Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Baptisms 1646-1861
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Marriages 1652-1967
St. Mary the Virgin, (Old) Seaham, Burials 1653-1966
Seaton has never had its own church or Methodist chapel. It has always been in the parish of St. Mary the Virgin at (Old) Seaham. Consult the registers for St. Mary’s (which commenced in 1646) for further information on Seaton residents. These registers are all available as part of this site.
Population changes in the 19th Century were:
The census records for 1841-1901 are transcribed and available on this site.
The hamlet of Seaton was first mentioned in documents in AD950. It was considered part of the manor of Seaham until the division of 1295 when half of each village was allotted to the families of Hadham and Yeland. As the centuries passed ownerships changed hands several times. One line eventually led to the Collingwoods, Milbankes and Londonderrys and the other ended up with different owners, such as Colonel Lancelot Gregson. Thus much of Seaton was never owned by the Londonderry family unlike most of the rest of Greater Seaham. The village has never had its own church or even a chapel and has always been in the parish of (Old) Seaham.
Centuries of rural tranquility came to an abrupt end in 1828 when the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry built a waggonway to connect his wife’s Rainton and Penshaw pits to their new port and town of Seaham Harbour. This skirted the southern outskirts of Seaton and brought newcomers to operate the line. No sooner was it completed in 1831 when the Sunderland Dock Company pushed through a passenger and freight line in the direction of Durham, with a branch line to the new pit at South Hetton and the projected new colliery at Haswell. This passed just west of Seaton which was given its own station. Completed by 1835 the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) and Haswell Railway passed under the Rainton and Seaham at Seaton Bank Top, and a junction was effected. The directors of the new line were unconvinced by the early locomotives produced by George Stephenson and others and instead opted for fixed engines which could manage steep gradients far better. Later locomotives had the power to cope with gradients but by then it was too late and the company was stuck with the archaic method of transport until it was taken over by the giant North Eastern Railway in 1854.
The advantage of fixed engines was that they overcame the necessity for much of the excavation work required to make a railway line as level as possible. Consequently, for reasons of economy, the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) & Haswell ended up with some of the steepest gradients in the British railway network and was later used to test the power and brakes on new models of locomotives. From Ryhope to Haswell via Seaton, Murton Junction and South Hetton was a continuous upslope. One night in the 1890s the brakes on a downtrack loco failed at Murton and the runaway train raced past Seaton before derailing itself on the curve ahead. Several people were killed.
The disadvantage to fixed engines was that they made a journey tortuous in the extreme due to the need to change haulage equipment for each leg of a journey. From Sunderland to Ryhope, which was flat, the trains were hauled by a locomotive. There the loco was replaced by a chain connected to the fixed engine house at Murton Junction. The coaches were than pulled uphill, stopping at Seaton on the way. At Murton the chain was changed for another one connected to Haswell fixed engine house. To get to Durham was even more complicated. It was necessary to change trains at Murton Junction and gravity brought the coaches (still connected by a chain) downhill to Hetton. From there to Durham (Shincliffe) via Pittington, Broomside and Sherburn House was comparatively flat but there were several more fixed engines to attatch to en route. It was barely quicker than walking but this method of transport was used some 20 years after the development of powerful locos which could do the entire journey on their own regardless of the gradients.
From 1835 onwards therefore, a very early date in railway history, Seaton was directly connected to the outside world. Sunderland was now just 15 minutes away and London could be reached within a day. Seaham Harbour would not have a passenger railway for another 20 years so Seaton, being the nearest station, catered for Seaham Harbour traffic as well during that period. The Londonderry Seaham & Sunderland Railway opened in 1855. Seaton station at once lost all of the Seaham Harbour traffic and became a quiet backwater of the NER system. Its busiest day of the year after 1871 was always the Durham Miners Gala when tens of thousands of East Durham mining folk would travel on the line to the county town. Seaham miners and their bands would march in procession to Seaton station to board the special trains provided. Though hundreds of thousands of people must have used Seaton station in its heyday no photos of it are known to have survived.
In 1844 the North Hetton & Grange Coal Company commenced the sinking of Seaton Colliery on land leased from Lord Londonderry. The new concern was called Seaton Colliery after the nearest settlement but the village of Seaton was a good mile away. The presence of rich but very deep coal was proven by 1849. Londonderry then began his own Seaham Colliery alongside. Seaton Colliery started production in 1852 after a long and costly battle. Seaham began production not long after but the precise date is not known. A new community appeared, called New Seaham, which became a separate parish from (Old) Seaham in 1864. For 13 years the villagers of Old Seaham and Seaton had to share St. Mary the Virgin with swarms of rough mining folk. This came to an end when New Seaham Christ Church was constructed by the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry in 1857. In 1864 Seaton and Seaham collieries united as Lord Londonderry’s Seaham Colliery. In 1871 the first major Seaham Colliery disaster killed 26. In 1880 the second Seaham Colliery disaster killed 164 men and boys. Two of these, the teenage brothers Knox, were Seaton residents.
In November 1896 the last Londonderry pits at Rainton closed. The Rainton & Seaham Railway was dismantled between Rainton and Seaham Colliery. Parts of the trackbed and an embankment can still be observed near Seaton Bank Top and at Warden Law. Seaton thus lost its only heavy industry and the connection to mining villages inland. Thereafter it reverted to a quiet agricultural village.
In the 1950s passenger services ended on the old Sunderland to Durham (via Murton) & Hartlepool (via Haswell) line. The track stayed in place between South Hetton (and the projected Hawthorn Shaft which would raise coal from Eppleton, Elemore and Murton collieries) and the coast railway at Ryhope. Thus coal could still be transported from the few surviving collieries to Sunderland for export. In 1991 Murton and Hawthorn Shaft were closed and the last section of line was dismantled. One unlucky driver, travelling on the Seaham to Houghton road, was dazzled by the morning sunshine and failed to see the warning lights flashing at the railway crossing. He was killed by one of the last trains to pass through, whose job was to take up the railway behind it. The entire trackbed of this beautiful old railway from Ryhope (A19 Flyover) to Hart Station (some 11 miles) has now been turned into a continuous walkway.
In the 1970s Seaton was physically severed from the rest of Greater Seaham by a cutting of the new A19 Sunderland bypass. Despite the new bridge across the cutting this frontier has served only to further identify Seaton as a separate place with a separate history. It is now a very comfortable and prosperous semi-rural village and the nearest coal mine is over a hundred miles away.
— by Tony Whitehead