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: 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

South Hetton

South Hetton

Holy Trinity, South Hetton

The registers for the church of Holy Trinity at South Hetton date from 1838. Not until January 13, 1863 though did it become a separate parish from Easington. The graveyard contains the remains of many of those killed in the Haswell Colliery Disaster of 1844. The church was built and paid for by the Burdon family of Castle Eden.

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office
Holy Trinity, South Hetton, Baptisms 1838-1971
Holy Trinity, South Hetton, Marriages 1863-1966
Holy Trinity, South Hetton, Burials 1838-1961

Population changes in the 19th. Century for South Hetton and Haswell (combined) were:

1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Haswell & Sth Hetton 93 114 115 263 3981 4356 4165 5623 6156 6276 5512

All of the above census returns for South Hetton/Haswell 1841-1901 have been transcribed and are available on this site.

The sinking of South Hetton Colliery was commenced on March 1 1831 by Colonel Thomas Braddyll’s South Hetton Coal Company. It was the first colliery inside the modern-day boundaries of Easington District. Simultaneously Colonel Braddyll began building a waggonway from the pit to Lord Londonderry’s new port and town of Seaham Harbour via Cold Hesledon. The new line was ready in 1833 just in time to transport the first coals for export. The Braddyll Railway was destined to last two years longer than its parent colliery, being destroyed at Parkside in Seaham by local people digging for coal during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85. In 1835 Haswell Colliery, newly opened, was connected to the waggonway. Shotton Colliery, also brand new, was joined to the line in c.1840.

In the same year that the sinking of South Hetton Colliery and the construction of the Braddyll Railway began the Sunderland Dock Company began to push through a passenger and freight line in the direction of Durham via Murton, with a branch line to the projected new collieries at South Hetton and Haswell. This passed through South Hetton which was given its own station. Completed by 1835 the directors of the new line were 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 1854.

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 then 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.

From 1835 onwards therefore, a very early date in railway history, the infant community of South Hetton was directly connected to the outside world. Sunderland was now just 35 minutes away and London could be reached within a day. Though hundreds of thousands of people must have used South Hetton station in its heyday few photos of it are known to have survived.

South Hetton Miners Killed in the Murton Colliery Explosion of 1848

On August 15 1848 an explosion at Murton, sister pit of South Hetton (same owners), killed 14 men and boys, most of whom actually lived at South Hetton. Their names are listed below (in brackets their place of residence according to the census returns):

Matthew Besom, 16 (No Trace in 1841 census of SH (South Hetton) & M (Murton)
John Dickenson, 12 (No Trace at SH & M 1841)
Edward Noble, 23 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
Edward Haddick or Haddock (No Trace at SH & M in 1841)
William Raffell or Raffle, 32 (Family present at South Hetton 1851)
Christopher Raffell or Raffle, 10 (Family present at SH in 1851)
William Baldwin, 25 (No trace at SH & M)
James Hall, 40 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
Thomas Stubbs, 27 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
Joseph Tones, 66 (No Trace at SH & M)
Richard Bloomfield, 20 (His family were at South Hetton in 1841 ?)
David Rumley, 12 (Resident at South Hetton in 1841)
John Robson, a boy (age not specified in newspapers) (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
Thomas Lawson senior, 41 (Resident at South Hetton 1841)

Thomas Lawson junior, 14, was badly burnt and for days he hovered between life and death at his home in South Hetton. At last he pulled through.

The Durham Chronicle covered the inquest at which the following were called as witnesses:

Henry Pace, Overman (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
Anthony Gray (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
John Robinson (At least four man and boys with this name were resident at South Hetton & Murton in 1841; we know only that the 15-yr-old son John of Stephen and Isabella Robinson of South Hetton was not the John who was killed, because he has been traced forward)
John Teasdale (Resident at South Hetton in 1841)
James Dixon, a boy (Resident at South Hetton 1841)
William Armstrong, Viewer at Wingate Grange Colliery
Thomas Jones of Murton (Not present at South Hetton or Murton in 1841 & 1851)
Thomas Graydon of Murton (Resident at Murton 1841)
Edward Potter, Viewer of Murton Colliery (Resident at South Hetton as manager of that concern in 1841).

The verdict of the jury was ‘Accidental Death. No blame attributable to anyone’

We can perhaps still learn much from the parish records about the early history of the village, but there are precious few clues from the available census returns. In 1841, eight years after the first coal was produced, the enumerator noted the existence of ‘East Side’ (Quality Row, Colliery Row, West Railway Street, Long Row, Waggon Row and Bridge Street), then ‘West Side’ (with no further addresses given). As none of these streets was ever mentioned again in later censuses the information is virtually useless to us. However he was downright informative compared to the efforts of the enumerators in the next three censuses, each of whom described everything in the village as ‘South Hetton’. So the first four censuses, 1841-71 inclusive, tell us almost nothing. We have only the censuses of 1881 and 1891 and the map of 1897 to draw upon for additional information.

In 1881 the enumerator at last mentioned Front Street (East & West), William Square, Gale Street, Chapel Row, Dyke Row, Overmans Row and the infamous ‘Eight Rows’, all of which recur in 1891 and on the map of 1897. He also blotted his copybook by mentioning Waggonmans Row, Cross Rows East # 1-4, Cross Rows West # 1-4, Randy Row, Green Row, Stell’s Row and Station Row, none of which were mentioned again in 1891 and do not feature on the map of 1897. These must have changed their names.

In 1891 the enumerator mentioned Railway Street, Butcher’s Row, Chapel Row, William Square, Edward Street, Prospect Place and Overman’s Row, none of which were mentioned on the map of 1897. He mentioned Rawsthorn Terrace, Inman Street, Silverdale Street, Morley Street, Front Street (Low Side), Thomas Street, Clarence Street, Braddyll Street, Dyke Row, Gale Street, Richmond Street, South Street and ‘Eight Rows’ which consisted of James Street, Smith Street, White Lion Street (called Hall Street on the map of 1897) and Forster Street. All of these are on the map of 1897.

The mining village, owned lock, stock and barrel by the South Hetton Coal Company, was virtually complete by the time of the 1891 census. Council housing came in the 1920s. In 1947 279 of the old colliery houses were demolished by the local Council. This more or less coincided with the birth of Peterlee New Town.

In the 1950s passenger services ended on the old Sunderland to Durham & Hartlepool (via Haswell and South Hetton) line. The track stayed in place between South Hetton (and the projected Hawthorn Shaft which would raise coal from Eppleton, Elemore and Murton collieries) and the coast railway at Ryhope. Thus coal could still be transported from the few surviving collieries to Sunderland for export.

South Hetton Colliery closed at Easter 1983 after a working life of 152 years. As the defiant message on the giant mural you see as you drive through the village says ‘Gone but not Forgotten’.

In 1991 Murton Colliery and Hawthorn Shaft combine were closed and the last section of the old Sunderland to Hartlepool & Durham railway network was dismantled. One unlucky driver, travelling on the Seaham to Houghton road at Seaton, was dazzled by the morning sunshine and failed to see the warning lights flashing at the railway crossing. He was killed by one of the last trains to pass through, whose job was to take up the railway behind it. The entire trackbed of this beautiful old railway from Ryhope (A19 Flyover) to Hart Station (some 11 miles) has now been turned into a continuous walkway.

Some South Hetton Street Names

Clarence Street was named after William, 3rd son of King George III, Duke of Clarence and later King William IV (1830-37), who was godfather to Colonel Braddyll’s sixth child Clarence in 1813. Colonel Braddyll’s full name was Thomas Richmond Gale Braddyll.

– by Tony Whitehead

Seaton-with-Slingley

Seaton-with-Slingley

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Baptisms 1646-1861
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Marriages 1652-1967
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Burials 1653-1966

Seaton has never had its own church or Methodist chapel. It has always been in the parish of St. Mary the Virgin at (Old) Seaham. Consult the registers for St. Mary’s (which commenced in 1646) for further information on Seaton residents. These registers are all available as part of this site.

Population changes in the 19th Century were:

 Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Seaton-with-Slingley 96 126 95 134 175 200 236 228 196 228 259

The census records for 1841-1901 are transcribed and available on this site.

The hamlet of Seaton was first mentioned in documents in AD950. It was considered part of the manor of Seaham until the division of 1295 when half of each village was allotted to the families of Hadham and Yeland. As the centuries passed ownerships changed hands several times. One line eventually led to the Collingwoods, Milbankes and Londonderrys and the other ended up with different owners, such as Colonel Lancelot Gregson. Thus much of Seaton was never owned by the Londonderry family unlike most of the rest of Greater Seaham. The village has never had its own church or even a chapel and has always been in the parish of (Old) Seaham.

Centuries of rural tranquility came to an abrupt end in 1828 when the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry built a waggonway to connect his wife’s Rainton and Penshaw pits to their new port and town of Seaham Harbour. This skirted the southern outskirts of Seaton and brought newcomers to operate the line. No sooner was it completed in 1831 when the Sunderland Dock Company pushed through a passenger and freight line in the direction of Durham, with a branch line to the new pit at South Hetton and the projected new colliery at Haswell. This passed just west of Seaton which was given its own station. Completed by 1835 the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) and Haswell Railway passed under the Rainton and Seaham at Seaton Bank Top, and a junction was effected. The directors of the new line were 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 1854.

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.

From 1835 onwards therefore, a very early date in railway history, Seaton was directly connected to the outside world. Sunderland was now just 15 minutes away and London could be reached within a day. Seaham Harbour would not have a passenger railway for another 20 years so Seaton, being the nearest station, catered for Seaham Harbour traffic as well during that period. The Londonderry Seaham & Sunderland Railway opened in 1855. Seaton station at once lost all of the Seaham Harbour traffic and became a quiet backwater of the NER system. Its busiest day of the year after 1871 was always the Durham Miners Gala when tens of thousands of East Durham mining folk would travel on the line to the county town. Seaham miners and their bands would march in procession to Seaton station to board the special trains provided. Though hundreds of thousands of people must have used Seaton station in its heyday no photos of it are known to have survived.

In 1844 the North Hetton & Grange Coal Company commenced the sinking of Seaton Colliery on land leased from Lord Londonderry. The new concern was called Seaton Colliery after the nearest settlement but the village of Seaton was a good mile away. The presence of rich but very deep coal was proven by 1849. Londonderry then began his own Seaham Colliery alongside. Seaton Colliery started production in 1852 after a long and costly battle. Seaham began production not long after but the precise date is not known. A new community appeared, called New Seaham, which became a separate parish from (Old) Seaham in 1864. For 13 years the villagers of Old Seaham and Seaton had to share St. Mary the Virgin with swarms of rough mining folk. This came to an end when New Seaham Christ Church was constructed by the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry in 1857. In 1864 Seaton and Seaham collieries united as Lord Londonderry’s Seaham Colliery. In 1871 the first major Seaham Colliery disaster killed 26. In 1880 the second Seaham Colliery disaster killed 164 men and boys. Two of these, the teenage brothers Knox, were Seaton residents.

In November 1896 the last Londonderry pits at Rainton closed. The Rainton & Seaham Railway was dismantled between Rainton and Seaham Colliery. Parts of the trackbed and an embankment can still be observed near Seaton Bank Top and at Warden Law. Seaton thus lost its only heavy industry and the connection to mining villages inland. Thereafter it reverted to a quiet agricultural village.

In the 1950s passenger services ended on the old Sunderland to Durham (via Murton) & Hartlepool (via Haswell) line. The track stayed in place between South Hetton (and the projected Hawthorn Shaft which would raise coal from Eppleton, Elemore and Murton collieries) and the coast railway at Ryhope. Thus coal could still be transported from the few surviving collieries to Sunderland for export. In 1991 Murton and Hawthorn Shaft were closed and the last section of line was dismantled. One unlucky driver, travelling on the Seaham to Houghton road, was dazzled by the morning sunshine and failed to see the warning lights flashing at the railway crossing. He was killed by one of the last trains to pass through, whose job was to take up the railway behind it. The entire trackbed of this beautiful old railway from Ryhope (A19 Flyover) to Hart Station (some 11 miles) has now been turned into a continuous walkway.

In the 1970s Seaton was physically severed from the rest of Greater Seaham by a cutting of the new A19 Sunderland bypass. Despite the new bridge across the cutting this frontier has served only to further identify Seaton as a separate place with a separate history. It is now a very comfortable and prosperous semi-rural village and the nearest coal mine is over a hundred miles away.

– 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

(Old) Seaham

(Old) Seaham

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Baptisms 1646-1861
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Marriages 1652-1967
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Burials 1653-1966

Events (baptisms, banns, marriages and burials) at St. Mary’s are very rare today. The baptismal register begun in 1861 has still not been filled and sent to Durham Record Office for transfer to microfilm.

Population changes in the 19th century:

1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Seaham (Old & New) 115 121 103 130 153 729 2591 2802 2989 4798 5285

All of the census records for 1841-1911 are transcribed and available on this site.

The undoubtedly ancient place of worship at Old Seaham was originally dedicated to St. Andrew and then rededicated to St. Mary at some point after 1066. Although St. Mary’s is classified as an Anglican church today it should be remembered that for hundreds of years before the Reformation it was a Roman Catholic place of worship when they were no such things as Protestants. County Durham became Protestant late in the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) and we must assume that St. Mary’s converted at much the same time. Renovation work in 1913 revealed herring-bone masonry associated with Saxon structures so it is probable that the church is far older than the mid 11th Century usually attributed to it. There is evidence that the original (wooden) edifice may have burnt down (possibly by Vikings) and been built over by a Norman structure at some point after the Conquest.

The ancient parish of Seaham comprised the tiny village of that name as well as the hamlets of Seaton and Slingley and outlying farms such as Cherry Knowle. It was bounded on the north by the townships of Ryhope and Burdon, on the west and south-west by Warden Law and Eppleton, on the south by Dalton-le-Dale, and on the east by the German Ocean or North Sea. Seaham was included in a grant of land to the shrine of St. Cuthbert by Athelstan, first King of All England, early in the 10th. century. The estate or manor was eventually sold off to a private individual and by the 13th. Century it had descended from him to two heiresses, the sisters Matilda and Hawysia. The former married a man called Yeland, and the latter married a Hadham, between whose descendants some disputes respecting the division of the property seem to have existed, but which were terminated in 1295 by a solemn deed executed in the parish church.

At some point before 1408 the Yeland share of Seaham and Seaton became vested in the family of nearby Dalden estate. Later that share passed successively, sometimes by marriage, other times by purchase, to the Bromeflete, Bowes, Collingwood and Milbanke families. The latter sold out to the Londonderrys in 1821. The Hadham share of Seaham and Seaton continued in that family until the failure of male issue early in the 16th. Century, when it passed by marriage to first the Bamford and then the Blakeston families. The share was then acquired by the Swinburnes of Nafferton in Northumberland who passed part of this on to the Milbankes who in turn sold on to the Londonderrys. The remaining part ended up with the Gregson, Pearcey and Brough families.

The advowson (ownership and power to appont new parish priests or vicars) of St. Mary’s church appears always to have been attatched to the ownership of the manor of Seaham and to have been held alternatively in the Middle Ages by the families of Hadham and Yeland. Inside the church is a very ancient stone coffin, bearing the inscription ” hic jacet Ricardus Miles de Ilehand [Yeland] “, one of the early lords of the manor. The first rector recorded was John de Yeland in 1279. In 1475 the rectory was annexed to the Abbey of Coverham in Yorkshire. After the Dissolution in the reign of Henry VIII the patronage became invested in the Crown.

The tiny church is a very plain structure, consisting of nave and chancel, with a square tower, and contains a maximum of about 150 seats. Some of the pews are still decorated with the brass plaques of previous well-to-do worshippers, including the Londonderry family. The leading features of the church are Transitional in character from the early Norman era. The two windows at the east end are of this style, being splayed on the inside. The nave is of later date, but the windows, with one exception are comparatively modern. The old roof, considered to be too heavy for the walls, was replaced at the beginning of the 20th. Century. On the front of the porch is a sundial, dated 1773, above which is the following inscription:

I am natural clockwork by the mighty One
Wound up at first, and ever since has gone
Its pin (‘) drops out, its wheels and springs hold good;
It speaks its Maker’s praise, though once it stood,
But that was by the order of the workman’s power,
And when it stands again it goes no more.

Until well into the present century there was a parish charity called Martin’s & Bryce’s, being the interest of £10 left to the poor. According to the Parliamentary returns for 1786 one William Martin bequeathed £5 in 1696 and a Thomas Brice left £5 in 1762. The £10 yielded 10 shillings interest annually (5%). It is not clear whether this charity still exists at the time of writing (1998), still yielding 50p annually. The parish burial registers reveal that the William Martin concerned was probably the ‘widower of Seaham’ interred on February 2 1695. In the Old Style Calendar then existent the old year ended on March 24 and the new year began on March 25 so a date of 1696 for the bequest is likely to be accurate given a gap between the death and the completion of legal formalities. Less likely candidates are the William Martin (‘son of Richard of Seaton’) buried on December 7 1696 and the William Martin (‘son of Thomas and Elizabeth of Seaton’) buried on November 21 1698, who were both probably children. For Thomas Brice there is just one candidate – the gentleman (‘of Seaham’) interred on September 25 1762, whose family had long been resident in the village.

The baptismal registers for St. Mary the Virgin began in August 1646 in the middle of the Civil War and with a Scots army occupying most of the county. Many of the early entries relate to the then lords of the manor the Collingwood family. These sold out the twin estates of Seaham and Dalden to the Milbankes in c. 1678. A later Milbanke, Sir Ralph, married a sister of Viscount Wentworth. This couple demolished Seaham Cottage in 1792 and replaced it with Seaham Hall. Their only daughter Anne Isabella married the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, at Seaham Hall on January 1 1815. Byron’s signature is in St. Mary’s marriage register. The marriage lasted just long enough to produce a daughter and then the couple parted. Sir Ralph’s wife Judith inherited her childless brother’s money not long after and it was decided to move to her ancestral headquarters at Wentworth in Leicestershire. The estates of Seaham and Dalden were sold at auction to the Londonderrys in 1821.

The population of Seaham village in the 1801 census was just 115. As late as 1841 there were only 153 residents. The Londonderry family, new lords of the manor, then swept away the hamlet to make way for a lawned area around Seaham Hall. The vicarage was replaced with a new structure but otherwise only the church survived from what had been a thriving community for centuries, perhaps millenia.

With the sinking of Seaton Colliery (1844-52) and Seaham Colliery (1849-52) and the creation of a pit village at what is now called New Seaham, St. Mary the Virgin church entered the busiest period in its history. By the time of the 1851 census, when the pits had yet to start producing, the population of ‘Seaham’ (Old and New) had risen to 729. By 1861 it was 2591. The old church and especially its graveyard could not cope with such numbers and something had to be done to relieve the pressure. In 1857 therefore a new church was constructed near the colliery village and a separate parish was established for New Seaham in 1864 but that rough and tough mining community was still lumped together with sedate Old Seaham for census purposes. By 1891 New & Old Seaham together had 4798 souls. The early records for Seaham Colliery village can be found in the St. Mary the Virgin registers. Since 1864 St. Mary’s has served only Seaton and outlying farms and ‘events’ are very rare. The baptismal register book begun in 1861 still has not been filled.

– by Tony Whitehead

New Seaham (Seaham Colliery)

New Seaham (Seaham Colliery)

new_seaham1

Christ Church, New Seaham

In September 1828, the town and port of Seaham Harbour were founded. As this was part of the parish of Dalton-le-Dale, most of the baptisms, marriages and burials from the new community were recorded at St. Andrew’s in Dalton village. St. Mary the Virgin continued to serve only [Old] Seaham village, Seaton-with-Slingley and outlying farms. In 1845, St. John’s at Seaham Harbour opened its doors after a new parish was created and detached from St. Andrew’s. Henceforth most of the events of Seaham Harbour were recorded at St. John’s.

  • 1838 – Sinking of Murton Colliery began. Events from this new community were recorded at St. Andrew’s.
  • 1844 – Sinking of Seaton Colliery commenced. Events from this new community were recorded at St. Mary’s.
  • 1849 – Sinking of Seaham Colliery began. Events from this new community were recorded at St. Mary’s.

New Seaham colliery village was constructed from 1844 onwards. The new community was within the parish of St. Mary the Virgin at (Old) Seaham until the building of New Seaham Christ Church in 1857 and the creation of a new parish in 1864. It was lumped with Old Seaham for census purposes until relatively recently.

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office

St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Baptisms 1646-1861
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Marriages 1652-1967
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Burials 1653-1966
Christ Church, New Seaham, Baptisms 1857-1967
Christ Church, New Seaham, Marriages 1861-1970
Christ Church, New Seaham, Burials 1860-1954
Wesleyan Methodist, New Seaham Cornish St., Baptisms 1870-1946

Also incorporated this site are the following records which are not currently available at Durham Record Office.

St. Cuthbert Roman Catholic, New Seaham, Baptisms 1934-1999
St. Cuthbert Roman Catholic, New Seaham, Marriages 1934-1999
St. Cuthbert Roman Catholic, New Seaham, Burials 1934-1999

Clergymen of New Seaham Christ Church
Edward F. Every, 1894-99
Alexander Ramsbottom, 1899-1912
Richard R. Fenning, 1913-21
Samuel Kearney, 1921-46
Oswald Hogg, 1946-60
William Herbert Jefferson, 1960-72
Douglas W. Pharaoh. 1973-76
Peter C. Holland, 1977-89
D.G. Kennedy, 1990-92
D.A. Roberts, 1994-??

Population growth of New Seaham over the decades:

1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Seaham (Old & New) 115 121 103 130 153 729 2591 2802 2989 4798 5285

The above census records for 1841-1911 are transcribed and available on this site.

Growth of the Village of New Seaham 1861-91

1861 Census 1871 Census 1881 Census 1891 Census
West Row (23) School Row/Vane Terrace (25) Vane Terrace (23) Vane Terrace (23)
Infant Row (6) Reading Room Row (6) Infant Row (7) Infant Street (7)
California Row (68) California Row (68) California Street (68) California Street (68)
Mount Pleasant (20) Mount Pleasant (20) Mount Pleasant (20) Mount Pleasant (58)
Australia Row (82) Australia Row (66) Australia Street (66) Australia Street (66)
Londonderry Engine Cottages (2) Londonderry Engine Cottages (2) Londonderry Engine Cottages (2) Londonderry Engine Cottages (2)
Office Row (53) Office Row (37) William Street (30) William Street (30)
Butcher’s Row (40) Butchers Row (39) Butcher Street (40) Butcher Street (40)
German Row (22) German/Doctors Row (66) Doctor’s Street (66) Doctor’s Street (66)
Bownden Row(23) Daker’s Row (21) Post Office Street (21) Post Office Street (21)
Church Row (23) Church Row (25) Church Street (26) Church Street (57)
Double Row (32) Double Row (32) School Street (32) School Street (32)
Single Row(24) Railway Row (22) Bank Head Street (22) Bank Head Street (22)
Model Row (35) Model Row (27) Model Street (26) Model Street (26)
New or Cornish Row (57) Cornish Street (57) Cornish Street (57)
Henry Street (59) Henry Street (59)
Seaham Street (59) Seaham Street (59)
Hall Street (50) Hall Street (50)
Cooke Street (20) Cooke Street (20)
Viceroy Street (61)

History of Seaham Colliery

The sinking of Seaton Colliery (the High Pit) by the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company began in 1844 and production of coal commenced in March 1852 after a long and desperate struggle against flooding. The sinking of Seaham Colliery (the Low Pit) by the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry commenced in 1849 and it began production not long after Seaton though the actual date is not recorded. The two pits were amalgamated as Seaham Colliery under the control of the Londonderry family in November 1864. There were no less than seven known explosions at the pits, before and after amalgamation. There were three in one year at Seaton in 1852, the first year of production, with six men and boys killed in the last of these. One of the casualties was an 8 year old boy. Another explosion at Seaton in 1862 burnt to death two more workers. The massive explosion in October 1871 miraculously killed only 26. Even more miraculously none died in the huge 1872 blast. Finally 164 men and boys were killed in the calamity of September 1880. Though there were no further explosions there were many single or multiple fatalities at Seaham Colliery after 1880 – Seaham’s graveyards are littered with decaying headstones which testify to that grim truth.

Seaham Colliery Pit Village (New Seaham) was constructed from the mid 1840s onwards and was virtually complete by the time of the 1880 disaster. Another street was built betweeen 1881 and 1891, called Viceroy Street in honour of the office held by the 6th.Marquess of Londonderry from 1886 to 1889. A final small row, Stewart Street (the family name of the Londonderrys), appeared between 1891 and 1895.

By the 1930s much of the housing at Seaham Colliery, cheap and cheerless to begin with, was well past its best and the village was earmarked for wholesale demolition under the Slum Clearance Act. Parkside estate was constructed at the end of that decade and most of the inhabitants transferred en masse to there in 1939/40. Knowing that Westlea and Eastlea council estates were planned to arise on the ruins of their village a few of the inhabitants decided to stay put and wait for the new houses. When war came they were joined by those made homeless in Seaham Harbour by German bombing. The Germans also managed to hit the colliery village, scoring a direct hit on the Seaton Colliery Inn after hours one night in October 1941 and killing the landlady and her friend (this author’s great aunt). Eventually the aptly-named Phoenix was constructed on the site.

The old pit village was finally swept away between 1945 and 1960 but there are still a few remnants left in 1995 (The Miner’s Hall building, High Colliery School, the row of houses on Station Road which incorporates the New Seaham Inn, now called The Kestrel). The village and most of its inhabitants were gone by 1960 but Seaham Colliery itself survived until the late 1980s. It was nationalised in 1947 after a century of ownership by the Londonderry family. In 1987 Seaham was ‘amalgamated’ with Vane Tempest Colliery and the old pit was relegated to the role of being third and fourth shafts for the newer concern. No more coal was produced at Seaham Colliery. The Seaham/Vane Tempest ‘combine’ was closed by British Coal in 1994 and both sites were cleared. Now there is a great open space where Seaham Colliery stood for 150 years.

History of New Seaham

The preparatory working for the sinking of Seaton Colliery or the High Pit began on July 31 1844. The actual sinking of the shaft commenced on August 12 1845. The mine was developed not by the landowner Lord Londonderry but by the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company, on a site chosen because of its proximity to the Rainton and Seaham waggonway. The main shareholder of this concern was Lord Lambton, 2nd.Earl of Durham, an individual with many other inland pits and who was the second largest producer of coal in County Durham behind Londonderry himself.

The North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company was licensed to exploit only the coal under Londonderry’s land between Seaton and Warden Law, but that canny lord reserved any and all seaward coal for himself. The Marquess it seems was still very nervous about the expense of sinking a new and very deep colliery and preferred others to risk their money in what might yet prove to be a fruitless undertaking. Also, as usual, he was short of cash despite the fact that business was booming. Before very long he had his proof when the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company discovered deep but rich seams of coal.

Sir Ralph Milbanke, he who had sold the estates of Seaham and Dalden to the Irishman for a song a quarter of a century before, must have turned in his grave. Even before this development Lord Londonderry was probably on paper the richest man in the county of Durham. His numerous pits at Penshaw and in the Rainton and Pittington districts and elsewhere in Durham were at their peak and the demand was such that he could usually sell every ton that he produced. Now, almost by accident, he had secured his family’s future for the next century.

The nearby Mill Inn was known as the ‘Nicky Nack’ and its landlord was dubbed ‘Tommy Nicky-Nack Chilton’ and so Seaton Colliery soon acquired the nickname. Little is known about these early years but a letter survives in the Londonderry Papers at the Durham Record Office which informs us that on January 27 1845 a party of guests travelled from Lord Londonderry’s mansion at Wynyard (near Stockton, now owned by John Hall) to Seaham Harbour to observe the opening ceremony for a new extension to the docks. On the way they passed the digging at Seaton, where a depth of 40 fathoms had been achieved of an anticipated 240 fathoms. At the request of the ladies present two of the ‘sinkers’ ascended from the bottom of the shaft in a large kibble or bucket. They resembled drowned rats more than men but they maintained their dignity and flatly refused to ‘run about and show themselves’ to the spectators.

The pit later made much slower progress due to the water problem. After coal was reached but before it could be exploited a second colliery was begun nearby by the lord of the manor. The reaction of the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company directors to this development has not been preserved but they cannot have been very amused. Nearly thirty years after the first tapping of the concealed coalfield at Hetton the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry, now 71, at last took the plunge and sank his first deep coal mine. The sinking of Seaham Colliery or the ‘Low Pit’ commenced on April 13 1849. The Low Pit shaft was 1797 feet deep and the High Pit shaft was 1819 feet deep. Both were 14 feet in diameter. The new mines were the second and third deepest in the country (behind Pemberton Main at Monkwearmouth). The first coal from Seaton was only drawn on March 17 1852, after almost seven years of battles against flooding and quicksand. Seaham began producing a little later after a much shorter battle, but the precise date is unknown.

In the first weeks after coming on stream there were three explosions at Seaton, the last of which, on Wednesday June 16 1852, killed six men and boys and injured several others. Among the dead was a 10 year old boy, Charles Halliday or Holliday. The inquest was held at the Mill Inn with Mr.Morton, Agent of the Earl of Durham, present. It was revealed that naked lights (candles) had been used in the pit, nearly four decades after the invention of the safety lamp. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death.

To justify their huge outlay of money the Londonderrys’ new Seaham pit needed to be a giant in production terms compared to its predecessors inland and this soon proved to be the case. By 1854 (when it had barely begun production and would soon employ far more) 269 hands were employed, making it as large as any of the Rainton and Penshaw pits owned by Lord Londonderry. By the mid-1870s Seaham/Seaton was producing as much coal as all of the other Londonderry pits at Rainton, Pittington and Penshaw combined. By 1880 the mine employed 1500 men and boys and had an output of half a million tons of coal per year. By the time of the census of 1881 some 3,000 people lived in the village of New Seaham.

Charles Stewart, 3rd.Marquess of Londonderry and 1st.Viscount Seaham, died at his home, Holdernesse House in London’s Park Lane, in March 1854. A new place of worship, Christ Church, was built at New Seaham in 1855 by Lady Frances Anne as a memorial to her husband. It is virtually the only monument to the old tyrant that still stands in the town he created. The church received free heating and lighting courtesy of underground pipes from the colliery 200 yards away. Christ Church also included a graveyard which was to become the last resting place for generations of New Seaham inhabitants. Previously the dead had been interred at either the ancient St.Andrew’s at Dalton-le-Dale or the even older St.Mary’s at Old Seaham or the new graveyard at St.John’s in Seaham Harbour.

Like her late husband the Marchioness was infamous for her parsimony and yet on March 1 1856 this complex character entertained between three and four thousand of her pitmen at Chilton Moor. In 1857 she spent over £1000 to entertain 3,930 of her pitmen, dockers, quarrymen and railwaymen at Seaham Hall, in the presence of the Bishop of Durham and numerous friends. Her friend and protege Benjamin Disraeli recognised in his writings after her death that Frances Anne was a tyrant in her way but it would be fairer to describe her as a benevolent despot. As Durham mine owners went the Londonderrys were actually among the best and the miners of the day preferred to work for them than most others. Bad as they were living conditions at New Seaham were far better than most older mining villages in the county. In the 1850s the Marchioness built Londonderry schools at the Raintons, Kelloe, Old Durham, Penshaw and New Seaham (which still stands) and later her son Henry constructed another at Silksworth. She personally paid the teacher’s salaries and all other expenses and allowed the children of non-employees to attend.

The 1850s saw the building of several streets in the vicinity of the two pits and the creation of a tight-knit community. Window tax was abolished in 1851 and mechanised brick production (with machine-pressed bricks) was developed in 1856, both of which made the process cheaper and easier. The typical ‘through terrace house’ at Seaton/Seaham Colliery had one room downstairs and one upstairs (often divided into two by a partition to provide separate sleeping accomodation for boys and girls). The downstairs room served for cooking, bathing, meals, general living and as sleeping space for parents. The back yard had a dry closet privy (a netty) and a coal shed. Social life centred on the back alley. Some of the streets were built and owned by the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company, proprietors of Seaton Colliery. The rest were constructed and owned by the Londonderry family, owners of Seaham Colliery. At this distance in time it is difficult to tell who owned what. The first streets, all of which were mentioned in the 1861 census, were:

West Row: which was later called School Row and later still became Vane Terrace.
School Row: which is not to be confused with School Street (see the below Double Row).
Infant Row: Very small. Only six dwellings.
California Row: 1849 saw the California Gold Rush.
Mount Pleasant : which may have been named after a place in northern Ireland near the Londonderry mansion at Mount Stewart or simply because it occupied a good vantage down to the sea.
Australia Row: Australia was a principal destination for British emigrants in this period, especially miners from the northeast of England. Many of them promptly commemorated their roots by naming their new communities after the ones they had left behind. A Newcastle, a Sunderland, a Murton, a Ryhope and yes even a Seaham, were created in New South Wales and survive to this day.
Office Row: which was later called William Street.
Butcher’s Row: Butcher may have been a director/official of the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company
German Row: later called Doctor’s Street, which in the direction of Sunderland had a fine view of the North Sea (The German Ocean.).
Bownden Row: later called Daker’s Row and later still renamed Post Office Street. Bownden may have been a director/official of the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company.
Church Row: which faced the new Christ Church
Double Row: later called School Street
Single Row: later called Railway Row, later still renamed Bank Head Street
Model Row: Presumably the builders and owners were proud of this street and gave it a magnificent title.Or maybe they had just run out of names!

Seaton and Seaham Collieries (New Seaham) and Seaham Harbour remained quite separate communities, divided by fields, and connected only by the Rainton & Seaham Railway and a dirt track and the fact of shared ownership by the Londonderrys. In 1863 a Local Board of Health was created to conduct Greater Seaham’s affairs. It was led from 1873-94 by J.B.Eminson, chief financial agent for the Londonderrys in Seaham from 1869-96. The Board became Seaham Harbour Urban District Council by the Local Government Act of 1894. Eminson also led the new body from 1895-96. During his 27 years service he filled the leading position in the town. He was also Chairman of Seaham Magistrates and a member of the Easington Guardians (Work House). Despite the semblance of a kind of democracy after 1863 Greater Seaham was still a family fiefdom.

The Danger of the Mines

At Hartley Colliery in Northumberland in January 1862 over 200 men and boys died of suffocation when the only shaft was blocked by falling machinery. Shortly after this disaster, the greatest single loss of life in the Great Northern Coalfield, the Seaton High Pit and Seaham Low Pit were joined by an underground link. Within weeks, on March 29, a cage rope broke at the Low Pit and the shaft was blocked by stone. Over 400 men and boys and 70 ponies escaped via the High Pit. They would have shared the fate of the Hartley colliers and perished within hours without the connection. The Northumberland and Durham Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund had its origin in the widespread need which followed the Hartley Disaster. Before Hartley it was the individual worker’s resposibility to subscribe to a ‘club’ to cover ‘private’ medical expenses. There were discretionary payments from the mineowners, at a level below that of wages, for some workers who suffered an accident, with the limited objective of retaining the services of skilled workmen temporarily disabled. For those permanently crippled or worse there was nothing and before long they and/or their widows and children were given their marching orders from their colliery houses. The Employer’s Liability Act was still 20 years in the future.

Another explosion on April 6 1864 at Seaton Colliery severely burnt two men, Tristram Heppell and William Fairley. Both died in agony in their homes some days later. Heppell’s father, a master sinker of pits, had been a contemporary and friend of George Stephenson at Killingworth Colliery in Northumberland. Heppell was a member of the Seaham Volunteers and so was given a military funeral at St. Mary’s. Reverend Angus Bethune conducted the service. We shall come across this individual again later in this narrative.

When an Act of Parliament prohibited the working of coal-mines without two outlets from each seam Lady Frances Anne decided that the simplest way to comply with this legislation in the case of Seaham Colliery was to buy Seaton Colliery from the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company and amalgamate it with Seaham. This was done in November 1864, and was virtually the last business deal she completed for she was dying by then. She died at Seaham Hall on January 20 1865, three days after her 65th.birthday. Her collieries passed to her son Henry, Earl Vane, who succeeded his half-brother Frederick as Marquess of Londonderry in 1872.

Colliery Life

‘Observer’, who wrote ‘Gleanings from the Pit Villages’ in 1866, gave Seaham Colliery high praise in contrast to older Durham pit villages. He commended its roomy dwellings, good gardens and wide streets. The usual outdoor meeting place for men at Seaham Colliery in dispute with the management was the ball alley. This was also used for gambling, fist-fights and games of hand-ball against teams from neighbouring collieries. The surface of the wall eventually deteriorated and it was abandoned to nesting birds in the 1920s.

As the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company no longer had an interest in the Seaton part of Seaham Colliery or its housing stock any trace of that concern in the street names of the village was now removed by the Londonderrys. Uncharacteristically they did not bestow their own names as had happened at Seaham Harbour and other places, at least not yet: West Row became School Row and only later became Vane Terrace; Infant Row became Reading Room Row; Bownden Row became Daker’s (the new manager of Seaham Colliery) Row; Single Row became Railway Row. One new street appeared, predictably being called New Row. By the time of the 1881 census it had become Cornish Row in honour of the wave of immigrants coming in from that county.

All of the Easington district collieries began to receive a steady stream of Cornishmen and Devonians and their families in the mid-1860s. A street would be eventually be named in honour of the Cornish at Seaham Colliery and a whole district of Murton was taken over by these refugees from the dying lead and tin industries and nicknamed O’Cornwall. Wingate Grange Colliery also received a very large contingent. Seaham Colliery also absorbed Scots, Irish and Welsh and also a group from Norfolk. Wood Dalling and neighbouring villages must have been stripped bare of their agricultural labourers, lured north by the prospect of higher and consistent wages by the agents of the Marquess of Londonderry and other coalowners. Most of these people would retain their accents for the rest of their lives but their children and grandchildren were completely assimilated into the host community and became Geordies. Seaham Colliery must have been a very cosmopolitan place in these early days and it cannot have been unusual to hear a dozen accents during a day’s work at the pit.

The mother and stepfather of the alleged mass murderess Mary Ann Cotton moved to New Seaham from South Hetton in the early 1860s. George and Margaret Stott took up residence in California Street at an unknown number and in the summer of 1865 took in Mary Ann’s only surviving child, Isabella Mowbray, aged 6. Mary Ann had lost her husband William Mowbray to typhus in Hendon at the start of the year and her other daughter Margaret Jane had succumbed to the same disease at Seaham Harbour in May. Now Mary Ann needed time to sort herself out and farmed her child out to its grandmother and step-grandfather. She moved to Sunderland and got a job as a nurse at the Infirmary. There she met a patient, George Ward, and married him before the year was out. Mysteriously he was dead within months of a disease which apparently baffled his doctors. At the end of 1866, within weeks of being widowed a second time, she took a job at Pallion as housekeeper to a well-to-do shipyard official James Robinson, who had just lost his own wife and badly needed female help with his five children. The youngest of these, a sickly infant boy, died within days of her arrival.

A few weeks later, in the spring of 1867 Mary Ann, a “nurse” remember, was summoned back to New Seaham to look after her mother who was dying of the liver disease hepatitis. Margaret Stott expired within a week and was buried at New Seaham Christ Church. Mary Ann then quarrelled with her stepfather over a few sheets she claimed had been hers. He had never liked her much and now told her what he thought of her and ordered her to leave his house and take her child with her. George Stott already had eyes on a comely widow, Hannah Paley, who lived in the same street, and he didn’t want the little girl around cramping his style. He married Hannah Paley not long after but Mary Ann was not invited to the wedding and in fact never came to Seaham again. Within weeks of Mary Ann’s return to Pallion, Isabella Mowbray was dead, two more of Robinson’s children also, and the “housekeeper” was pregnant by her employer. George Stott did see his stepdaughter one more time. He was her last visitor in the condemned cell at Durham Gaol in March 1873 a few days before she was hanged for the murder of yet another child, a son of her fourth (bigamous) husband Frederick Cotton. Her mother Margaret Stott and her daughter Isabella Mowbray are included among the 21 people that Mary Ann Cotton has been accused of murdering either for the insurance money or because they were somehow in her way.

The first mass meeeting of the lodges of the new union, the DMA (Durham Miners’ Association), took place at Wharton Park in the city of Durham in July 1871. Just three months later on Wednesday October 25 1871 26 men and boys were killed in another explosion at Seaham Colliery. On the day before the tragedy a mass meeting of young men and boys had determined to ask for some alteration in their bonds – in particular a reduction in their hours of labour. For many below the rank of hewer the working day lasted from their rising at 3am until they returned home filthy at about 6.15pm. There was barely time for any relaxation before going to bed. A deputation was sent to see the manager Dakers but he refused to give them an answer until the next conclusion of the bond in April 1872. Dakers refused even to see a second delegation.In consequence a mass meeting of all the men and boys was called for the Thursday night with a view to laying the pit idle. The disaster intervened.

The explosion of Wednesday October 25 1871 occurred at 11.30 pm, otherwise the death-toll would have been much higher – by now the colliery was employing 1100 men and boys. The shock was felt at Seaham Harbour.John Clark, aged 9, sitting on the surface in a cabin near the pit shaft, was blown 10 yards by the explosion. The force of the blast was such that many ponies were killed in their underground stables 1.5 miles away from the epicentre. Two men named Hutchinson, father and son, working as ‘marrows’ (marras), fired the shot which triggered the blast. The father, Thomas senior, survived the explosion but was badly injured. For days he hovered between life and death and medical opinion concluded that he could not survive. But survive he did – for he was destined to be killed in the 1880 explosion. Thomas Hutchinson junior left a pregnant widow and two children. Manager Dakers and Head Viewer Vincent Corbett went down the pit to assess the situation and made a decision which to some seemed harsh and to others seemed like murder. The ‘stoppings’ were rushed up to starve the fire of oxygen and save the mine irrespective of the men thereby entombed. The explosion occurred on Wednesday – by Sunday the furnace was re-lighted at the shaft bottom for ventilation. The men were somehow persuaded to return to work while the bodies of their colleagues lay entombed for several weeks in nearby workings. Religious decency then laid much greater emphasis on proper burial of a body in consecrated ground.Four of the bodies were brought out immediately after the explosion but the remaining 22 were not recovered until December 20. The appeal fund produced just over £2,000. The inquest was held at the New Seaham Inn (now called the Kestrel). Verdict – Accidental death. Just as the village began to recover from the tragedy it was struck another mortal blow with an outbreak of smallpox. There was another explosion in 1872 but there was no loss of life or injury.

Manager Dakers either retired, died or moved on at the start of 1874. He was replaced by a 21 year old, Mr.Thomas Henry Marshall Stratton, who was fated to be in charge when the 1880 disaster occurred. By then he was still only 28 and due to move on from Seaham Colliery to his next post. The man had no luck. There was another county-wide coal strike in 1879, the first major confrontation since the the Great Strike of 1844 and, as usual, the miners were defeated. Before the village of Seaham Colliery could properly recover from this ruinous episode an even greater disaster struck in the following year. The death of one collier started a train of events which led to an immense tragedy. A man called Robert Guy was run over and killed by a set of tubs on the Maudlin engine-plane at Seaham Colliery on August 7 1880. Adverse and critical remarks made at the inquest a few days later obliged manager Stratton to have refuge holes from the rolling tubs made larger and more frequent to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy. This work went on for several weeks and it may well have been a shot fired in the course of it which triggered the great explosion.

In that hot August of 1880 the Seaham Volunteer Artillery Brigade distinguished itself in the big gun shooting of the National Artillery Competition at Shoeburyness, picking up a beautiful trophy and over £200 in prize money, a very handsome sum in those days. The team members were welcomed back to Seaham as heroes and their crackshot Corporal Hindson was carried shoulder-high through the town. The next big event in the town’s social calendar was Seaham’s Annual Flower Show, to be held in the grounds of Seaham Hall from Thursday September 9 to Sunday the 11th. The 5th.Marquess himself, a rather shy and unassuming man, was to make one of his rare visits in order to present the prizes. Indeed he was to honour the town his parents had founded with his presence for an entire week. As it turned out he was to stay for a good deal longer than he anticipated. Many of the miners at Seaham Colliery had entries in the show and some of these men swapped shifts with those disinterested in horticultural affairs in order that they might attend. It was to prove a fateful decision for those who should have been working on the Tuesday/Wednesday night and for those who ended up working when ordinarily they would have been at home sound asleep.

At Seaham Colliery there were three shifts per day for hewers (everyone else worked much longer hours) of 7 hours each, covering the period from 4 am to 11.30 pm. The shifts were: 1) Fore Shift, 4 am to 11.30 am 2) Back Shift, 10 am to 5.30 pm 3) Night Shift, 4 pm to 11.30 pm. Each shift involved some 500 men and boys and at the overlap of the shifts there could be over 1,000 men in the pit. From 10 pm to 6 am, when the colliery was comparatively quiet, was the maintenance shift, which employed far fewer workers. Fortuitously the 1880 explosion took place at 2.20 am during one such maintenance shift, 100 minutes before the start of the Fore shift, which is why only 231 men and boys were below ground.The tragedy could have been much much worse, eclipsing the disasters at Hartley and West Stanley.

– by Tony Whitehead

Continue to Part Two: The Sep 1880 Disaster

Dawdon (Seaham Harbour)

Dawdon (Seaham Harbour)

St John's, Dawdon, Seaham Harbour

St John’s, Dawdon, Seaham Harbour

The new town and port of Seaham Harbour was founded in 1828. The community did not have its own Anglican church until the construction of St. John’s in 1840. From 1828 to 1840, the parish church was Dalton-le-Dale. Early Seaham Harbour records are contained in the parish registers for St. Andrew’s at Dalton-le-Dale.

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office

St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Baptisms 1653-1917
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Marriages 1653-1971
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Burials 1653-1893
St. John’s, Seaham Harbour, Baptisms 1845-1972
St. John’s, Seaham Harbour, Marriages 1847-1978
St. John’s, Seaham Harbour, Burials 1841-1936
St. Mary Magdalene RC, Seaham Harbour, Baptisms 1857-1915
St. Mary Magdalene RC, Seaham Harbour, Marriages 1871-1919
St. Mary Magdalene RC, Seaham Harbour, Burials -1984
St. Hild & St. Helen, Dawdon, Baptisms 1912-71
St. Hild & St. Helen, Dawdon, Marriages 1912-74
Dawdon Mission Church, Baptisms 1911-12
United Methodist, Seaham Harbour Church St., Marriages 1950-1968
United Methodist, Seaham Harbour Church St., Baptisms 1864-1968
Methodist, Seaham Harbour Parkside, Baptisms 1960-66
Methodist, Seaham Harbour Stewart Street, Baptisms 1957-60
Methodist, Seaham Harbour Tempest Road, Marriages 1912-60
Primitive Methodist, Seaham Harbour, Baptisms 1888-1948
Wesleyan Methodist, Seaham Harbour, Baptisms 1876-1942

Population changes in the 19th. Century were:

1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
22 27 35 1022 2017 3538 6137 7132 7714 9044 10163

All of the 1841-1901 census returns for Dawdon (Seaham Harbour) are transcribed and available on this site.

History of Seaham Harbour

1. The Londonderrys Arrive:

On April 3 1819 a marriage took place in London which was to have a profound effect on the ancient Saxon settlement of Seaham. An Ulsterman, Lord Charles Stewart, a widower of 41 with a 14 year old son, took as his second wife Lady Frances Anne Vane Tempest, a 19 year old coal heiress whose pits were in the Penshaw and Rainton districts of her native County Durham. The bride was given away by the Duke of Wellington, a Napoleonic War comrade of the bridegroom. She was the second largest coal exporter on the River Wear behind Lord Lambton and had an annual income of £60,000, a collosal sum in those days. Lord Stewart himself was far from penniless and though he currently ranked only as a humble baron he expected one day to inherit a much higher title, a marquessate, from first his father and then his childless half-brother Viscount Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons and Prime Minister in all but name, the man actually in charge of the British Empire. On his marriage Lord Stewart adopted the surname Vane and henceforth would sign himself as Vane Londonderry.

Before the marriage Lord Charles Stewart had never visited County Durham and knew nothing whatsoever about his young bride’s business, coal. It was explained to him that the produce from her Rainton and Penshaw collieries had to be taken on a primitive horse-drawn wagonway to Frances Anne’s own staiths on the Wear not far from Penshaw. There it was loaded on to very small vessels called keels and taken downriver to be reloaded on to much larger, ocean-going vessels, for onward shipment to London and the Low Countries. Wages to the keelmen and other incidentals were costing his new wife some £10,000 a year but there seemed no way round this overhead. A few miles to the east of Rainton Colliery lay a possible solution to the problem – Dalden Ness, near Seaham.

Electioneering over two decades and the building of Seaham Hall had virtually bankrupted Sir Ralph Milbanke, owner of the sister manors of Seaham and Dalden. The final straw came when he had to raise an additional £20,000 as a dowry for his only child Anne Isabella on her marriage to the poet Lord Byron at Seaham in January 1815. It was intended that the Byrons should take over Seaham Hall and live happily ever after while Sir Ralph and his wife moved to his ancestral home at Halnaby in North Yorkshire. The inheritance, via his wife, of her brother’s Wentworth money and property in April 1815 saved Sir Ralph Milbanke’s financial bacon and the ending of his daughter’s marriage the following year rendered the Seaham and Dalden estates as surplus to requirements. What was to be done about them ? The exposed Durham coalfield at Rainton was only four miles away and Sir Ralph conceived the absurd idea of constructing a port at Seaham out of the living rock of Dalden Ness to export coal from inland pits such as Rainton and the projected Hetton Colliery. In 1820 he even went so far as to commission a well-known engineer, William Chapman, to draw up a plan for ‘Port Milbanke’, but the amount of money involved in such a high-risk project discouraged him. He could not have guessed that vast mineral wealth lay far beneath his own estates and that very soon the technology to extract it would be available. He was too impatient even to wait for the results of the experimental digging into the East Durham limestone escarpment going on at that very moment at Hetton and decided to sell Seaham and Dalden to the highest bidder and retire to the Wentworth headquarters in Leicestershire.

His plan for a harbour at Seaham and a railway inland now came to Lord Stewart’s knowledge and he determined to buy the estates 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 half-brother’s Irish property. The Milbankes then left Seaham for their other estates in Yorkshire and Leicestershire and made way for the new lords of the manors of Seaham and Dalden. Lord Stewart’s father, Robert Stewart, 1st. Marquess of Londonderry, died in 1821 and was succeeded in his titles and possessions by his childless eldest son Castlereagh who became the 2nd. Marquess of Londonderry. A year later his mind became unhinged and he cut his own throat at his house at Cray in Kent. His titles and possessions passed to his half-brother Charles who thus became the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry, the title history remembers him by.

2.The Concealed Durham Coalfield

The eastern half of the Durham coalfield, upon which Seaham and all of Easington District is situated, is concealed by many hundreds of feet of Permian magnesian limestone. The powerful steam engines required to drain deep mines did not exist until the 1820s. As the third decade of the nineteenth century dawned technological advances had been made which at last made it possible 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 at Hetton, at the start of the limestone escarpment, 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. 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. 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 8 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, 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 650 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) and Colonel Thomas Braddyll of Haswell, would enter the arena and the tapping of the deeply concealed Durham coalfield began in earnest.

In 1801 the total population of all County Durham was a mere 150,000. Half of these people lived in the ancient towns of Gateshead, Stockton, Hartlepool, Sunderland, Durham and Darlington and the rest of the county, not just the highground, was as empty as some parts of western Ireland are today. In 1820 Seaham, Silksworth, Ryhope, Murton, Hetton, South Hetton, Haswell and Shotton were tiny communities in an East Durham landscape which had been agricultural and unchanging for countless centuries. Over the course of the next century however the population of County Durham increased by more than twelve-fold to 1.88 million in 1901 as the coalfield expanded both eastward to exploit the concealed seams and southward towards Yorkshire. Most of the newcomers arrived from the other counties of the Great Northern Coalfield (Cumberland and Northumberland) but some came from established mining areas far afield. Murton and Seaham collieries for instance received a large number of Cornish lead and tin miners when they opened in the 1840s and 50s. Another wave came in the 1860s. The effects of the potato famine on the Irish, with starvation and typhoid from 1846-51, brought many of them too. Seaham Harbour certainly took its share of these as is evidenced by the Irish Back Street but strangely few of them reached Seaham/Seaton Colliery, even at this lowest of low-points in Irish affairs. Seaham Colliery and Seaham Harbour also absorbed at least two waves of unemployed agricultural labourers from Norfolk and Suffolk in the 1860s and 70s.

3. Seaham Harbour & the Rainton Railway

The favourable views of William Chapman regarding the new harbour at Seaham and a railway connection to the Rainton pits were reinforced by the opinions of other leading engineers of the day – Rennie, Telford and Logan, whom Stewart consulted before finally deciding to proceed. Lack of cash caused the postponement of the project several times. Though he was still short of money Lord Londonderry decided in 1828 that a start must be made to the new harbour and railway. The Rainton & Seaham railway was initially only 5 miles long, from Seaham Harbour to the main Londonderry pit at Rainton Meadows, but later additions created a network of over 16 miles of railway track. Fixed steam engines and early locomotives hauled the coal from the numerous Rainton pits to the top of the Copt Hill. At a site 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 very same point traversed the road by means of a level crossing. Thereafter the going to Seaham was comparatively easy and more fixed engines took over to haul the loads across the fields of Warden Law and Slingley, skirting to the south of Seaton village. From Seaton Bank Top a gravity incline and then a final fixed engine (the Londonderry Engine) brought the coal to the top of the Mill Inn Bank, where one day Seaham Colliery would be sited.

Two habitations, the Londonderry Engine Cottages, were erected to accomodate the men who operated the engine and their families. These were the first dwellings of what became Seaham Colliery Pit Village. They stood just behind what became Walter Willson’s store. The last leg of the Rainton & Seaham railway, from there to the new harbour, was downhill and utilized a self-acting incline system. The 1830′s saw further exploitation of the concealed coalfield. South Hetton, Haswell, Thornley, Kelloe, Wearmouth (Pemberton Main), Wingate and Murton collieries were sunk. The known coalfield advanced to the edge of Londonderry’s land at Seaham and Dalton. The next decade saw Castle Eden, Shotton, South Wingate, Trimdon, Trimdon Grange and Seaton/Seaham collieries appear.


4. The Great Strike of 1844

In April 1844 all of the Durham and Northumberland collieries came out on strike, including Londonderry’s. The miners’ demands included a half-yearly contract and at least 4 days work or wages every week. There were as yet no producing pits in Seaham, just the digging by the North Hetton Colliery Company going on at the projected Seaton Colliery, but in the infamous ‘Seaham Letter’ Lord Londonderry warned all traders there not to give credit to the Rainton and Penshaw strikers, or else they would become ‘marked’ men and would henceforth be denied any business. If the tradesmen in Seaham Harbour persisted he threatened to remove all of his own custom to Newcastle. He even suggested that he was prepared to ruin ‘his’ town if he did not get his own way. He evicted those ringleaders at Rainton and Penshaw who were his tenants. He also imported a number of workers from his estates in the north of Ireland to act as strike-breakers, and more evictions followed to make way for them. The other owners also despatched agents all over the kingdom to recruit replacements for the strikers and they too carried out mass evictions. Large numbers of blacklegs and their families were brought from Wales on the promise of excellent wages and free housing. They were not told that they were intended as strike-breakers. When they arrived in the northeast of England they discovered their true function but had no money to return home. They had no choice but to work to raise funds. Thanks to their efforts after four months the strike was broken.

Once again the ‘Masters’ were triumphant and could take their pick of those returning to work. The lot of the blacklegs now became a hard one. The special wages they had received during the strike came to an abrupt end and they were afforded no special protection from the former strikers. At Seaton Delavel in Northumberland the Welsh blacklegs were repeatedly thrashed by the native people and eventually all but one was driven back to the Land of Song. He remained in the village for 20 years, an outcast denied communication with anyone, before at last even he got the message and departed. The union was now extremely weak and many collieries gave it up altogether. It was effectively finished by 1852 and dead and buried by the following year. Unionism would not recover its strength for another generation. Thirty five years would pass before the next major confrontation and in that time Seaham Colliery appeared and became one of the most important mining villages in the county and thus at the forefront of the battle for miner’s rights. One good thing was achieved in this interlude. The Mines’ Regulation Bill passed into law in the Parliamentary session of 1850, despite the fierce and completely unprincipled opposition of the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry, making the appointment of inspectors of mines necessary.

5. Seaham before the Londonderrys

In her later years Lady Frances Anne would boast to her visitors at Seaham Hall that before the Londonderrys arrived there had been not a habitation or even a path in what became the boom town of Seaham Harbour. This was not strictly true. East Durham had been agricultural for countless centuries and the few residents had to live somewhere near to the fields they tended. In 1828 at least two farmsteads existed in the future Seaham Harbour, Dene House Farm (now demolished) and Dawdon Hill Farm which still survives. The latter thus has an outstanding claim to being the oldest continuously inhabited structure in ‘Seaham Harbour’ though it may have rivals in terms of ‘Greater Seaham’ for some of the other outlying farms are clearly far older than Seaham Hall (1792). Apart from these two fixed habitations there is evidence of transients living on the beaches and sometimes occupying the numerous caves along the rugged coastline. The Portsmouth Telegraph of October 14 1799 reported thus:

Woman from the Seashore

‘On Thursday se(ven)’nnight a woman was brought to the Lunatic Hospital near
Newcastle who has lived upwards of three years among the rocks on the sea-shore near Seaham. From whence, or in what manner she first came there is unknown, but she speaks in the Scottish dialect and talks of Loch Stewart and AberGordon in a rambling manner. She is about thirty-five years of age, inoffensive and cheerful, and during her residence among the rocks was fantastically dressed in the rags which chance or the wrecks threw in her way; she always kept a good fire of wood or coal, which the sea threw up, and it is supposed lived upon shellfish & c. What is remarkable, a beard has grown upon the lower part of her chin, nearly an inch long, and bushy like the whiskers of a man.’

The parish of Dalton-le-Dale contained just 211 inabitants in 1821. 35 of these lived in the ‘township’ of Dawdon, where the future Seaham Harbour would be located.

6. Events 1828-41

By 1831, three years after the foundation of the town and port of Seaham Harbour, Dalton parish contained 1,305 people, 1,022 of them in Dawdon. The population of Seaham (Old Seaham and Seaton-with-Slingley) in 1831 was 264, barely up from 1821. The first list of Greater Seaham residents that I have been able to find is contained in Pigot’s Trade Directory for County Durham for 1834, six years into Seaham Harbour’s history. This mentions only the names of tradesmen wealthy enough to pay to have their names included and even then simply descibes their addresses as ‘Seaham Harbour’ but it gives us some clues as to which buildings and structures were erected first. Pigot’s Directory mentions several public houses (The Golden Lion, King’s Arms, Londonderry Arms, Lord Seaham Inn, Lynn Arms, Noah’s Ark, The Wellington, the Wheatsheaf and the Windmill, which later may have become the Braddyll Arms) and so we know that at least part of North and South Railway Streets, South Crescent, North Terrace and Adolphus Place were constructed by 1834. Not until seven years later was a full list made of all the residents, the census of June 1841, the first to include personal details in the returns.

In June 1841 after thirteen years of existence and a decade fully operational the new port was already functioning to capacity and would be greatly expanded over the next decade. According to the census Seaham Harbour already had a Harbour Master, Coast Guards, Customs Officers, Pilots, Seamen, Ropemakers, Ship Builders, Ship Chandlers, Sailmakers, Bellmen and Keelmen. The census also mentioned all of those trades necessary for the construction of a new town – Joiners, Carpenters, Builders, Labourers, Blacksmiths, Stonemasons and Painters. Pit Sinkers, Coal Trimmers and Brakesmen were also mentioned. Trimmers worked at the docks but the nearest pit being sunk was Murton (which finally came on stream in 1843). Seaton-Seaham Colliery was still in the future and the nearest producing pits were South Hetton, Haswell and Eppleton. The Pit Sinkers must have commuted to work, possibly by getting rides on the wagons on the Braddyll Railway. There were also Engineers, Enginemen, Enginewrights, Wagonmen and Wagonwrights resident in Seaham Harbour to operate the two vital mineral lines.

Also mentioned in the 1841 census were cotton weavers, tinners and brazers, dressmakers, tailors, drapers, shoemakers, potters, hairdressers, paper makers, straw hat makers and bookbinders. Seaham Harbour in 1841 also had clerks, agents, lawyers and schoolteachers. These middle classes were employers of housekeepers, a governess in one case, servants and gardeners. Supplying entertainment to the community we find brewers, coopers (barrel makers) and publicans. Only a few of the pubs were named in the census – many smaller establishments (‘beer shops’, often simply somebody’s front room) were not. Provisions were supplied by butchers, grocers, breadbakers, shopkeepers, pedlars and druggists. Producing the food for the growing town were the farmers, agricultural/farm labourers, husbandmen, millers and millwrights in the surrounding fields. Transport in this, the twilight of the Age of the Horse, was provided by carriers, cartwrights, waggon drivers and coach drivers. Seaham Harbour also had a postman (The Penny Post was introduced the year before the census).

It is said that the first two things that any new settlement needs are a cemetery and a prison. The new church of St. John’s (completed 1840) provided the former and the ‘Kitty’ in Back North Railway Street supplied the latter. Two unknown males were resident in the lock-up on the night of the census. Keeping law and order were two policemen and a prison officer. Reinforcements could be sent for from Sunderland or Durham and there was a large garrison of troops permanently based in Sunderland to deal with any situation in the coalfield. Like all ports Seaham Harbour would have been a den of vice, drinking, gambling and prostitution. The pimps and ladies of the night would have disguised their presence in the census by declaring to the enumerator that their profession was something very different, a dressmaker perhaps, or a labourer. Until the coming of gas lighting in the next decade Seaham Harbour may well have been a very dark, threatening and frightening place when the sun went down. Some people would say it still is.

The 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry originally envisaged a magnificent town designed by the famous Newcastle architect Dobson to back the port of Seaham, but shortage of cash prevented this and in fact compelled him to lease land to anyone. Only on the North Terrace and at Bath Terrace were better quality houses built. Much of the rest was ramshackle and degenerated into slums well before the end of the century. What emerged by the time of the 1841 census was a grid-pattern development on both sides (but primarily the north) of the unfenced Rainton and Seaham Railway. We know that the Londonderry Arms was the first building to begin construction and that the Golden Lion was probably the first to be completed.

South of the Rainton line there was very little development of housing by 1841. South Crescent, South Railway Street, Back South Railway Street and Pilot Terrace were complete and a recent start had been made on Adolphus Street, Frances Street, South Crescent and Church Street. Beyond those embryonic avenues the fields began which led to Dawdon Field House farm. Before very long though those same fields would be earmarked for further industrial development. A pottery already existed but this would vanish before the enumerator visited again. Examples of its produce can be seen at Sunderland Library.

North of the mineral railway line was the real town – a hollow rectangle whose sides were North Terrace, (what would become) Tempest Road, Henry Street and North Railway Street. Inside the ‘Rectangle’ was still virtually empty but a start had been made on John Street. Outside the rectangle was still countryside broken up by the occasional new structures like the Baths, the Garden House (later called Adam & Eve’s Gardens), Wood Cottages on Terrace Green and New Lodge and by that solitary old building, Dene House Farm. Already the farmer was hemmed in by the Rainton line and a bridge had to be thrown across the waggonway to allow him access to his fields to the south. The day would come when he would have to wend his way through acres of humanity to reach his diminishing workplace. In the census of 1841 the population of Dalton-le-Dale parish was 2,709 (which included Dalton village, East Murton, Cold Hesledon and the new Seaham Harbour, regarded as part of Dawdon township).

7. Events 1841-65

On August 23 1843 the township of Dawdon was severed from the parish of Dalton-le-Dale, and made into a separate chapelry, and in 1845 was created into a separate incumbency, whose patronage was vested in the 3rd. Marquess of Londonderry. That old tyrant appointed a like-minded Scot, the Reverend Angus Bethune of South Shields, as the first Vicar. He became personal chaplain to Lady Frances Anne and baptised three generations of the Londonderry family (in London not Seaham). Bethune, who lived into his nineties and who has a street at Deneside named after him, also became the town’s chief magistrate. He could always be relied upon by the Londonderrys to rule in their favour and he played an important and sinister role in the suppression of the disorder which followed the Seaham Colliery Disaster of September 1880. He is buried at St. Mary the Virgin.

In the 1851 census therefore the figures for Seaham Harbour were separated from Dalton-le-Dale. By then the population of the infant town had reached 4,042 (including the absent mariners), double the size of a decade earlier. Dalton-le-Dale’s population actually fell slightly in that period. Seaton-with-Slingley increased by 25 people. The population of ‘Seaham’ itself (formerly just Old Seaham and outlying farms) radically increased for it encompassed the new Seaham and Seaton collieries. At the time of the 1851 census neither pit was yet producing and the population of Seaton/Seaham collieries was still quite small. By 1865 nearly 1000 colliers would live and work there. The sinking of Seaton Colliery (the High Pit, owned by the North Hetton & Grange Colliery Company) began in 1844 but coal was not drawn until 1852. Seaham Colliery (the Low Pit, owned by Lord Londonderry) began sinking in 1849 and production started after Seaton but the precise date is unknown. Seaham Harbour accomodated the overspill from the new concerns.

In 1843 Lord Londonderry’s eldest daughter Fanny was married to the Marquess of Blandford, eldest son and heir of the Duke of Marlborough. The union was celebrated in Seaham Harbour by the naming of the new Blandford Place and later of Marlborough Street. The south docks at Seaham Harbour were finally completed in 1845. Between them Lord (the driving force) and Lady (the money) Londonderry had created a port and town where none had existed twenty years before. In the decade 1841-51 most of the existing streets expanded in size to absorb the waves of immigrants coming from all directions. New streets were built – Bath Terrace, Blandford Place and Adelaide Row.

Within the ‘Rectangle’ of North Terrace – (what would become) Tempest Road – Henry Street – North Railway Street there was further development. John Street trebled in size and William Street appeared. North of the Rainton railway was still the most important residential and business sector of the growing town. A Gasworks was constructed in the dene and the town was at last illuminated at night. South of the Rainton line there had been few changes. Blandford Place and Adelaide Row were erected, South Terrace expanded from 1 to 9 households and Church Street, destined for greater things, now had 45 families but the development was mostly on the north side of the street and even that had a large gap in the middle of it. It was still possible to see Kin(g)ley Hill from Back South Railway Street. Frances Street went up from 1 to 12 households but Adolphus Street barely grew at all.

In about 1855 Greater Seaham was surveyed in preparation for the first national Ordnance Survey. The resultant map was printed in 1857. The original can be examined at the Durham Record Office at County Hall. Surveyed at the time it was, half-way between the censuses of 1851 and 1861, the map gives us priceless clues about the development of our town of Seaham Harbour. Several places are shown (e.g. some of the streets inside of the ‘Rectangle’ which were not mentioned in the 1851 census and we can thus deduce that they were built between 1851 and 1855. Likewise several places (e.g. Seaham Cottages, Marlborough Street) are mentioned in the 1861 census but are not on the map – therefore we know that they were built between 1855 and 1861. We have one other priceless clue about these early days in the history of our town in the form of the remarkable and exquisite wooden model of Seaham Harbour made in c. 1861 which hangs at the back of Seaham Library and was apparently made by an employee of Lady Frances Anne, a Mr. Cummins, for show at the Paris Exhibition. It is not known whether or not it reached the show. For years it gathered dust in the attic of the Londonderry Offices and was discovered only in the 1960s when the Londonderry family finally abandoned the building to the Police. It was restored and now hangs proudly in the intellectual centre of the town.

The decade 1851-61 saw another great expansion of the population of Greater Seaham, from five to nine thousand people. The main reason for this next phase of development was the stimulus of the new Seaton and Seaham Collieries but additional demand for housing was created by the new Londonderry Wagonworks and two new bottleworks. The immigrants came from all directions but especially from the Emerald Isle.

Seaton Colliery began production in 1852. Seaham Colliery began producing later but the exact date is not known. By the end of the decade nearly a thousand colliers and their families were employed at the two pits. Seaham/Seaton Colliery pit village was erected to accomodate them but the building could not keep pace with demand. Seaham Harbour, Seaton and Dalton-le-Dale tried to absorb the overflow but those tiny communities could not cope with the influx of newcomers. Four rows of houses were built at Dawdon which were initially called Seaham New Cottages but which eventually became known as Swinebank Cottages. It is not known if these 83 dwellings were owned by Seaton Colliery or Seaham Colliery or both. In the census of 1861 several more new structures were described as ‘New Cottages’ – these would eventually become Ropery Walk, Candlish Street, Gallery Row and Fenwick’s Row. The future Ropery Walk was inhabited by the workers of the Londonderry Wagonworks. The future Candlish Street, Gallery Row and Fenwick’s Row were occupied by the employees of the two bottleworks which opened in Seaham in about 1853. Before the decade was out Fenwick’s was bought out by Candlish and the two bottleworks became one. Fenwick himself was remembered in the name of the street.

Despite the erection of ‘New Cottages’ the demand for more and more housing was far from exhausted. Several new streets or habitations were constucted in Seaham Harbour – Sebastopol Terrace (for the well-heeled), Green Street, Back Adelaide Row, Back Church Street. Inside the ‘Rectangle’ the available space was filled up – North John Street, Back John Street, Back William Street, Back Henry Street and Back Tempest Place all appeared. The gap between the ‘Rectangle’ and Dene House Farm also began to fill up – Vane Terrace was built. A start was also made in filling the space between Blandford Place and the new railway station – work began on Marlborough Street. It contained 45 families in the 1861 census but would soon have far more.

The Dowager Marchioness built her imposing Londonderry Offices in 1857 next to Terrace Green. This impressive structure still stands and is currently Seaham’s Police Station. Its predecessor as Police HQ was erected on the corner of Tempest Road and Vane Terrace at about the same time as the Londonderry Offices. It served the town and the force for over a century. In the same era Rock House was built just across the road. The decade 1851-61 also saw the appearance of several ramshackle structures which would soon degenerate into slums and which contributed greatly to the very high death-rate in Seaham Harbour – the worst in the county by 1900. Amongst these were Pattison’s, Hunter’s, Nicholson’s and Todd’s Buildings.

By 1850 the docks at Seaham Harbour were seriously overloaded by coal from a dozen inland pits and something had to be done to ease the pressure before Seaton and Seaham came on stream. The solution was to create a railway from Seaham Harbour to the much larger port facilities at Sunderland. On a bitterly cold day, February 8 1853, the 3rd. Marquess, now aged 75, dug the first turf of the Londonderry Seaham and Sunderland Railway. He was fated not to see the completion of this project. Passenger traffic began on the line on July 1 1855 with stations at Seaham Harbour, Seaham Colliery, Seaham Hall (for the private use of the Londonderrys and their guests), Ryhope East and Hendon Burn. The new line was connected to the Rainton and Braddyll railways. Seaham Harbour Station was a short walk from the edge of town at Blandford Place. By 1861 the space in between was developed as the ‘Marlborough’ area and the edge of town advanced to the new railway line.

Already in poor health the 3rd. Marquess caught influenza at the end of February 1854 and this developed into pneumonia. He died at his London mansion, Holdernesse House, on March 6. He was succeeded in all of the titles he had inherited from his father and brother by his eldest son (from his first marriage) Frederick Stewart who thus became the 4th. Marquess of Londonderry. All of the titles the 3rd. Marquess had gained since 1821 however passed to his eldest son from his second marriage, Henry Stewart (Lord Seaham), who thus became Earl Vane. Henry simultaneously became heir to his half-brother Frederick who was childless and looked like remaining so and also to his mother Frances Anne. On her husband’s death she regained all of her possessions including the Durham pits, Wynyard and Seaham Hall. For 35 years the Marchioness had deferred to her husband and contented herself with the roles of mother, wife and society hostess but now she grasped the opportunity to come out of his shadow. From then on Seaham Hall was her headquarters and the collieries and the harbour her business. She developed the habit of spending the summer and early autumn at Garron Tower in Ulster, Christmas at Wynyard and the rest of the year at Seaham Hall, with the exception of a short visit to London for ‘the season’. In December 1859 she laid the foundation for another new enterprise, the Seaham Harbour Blast Furnace, in Dawdon Field Dene, next door to the ancient farmhouse.

The last major famine in peacetime in Western Europe occurred in Ireland at the end of the 1840s. Blight destroyed the staple crop of potatoes in several successive years and the population, never prosperous, was reduced to starvation. Millions emigrated to Australia and North America to escape the horror that engulfed those left behind. Many could afford only to reach England and Scotland and those two countries found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of illiterate, penniless and starving Irish who turned up in every town and village looking for work. Far from being sympathetic the British public were openly hostile to the newcomers who were prepared to work for far smaller wages than the average Briton and were thus perceived as a threat. Seaham took more than its fair share of the Irish and you will find hundreds of them in the census of 1861, especially in the ‘Irish Back Street ‘ (Back South Railway Street). Many Seaham people (the author included) descend from this Catholic Irish influx in the 1850s – it is the explanation for the high proportion of Catholics in the town compared to the rest of England.

Immigration to our ‘boom’ town was not limited to the Irish in the decade 1851-61. The first of several waves of refugees from the dying lead and tin mining industries of Devon and Cornwall began arriving in the 1850s. A street was named after them at Seaham Colliery and an entire district of Murton but you will also find lots of Cornishmen and Devonians in Seaham Harbour in the 1861 census. A swarm of unemployed agricultural labourers also came from Norfolk – lured north by the prospect of higher wages and more consistent work by the agents of Lord Londonderry and others.

In 1859 the Government, alarmed by the apparent belligerency of France under Napoleon III, formed the Volunteer movement and invited towns and cities, especially those on the south and east coasts, to look to their own defence. The Marchioness responded by creating the Seaham Volunteer Artillery Brigade in 1860. In 1862 she built Seaham’s first Drill Hall on Castlereagh Bridge. Seaham Harbour and Seaham Colliery men flocked to the colours. Drill Halls were also constructed by Frances Anne or her heir at Silksworth, Rainton, Durham and Seaham Colliery. Eventually 12 batteries (over 1,000 men) were created, out of a total County strength of 16 batteries. An indication of how seriously the Londonderry family took their private army can be found throughout the 1861 and later censuses – the number of professional soldiers they were prepared to employ and house in order to keep ‘their’ Volunteers in tip-top condition. All Londonderry agents were expected, indeed required, to train as officers. The 6th. Marquess, grandson of Frances Anne, built a huge new Drill Hall in 1888 and donated the Drill Field, now the site of Princess Road school playing field. He used to delight in leading the annual inspection and parade from the Drill Hall to the Drill Field in full ceremonial dress. One of the Volunteer uniforms is retained at Durham Records Office at County Hall. In 1908 the Volunteers were absorbed into the Territorial Army. There is a still a pub in Seaham called The Volunteers, last remnant of Frances Street.

In 1863 a Local Board of Health was created to conduct Greater Seaham’s affairs. It was led from 1873-94 by J. B. Eminson, chief financial agent for the Londonderrys in Seaham from 1869-96. The Board became Seaham Harbour Urban District Council by the Local Government Act of 1894. Eminson also led the new body from 1895-96. During his 27 years service he filled the leading position in the town. He was also Chairman of Seaham Magistrates and a member of the Easington Guardians (Work House). Despite the semblance of a kind of democracy after 1863 Seaham was still a family fiefdom.

When an Act of Parliament prohibited the working of coal-mines without two outlets from each seam Lady Frances Anne decided that the simplest way to comply with this legislation in the case of Seaham Colliery was to buy Seaton Colliery from the North Hetton and Grange Colliery Company and amalgamate it with Seaham. This was done in November 1864, and was virtually the last business deal she completed. The health of the Dowager Marchioness declined rapidly after 1862. The news of the death of her second and favourite son Adolphus in June 1864 broke her heart. Within weeks she suffered a major heart attack at Garron Tower in Ulster and returned to Seaham in September seriously ill. By Christmas she seemed to have recovered but this was to prove an illusion. In the New Year she had a relapse and died at the Hall on January 20 1865, three days after her 65th. birthday. She was buried with her husband and her Vane ancestors at Long Newton in the south of County Durham. Her remains were escorted there from Seaham, the town she had founded, by the Volunteers she had created. Her possessions, apart from Garron Tower in Ulster, passed to her eldest son Henry, Earl Vane. The Founders of Seaham Harbour and Seaham Colliery had certainly been characters. Their immediate and much less colourful descendants took little interest in their homes and businesses in the Northeast of England. Their visits were rare and usually confined to shooting parties at Wynyard, their mansion near Stockton. By and large they were content to leave everything in the hands of agents, hard men who were paid by results. Nineteen years would pass before the next generation of the Londonderry family were again regular visitors to the town their ancestors had created. For months and years at a time Seaham Hall remained empty, maintained by a skeleton staff. With the death of Frederick Stewart, 4th. Marquess of Londonderry, in a nursing home at Hastings on November 25 1872, the connection between the marquessate and Seaham was restored. His titles and possessions passed to his half-brother Henry, Earl Vane, who became the 5th Marquess of Londonderry at the age of 51.

8. Events 1865-81

Seaham’s most famous resident, Lady Frances Anne, died on January 20 1865. She missed the arrival of Seaham’s most infamous resident by only a matter of days. Five days before her death, on January 15, a 38 year old stoker called William Mowbray died of typhus and diarrhoea at his humble home in Henry Street East at Hendon in Sunderland, leaving a widow and two small daughters. The widow, Mary Ann Mowbray, soon received £35 from the British Prudential Assurance Company and promptly moved to Bolton’s Buildings (19 North Terrace) on Seaham’s seafront. Her room may have been on the ground floor looking out to sea though the current owner says that it was in a cottage at the back of the house. Before long Mary Ann began an affair with a married man, Joseph Nattress, but her two little girls were in the way of a serious relationship. When the younger girl died of ‘typhus’ in April 1865 Mary Ann farmed out the remaining child to her mother who lived at Seaham Colliery. Unfortunately Nattress’s wife then found out and insisted that her husband move away from Seaham. Mary Ann had to accept the fait accomplis and she moved back to Sunderland before the summer was out. Her stay in our town was brief (a maximum of six months in a 40 year life) and the bulk of her career was spent elsewhere in the Northeast. She is known in history as Mary Ann Cotton (her fourth, bigamous, husband was Frederick Cotton) who is suspected of being Great Britain’s most prolific murderer. Most authorities credit her with 14 or 15 victims but she may have been responsible for as many as 21, a figure which includes her own mother. Mary Ann returned to Seaham (Colliery) very briefly in March 1867 to nurse her mother who was already dying of hepatitis. She may have speeded her unfortunate parent on the way but this is unlikely for it would not have benefited her in any way – quite the reverse in fact for her mother’s demise meant that Mary Ann had to take back her remaining daughter.

By the time of the 1871 census the population of Dawdon township (which included Seaham Harbour) had reached 7,132. The population of Seaham (which included Old Seaham, outlying farms and the new Seaton/Seaham colliery village) was 2,802. Dalton-le-Dale still had only 128 residents. Seaton-with-Slingley had just 228.

There was little further development in Seaham Harbour in the decade 1861-71. A start was made on Emily Street, Caroline Street and Cornelia Terrace. The ‘Marlborough’ area was now beginning to take shape. In the ‘Rectangle’ space was somehow found for Little John Street. Sea View Villas and the North Battery appeared on the seafront. The Blastfurnaces closed in 1865 but were soon replaced by the Chemical Works. Watson Town was erected for the employees of the new concern. The Vicar of St. John’s got a magnificent new house and the Roman Catholic priest got a parsonage next to the Police Station and the new RC church and school.

The decade from 1871 to 1881 was one of almost continuous disaster for the ordinary people of Greater Seaham. It seems that no sooner was one tragedy over than another began. The Seaham Colliery explosion of Wednesday October 25 1871 occurred at 11.30 pm, otherwise the death-toll of 26 would have been much higher – by now the pit was employing 1100 men and boys. The shock was felt at Seaham Harbour. John Clark, aged 9, sitting on the surface in a cabin near the pit shaft, was blown 10 yards by the explosion. The force of the blast was such that many ponies were killed in their underground stables 1.5 miles away from the epicentre. Two men named Hutchinson, father and son, working as ‘marrows’ (marras), fired the shot which triggered the blast. The father, Thomas senior, survived the explosion but was badly injured. For days he hovered between life and death (in his house) and medical opinion concluded that he could not survive. But survive he did – for he was destined to be killed in the 1880 explosion. Thomas Hutchinson junior left a pregnant widow and two children.

Manager Dakers and Head Viewer Vincent Corbett went down the pit to assess the situation and made a decision which to some seemed harsh and to others seemed like murder. The ‘stoppings’ were rushed up to starve the fire of oxygen and save the mine irrespective of the men thereby entombed. The explosion occurred on Wednesday – by Sunday the furnace was re-lighted at the shaft bottom for ventilation. The men were somehow persuaded to return to work while the bodies of their colleagues lay entombed for several weeks in nearby workings. Religious decency then laid much greater emphasis on proper burial of a body in consecrated ground. Four of the bodies were brought out immediately after the explosion but the remaining 22 were not recovered until December 20. The appeal fund produced just over £2,000. The inquest was held at the New Seaham Inn (now called the Kestrel). Verdict – Accidental death. Just as the village began to recover from the tragedy it was struck another mortal blow with an outbreak of smallpox.

A terrible storm occurred on December 17 1872. Newspapers of the time reported that six Seaham-based ships were lost with all hands but unfortunately they gave no names. It may be that dozens of Seaham men went to a watery grave but there is no record of who they were. The sea had not finished yet. On Tuesday June 26 1873 a dreadful boat accident took the lives of five men within hailing distance of the end of the pier…….

Having finished work and wishing for an adventure on that long summer evening of long ago seven bottlemakers (John Jefferson, Ralph Hush, James Coyle, Robert Miller, Joseph Hall, Benjamin Turns and Andrew Davison) engaged a coble and placed themselves under the charge of Morley Scott junior, an experienced junior pilot. The boat was brand new, the skipper an accomplished seaman, the seven passengers were mature and sober men and the weather was very calm so there should have been little possibility of a mishap. Morley Scott rowed the coble out of the harbour and then raised the mast to catch what little breeze there was.

When they were about three hundred yards out from the (old) north pier an event occurred which was to precipitate a tragedy – Morley Scott’s brace button snapped and he was in danger of his trousers falling down ! Being equipped with a needle and thread and a reserve button he handed charge of the sail to James Coyle, who he believed was an experienced sailor, whilst he effected an instant repair. A slight wind then hit the sail, Coyle lost his grip and the sail fell into the water. The situation was still not a dangerous one and Morley Scott, seeing the slight problem, forgot his trousers and moved towards the side of the boat to pull the mast back upright again. Unfortunately the other men in the boat, being inexperienced, all moved instinctively to help him, the boat overbalanced and tipped over throwing all eight into the water. Benjamin Turns, Andrew Davison and Morley Scott survived and were able to walk home unassisted. The other five drowned. Today there may be thousands of descendants of the eight men in Seaham and elsewhere, most of them probably oblivious of the events of that tragic day long ago.

There were ugly scenes and near-tragedies at both Seaham Harbour and Seaham Colliery when the Parliamentary Election came round in February 1874 – directed against Tories in general who were rightly blamed for the fact that none of the Seaham miners and other workers had the vote. The Riot Act was read at Seaham Harbour and extra police were brought in and some soldiers from the barracks at Sunderland. The crowd was dispersed at Seaham Harbour but a section of it then headed for the Mill Inn for unknown reasons. The pub was attacked and the landlord, John Barret Wells, was put under siege for over two hours. He fired several shots from his revolver but in the end was only saved from a beating or worse by the arrival of more police. Quite why he was picked on is far from clear at this distance in time. It may be that Wells had made the same mistake as those traders in Seaham Harbour who had their places of business wrecked – he might have placed a Vote Conservative poster in his pub window. Nationally the Conservatives had a comfortable victory in the election but in County Durham they lost to Liberals in all 13 seats. Because of the unrest in Seaham and elsewhere the Conservatives demanded and received a second election in the Northern Division of County Durham of which Seaham was a part. This duly took place and the Tories recaptured one of the two seats for the division.

In the baking hot August of 1880 the Seaham Volunteer Artillery Brigade distinguished itself in the big gun shooting of the National Artillery Competition at Shoeburyness, picking up a beautiful trophy and over £200 in prize money, a very handsome sum in those days. The team members were welcomed back to Seaham as heroes and their crackshot Corporal Hindson was carried shoulder-high through the town. The next big event in the town’s social calendar was Seaham’s Annual Flower Show, to be held in the grounds of Seaham Hall from Thursday September 9 to Sunday the 11th. The 5th. Marquess himself, a rather shy and unassuming man, was to make one of his rare visits in order to present the prizes. Indeed he was to honour the town his parents had founded with his presence for an entire week. As it turned out he was to stay for a good deal longer than he anticipated. Many of the miners at Seaham Colliery had entries in the show and some of these men swapped shifts with those disinterested in horticultural affairs in order that they might attend. It was to prove a fateful decision for those who should have been working on the Tuesday/Wednesday night and for those who ended up working when ordinarily they would have been at home sound asleep.

At Seaham Colliery there were three shifts per day for hewers (everyone else worked much longer hours) of 7 hours each, covering the period from 4 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. The shifts were: 1) Fore Shift, from 4 a.m. to 11.30 am; 2) Back Shift, 10a.m. to 5.30 p.m.; 3) Night Shift, 4p.m. to 11.30 p.m. Each shift involved some 500 men and boys and at the overlap of the shifts there could be over 1,000 men in the pit. From 10p.m. to 6.a.m., when the colliery was comparatively quiet, was the maintenance shift, which employed far fewer workers. Fortuitously the 1880 explosion took place at 2.20 a.m. during one such maintenance shift, 100 minutes before the start of the Fore shift, which is why only 231 men and boys were below ground. The tragedy, the second worst in the long mining history of County Durham and the third worst in the history of the Great Northern Coalfield, could have been much much worse, dwarfing the great disasters at Hartley and West Stanley.

On the fateful evening of Tuesday September 7 1880 Joseph Birkbeck (or Birbeck), choirmaster and organist at Christ Church, 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. One man’s good luck story stands head and shoulders above the rest. 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, on the look out for shirkers probably, 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 a.m. 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. 48 more survivors were brought out this way. Of the 231 workers only 68 had thus been rescued by midnight of the first day, leaving 164 unaccounted for. None of these survived. 169 men 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 mob gradually drifted away to other entertainment. The bereaved were left alone waiting for news, any news, of their loved ones. For a fuller report on the Seaham Colliery Disaster and its aftermath see the chapter/essay on Seaham Colliery (New Seaham).

In February 1881 a special ‘court’ was held at Seaham Harbour Police Station to deal with charges in connection with the strike and disturbances at Seaham Colliery. 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’. 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, Seaham Colliery) 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.

Of the 164 men and boys killed in the 1880 disaster 32 were not resident at Seaham Colliery Pit Village. 28 of these 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. The badly-faded gravestones of at least two of the victims of the Seaham Colliery disaster can be found leaning against the walls of the disused St. John’s graveyard in Seaham Harbour. The heroic George Dixon’s stone leans against the west wall and Walter Murray’s leans against the south wall. Rest in Peace. Surely there is space inside St. Johns to give sanctuary to these two reminders of a grim but glorious past before time, the elements and vandals completely destroy them ?

The population of Greater Seaham (including Seaham Colliery Pit Village) in 1871 was 10,370. It rose slightly to 11,017 by 1881. Consequently there was very little new development in Seaham Harbour in that decade. Only one new street (Sophia) was constructed. Summerson’s Buildings appeared though it may have been there earlier under a different name. Author Tony Whitehead’s maternal grandmother Elizabeth Robinson (nee Kelly) was born there in 1897. Cornelia Street and Emily Street were finished off and only the tiny George Street and York Place were yet to appear to complete the ‘Marlborough’ area.

9. Events 1881-1998

The 5th Marquess of Londonderry died in 1884 and was succeeded in his possessions and titles by his eldest son Charles who thus became the 6th. Marquess of Londonderry and 3rd. Viscount Seaham. On July 27 1886 he became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Viceroy) for an agreed three year term of office and he and his family moved into residences at Dublin Castle and Phoenix Park. He was the first member of an Irish family to hold the position. In truth he was chosen because he was the only candidate who could afford the office, which carried a small wage and a large expenditure for hospitality. In 1888 he was awarded the Garter for his services in that troubled island. His term ended on August 30 1889. A new row, Viceroy Street, was constructed at Seaham Colliery to honour the office. A Viceroy Street was also erected in Seaham Harbour and appeared in the 1891 census.

The population of Greater Seaham (including Seaham Colliery Pit Village) expanded from 11,017 in 1881 to 14,204 in 1891. There was no obvious reason for this large increase. The surges in the past had been caused by the opening and expansion of Seaham Harbour and the coming on stream of Seaton/Seaham collieries but no such major event took place anywhere in Greater Seaham in the decade 1881-91. There was therefore much further housing development in Seaham Harbour during that period – George Street, Adolphus Street West, Maria Street, Lord Street, Viceroy Street and Herbert Terrace – all of them bearing Londonderry names – appeared to fill in the few remaining gaps in the town. The decade also saw the erection of Cliff House, the new Drill Hall, York Place and Castlereagh Road. Only Frederick Street and the area between Ropery Walk and Candlish Terrace were still to be built to complete old Seaham Harbour. They would be developed in the following years.

The four remaining Rainton pits (Rainton Meadows, Nicholson’s, Alexandrina and Lady Seaham) were closed down in November 1896. With the loss of much of his income from central Durham in 1896 the 6th. Marquess decided to construct a second pit at Seaham as a replacement. In August 1899 the first sods were cut by Theresa, Marchioness of Londonderry, and her elder son Viscount Castlereagh, who gave their names to the two shafts. The first coal was drawn in 1907. By 1911 the population of Seaham was 20,000 – an increase of 33% over the previous ten years. By 1920 the new colliery, Dawdon, employed 3,300 workers and produced over 1 million tons per year. It became the premier colliery in Greater Seaham, relegating the old ‘Nack’ to a poor second place.

The 6th.Marquess of Londonderry died in 1915 and was succeeded by his only surviving son Charles, the 7th.Marquess.His inheritance however was decimated by the newly-introduced death duties and so the new lord of the manors of Dalden and Seaham was immmediately in financial difficulty.The family would never truly recover from this blow and have been in economic decline ever since.

The year 1918 saw both the end of the Great War and the fourth and most dramatic of the Reform Acts. For the first time all men over 21 and all women over 30 were enfranchised.Younger women did not get the vote until 1928. Constituency boundaries were also changed and a new seat called ‘Seaham’ came into existence, but the town itself was only a small part of a largely rural constituency which bordered with the seats of Houghton-le-Spring, Durham and Sedgefield. At the General Election in December 1918 the Liberal Hayward defeated the Labour candidate Lawson by 13,574 to 8,988. The election nationally was a resounding success for the Coalition Government. 339 Coalition Unionists and 136 Coalition Liberals were returned. Labour went up from 39 to 59 seats.The (Non-Coalition) Liberals got 26.In 1919 Labour gained control of Durham County Council for the first time, under the chairmanship of Peter Lee.

Though he was back in the driving seat at Dawdon and Seaham collieries once more the 7th.Marquess actually had more pressing problems elsewhere for there was still the small matter of his own solvency. Because of the death duties payable on the estate of his late father he was now suffering acute financial problems which needed urgent remedies. From 1917-30 he sold off scores of minor properties in Seaham, the rest of the county and elsewhere. In 1920 he sold Silksworth Colliery to Sir James Joicey. It was decided that a new, third, pit should be sunk at Seaham and that the contents of Seaham Hall should be disposed of preparatory to its sale.The auction took place in May 1922 and the Hall then remained empty, but there were no takers to buy it. In 1923 Londonderry offered it to Durham County Council for use as a hospital. It was officially opened in February 1928 as a tuberculosis sanatorium.

In 1925 the 7th.Marquess gave 18.5 acres of land to create Dawdon Welfare Grounds.In 1934 he gave Dawdon Dene Park to Seaham Urban District Council. In the late twenties he sold off farmland to the Council for the proposed Carr House Estate. The Londonderrys still owned the collieries and most of the land and buildings in the town but otherwise their connection with Seaham had come to an end after a century and four generations. The family still visited Seaham on important occasions but they had become remote figures by the 1930s. They were still at the pinnacle of society however despite their economic difficulties.

Ironically in view of what was to come James Ramsay MacDonald was proposed as leader of the Labour party in 1922 by one Emmanuel Shinwell and was duly elected.The new leader attended the Miner’s Gala in 1923 at a time when industrial relations were on a downward slope.On November 19 1923 the first sod was cut at the new colliery which was called Vane Tempest after Frances Anne and her ancestors. In that same month there was another General Election which produced a combined Labour (191) & Liberal (159) majority of 92 over the Conservatives who got 258, down 87. On 22 January 1924 James Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister of a Lib-Labourer government. Sidney Webb, Labour MP for Seaham, became President of the Board of Trade. The administration did not last long and Labour could achieve little without a solid working majority. On October 8 1924 the Conservatives joined with the Liberals to defeat Labour by 364 to 198. In the General Election at the end of the month the Conservatives gained a majority over the other two parties of 215.They secured 419 seats, up 161. Labour got 151, down 40. The Liberal strategy backfired horribly – with just 40 seats (lost 119), they were virtually wiped out and would never again even hope to be the sole party in power.

In January 1929 James Ramsay MacDonald was adopted as prospective Labour candidate for Seaham where Sidney Webb had decided to retire. MacDonald gave up Aberavon where there were excessive demands on his time and pocket for Seaham where he would not be expected to visit more than once a year and where the costs were met by local people. Two months later, on May 30 1929, there was a General Election in which Labour won 288 seats to the Tories 260. The Liberals again held the balance with 59. James Ramsay MacDonald returned as Prime Minister of another Lib-Lab government. He had a majority of 28,794 at Seaham where the Liberal and Communist candidates lost their deposits.

The enormous economic crisis in 1931 split the Labour party and led to the formation of a ‘National’ Government on August 31. MacDonald, on the verge of a nervous breakdown and deserted by most of his party, made an offer to the King to form an ad hoc government to put through the financial legislation necessary and then dissolve for a General Election. The offer was endorsed by Baldwin and by Samuel for the Liberals. MacDonald remained as Prime Minister even though he could count on only a handful of his party’s 287 M.Ps. On his insistence Labour had 4 of the 10 Cabinet seats. The Conservatives also had 4 and the Liberals 2. Baldwin, as Lord President of the Council, was one of the four Tories.

Shortly after MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party. The Seaham Labour Party asked him to resign his seat but he refused and instead put himself forward as a ‘National’ Labour candidate. The General Election was duly called for October 27 1931. Each party issued its own manifesto with a general pronouncement from the Prime Minister in his name alone. A Conservative landslide saw them win 473 seats. Together with their ‘National’ Labour (13) and ‘National’ Liberal (35) allies they had 521 seats in the new Commons. The Liberals got 33. Official Labour got just 52 and all except one of their front-bench lost their seats. The party would be impotent for the next 14 years. Ramsay MacDonald retained Seaham with a majority of nearly 6,000 over Official Labour, thanks mainly to the non-mining vote in rural parts of the constituency. Had the vote been restricted to the town of Seaham and other mining villages he would certainly have suffered the indignity of being the only Prime Minister in history to lose his own seat. The official Labour candidate was the local party secretary, A.Coxon, a Shotton schoolmaster. MacDonald got 28,978 to Coxon’s 23,027. A new National Government was formed a week later. MacDonald remained as PM but he was now merely a puppet. Baldwin continued as Lord President and moved into 11 Downing Street from where he could keep an eye on ‘his’ PM.

Seaham Colliery was again mothballed from August 1932 to April 1934 because of it’s heavy losses. All of the hewers and some of the officials working in Dawdon’s Maudlin Seam were dismissed. A total of 2600 men were paid off by Londonderry Collieries. The whole of Dawdon colliery was closed for 4 weeks early in 1933 by a fire. In May 1935, sensing the worst and with an election apparently imminent, Ramsay MacDonald retired as PM just before the Whitsun recess and swapped jobs with Baldwin. The General Election finally took place on November 14 1935. The Conservatives won 432, a majority of 247. Labour increased from 52 to 154. The Liberals fell from 33 to 20. Both of the MacDonalds, father and son, lost their seats to Official Labour. This time the Seaham Labour Party put in a real political heavyweight, a street-fighting Jewish socialist, to oust the icon of the ‘National’ Government. Ramsay Macdonald lost in Seaham to Emmanuel Shinwell by 38,380 to 17,882.

The Slum Clearance Act was passed in 1930 and Seaham Council was quick to take advantage. The Carr House Estate (later renamed Deneside) had begun even before, in 1928, and was finally completed in 1937. People from Seaham Harbour were moved up to it and away from their old appalling conditions. The old tight-knit community at Seaham Colliery was also broken up and moved almost en masse to the new estate at Parkside. Knowing that Westlea and Eastlea estates were planned a few of the inhabitants stayed put and waited for their new houses. 404 houses for 2,017 people were completed at Parkside by September 1940, but there were no shops and no public house. Those billeted at Ash Crescent complained bitterly about the continuous noise from the South Hetton mineral line but eventually they became used to it and no more was heard about the matter.

The old streets at Seaham Colliery and Seaham Harbour were not immediately demolished but were kept for those made homeless by German air raids. The Seaham created by the Founders was beginning to disappear and this process was accelerated by the coming of war with Germany. As an industrial town and significant railway hub Seaham was an important target during the war.On the night of February 15-16 1941 four died at Seaham Harbour and Seaham Colliery. Eight months later on October 25 1941 the Seaton Colliery Inn sustained a direct hit and the landlady and a friend were killed. One day a new public house, aptly named the Phoenix, would appear on the site. In 1947 construction of the Eastlea and Westlea estates began. To make way for them the old streets of the Seaham Colliery area were demolished over the next 15 years.

On January 1 1945 a new union, the NUM, was created from the MFGB. A General Election was held in July 1945.Labour achieved a landslide with 393 seats to the 213 of the Conservatives and their allies, the Liberals 12 and Independents 22. For the first time a Labour government had an overall majority and could put into effect some of its ideals. Emmanuel Shinwell, MP for Seaham, became Minister of Fuel and Power to carry out the pre-war dream of nationalisation. On July 12 1946, the eve of the first postwar Gala, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act received the Royal Assent. The official handover took place on ‘Vesting’ Day, Wednesday January 1 1947. Notice boards were set up outside every pit which read: ‘This colliery is now managed by the National Coal Board on behalf of the people’. Lord Londonderry was apparently very generously compensated for the loss of his three Seaham collieries but the precise amount he received seems to be a secret.

At it’s peak in 1913 the Durham coalfield produced 41.5 million tons with 165,246 employees at 304 pits. By 1934 the output had fallen to 30.6 million tons produced by 107,873 employees at 228 pits. By the time of nationalisation in 1947 the number of pits had dropped to 127. The three Seaham collieries, with their access to the unlimited reserves under the North Sea, seemed to be safe for another century and there were no alarm bells ringing yet on the Durham coast. Between 1951 and 1964 the Conservatives closed 44 pits in the county. From 1964 to 1970 Labour shut down another 51. By 1970 a mere 34,484 employees worked at just 34 pits. The closures were now coming ominously close to Seaham and the writing was on the wall. By 1983 7.2 million tons were being produced by 15,289 employees at 13 collieries.

The Miner’s Strike of 1984-85 – the last, longest and most bitter of them all, was calculated to stop the closure of the remainder, in Durham and elsewhere. Once again, as usual, the miners lost and the fate of the rump Durham coalfield was finally 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 rail connection from Seaham Colliery to Seaham Harbour was severed a year later in 1988 following an accident with a runaway locomotive. Thus was closed the last section of the Rainton and Seaham line laid between 1828 and 1831 which had brought life to the infant town. ‘Benny’s Bank’ had been a direct link back to the Industrial Revolution and the Founders.

In 1991 both Dawdon and Murton collieries were closed and the sites levelled. In October 1992 British Coal, as part of a national strategy, announced the closure of the four remaining pits in the old County of Durham, including the Seaham-Vane Tempest combine. Seaham and Vane Tempest collieries were bulldozed in 1994. Now a great open site has replaced each of the three Seaham pits. Mining in the town has come to an end after a century and a half.

Since the war a ring of satellite council and private estates has sprung up to completely surround the original town of Seaham Harbour. Westlea, Eastlea, Woodlands, Northlea etc. Parkside received an extension and some shops at last. None of these new areas have any connection with the Londonderry family and none have street names with a Londonderry connection.

– by Tony Whitehead