Plane £ 2210 10 6
Rainton Engine Plane £ 2453 11 5
Sidings at Rainton Bridge £ 168 19 6
Sundries at Rainton Bridge £ 446 16 0
Coal Waggons £ 6336 0 0
Sub-Total £17,465 6 11
Engine Houses £ 2,534 13 1
Total £ 20,000 0 0.

On July 25 1831 the first coals ran down the new railway line from the Rainton pits to be loaded onto the new brig the ‘Lord Seaham’. The Rainton & Seaham railway was initially 5 miles long, from Seaham Harbour to Rainton Meadows pit but later additions created a network of over 18 miles of railway track. Fixed steam engines hauled the coal from the Rainton collieries to the top of the Copt Hill. At a point just opposite to the public house the new line passed under the Seaham to Houghton road in a short tunnel. The Hetton Colliery Railway at this point crossed the road by means of an overhead bridge. Thereafter the going to Seaham was comparatively easy and more fixed engines and an inclined plane took over to bring the load across the fields of Warden Law and Slingley, skirting to the south of Seaton village. From Seaton Bank Top another inclined plane and then a final fixed engine brought the coal to the top of the Mill Inn Bank, where one day Seaham Colliery would be sited. The last leg from there to the new harbour was downhill and also utilized a self-acting incline system. According to Tom McNee from 1831, on Saturdays only, a specially constructed coach brought people from the Raintons to Seaham Harbour to shop. The journey must have been a tortuous one, involving up to four changes of haulage machinery, but doubtless it beat walking.

In 1838 North Hetton Colliery (Moorsley) came on stream and began sending its output down the Rainton line. Lord Londonderry sank two more pits in the Pittington area on land owned by the Pemberton family – at Belmont in 1835 and Broomside (Lady Adelaide and Antrim pits) in about 1842. A ninth large Rainton pit followed in the late 1840s and was named after the new Lady Seaham, wife of the future 5th. Marquess. All of these pits and the works at Chilton Moor were linked up to the Rainton and Seaham railway which now had some 15 miles of track. In 1849 another colliery was sunk 3 miles to the west of Pittington on the old Tempest property at Old Durham, within sight of the Cathedral. This was called the Ernest pit. A spur line connected Old Durham colliery with the Durham and Sunderland Railway and coals passed along this line for a couple of miles before connecting with a branch of the Rainton & Seaham railway at Broomside Colliery.

In 1844 the Seaton Colliery or High Pit was sunk, not by Londonderry but by the North Hetton & Grange Coal Company, on a site chosen because of its proximity to the Rainton and Seaham line. The Marquess it seems was still nervous about the expense of sinking a new deep colliery and preferred others to risk their money in what might prove to be a fruitless undertaking. Before long he had his proof when the Hetton Company discovered rich but deep seams of coal. On April 13 1849 the sinking of Seaham Colliery or Low Pit was begun by Lord Londonderry. It was right next door to the High Pit and also right alongside the Rainton and Seaham line. It is not recorded what the North Hetton & Grange Coal Company made of this development. The first coal was drawn from Seaton on March 17 1852. Seaham started producing later but the exact date is not known. At 1800 feet the mines were among the deepest in the country and their workings soon extended under the North Sea. The Londonderry colliery portfolio was now the largest in Britain in the hands of a single individual and was producing over one million tons of coal per year from an area of some 12,000 acres between Seaham and Sunderland on the coast and extending as far inland as Durham.

Charles Stewart, 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry and Founder of Seaham Harbour, died in 1854. His widow, for 35 years in his shadows, now stepped into daylight and began running the businesses herself. She added Framwellgate Colliery to the family portfolio in 1859 and this too was linked up to the Rainton line which now, at its peak, had over 18 miles of track. At the end of 1864, a few weeks before her death, the Marchioness bought Seaton Colliery and merged it with Seaham.

Frances Anne’s heir Earl Vane (later the 5th. Marquess of Londonderry) was advised that the best days of the Rainton and Penshaw pits were over and to concentrate on the new winnings at Seaham and the proposed new colliery at Silksworth. The slow process of abandoning central Durham began with the transfer of the workshops from Chilton Moor to Seaham in January 1866. For another generation the Rainton complex remained productive but declining and the Rainton and Seaham railway kept operating, carrying millions of tons of coal to Seaham Harbour. Ominously the instruments of the Rainton Band were sold off to the 2nd. Durham Artillery Regiment in 1877. The end of the band presaged the final end of Rainton Colliery 19 years later. Before then the family divested themselves of many unwanted assets. Framwellgate and Penshaw collieries were sold off in 1879 and the Plain Pit at Rainton closed at about the same time. The severe depression of the early 1890s finished the rest of the inland pits off. Pittington/Broomside and Belmont Collieries (which had already been sold off) closed in 1890-91. Old Durham Colliery closed in 1892 after being worked for some 50 years. Adventure was shut down in 1893. The four remaining Rainton pits (Rainton Meadows, Nicholson’s, Alexandrina and Lady Seaham) were closed down in November 1896. Buyers were eventually found for Rainton Meadows and Adventure drift. Meadows had closed by 1923 but Adventure somehow survived the Great War, the General Strike, World War Two and nationalisation and finally closed only in 1978.

The rest of the ‘Rainton Royalty’ was taken over by Lambton Collieries Ltd. and worked from existing collieries at Cocken and Littletown. As the coal from Meadows and Adventure pits and from North Hetton/Hazard/Dunwell could be carried on N.E.R. lines the wagonway from the Raintons to Seaham Harbour was redundant after a working life of 65 years. The sections west of the Copt Hill were dismantled in December 1896. The run from the Copt Hill to Seaham Colliery remained open for a while longer to enable the Hetton Colliery Company to ship their coal at Seaham if their own line to the Wear was choked but this section too had gone by 1920.

The last remaining section of the Rainton & Seaham, from Seaham Colliery to Seaham Harbour, which was a self-acting inclined plane, remained open and working until after the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85. That strike was lost and the fate of the rump Durham coalfield was sealed by Conservative victories in the General Elections of 1987 and 1992. In 1987 British Coal ‘amalgamated’ Seaham Colliery with Vane Tempest. No more coal was produced at the old mine and it was relegated to the role of a third shaft for the newer colliery. Vane Tempest coal came to the surface at Seaham Colliery and was transported to the main railway line or the docks from there. The connection from Seaham Colliery to the docks was finally severed in 1988 following an accident with a runaway locomotive. Thus was closed the last section of the Rainton and Seaham line completed 157 years earlier which had brought life to the infant town. ‘Benny’s Bank’ was probably the last working self-acting gravity line in Great Britain – a direct link back to the Industrial Revolution and the Founders of Seaham Harbour.

The Present

This last section from the Seaham Colliery to Seaham Harbour, so recently abandoned, will one day make a very pleasant walkway if Easington or Durham County Councils can be persuaded to take an interest in the matter. For the rest of the line, the section from Seaham Colliery to the site of the Rainton collieries, abandoned between 1896 and 1920, it is of course far too late for such notions. Much of the land it occupied was taken back by neighbouring farmers or has been obliterated by new housing or roads or open-cast mining. When the line was constructed, 1828-31, a nucleus of small coals (the most-readily available material) was used to construct the embankments. People from the village of Seaham Colliery were able to extract over 1,000 tons of this during the General Strike of 1926, a posthumous gift from that long dead tyrant the 3rd. Marquess. Thus there is no trace of the line between Seaham Colliery and Warden Law apart from a continuous trail of pieces of coal on the ground.

At Warden Law however an 800 yard stretch was over level ground and somehow escaped destruction at the time and encroachment by farmers later. It is still possible to walk along the old track here and this section is clearly visible from the air nearly a hundred years after it’s closure, delineated by two rows of trees. Further west the old line is still visible in a wood to your left just before the golf club on the Seaham to Houghton road. Between the Copt Hill and Rainton Bridge the line has been built over for housing or taken back for agricultural use. At Rainton Bridge the railway was sliced by the new Durham to Sunderland A690 road sometime in the 1960s. Beyond the A690 the original line again is clearly visible, with 30 foot embankments covered in coal fragments, for about half a mile. For the next mile the Rainton and Seaham is obliterated by the open-cast mine (situated on the very site of some of the original Vane Tempest pits) before emerging near to West Rainton. The last mile of track from here to the terminus at the site of the old Adventure colliery is clearly visible and delineated. The branch lines to Pittington, Chilton Moor and Framwellgate are still visible but are overgrown or built on in parts. The branch from Rainton bridge to North Hetton Colliery (via Dunwell and Hazard) has been converted into a beautiful country lane.

In it’s heyday the Rainton and Seaham line was used by over a dozen pits owned by the Londonderrys and others, an umbilical cord linking central Durham with the coast. The Raintons and Pittington today are dotted with old pit workings, shafts and spoil heaps and criss-crossed by the trackbeds of old railways and wagonways which bear silent witness to the industrial prosperity of other days. The coal at Rainton was not exhausted in 1896 – it had simply become uneconomic to produce. Today the northern part of the old Rainton Colliery (roughly a triangle whose corners are the old Plain Pit, Rainton Meadows and the Nicholson’s Pit) is a huge open-cast mine which can be seen to your left as you drive from Durham to Sunderland on the A690. In the middle of the nineteenth century Rainton and Pittington were important railway hubs almost completely surrounded by Londonderry pits. Today they are tranquil villages far from any busy railway line and the nearest colliery is a hundred miles away in Yorkshire.

The Future

There probably isn’t one but it is conceivable that the section from Seaham Colliery to Warden Law could be reclaimed and turned into a walkway. Unfortunately the A19 is a major obstacle in the way of this plan but it is surely not so busy that a Pelicon crossing could not be installed for occasional ramblers. Thereafter a small amount of land would have to be compulsorily purchased back from farmers. The Rainton and Seaham was the vital link between the inland railway pits and the new port and town of Seaham Harbour. Without the railway line there would never have been a Seaham Harbour. It is that important.

— by Tony Whitehead

Colliery Railways: Hetton Colliery Railway

Hetton Colliery Railway 1822-1959

Including a chapter on the Hetton Colliery Railway in an article about the railways and communities of Easington District might seem a little strange – after all the HCR began in Hetton and ended in Sunderland and at no point does it even touch Easington district. However the railway was constructed in the early 1820s when Hetton was indeed part of the then Easington District, which was much larger than now. The HCR ran from Hetton to Sunderland by crossing over Warden Law Hill, one of the highest points for miles around, and thus it could be seen from various high points (e.g. Mount Pleasant and Kinley Hill) in and around Seaham and elsewhere and for a brief while (from 1896 to about 1920) it may have been connected to Seaham Harbour via the old Rainton and Seaham line. More importantly the HCR (about which there is little published material) deserves a place in this book because of its unique place in railway history and for its role in opening up the coalmines of Easington District. The HCR was fed by Hetton Lyons, Eppleton and Elemore pits. These were the first deep mines in the county of Durham and were the inspiration for all of the other deep collieries which came later in Easington District, including the three Seaham pits.

The Past

The Durham coalfield is divided into two distinct parts – the exposed and the concealed. In the western, exposed, half fuel at or near the surface must have been collected from earliest times. There are places today in west Durham where people can literally dig up coal from their back gardens and there are still several open-cast sites which are likely to be around for decades to come. The first clearly documented evidence of coalmining in the exposed coalfield is in the Boldon Book of 1183, a register of the Bishop of Durham’s personal lands and the dues paid by his tenants. Small mines, probably simple bell-pits, were worked during the mediaeval period in the Tyne and Wear valleys. Limited in quantity and of indifferent quality, these coals were sent by sea to London and the Low Countries. The Industrial Revolution encouraged a dramatic increase in production from the 16th. century onwards. Because of their nearness to the sea Durham and Northumberland became the most important coal-producing and exporting counties in the period 1550-1700. Early wagonways and then the railways proper enabled coal and coke to be moved to the ports on the rivers and coast, where they were loaded on to large ships for export. A coal exchange was established at Billingsgate in London in 1769 and coal cartels began to operate in the Durham coalfield in the 18th. and early 19th. centuries. Before the advent of steam coal mines had to be drained by primitive water-wheels and this placed a physical limit on the depth of the mines and the amount of water that could be removed.

Wagonways may have been used at small mines in the Midlands in the 16th. century. The earliest wagonway in the northeast was near Blyth, probably opened in 1609 to carry coal from pits near Bedlington to the river Blyth. In about 1630 Sir Thomas Liddell, of Ravensworth Castle, is said to have laid the first wagonway to the Tyne from the Teams Colliery near to Derwenthaugh. The first wagonway on the Wear was laid by Thomas Allan in 1693. By 1793 on a stretch of the river near Fatfield there were ten coal staiths connected by rail to some thirty pits. The rails of all these early lines were made of wood and the wagons were horse-drawn. By the middle of the 18th. century rails were made of cast-iron. By 1820 cheaper wrought-iron was increasingly in use. Wherever a large weight of goods had to be transported regularly between two fixed points railways showed themselves to be very practicable. At first hills set a limit to their use but inclined planes soon circumvented this problem. Complete canal boats were let down and drawn up on slopes between different canals. Similar inclined planes were placed to connect nearly level railways, and so the possibility of overcoming every difficulty of the ground was offered by them. Empty wagons were drawn up the line by the weight of the full ones in descent, a system apparently perfected by a Mr. Barnes of Benwell Colliery.

The eastern half of the Durham coalfield is concealed by several hundreds of feet of Permian magnesian limestone. The powerful steam engines required to dig and drain deep mines did not exist until the start of the 1820s. The first exploitation of the concealed coalfield using the new technology took place at the tiny village of Hetton where sinking commenced on December 19 1820. Deep mining was an expensive business, far beyond the financial means of most coalowners, and necessitated the creation of a large company for the purpose. Hetton was at the edge of the exposed coalfield. A few hundred yards to the east were old shallow pits at Rainton which sent their coal on horse-drawn wagons up a wagonway to Penshaw where it was loaded on to small vessels, taken down the river Wear, and re-transferred to larger boats for export to London and abroad. The new Hetton Colliery Company decided to dispense with all of these middlemen and have its own direct wagonway connection to its own staiths near the mouth of the river, eight miles to the northeast, for direct loading on to ocean-going vessels.

Whilst the exploratory digging proceeded at Hetton, George Stephenson, the famous engineer and pioneer of steam engines, oversaw the construction of the railway from the pithead to Sunderland from March 1821. He was allowed by his usual employers, the ‘Grand Allies’, to undertake this extra work, his first completely new railway, without any diminution of his salary as resident engineer at Killingworth Colliery in Northumberland. His brother Robert (after whom George’s equally famous son Robert was named) was the resident engineer for this, the remarkable Hetton Colliery Railway. The new line was the first railway in the world to be designed to use locomotives. Stephenson sold 5 of his own locos to the Hetton Company, but they were not terribly successful and were replaced by others in the 1830s.

The HCR ran uphill from Hetton to the Copt Hill, climbed over the top of Warden Law Hill, and descended past Silksworth on its way to the river at Sunderland. The railway was far from straight for it needed to make skilful use of the terrain. The first four stages totalled a climb of 317 feet 9 inches in about 2.8 miles. From the top of Warden Law Hill to the staiths above the river was seven more stages away, very nearly 5 miles, and a collective drop of 522 feet. Wagons, eight at a time and holding over two and a half tons each, were transported from Hetton to the Wear in about two hours – using fixed steam engines for the steepest gradients, self-acting inclined planes for the less steep, and very early locomotives and fixed engines for the few level stretches. Over the 8 miles there were two locomotives, six stationary engines, and 5 brake arrangements on as many inclined planes. At the time of its opening, November 18, 1822, the Hetton Colliery Railway was regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the world and it attracted visitors from as far afield as America and Prussia. The North-East was at the forefront of technology, the Silicon Valley of its day. The excellent publicity received launched the Stephenson clan on to even greater things – the Stockton & Darlington Railway (opened in 1825), the Manchester and Liverpool (opened in 1831) and the Birmingham & London. These pioneering achievements have earned George Stephenson a place on the back of every modern £5 note.

Coal was found at the Hetton Lyons Blossom Pit sinking, at 650 and 900 feet, in seams six and a half feet thick. By 1826 Hetton Colliery and its sister mines at Elemore and Eppleton were producing 318,000 tons of coal worth £174,000 and had become the largest mining combine in England. Hetton Colliery and its railway proved that 900 feet of limestone and quicksand and a 300 foot hill were not insurmountable obstacles to exploitation of the rich reserves of coal and that lesson did not go unnoticed. Before long others, including the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry and Colonel Thomas Braddyll of Haswell, would enter the field and the tapping of the concealed Durham coalfield began in earnest.

Between 1828 and 1831 Lord Londonderry constructed a wagonway from his Rainton pits to his new harbour at Seaham. This, the Rainton and Seaham railway, passed under the HCR at a point opposite to the public house at the Copt Hill. No junction was effected between the two at this point in time but there may be have been one later. Rainton Colliery closed in 1896 and the Rainton and Seaham line became redundant. The sections west of the Copt Hill were dismantled. The section from the Copt Hill to Seaham Colliery and Seaham Harbour was transferred from Londonderry Collieries to the Hetton Colliery Company and a junction may have been created which enabled the HCC to ship its coal from either Sunderland or Seaham Harbour. The new connection to Seaham Harbour was used only lightly and was abandoned at some point before 1920. The original Hetton Colliery Company was gobbled up by the Lambtons, Earls of Durham, late in the nineteenth century. At the very end of the century the Lambtons in turn sold out all their mining interests to Sir James Joicey. In 1920 the 7th. Marquess of Londonderry sold Silksworth Colliery to Joicey. This pit had been connected to the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland Railway but was now linked instead to the Hetton Colliery Railway. Thus in its time the HCR served Hetton Lyons, Elemore, Eppleton and Silksworth collieries.

When Hetton Lyons Colliery closed in 1950 Elemore, Eppleton and Silksworth collieries carried on using the ancient HCR and the old staiths on the Wear. The end for railway and staiths came with the construction of the new Hawthorn Shaft near Murton from 1952-58 to which the coals from Eppleton, Elemore and Murton were sent underground for onward shipment down the old branch line from Murton to Sunderland Docks via Seaton and Ryhope or to Seaham Harbour via the South Hetton line. After a working life of 137 years the Hetton Colliery Railway carried traffic for the last time on Wednesday, September 9 1959, and dismantling began the next day. The last 90 feet of track was lifted at Hetton on November 20 1960.

The Present

Today, in fragments, there is still much to see of Stephenson’s masterpiece. The three best viewing spots are:

1) At the Copt Hill public house on the Houghton and Seaham road you are at the top of the inclined plane from Hetton Colliery and can see down into the valley where the pit was located.

2) At the summit of Warden Law Hill, above the old quarry. From here, on a clear day, there is a spectacular view in every direction and the sheer scale of the railway can be appreciated. Truly a wonder of its time.

3) From the eastern perimeter of Farringdon estate the course of the railway can be followed, in isolated segments, past Plains Farm and on into the centre of Sunderland, running gently downhill all the way. All traces of it vanish as it crosses the Chester Road. The staiths are long since demolished.

The Future

The Hetton Colliery Railway preceded the Stockton and Darlington Railway by three years. It was the first railway in the world to be designed to use locomotives. It marked a crucial stage in the career of George Stephenson. These three facts alone give the HCR a unique place in the history of transport. And yet today over the fragmented remains you will find no information boards, no sign-posts, nothing to indicate its importance. No attempt seems to have been made to keep the trackbed of the Hetton Colliery Railway intact. A golden opportunity was missed to preserve Stephenson’s masterpiece, a direct link back to the Industrial Revolution which so altered this county and especially Easington District. A continuous walkway/cycleway/bridleway/ tourist attraction could have been created – linking the heart of Sunderland to the serene countryside at Hetton and then on to Durham City via the old Durham and Sunderland branch of the N.E.R. Instead in the 35 years since its closure the course of the Hetton Colliery Railway has been bisected by the quarry at Warden Law (itself now disused), the new A19 Sunderland bypass, and the expanding estates of Moorside and Farringdon. Some sections have been taken back by adjacent farmers.

— by Tony Whitehead

Seaham Colliery Disaster of 1880

On the fateful evening of Tuesday September 7, 1880, Joseph Birkbeck (or Birbeck), choir master and organist at Christ Church (New Seaham), slept through his ‘knocker’ at his home at 19 Post Office Street and thereby missed his shift and of course forfeited his pay. The decision, conscious or otherwise, was to save his life and enable him to live until his nineties. His father and namesake (17 Mount Pleasant) was not so fortunate.

Corporal Hindson (22 John Street, Seaham Harbour), the crackshot, had a premonition of his own death. Three times he started out for work on that dreadful night and twice he returned home. The third time he did not return.

John Hutchinson (15 Post Office Street) went to work even though he was poorly because he knew the financial result of any failure to attend. His condition deteriorated however and he felt obliged to return home before the end of his shift. He abandoned his place of work in the Maudlin seam minutes before the explosion, leaving his marrow Pat Carroll (Cooke Street) alone, but had to sit down for a rest on his way back to the pit shaft. He actually fell asleep and was roughly awoken by the prodding of a stick by the overman Walter Murray who told him to go home if he was unwell. At the shaft bottom Hutchinson talked for a while with Laverick the onsetter whilst waiting for the cage to descend. He had barely stepped from the cage at the surface when the pit blew. The ground shook, waking up people in the neighbourhood. The sound of the explosion was heard on ships in Seaham Harbour and as far away as Murton Colliery and the outskirts of Sunderland. Some men saw a great cloud of dust blown skywards out of the shafts. The Marquess heard the noise at Seaham Hall and was among the first on the scene.

The explosion of Wednesday September 8, 1880 took place at 2.20 am in the Hutton and Maudlin seams, the middle of the three levels at the pit.The highest level was the Main Coal Seam, the lowest was the Harvey. Both shafts were blocked with debris and it was twelve hours before a descent could be made. Even then the rescuers had to use the emergency kibble (an iron bucket) for the cages were of course out of action. The cage remained out of action at the Low Pit for nine days. In the pit the engine house and stables had caught fire and many of the ponies were found to have suffocated. The hooves of some of them (complete with shoes) were preserved as souvenirs, polished, inscribed and adapted to various uses, such as stands for ink-wells, snuff-boxes and pin-cushions. Fifty four ponies and a cat survived. Further on the rescuers found debris and mutilated human corpses. Body after body was then located in the dark tunnels. Nineteen survivors from the Main Coal seam were brought up the Low Pit shaft which was not blocked at the level of that seam. The main rescue work was done from the High Pit shaft where it was also possible to use a kibble. Forty eight more survivors were brought out this way. Of the 231 workers only 67 had thus been rescued by midnight of the first day, leaving 164 unaccounted for. None of these survived. Some 169 men and boys had been working in the affected seam – only 5 of these survived and were rescued.

The roads into Seaham were completely blocked by people in the next few days. Most of these were simply morbid sight-seers who obstructed the way for the rescue teams despatched from other collieries near and far. Special trains from Sunderland to Seaham for the Flower Show (now cancelled) were instead packed with these ‘spectators’. The families of those dead or missing were unable to get anywhere near the colliery. The crowd round the pit reached an estimated 14,000 on the Wednesday night (the day of the explosion). By Sunday there were an estimated 40,000 people in the vicinity to see the first mass funerals. After that the interest wore off and the crowds gradually drifted away to other entertainment. The bereaved were at last left alone waiting for news, any news, of their loved ones.

164 men and boys were dead. The flower of the village had been wiped out.There were 13 dead from Seaham Street alone. California Street lost 12, Cornish Street 11, Australia and Hall Streets 10 each. Every single street in the village lost at least 2 men or boys. Some of the bodies were recovered fairly quickly, the rest only after long and painful delays. Fires had to be extinguished before rescue work could continue. There was no artificial breathing apparatus available though it had recently been perfected. 136 of the 164 bodies had been recovered by October 1. Then the Maudlin seam caught fire again and the management decided to seal off that portion of the mine to deny oxygen to the flames, to the horror of the kinfolk of those entombed who still clung to the faint and irrational hope that their loved ones were still alive. The seam was not reopened until the following June when breathing apparatus and Fleuss’s patent lamp were used by explorers. The last of the bodies was not in fact recovered until almost exactly a year after the explosion.

The workmen in those parts of the pit over which the force and flame extended were all found dead at the places where their work required them to be, as if death had been instantaneous. But the miners far away from the shaft had lived on, some badly injured or burnt and others unscathed, in small and remote air pockets, for many hours or even longer, and left evidence of this in their writings. They eventually died from suffocation in the depleting air. The oil in some of their lamps was found to be exhausted, showing that they had continued to burn for some hours, possibly days, after the explosion. A note was found pinned to one of the bodies:

“September 8 1880
E.Hall and J.Lonsdale died at half-past 3 in the morning.W.Murray and W.Morris and James Clarke visited the rest on half-past nine in the morn and all living in the incline,
Yours truly,
W.Murray, Master-Shifter”

A piece of brattice-board about 2.5 feet long was found with the names of four men on one side and on the other this message:

“Five o’ clock, we have been praying to God”.

Near to the board were the four dead men. Another board had two messages written on it in chalk.The first read:

“The Lord has been with us, we are all ready for heaven – Ric Cole, half past 2 o’ clock Thursday”.

The second message, much fainter, read:

“Bless the Lord we have had a jolly prayer meeting, every man ready for glory. Praise the Lord. Sign.R.Cole”

Another man, Michael Smith, who had left his dying infant son to go to work, wrote a love-letter to his wife on his tin water-bottle with a rusty nail:

“Dear Margaret,
There was 40 of us altogether at 7am. Some was singing hymns but my thoughts was on my little Michael that him and I would meet in heaven at the same time. Oh Dear wife, God save you and the children, and pray for me…Dear wife, Farewell. My last thoughts are about you and the children. Be sure and learn the children to pray for me. Oh what an awful position we are in ! Michael Smith, 54 Henry Street”

By a sad coincidence his son Michael did die on the same day as the disaster. The bottle survives to this day somewhere in the Midlands in the possession of a descendant of Michael Smith.

Of the other victims John Southeran (or Sutherland, 12 Australia Street) left a widow and 9 children. Crackshot Corporal Hindson (22 John Street, Seaham Harbour) was carried shoulder-high again – this time in his coffin. His arms and legs were blown off by the blast and identification was based on his flamboyant beard. There was no Volunteers band at his funeral at St.John’s for it had lost five of its best musicians. The Hendersons of 10 Cooke Street lost the father Michael and three of his sons. Thomas Hutchinson (18 Seaham Street), survivor in 1871, was not so lucky this time. The Durham Chronicle reported:

“One of the first of the bodies recovered was claimed by his widow to be that of Harry Ramsay (or Ramshaw). At home (20 Vane Terrace) the pet dog refused to approach the corpse, barked ceaselessly and was ill at ease. The body was duly buried. A few days later the real Ramsay was found and positively identified by the army boots and straw belt which he always wore at the pit. This time the dog showed every sign of recognition and even licked one of the dead man’s boots….the unfortunate widow had to pay for a second funeral and needed to be advanced money for the purpose by Vicar Scott.”

The only thing wrong with this story is that according to the 1881 census Harry Ramsey was a single man living with his parents! Another enigma we shall never get to the bottom of. We now know, from very recent research that one of the victims, Henry Turnbull, aged 23, was actually Henry Bleasdale. He was a ‘marked man’ who had previously given trouble to colliery owners and had already masqueraded as one of his in-laws, Ben Wright, at Hetton Colliery. He had been detected there and so moved back to Seaham Colliery (where he had been brought up) and this time masqueraded as one of his half-brothers who were called Turnbull (his mother had married twice). After he was killed his widow Jane came clean to the authorities and his death certificate has Henry Turnbull crossed out and Henry Bleasdale substituted by the Registrar. Henry’s descendants live in Seaham and elsewhere today and have only recently become acquainted with his remarkable story.

Initially at least the Seaham Colliery disaster excited national interest and sympathy. Queen Victoria telegraphed from Balmoral, and the Home Secretary came to Seaham. As a result of the explosion there were 107 widows, 2 mothers and 259 children without their breadwinners. A Relief Fund raised over £13,000. The Queen chipped in £100. It is not clear whether or not the Londonderry family contributed to the sum. Probably they did not (at least not publicly) for this would have created a dangerous precedent both for them and other coalowners. In fairness it should be pointed out that the 5th.Marquess had already contributed to the Northumberland & Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund over the previous three years a sum equal to one fifth of that contributed by the workmen at Seaham and his other collieries. Londonderry and his heir Castlereagh also had the decency to attend one of the mass funerals. Had the disaster occurred just four months later, after the passing of the Employer’s Liability Act (which became law on January 1, 1881), then the widows and other dependents would have received at least some compensation automatically if an inquest jury had decided there had been negligence on the part of the proprietors.

Of the total sum of £13,000 raised, £7,500 was invested with the River Wear Commissioners for ultimate needs, and over £4,000 was paid to the committee of the Northumberland and Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund for them to administer by way of current relief in Seaham. The inquest was held at the Londonderry Institute at Seaham Harbour. Verdict – Accidental deaths. The locally-drawn jury might have been afraid of upsetting the Londonderry family or their agents who ran all of Seaham’s affairs and thus made no recommendations or remarks regarding safety at the pit.

Then things changed. Typhoid fever, possibly contracted from handling the bodies, broke out in the village by the end of September. Yet more deaths were caused by this pestilence. Bitterness was expressed when only 1 shilling (5p.) a week was granted to disaster widows, plus 3 pence (1.25p) for each child of school age. Even Vicar Scott protested. Ten of the widows felt compelled to march into a meeting of the Permanent Relief Committee to state their grievances. They asked for 2/9d (14p.) per week for each widow, 1/- (5p.) for each child and a sum of £5 for each family to enable clothing to be bought. The Committee remained unmoved and the rate of relief remained unchanged, which is probably the reason why there apparently is still money in the Fund to this day, 115 years later.

Greater bitterness was caused by the decision to brick up the Maudlin seam before all the bodies were recovered, because fires were still raging underground. Months passed and the resentment led to riots and strikes. In November 1880 coal working was being gradually resumed on the management’s promise of increased pay and an undertaking that the Maudlin stoppings would soon be withdrawn but early in December, when it became clear that these promises would not be kept, the strike began in earnest. Despite the deteriorating weather the workforce were still out at the end of January but a few, a very few, had broken away. The DMA paid out 7/6d (37.5p) per week in strike pay. During February the first blacklegs were brought in from outside the village and were attacked. Daily and under police protection they had to run the gauntlet of the miner’s wives, jeering and banging pokers on ‘blazers’. Any blackleg spotted on his own was given a good hiding. On more than one occasion the strikers and their families massed at the pit and prevented a particular shift from going down. More blacklegs were brought in under cover of darkness. Spies in Sunderland somehow reported their imminent arrival at Seaham Colliery station and there was usually a reception committee waiting to give them a warm welcome. Eventually police had to be billeted at the pit and these were put up in the Volunteer Drill Shed.

In February 1881 a special ‘court’ was held at Seaham Police Station to deal with charges in connection with the disturbances.The Reverend Angus Bethune was the presiding magistrate. The other magistrates were Colonel Allison and Captain Ord. Colonel White, Chief Constable of the County, also occupied a seat on the bench. Bethune made all the decisions, primed no doubt by his ‘associates’. This far from saintly individual, who now rests in St.Mary’s churchyard, was in fact little more than a Londonderry family retainer. He lived into his 90s and was one of Seaham’s leading citizens for 60 years, christening three generations of Londonderrys (usually in London not Seaham). I leave it to my readers to decide whether or not this was a kangaroo court. Watching the entire proceedings (and taking copious notes for future reference no doubt) were the new manager of Seaham Colliery, Barret, and his boss the Head Viewer of all the Londonderry coal concerns Vincent Corbett. Over 50 men were summonsed. Five men were charged with assaulting an alleged blackleg William Scott of 41 California Street. For this offence one Simeon Vickers (8 Cornish Street) got two months hard labour, the others (Thomas Morgan, William Aspden, Robert Dunn and Thomas Lannigan) got 1 month hard labour. Vickers was further convicted of an additional three assaults on the alleged blacklegs William Shipley, William Harrald (sic) and an individual called Roxby. He got another three months hard labour for these incidents. Jonathan Wylde was given 14 days hard labour for assault. A great mob of supporters outside the closed court were held back by police. The constabulary were also needed in force to enable the convicted to be escorted to Durham Gaol the following day.

By the beginning of March the strikers were at the end of their tether. A ballot was taken and there was not the necessary two thirds majority to stay out. It was agreed that work would be resumed on condition that all hands were re-engaged. However Vincent Corbett, Supreme Londonderry Lackey in Seaham, was having none of it. He named 26 ‘marked’ men, above and beyond those jailed, who would not be taken back on. These were of course the leading union men, intelligent and therefore dangerous. In this tense stand-off, rumours proliferated that candymen were to be sent for to commence evictions. On several occasions in early March reports reached the village that their arrival was imminent and mobs of men went to meet them. All of these however proved to be false alarms. During the adjourned hearing of some of the intimidation cases at the Police Station in April a crowd of miners left the precincts of the court on hearing that a ‘special’ train was expected at Seaham station containing both police and candymen. This report too was unfounded. By the end of March 1881 the strikers were obliged to negotiate with the management. The list of marked men was reduced to just 10, the leading unionists.

The DMA had to advise the Seaham Lodge to accept that the 10 men must become ‘Sacrificed Members’ who would give up their colliery houses within a month. Four of these – Thomas Banks (President of the Seaham Lodge), Thomas Brown, Thomas Burt (cousin of his namesake, the Liberal MP for Morpeth) and Robert Newham stayed put in their homes and were duly evicted on April 29 1881. The police arrived suddenly and in force at 10 am. The rest of the villagers could only stand in silence and watch. They were beaten and they knew it. The other Sacrificed Members were given £50 each by the union to start up again elsewhere. They would of course be denied work at every other mine in the Great Northern Coalfield. Some of the men and their families left the village. Some of these are reported to have been obliged to emigrate to America. At least one of them, David Corkhill, eventually returned to Seaham and his numerous descendants walk amongst us today, possibly oblivious of the goings on of a century and more ago. See below for more information about the Seaham Colliery Disaster.

Seaham Colliery finally got back to work in April 1881. All of the remaining bodies were removed by September 6 of that year. Those widows who were now bereft of colliery workers in their families were obliged to give up their houses and move elsewhere. The village gradually filled up again as new workers were imported. Fertile ground for Londonderry’s headhunters was found in the dying Cumberland coalfield. A swarm of mining families came from the Whitehaven area and there can be few Seaham residents in 1995 who do not have some of these as their ancestors. Another wave came from the north Midlands – Staffordshire and Derbyshire in particular. Some came from North Wales, others from Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon and Scandinavia. Nearer to home Haswell and Usworth sent contingents too.

The Seaham Colliery Disaster – Facts & Figures

Of the 164 men and boys killed in the 1880 disaster, 32 were not resident at Seaham Colliery. 28 of these (William Barress, Thomas Cassidy, Richard Cole, George Dixon, Robert Haswell, Thomas Hindson, Edward Johnson, James Kent, Joseph Lonsdale senior, John Owens, Michael Owens, Mark Phillips, Edward Pinkard (or Burns), Benjamin Redshaw, William Richardson, John George Roper, James Slavin, Christopher Smith, Thomas Smith, Luke Smith, Joseph Walker or Waller, Benjamin Ward, Frank Watson, John Wilkinson, David Williams, John Whitfield, Thomas Gibson and John Hunter) lived at Seaham Harbour. Two (the brothers John and David Knox) lived at Seaton Village. One (John Watson) lived at Murton. One (Robert Wharton) lived at Sunderland.

This left 132 as officially resident at Seaham Colliery at the time of their deaths. Of these the families (if any) of a further 14 had left the village by the time of the census on April 2 1881, 7 months after the explosion. These fourteen men and boys were, apart from Alexander Sanderson, single men or widowers, or left only a wife. Some of them were undoubtedly lodgers in a colliery house. The 14 were: Wiliam Berry (14 California Street, left a wife); Joseph Bowden (8 Post Office Street, single); Patrick Carroll (Cooke Street, widower); John Dinning (11 William Street, widower); George Diston (47 California Street, widower); Lees Ball Dixon (23 California Street, single); Richard George (18 Doctor’s Street, widower); Dominic Gibbons (17 Vane Terrace, widower); John Grey (51 Doctor’s Street, left a wife); William Hancock (6 Doctor’s Street, single); James Hedley (52 Doctor’s Street, single); John Kirk (Cornish Row, single); Robert Graham (Butcher’s Street, single); Alexander Sanderson (16 Post Office Street, left a wife and 6 children).

Eliminating these 14 leaves 118 men whose families can be found in the census of Seaham Colliery in 1881. Following is a list of all these individuals in the order in which their families or host families occurred in the census:

Isaac Ditchburn, 18 Mount Pleasant
Joseph Birbeck (or Birkbeck), 17 Mount Pleasant
Samuel Wilkinson, 15 Mount Pleasant
George Brown, 15 Mount Pleasant
Nathaniel Brown, 15 Mount Pleasant
William Strawbridge, 50 Doctor’s Street
John Miller, 42 Doctor’s Street
Joseph Straughan, 35 Doctor’s Street
Robert Straughan, 35 Doctor’s Street
James Clark, 23 Doctor’s Street
James Clark junior, 23 Doctor’s Street
William Henry Taylor, 2 California Street
John Potter, 14 California Street
Robert Clark, 19 California Street
James Walker (or Waller), 34 California Street
Robert Lawson, 39 California Street
John Nelson (or Nilsam), 40 California Street
Thomas Grounds, 56 California Street
John Grounds, 56 California Street
William Moore, 59 California Street
Robert Johnson, 63 California Street
William McLaughlin (or McGloughlin), 54 California Street
John Short, 51 California Street
John Spry, 49 Australia Street
James Higginbottom (or Higginbotham), 48 Australia Street
Richard Defty, 42 Australia Street
William Bell, 35 Australia Street
William Spanton, 33 Australia Street (not 13 as in official list)
John Southern (or Sutherland), 12 Australia Street
William Crossman, 3 Australia Street
Thomas Cummings, 2 Australia Street
William Hall, 9 Cornish Street
John Mason, 10 Cornish Street
Joseph Cowey, 17 Cornish Street
Thomas Keenan, 20 Cornish Street
James Ovington, 22 Cornish Street
Thomas Roberts, 27 Cornish Street
Alfred James Turner, 32 Cornish Street
Thomas Foster, 36 Cornish Street
William Venner, 53 Cornish Street
Samuel Venner, 53 Cornish Street
William John Redshaw, 56 Cornish Street
Michael Smith, 54 Henry Street
Walter Dawson, 49 Henry Street
Anthony Scarfe (or Scarff), 35 Henry Street
John Riley, 32 Henry Street (not 22 as in official list)
Michael Keenan, 22 Henry Street
John Lonsdale, 10 Henry Street (not 2 William Street as in official list)
William Hood, 5 Henry Street
Anthony Greenbanks, 4 Seaham Street
John Jackson, 10 Seaham Street
William Roxby, 12 Seaham Street
Thomas Hutchinson, 18 Seaham Street
George Lamb, 30 Seaham Street
William Breeze, 32 Seaham Street
George Page, 36 Seaham Street
Matthew Charlton, 38 Seaham Street
John Thomas Patterson, 40 Seaham Street
Joseph Cook, 41 Seaham Street
Anthony Ramshaw, 46 Seaham Street
Robert Dunn, 56 Seaham Street
Thomas Wright, 57 Seaham Street
Joseph Lonsdale, 2 William Street
Robert Rawlings, 3 William Street
William Morris, 4 William Street
John Vickers, 10 William Street
George Shields, 17 William Street
James Best, 22 William Street (not 25 as in official list)
Joseph Lonsdale jun., 28 William Street (not 2 as in official list)
John Copeman, 3 Butcher Street
Joseph Clark, 8 Butcher Street
William Simpson, 13 Butcher Street
John Batey, 16 Butcher Street
William Sigh (or Sawey), 18 Butcher Street
William Wilkinson, 24 Butcher Street
William Fife, 5 Post Office Street
George Roper, 10 Post Office Street
Charles Horam, 10 Post Office Street
George Hopper, 20 Post Office Street
George Sharp, 4 Church Street, (not 2 School Street as in official list)
Henry Elesbury (or Elseberry), 6 Church Street
Thomas Hays junior, 14 Church Street (not 15 as in official list)
Joseph Theobald, 18 Church Street
Jacob Fletcher, 22 Church Street (not 23 as in official list)
Thomas Hays senior, 1 Hall Street
John Lock, 6 Hall Street
William Potts, 10 Hall Street
Thomas Alexander, 25 Hall Street (not 24 as in official list)
(His wife is called Elizabeth Ann in the census and not Isabella Ann as in the official list).
Thomas Lowdey (or Lowery), 36 Hall Street
Thomas Foster, 37 Hall Street
James Brown, 39 Hall Street
Edward Brown, 40 Hall Street
Robson Dawson, 44 Hall Street
Joseph Chapman, 45 Hall Street
Walter Murray, 4 Model Street
James Johnson, 5 Model Street
Silas Scrafton, 9 Model Street
Robert Potter, 15 Model Street
Charles Dawson, 20 Model Street
Anthony Smith, 21 Model Street
Thomas Greenwell, 2 Vane Terrace
George Norris, 19 Vane Terrace
Henry Ramsey (or Ramshaw), 20 Vane Terrace
Richard Drainer, 6 Cooke Street
Thomas Henry Williams, 8 Cooke Street
Michael Henderson, 10 Cooke Street
Roger Henderson, 10 Cooke Street
Michael Henderson junior, 10 Cooke Street
William Henderson, 10 Cooke Street
Joseph Pickles, 18 Cooke Street
Henry Turnbull (Bleasdale), 9 Bank Head Street
James Dodgin, 19 Bank Head Street
Robert Shields, 4 School Street
James Shields, 4 School Street
William Wilkinson, 12 School Street (not 14 Cornish Street as in official list)
John McGuinis or McGuinness, 12 School Street
John Weir (or Weirs), 23 School Street
Joseph Rawling, 26 School Street

The death toll in terms of streets in the census of 1881 was:

Mount Pleasant 5
Doctor’s St. 6
California St. 10
Australia St. 10
Cornish St. 11
Henry St. 7
Seaham St. 13
William St. 7
Butcher St. 6
Post Office St. 4
Church St. 5
Hall St. 10
Model St. 6
Vane Terrace 3
Cooke St. 7
Bank Head St. 2
School St. 6
Total 118

Newspapers of the time do not give the ages or addresses of the survivors, only names. Including John Hutchinson (‘the man who came out bad’) there were 68 survivors of the Seaham Colliery Disaster. 26 of them are missing from the census of April 1881 either because they ordinarily lived elsewhere or they had left the village because there was no work or, as in the case of Thomas Burt, they had been evicted. The 26 were: Ralph Marley; George Thompson; Charles Wilson; Richard Bell; William Kirkbright; William Telford; Robert Nelson; George Young; William Riley; Samuel Forsyth; Joseph Quayle; J.Cairns; P.Dillon; Thomas Henry; T.Greener; Gardiner (?); Alexander Kent; Thomas Dodds; Matthew Chapman; Matthew Muncaster; Thomas Smith; J.McKay; George Andrews; David Mann; Thomas Burt; Thomas Taylor. That leaves 42 men and boys who are mentioned in the census. Unfortunately some of the names are very common ones and two or more men in the village might have been the actual survivor. Where there is such doubt I have below put the names in bold.

In the order in which they appear in the 1881 census the 42 survivors in the village were:

Robert Procter, 60 Doctor’s Street
Robert Strawbridge, 50 Doctor’s Street
Thomas Dixon, 16 Doctor’s Street
Robert Procter, 13 Doctor’s Street
William Wilson, 5 Doctor’s Street
Mark Foster, 1 Doctor’s Street
Stephen Howe, 8 California Street
John Mason, 27 California Street
George Wood, 37 California Street
William Winter, 64 Australia Street
Robert Young, 46 Australia Street
Joseph Taylor, 36 Australia Street
Edward Smith, 25 Australia Street
William Cummings, 2 Australia Street
Edward Surtees, 6 Cornish Street
John Mason, 10 Cornish Street
James Northway, 16 Cornish Street
Edgar Crane, 21 Cornish Street
John Gatenby, 25 Cornish Street
Henry Pellew, 41 Cornish Street
Henry Lamb, 45 Cornish Street
Thomas Johnson, 26 Henry Street
George Wood, 20 Henry Street
Thomas Vickers, 16 Seaham Street
Robert Wilson, 48 Seaham Street
Henry Miller, 54 Seaham Street
Robert Osborne, 7 William Street
William Morris, 18 William Street
Jacob Steel, 38 Butcher Street
John Stephenson, 12 Post Office Street
John Hutchinson, 15 Post Office Street
John Turnbull, 23 Church Street
Robert Wardle (or Wardell), 10 Hall Street
Thomas Horsfield, 15 Hall Street
John Turnbull, 35 Hall Street
John Graham, 46 Hall Street
William Johnson, 5 Model Street
William Hartley, 8 Model Street
Robert Wilson, 16 Model Street
William Hunter, 4 Vane Terrace
Ralph Curry, 7 Vane Terrace
Robert Curry, 11 Vane Terrace
Thomas Wilkinson, 12 Vane Terrace
John Turnbull, 14 Vane Terrace
John Hall, 16 Vane Terrace
Robert Young, 18 Vane Terrace
William Laverick, 5 Cooke Street
William Cowley, 10 Bank Head Street
Robert Young, 10 School Street
George Brown, 17 School Street
Joseph Hall, 28 School Street
Joseph Turnbull, 32 School Street

According to Troubled Seams there were 10 ‘Sacrificed Members’ who were sacked and blacklisted across the Great Northern Coalfield for their part in the strikes and disturbances which followed the disaster. I can find only five of these in the census of April 3 1881.These were:

Thomas Banks, 4 Mount Pleasant
Ralph Pallister, 29 Doctor’s Street
Stephen Turnbull, 26 Doctor’s Street
William Turner, 32 Cornish Street
Thomas Brown, 39 Hall Street

The following five were not mentioned in the census of 1881: John Bell; Thomas Burt; David Corkhill; John Furness; Robert Newham.

According to McCutcheon, two of these five, Thomas Burt and Robert Newham, were evicted from their homes at Seaham Colliery on April 29 1881, i.e. 26 days after the census was taken. Therefore they should have been in the village for the census but for some reason they were absent. I doubt we will ever figure this one out. I suspect there are several inaccuracies in the ‘official’ list of the dead supplied by the Northumberland and Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund.

— by Tony Whitehead

The Coal Miner’s Bond

Lest we Forget – The Miners’ Bond


For those of us Northeasterners with coal mining ancestors, there is another little-known tool available to pinpoint their movements beyond certificates, the census returns, and parish registers – the existence of the Miners Bond. To use this tool, you need not visit any distant record repository or consult any learned tome or index. All you need is a basic knowledge of the history of local mining and the application of four important dates.

The main source for the following notes was: The Miners of Northumberland & Durham”, by Richard Fynes, 1873.

Until 1872 all of the miners of Northumberland, Cumberland and Durham were employed under the hated Bond system whereby they contracted their lives away each year (or each month from 1844 to 1864) to a ‘Master’ in return for a ‘bounty’ and little else of substance. By the terms of the bond, under pain of a substantial penalty, they were obliged to submit to various fines and conditions and to work continuously at one colliery for a whole year. The system was a kind of legalised temporary serfdom. The colliery owner on his part gave no undertaking to furnish continuous employment or indeed any employment at all. After 1809 the annual Bond was usually entered into on/about April 5 when a colliery official read out the rate of pay and the conditions available at the pit to the assembled workers and would-be workers. Those who signed up were given a ‘bounty’ of 2s. 6d. (12.5 pence) to start work. The first few to sign up were given extra money which was usually enough incentive to cause a stampede among the poverty-stricken workforce to ‘make their mark’.

If anyone broke the bond he was liable to arrest, trial and imprisonment. If he struck in an attempt to improve conditions, the law was largely against him. If he stood on a picket line, and even looked at a blackleg, it could be construed as attempted coercion. If he attempted to unionise he was intimidated or dismissed and put on a county-wide black list. If he still gave trouble to the authorities he was liable for transportation to the colonies. For the truly unreformable there was always the ultimate sanction in an age when over 200 crimes theoretically carried the death penalty.

A foreign visitor to Tyneside at the end of the 18th. century was struck by the number of notices placed in local newspapers by the ‘Masters’ offering rewards for knowledge of the whereabouts of runaway miners and threatening to prosecute whoever might employ them. In the years 1839/40 for example 66 pitmen in the county of Durham were jailed for short periods as ‘vagrants’; that is, for leaving their usual places of work. In the same period a further 106 were committed for ‘disobedience of orders, and other matters subject to summary jurisdiction’. The annual termination of one bonding and the start of the next enabled the ‘Masters’ to pick and choose from their former and would-be employees (except when there was a shortage of labour), discarding any known or suspected troublemakers or shirkers in the process. The bonding was also the only point in the year when a miner and his family could lawfully uproot themselves from one wretched pit village and trek to another where the wages were slightly higher, the conditions or housing slightly better, or where the grass was or was believed to be greener.

We have all played the game of ‘Musical Chairs’ in our childhood. The music starts, all of the participants walk round in a circle whilst one chair is removed, and then everyone makes a dash for the remaining chairs when the music stops, the individual without a place to park his or her backside being eliminated. Every year the annual bonding triggered a gigantic game of ‘Musical Houses’ and even ‘Musical Villages’ across the Great Northern Coalfield. The old bond expired, the music began and anything up to a quarter of the mining population of the three counties went on the march to a new start, a new life, elsewhere. Sometimes spies had been sent on ahead to ascertain conditions but usually the ‘Masters’ sent agents round the coalfield to recruit/steal workers from each other. Thousands of families took to the road every April from 1809-1844 and 1864-72 with all of their humble belongings on a hired flat-cart, with or without a pony. Then the music stopped, the new bond was ‘signed’ (usually with a cross) by the working members of the family and the new life began. Many clans moved from pit village to pit village every year or whenever the urge struck them. That is why it is so difficult to keep track of the movements of one’s mining ancestors. The great hope of amateur genealogists is to find some of their ancestors who actually stayed put for twenty years or more and who are therefore mentioned in successive censuses in one place.

Eventually conditions for coalminers became so intolerable that the workers were driven to unite. Most, but not all, of the Northumberland and Durham miners went on strike in 1810. It took the ‘Masters’ seven weeks to starve them into submission. The ringleaders were arrested and their families evicted by bailiffs guarded by troops. Over the following two decades appeals to reason and justice went unheeded and discontent kept boiling up in strikes. An attempt was made at the new (and giant) Hetton Colliery in the early 1820s to create a union but it was crushed by the owners and its leader compelled to emigrate to America.

In 1830 Northumberland and Durham miners united in Hepburn’s Union, named after its founder Thomas Hepburn, another Hetton Colliery man, though originally from Pelton. In 1831 both counties came out on strike for more wages and shorter hours. The annual bond terminated on April 5 and its expiry was the signal to down tools. Hepburn himself advocated non-violence but he was unable to control some of the rowdier elements of his membership. A mob of some 1500 miners caused damage at Blyth, Bedlington, Cowpen and Jesmond Dene collieries. Large bodies of violent and lawless men wandered the country causing mischief and the frightened authorities felt obliged to call out the military and swear in a large body of special constables. Hetton was occupied by troops.

On May 5 1830 a large meeting took place at Black Fell, where the miners were met by none other than that great coalowner General the Marquess of Londonderry, accompanied by a military escort. Londonderry asked the miners to disperse and promised to meet their delegates, to which the men agreed. At that meeting however nothing was achieved and the situation continued to deteriorate. On May 17 a large body of men descended on Hebburn Colliery and threw machinery down the shafts to the terror of the blacklegs working below. Only the arrival of a magistrate and marines saved the situation from becoming extremely ugly. In the middle of the following month the owners suddenlycapitulated, the first unmistakeable victory the miners had ever achieved. One of the fruits of their triumph was the establishment of a working day of 12 hours for boys, instead of one almost without limit. They did not long enjoy their unprecedented success.

At the end of that same year of 1831 another stoppage took place at Waldridge Colliery, near Chester-le-Street. On Christmas Eve over 1,000 working men below the ground were placed in some danger by strikers who threw machinery down the shaft. The government promptly offered a reward of 250 guineas and a free pardon to accomplices in return for information about the ringleaders. Six men were betrayed and received prison sentences of up to 15 months for their part. These punishments and the owners plan to deny work to any union member were to be the catalysts for a second strike across the Great Northern Coalfield.

The miners strike of 1832 also began in April, to coincide with the Bond, and within a few days all of the collieries in Northumberland and Durham were again at a standstill. This time however the coalowners had an effective strategy – they brought in blacklegs from all over the kingdom and began evictions of strikers and their families to make way for the newcomers. Soon thousands of strikers and their families were living in fields whilst their villages were full of alien policemen and soldiers.

The terror had its intended effect and the strike eventually petered out. So many strangers had been introduced to the region that the supply of labour was overstocked and the owners could pick who they liked from their former servants. The position of the former strikers was desperate but fortunately for them the demand for coal soon picked up and most of them eventually found employment. Not so the leaders and Thomas Hepburn in particular. He was ultimately reduced to selling tea in the colliery villages but even then the mining folk were too intimidated by the owners, led by Lord Londonderry, to dare buy anything from him. He was driven to starvation and had to beg at Felling Colliery for work. He was forced to consent to have nothing further to do with the union before he was taken back on. Thomas Hepburn kept his word to the ‘Masters’and died in abject poverty on Tyneside in 1864. For the time being at least the miners of the northern counties were leaderless and without any effective union or hope. Twelve years would pass before the next serious unrest.

Before 1809 the time of binding was in October. From 1809 to 1844 the binding took place on/about April 5. After 1809 the time when the contract should be renewed was made changeable and uncertain – sometimes a month or 6 weeks before the old contract ceased. This was of course entirely beneficial to the owners.

In 1843 the men of Thornley Colliery came out on strike in protest at the harshness of their Bond conditions. On November 23 the owners caused arrest warrants to be issued against 68 men for absenting themselves from their employment. All of these informed the court that tried them that they would prefer to go to jail rather than work under the Bond. The magistrates duly obliged and sentenced all 68 to 6 weeks imprisonment. Immediately afterwards however their lawyer Mr. Roberts obtained a writ of habeas corpus and the imprisoned men were removed to the Court of Queens Bench in London where, upon an informality (a techicality), they were acquitted. They all returned to County Durham as heroes but the Bond remained.

The following year saw the ‘Great Strike of 1844’. Once more the miners were crushed and their union destroyed. As part of the punishment a monthly bond was introduced which remained in place for the next 18 years. The intention was to enable the owners to discard troublemakers as soon as they were detected but eventually it was concluded that the new arrangement benefited the miners by giving them undue freedom of movement. The owners could no longer guarantee a stable working force with the mining clans moving on every month without notice. At the end of 1863 the owners collectively advised their workforces that the annual bond would be reintroduced with effect from the following April 5. Disunited and without a union the miners were obliged to accept. The Bond survived for 8 more years until 1872. The prospect of its abolition was the catalyst for the creation of the Durham Miners Mutual Association (D.M.A.) in 1869.

How can all this help amateur genealogists with their research ? Simply apply logic and the known dates to the following fictitious example of a census return at Seaham Colliery in 1871:

23 California Row, Seaham Colliery, 1871 (April) Census
James Hogarth, head of household, married, 48, Coal Miner, born in Long Benton, Northumberland
Sarah H, wife, married, 40, Haswell
James H, son, 4, Haswell Colliery
John H, son, 3, Seaham Colliery

From this we can see that the family moved from Haswell to Seaham at some point between the birth of James junior at Haswell Colliery in 1867 and the birth of his brother John at Seaham Colliery in 1868. The certificates for these births will give us two precise dates (let us say Feb 2 1867 and Jan 17 1868). Applying our knowledge that the Bond was usually signed on /about April 5 in this period we can conclude that James Hogarth senior must have signed the Bond at Haswell in April 1866 and at Seaham in April 1867. Therefore the family must have moved from Haswell to Seaham in April 1867. The same logic can be applied to parish registers in the period before registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1837.The crucial dates for the Bond are:

  • Before 1809 the Bond was signed in October.
  • Between 1809 and 1844 the Bond was signed in on/about April 5.
  • Between 1844 and 1864 there was a monthly Bond.
  • The Bond was finally abolished in 1872.

© Tony Whitehead 1997