Haswell Colliery & the Disaster of September 1844

Haswell Colliery

The prospect of new collieries at South Hetton and Haswell and also at Wingate, Thornley, Cassop, Shotton, Castle Eden and Ludworth was enough to encourage the Hartlepool Dock Company to build a railway in the direction of all these proposed enterprises and beyond if possible. Simultaneously a different company, connected with Sunderland Docks, commenced a railway from the docks at Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) with a branch line from Murton to Haswell. An extension of the Braddyll Railway to Haswell further linked that booming community to South Hetton and on to the new port and town of Seaham Harbour. Thus Haswell Colliery was the target for three different railways. They all met up at the north end of old Haswell village.

In 1832 an Act was passed which permitted the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company to build a line from Moorsley near Houghton-le-Spring, to the new docks at Hartlepool to exploit the growing coal export trade in East Durham. This line was projected to run past the planned Haswell Colliery. Estimated cost about £200,000. George Stephenson designed the new line which was to have branches to Cassop via Thornley, sites of two more projected deep collieries, and to existing pits near to Ferryhill. On its opening day on November 23 1835 the track from Hartlepool had only been completed as far as Haswell and just one branch line, to Thornley & Cassop, was ready.

By now the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) Railway was almost ready and the main branch of this was also projected to run through Moorsley, site of another projected deep pit and one of the targets of the Hartepool Company. Also the Sunderland Company were constructing a branch line from Murton Junction to Haswell, so that they could tap into the new concern. Faced with this the Hartlepool Company promptly abandoned its plan to venture further north and west than Haswell. By 1836 the two railways almost met at Haswell and it was possible to travel from Hartlepool to Sunderland – but there were two different railway companies, with two different stations, each at a different height above sea level ! By 1855 both companies had been gobbled up by the new giant NER and engineering works took place at Haswell to properly join the two lines up so that through trains run by the same company could operate at last. Now Haswell had just one railway line and one station. The first shipment of coal from the new colliery passed down the waggonway to South Hetton and Seaham Harbour on July 2 1835. A year later the first waggon passed over the newly-completed Durham and Sunderland Railway on its way to the

Haswell Colliery was always problematic as a profitable concern due to gas and flooding. There was an explosion on June 16 1840 which killed one man and another on August 17 1841 with similar result. In both cases it was truly miraculous that the death toll was so small. These had been merely warnings of the catstrophe to come. Its owners in 1844 were Clark, Taylor, Plumer & Co. (The Haswell Coal Company). The same company also owned nearby Shotton Colliery.

The Great Strike of 1844 lasted from April 5 to the end of August. It was eventually defeated by the importation of large numbers of blacklegs from all over the country. Haswell too had to take its fair share of these. No sooner was the unrest quelled than an even greater disaster struck the village. Haswell Colliery was ripped apart by an explosion at 3 pm on Saturday September 28 1844. All 95 men and boys underground in the ‘big’ pit at the time were killed as were all of the pit ponies. Four men and two boys were saved in the ‘little’ pit . They happened to be near the upcast shaft, and the flame did not reach them; it having been stopped in its destructive passage by a wagon and a horse, and a number of empty tubs, which, by the force of the explosion were all jammed together in the rolley-way.

William Scott, Under-Viewer, had the unenviable job of descending the main shaft to see what could be done. Very little as it turned out. Some of the dead were buried at Easington, the then parish church for Haswell. Some were interred at Pittington Hallgarth. One was taken back to his family at Long Benton. Three were taken back to Gateshead. Over 50 were buried in a mass grave at Holy Trinity in South Hetton, the nearest graveyard. A memorial plaque to the catastrophe hangs in the church today.

The offical enquiry after the disaster concluded that there was ‘ no blame attributable to anyone’, which relieved the owners of any financial liability to the bereaved widows and orphans. 58 of the 95 can be found in the Haswell census of June 6 1841. Haswell Colliery was always problematical after that, opening and closing and changing ownership several times before it was abandoned in November 1896 in the middle of the economic slump which also finished Lord Londonderry’s Rainton pits and many other others in the county. The engine house of the colliery stands but is virtually the only monument or clearly visible sign of the area’s brief coal mining history.

Haswell Colliery Disaster of Saturday September 28 1844

Its owners in 1844 were Clark, Taylor, Plumer & Co. (The Haswell Coal Company) The same company also owned nearby Shotton Colliery. 95 of the 99 men and boys present in the pit at 3 pm on Saturday September 28 1844 were killed, as were all of the ponies present. The pit was always problematic after that, opening and closing and changing owners several times. It was finally closed in 1896.

List of 95 Dead

1. Joseph Gibson, 50, Hewer
2. John Gibson, 22, Hewer
3. Ralph Gibson, 15, Putter
4. William Gibson, 12, Putter
The above were a father and three of his sons. They can be found in Butcher’s Row in the 1841 census.

5. George Hall, 38, Hewer, Left a wife, Quarry Row 1841
6. Robert Hall, 12, Driver, Quarry Row 1841
The above were father and son

7. Hans Ward, 29, Hewer, Pregnant wife and 5 kids, Salter’s Lane 1841
8. John Ferry, 35, Hewer, Wife and 5 children
9. George Ferry, 14, Putter
The above were father and son

10. Robert Douglas, 22, Hewer, Wife and 4 children, Quarry Row in 1841
11. John Williamson, 34, Deputy, Pregnant wife & 6 children, Long Row in 1841.
12. Robert Williamson, 19, Putter, Butcher’s Row 1841.
The above were brothers

13. John Noble, 40, Hewer, Wife and 4 children
14. John Curling, 30, Hewer, Wife and child
15. Wanless Thompson, 55, Hewer, Wife & large family
16. Elliot Richardson, 38, Hewer, Wife & family
17. John Richardson, 14, Putter
The above were father and son

18. William Dixon, 15, Putter, Low Row in 1841
19. John Dixon, 16, Putter, Low Row in 1841
The above were brothers

20. John Wolfe, 25, Hewer, Wife and 1 child
21. Peter Wolfe, 20, Putter
The above were brothers

22. William Elsdon, 22, Hewer, Long Row in 1841.
23. George Elsdon, Salter’s Lane in 1841
The above were brothers

24. Henry Mather, 19, Putter, Chapel or Mary Street in 1841.
25. Christopher Teasdale, 21, Putter, Butcher’s Row in 1841.
26. John Teasdale, 19, Putter, Butcher’s Row in 1841.
27. Stephen Teasdale, 17, Putter, Butcher’s Row in 1841
The above were brothers

28. Michael Thirlaway, 18, Putter, Butcher’s Row in 1841.
29. Ralph Surtees, 19, Putter, Cousin of the below two, Butcher’s Row in 1841.
30. John Surtees, 17, Putter, Butcher’s Row in 1841.
31. William Surtees, 12
The above two were brothers

32. Mark Davison, 16, Putter, Sinker’s Row in 1841
33. Thomas Nicholson, 16, Putter, Low Row in 1841.
34. William Nicholson, 11, Driver, Low Row in 1841.
The above two were brothers

35. George Dryden, 18, Putter
36. Robert Dryden, 16, Putter
37. James Dryden, 25, Hewer
38. Thomas Dryden, 22, Hewer
39. Edward Nicholson, 16, Putter
The first four of the above five were brothers. The fifth had been brought up as their brother

40. Robert Hogg, 20, Putter
41. George Heslop, 20, Putter
42. Michael Clough, 14, Putter
43. Henry Clough, 12, Putter
44. Matthew Clough, 10, Putter
The above three were brothers

45. John Willis, 20, Putter, Lime Kiln Row in 1841.
46. Thomas Willis, 18, Putter, Lime Kiln Row in 1841.
The above two were brothers

47. John Willis, 12, Putter, Low Row in 1841.
48. William Gilroy, 16, Putter
49. John Gilroy, 13, Putter
The above were brothers

50. John Brown, 42, Hewer, Sinkers Row in 1841.
51. Daniel Lemmon, wife and 1 child
52. Thomas Briggs, 61, Long Row in 1841.
53. John Briggs, 25, Sinkers Row in 1841.
54. James Briggs, 10, Sinkers Row in 1841
The above represented 3 generations of the same family – a boy, his father and his grandfather

55. William Barrass, 32, Wife and 4 kids, Sinkers Row in 1841.
56. John Barrass, 10, Sinkers Row in 1841.
The above were father and son. John Barrass had been taken down the pit by his father on the fateful day to have his first look at what would soon become his workplace.

57. James Robson, 11, Sinkers Row in 1841.
58. Henry Wheatman (Weetman), 42, Wife and 1 child, Thompson’s Row in 1841.
59. William Wheatman (Weetman), 14, Sinkers Row in 1841
60. William Dobson, 50, Wife, Long Row in 1841.
61. John Avory, 39, Wife & family
62. Robert Rosecamp, 33, wife and four children
63. William Rosecamp, 22, Wife
The above were brothers

64. George Dawson, 53, Wife & 6 children, Low Row in 1841.
65. Thomas Moody, 25, Salter’s Lane in 1841.
66. Joseph Moffat, 25, Wife, Sinkers Row in 1841.
67. George Bell, 31, Wife, Sinkers Row in 1841.
68. Jonathan Bell, 28
The above were brothers

69. William Taylor, 21
70. William Dawson, 26, Wife and 3 kids, Long Row in 1841.
71. William Dixon, 46, Wife & family, West Blue House in 1841.
72. John Dixon, 21, West Blue House in 1841.
The above were father and son

73. John Padley, 28, West Blue House in 1841.
74. John Parkinson, 28, Quarry Row in 1841.
75. Robert Carr, 26, Wife & child, Butcher’s Row in 1841
76. William Farish, 30, Wife
77. James Maughan, 23, Long Row in 1841.
78. John Whitfield, 31
79. John Whitfield, 10
The above were father and son

80. George Richardson, 29, Wife & child, Butcher’s Row in 1841.
81. William Jobling, 29, Wife
82. Thomas Bottoms, 17
83. John Brown, 17, Low Row in 1841.
84. Peter Robinson, 21
85. Thomas Turnbull, 22, Long Row in 1841
86. James Turnbull, 12, Sinkers Row in 1841
The above may have been brothers. If they were they were living in different households in 1841.

87. William Routledge, 18, Butcher’s Row in 1841
88. William Nicholson, 18, Low Row in 1841.
89. William Harrison, 13, Salter’s Lane in 1841.
90. John Harrison, 12, Salter’s Lane in 1844.
The above were brothers

91. James Laylands, Wife and 2 kids
92. John Sanderson, 24, Wife
93. James Richardson, 41, Wife and 4 children, Long Row in 1841.
94. James Sanderson, 40, Wife and 2 children
95. John Hall, 10, Long Row in 1841.

Poem by George Werth
translated from German by Laura Lafargue (daughter of Karl Marx) in 1880.

The hundred men of Haswell,
They all died in the same day;
They all died in the same hour;
They all went the self same way.

And when they were all buried,
Came a hundred women, lo,
A hundred women of Haswell,
It was sight of owe !
With all their children came they,
With daughter and with son:
‘Now, thou rich man of Haswell,
Her wage to everyone !’
By that rich man of Haswell
Not long were they denied:
A full week’s wages he paid them
For every man who died.
And when the wage was given,
His chest fast locked up he;
The iron lock clicked sharply,
The women wept bitterly.

£4,265 was raised as a relief fund but this still meant a payout of only about £40 to each family.

In the 1841 census the enumerator for ‘Haswell Colliery’ mentioned the first streets of the new community – Chapel Row, Lime Kiln Row, Quarry Row, Butchers Row, Long Row and Sinkers Row. His successor in 1851 unhelpfully described everything as ‘Haswell Colliery’. Four years later in 1855 the North Eastern Railway (NER) took over the whole of the branch line from Hartlepool to Sunderland via Haswell. A new station at Haswell replaced the old two and through services between the two towns and ports was possible for the first time. Haswell coal could now go to Hartlepool as well.

In the 1861 census the enumerator mentioned New Row and Low Row, which must have been constructed at some point between 1841 and 1861. In the 1871 census there were no new streets at the colliery village proper but a new hamlet at ‘Haswell Plough’ appeared (later officially called Haswell Terrace). This had expanded considerably by the time of the 1881 census. Haswell Colliery closed for good in 1896 and the populations of both Haswell Colliery and Haswell Terrace soon decamped for pastures new. In 1896 the redundant colliery hamlet at Haswell Moor (Haswell Terrace?) was acquired by the Durham Miners’ Homes for their aged members. Today the site of Haswell Colliery has returned to the fields and the nearest coal mine is over a hundred miles away.

In the 1950s passenger services ended on the old Sunderland to Durham & Hartlepool (via Murton Junction and 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 from 1959 to 1991) 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. You pass Haswell and the site of its old colliery en route.

— by Tony Whitehead