Thursday, September 24, 2009

Easington Colliery

Up the late 19th Century the area in County Durham which became Easington Colliery was overwhelmingly farm and open land, with a small number of isolated cottages and a couple of quarries. In 1898 a pumping station was opened and the following year the first sod was cut to mark the beginning of the sinking of the pit.

The huts provided for the "sinkers" are shown above. The first two fatalities amongst these workmen occurred in 1900 when Robert Arthur and William Curry were at the bottom of the shaft and a kibble of stones became detached and fell upon them. They were the first of 194 recorded deaths during the history of the pit.

As Easington is on the North East coast and the seams of coal ran under the North Sea, the sinking of the pit ran into difficulties due to water. A body of a sinker Robert Atkinson who was killed due to an inrush of water in 1904 was not discovered until 3 years afterwards.

As progress was made towards the full operation of the pit, permanent Colliery Housing started to be built in 1909(but see note at the close*) and eventually the sinker huts were replaced by these. In time almost 1,000 houses for pitmen and their families were built within 500 yards of the pit. Workers were attracted in from far and wide, including the declining areas of the Durham Coalfield such as the pits around Tow Law.

The first coal was drawn from the pit in 1910. It was to be the final pit to be closed in County Durham in 1993; although Wearmouth Colliery (on which Sunderland's new football ground is built) was closed a few months later and formed part of the wider Durham Coalfield.

Easington as a mining colliery went through many harsh times. It suffered badly from the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918, experienced a 13 week lock-out in 1921, was out on strike for thirty weeks in 1926 which extended out of the General Strike, suffered from the inter-war economic depression with the closure of a main seam in 1933, suffered a major mining disaster in 1951, was out on strike for the entire 1984-85 conflict and faced the blight of its community following the final pit closure in 1993.

Yet on the other side of the coin, by the end of the second world war in 1945 it had grown into a closely knit and self-supporting community. From 1912 passenger services commenced at the local railway station and schools, shops, cinemas, working men's clubs, pubs, chapels, churches, private terraced housing, council housing, communal doctors' services, bus services, Aged Miners Homes, the Miners' Welfare and the Welfare Grounds with football pitches, a cricket ground and other facilities all came to be established.

Many of the social facilities were provided by communal efforts, including significant contributions from the Easington Miners' Lodge, from elected Labour Councillors who were community activists and from self help groups such as those who at one time established three Methodist Chapels within a few hundred yards of each other on one side of the main roadway, Seaside Lane.

The future seemed bright with the election of the Attlee Government in 1945 and the growth of post-war full employment, the Welfare State, the National Health Service and the operation of a mixed economy. When the pits were nationalised in 1947, Manny Shinwell was present at vesting day at Easington in his capacity as the responsible Government Minister and the local MP with a staggering 32,000 majority.

But counter-changes were already underfoot. Some moved out to the nearby town of Peterlee as it developed. Full-employment and improved educational opportunities provided new avenues for the sons and daughters of the local miners. Private cars and further public transport meant that there were new alternatives to home grown entertainment. And then as the coalfield contracted, Easington became something of a cosmopolitan pit with more workers travelling in from neighbouring areas. Above all the wider society that impinged itself upon Easington's life via TV and other avenues stressed a possessive individualism which rubbed up against the organic norms the community had developed.

Both my father and mother came from solid mining traditions and my father spent his working life at Easington pit. My first memories of Easington Colliery date back to when I was 4, in late 1940 or early 1941. Although all of Easington Colliery's history interests me, I am currently focusing on my inheritance - its pioneering years from the very late 19th century to 1940 or so. I am pursing numbers of published and unpublished sources. But if anyone has access to local family or other local records and notes from that period, I hope they will get in touch with me via the comment box to this thread - which has just been reopened. If you don't have the facilities to do this, then please try the comment facilities to my piece here.

* = Note added 2.11.09 - I have now come across evidence from the 1905 Electoral Register which indicates that four streets of such houses already existed by that time.