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

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

The Past

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

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

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

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

The Present

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

The Future

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

— by Tony Whitehead