Trimdon Colliery Disaster of 1882

The Trimdon Disaster of 1882

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Death List from Trimdon Grange Colliery Village

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

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

Death List from Trimdon Colliery Village

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

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

Death List from Old Trimdon Village

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

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

Death List from Kelloe (East Hetton)

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

— by Tony Whitehead



Thornley did not have its own Anglican church until 1843, so before then look in the parish registers for Kelloe.

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office
Kelloe, Parish Registers 1693-1991
St. Bartholomew, Thornley, Baptisms 1843-1948
St. Bartholomew, Thornley, Marriages 1844-1989
St. Bartholomew, Thornley, Burials 1843-1977
Thornley Primitive Methodists, Baptisms 1863-1929
Thornley (East Durham) Wesleyan Methodists, Baptisms 1909-36
Thornley Wesleyan Methodists, Baptisms 1867-1936
Thornley Methodists, Baptisms 1932-70
Thornley Bow Street Methodists, Marriages 1914-63
Thornley Waterloo Street Wesleyan Methodists, Marriages 1875-80

Population changes in the 19th. Century were:

 Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Thornley 56 58 60 50 2730 2740 3306 3059 3132 2070 2938

All of the census records for 1841-1901 are transcribed and available on this site.

The sinking of Thornley, third colliery in Easington District, was begun in 1835 by John Gully and partners. Bristol born, Gully had made a fortune as a bareknuckle boxer and from 1807 to 1809 he had been Champion of England for his weight. He retired undefeated to become landlord of a London pub and racehorse owner. He owned two Derby winners and later became M.P. for Pontefract. He married twice and sired 24 children. Late in life he decided to sink his fortune in the El Dorado of the concealed Durham coalfield. The new pit took several years to complete and production seems to have started in c. 1839.

On August 5 1841, seven weeks after the first census to record personal details, an explosion at Thornley Colliery killed 9 young men. All except one were under the age of 18. They were: Peter Graydon, George Ord, Thomas Haswell (Adult), Robert and John Gardiner (Brothers), Thomas Hall, Jonathan and George Graham (Brothers) and John Armstrong. George Crozier and James Maudlin were badly burnt and expected to die but they both pulled through. Thomas Pyle was lamed. With the exception of James Maudlin all of the above 12 were mentioned in the 1841 census.

The inquest was held at the Thornley Colliery Inn. Verdict: Accidental Death. Thornley did not have its own church yet so all nine victims were buried at nearby Kelloe in a single ceremony. The entire villages of Thornley and Kelloe turned out for the grim occasion.

In 1843 the men of Thornley Colliery came out on strike because of the harshness of their Bond conditions. The owners of the colliery at the time were listed as Thomas Wood Rowland Webster, John Gully & John Burrell. Arrest warrants were issued against 68 men for absenting themselves from their employment on November 23.

At the subsequent trial a number of named miners were called to give evidence. These were:
John Cockson (Coxon)
Matthew Dawson
Thomas Dermot Moran
John James Bird
William Wearmouth
George Nesbitt
William Henderson
John Stephenson
Joseph Longstaf
Newrick Walton
John Cresswell
William Wilkinson
William Turner
William Anderson
William Ord
William Kay
John Bates
William Toplis
Augustus King
Robert Toplis
Robert Walton
Reuben Forster
Charles Willet
George Edwards
Henry Willis
Joseph Burnett
William Parkes
Joseph Kirk
Edward Clarke
Joseph Walker
Robert Parker
Robert Richardson
Andrew Hope
Jabez Wonders

Some of these can be found in the 1841 census.

All gave similar evidence at the trial, choosing to go to jail rather than work under the existing Bond. The magistrates duly obliged, sentencing all 68 to 6 weeks imprisonment. Immediately after the case however their lawyer, Mr. Roberts, obtained a writ of Habeas Corpus and the men who were in prison were removed to the Court of Queen’s Bench in London where, upon an informality (a technicality) they were acquitted. They all returned to County Durham as heroes but the Bond remained.

In the 1841 census the enumerator mentioned Front Street (later called Hartlepool Street), Waterloo Street, Back Waterloo Street, John Street, Wood Street, Stable Row, Pit Row, Dyke Row, Queen Street and Quarry Row so the nucleus of the pit village was clearly in place very early. The enumerator also mentioned several other streets which were not repeated in later censuses and these probably changed their names at some unknown later point: Donkin’s Street, Pigsford Street, Woodbank Street, Tradesmens Row, Brick Row, Cross Row, ‘Roadside’, Square Avenue and High Row. He also mentioned Charles Street, mentioned again in 1851 and 1861 which then disappeared in later censuses.

In the 1851 census the enumerator mentioned Blacksmiths Row, Sea Row and Grey Street. No later census mentioned these. He also mentioned Princes (or Princess) Street which reappeared once only, in 1861. They must have changed their names. No new streets were mentioned for much of the enumerator’s work was lumped together as ‘Thornley Colliery’.

In the 1861 census Corvers Row, Wellington Street, Ludworth Row, Trafalgar Street and William Street appeared. None of these was mentioned again in later censuses. South Street, Chapel Street, Vine Street, East Street all appeared for the first time. In the 1871 census the enumerator mentioned more new avenues: Park, Swinburn, Bowman (later called Durham Street), Water, Henry, Nelson, Collingwood, Albert and Percy Streets. By 1881 Cooper Terrace had appeared. The colliery village was completed with the additions of Bow and Thomas Streets in 1891. Thornley Colliery closed in 1970. Now the nearest coalmine is a hundred miles away.

— 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

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

New Seaham (Seaham Colliery)

New Seaham (Seaham Colliery)


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