Easington Colliery

Easington Colliery

infobox UK place
country = England

static_image_caption =
latitude = 54.78681
longitude = -1.32912
official_name = Easington Colliery
population =
shire_district= Easington
shire_county = County Durham
region = North East England
constituency_westminster =
post_town =
postcode_district =
postcode_area =
dial_code =
os_grid_reference = NZ432437

Easington Colliery is an old coal mining town in County Durham, in England. It is situated to the north of Horden, and a short distance to the east of Easington Village. The town is known for a mining accident or disaster which occurred, on 29 May, 1951 when an explosion in the mine resulted in the deaths of 83 men (including 2 rescue workers).


Easington Colliery began when the pit was sunk in 1899, near the coast. Thousands of workers came to the area from all parts of Britain and with the new community came new shops, pubs, clubs, and many rows of terraced "colliery houses" for the mine workers and their families.

In 1993 the mine was closed, with the loss of 1,400 jobs. This caused a decline in the local economy; Easington Colliery is currently the 4th most economically deprived place in England and the obesity capital of England (Aug 2006).

The Easington Pit Disaster of 29 May 1951.

It was just before dawn when sparks from a mechanical coal cutter, working in the Duck Bill district of the Five Quarter seam, ignited a pocket of gas. The result was a massive explosion which brought tons of rock and earth crashing down into the Duck Bill district of Five Quarter Seam. Entombed within the seam, some 900ft below the surface, were 81 men. Villagers were alerted to the plight of their loved ones by the eerie wail of the pit's accident alarm system - the sound every mining community dreaded. "We were living in Oak Road at the time and seven men from our street were killed. One of our neighbours lost her husband and her father," said Mary Graham, (nee Garside), now 73. "Our Tom was in the pit for about 10 days before they brought his body out. He was found with his pit pony. You have no idea how horrendous that time was."

Mary still recalls how she spent the night before the explosion chatting about horse racing with her adored older brother. "We talked until about 1am and then went to bed. Tommy was on first shift, which started at about 3am, so he'd have only have had a couple of hours sleep," she said."That was the last time I saw him. He was a smashing lad, the apple of mam and dad's eye and I still miss and think about him to this day. I often wonder what Tommy would have been like now, what he would have done with his life. As long as the pit was there, though, I reckon he would have been working in it."

As the accident alarm wailed out across the village, so miners and their families flocked to the pithead to help out with the rescue.

The first official rescue team to arrive was the pit's own rescue brigade. One miner, speaking in 2008 only weeks before he died, relived the experience. Tommy Houghton, a 39-year-old deputy at the pit, said: “It was two o-clock in the morning when we were knocked up and the man said ‘bring your pit clothes and you don’t need an oil lamp, your cap lamp will do.’

“We thought it was trouble at another pit and I asked my wife Elsie for a shilling for a cup of tea.

“When we got to the weigh cabin the fire brigade and the rescue brigade were there because they were called out first. They sent for us to come down because they could not go down the pit because they did not know it.

“We were the first team to arrive and we went down first. There were five in our team, me, Tommy Curry, Johnny Lowe, Matty Moralee and Ronnie Greenwell. Johnny Lowe was the team leader but we all took turns in leading the team during a job.

“We went down and when we got to the fresh air base the manager Mr Hopkins, the Government Inspector, a doctor and a fire officer were there waiting for us to come in.

“We then went in to examine the damage but we could not touch any bodies, we just had two hours to inspect the disaster. We got into the disaster area in good time and then we went further in.

“We only had two hours with our breathing apparatus and that was the absolute limit of use by law. We weren’t allowed to go over that time, even if it meant we had to sacrifice a human life. The apparatus only had four hours of support.

“When we went in the first time we went 100 or 200 yards and there were bodies lying here and there but we had not to touch them. Other teams would come in later to recover them. “When our two hours were up and we were coming out we heard a groan. We came out to the fresh air base and we told them that there was one alive. We had seen him but he was still alive. The next team should have gone in to get him but they had not arrived.

“Mr Hopkins said: ‘Go back and get him. If we get one out alive it will give all the people on the surface more hope that we can get more out.’

“The fire officer said: ‘This team cannot go back in.’

“Mr Hopkins was crying ‘Oh, get one out alive, give a bit more hope.’

“The fire officer said : ‘They are not going back in, not for my life. If they I send them back in I will be tried for murder.’

“They phoned to the surface to see if another team had arrived but there was nothing. I took over then. I said: ‘Look, I say we go back.’ I said: ‘How about you?’ to Tommy and he said: ‘Yes’. Johnny, Matty and Ronnie all nodded.

“The fire officer kept saying ‘You are not going back’ but we just put our apparatus back on. The fire officer said he was having nothing to do with it and we went back in.

“When we got to the injured lad, Matty Williams, we knew he was in a very bad way. We found a bit of canvas and lifted him onto it using hand signals. We couldn’t speak because of our breathing apparatus. We carried him out to the fresh air base where the doctor took over. His expression let us know that Matty was past help although he was still alive. He was carried out by some of the other workers and, by coincidence, my sister Hazel, a nurse, was on duty on the ward in the hospital where he died.

“After Matty was taken away we came out of the pit but there was still no rescue workers there but we couldn’t go back because our stint was up."

“We went back at about 12 midnight but we were just carrying bodies out. It was a very distressing time but the worst part was that at the kist, the deputies’ station, the bodies were just piled up. There was about 14 of them just sitting at the kist when it went up.”

Tommy was also one of the first rescue workers to arrive at the seat of the explosion by the shearer machine on the High Main Seam, known by the miners as The Ducks. He believes that the operator of the machine must have seen what was happening. “We found his body behind one of the supports. He must have seen it coming and was hiding behind there. They always said The Ducks was sure to go and it did.”

After the disaster Tommy and the other members of the team were honoured at a special dinner where they all received a commemorative clock.

George Ottowell, a member of the Mine rescue Team, said: "It is as vivid in my mind today as when it happened. "As we turned into Ascot Street, we found a mass of people. The crowd opened up for us and they looked at us with hope in their eyes. We then went straight down the pit and found devastation, that's it in a nutshell. All the ventilation and lighting had been destroyed and there was a haze of coal dust." George, now 82, had never been to Easington before, although he later moved to the village in 1959 after securing a job as a safety officer at the pit. "Working pits were always very noisy, but there was a deathly quiet down there," he said.

All 81 entombed miners perished in the explosion, as did two rescue workers who were overcome by poisonous gas. The whole village was left in mourning. The King and Queen sent a message of "heartfelt sympathy" to the people of Easington and a statue was erected in memory of the lost miners. Villagers also planted 83 trees along Memorial Lane, a road leading to the Welfare Park, in tribute to each man, which has become a cherished symbol of remembrance. Indeed, such is the regard in which these trees are still held that, when one was removed to make way for a £750,000 revamp, it sparked an outcry. Mary's brother, John Garside, said: "I can remember as a schoolboy coming up here to help plant the 83 trees. To see one of them deliberately uprooted is heartbreaking."

Although many of Easington's older miners have now died, memories of the victims the explosion claimed are still passed on to younger generations of their families. "Their memories won't die," said Mary, "not so long as we kept telling their stories. When they shut the pit and flooded it, the spirits of these men stayed down there. They will never be forgotten, not while their family's families are here."

The men who lost their lives in the 1951 disaster. All from Easington Colliery unless otherwise stated. The youngest victim was 18-years-old, the oldest was 68. The average age of the pitmen killed was 43.

*ANSON, John, 64, a shifter from Thomas Street.
*ARMSTRONG, William, 55, a datal from Barwick Street.
*BEDDING, Mark Smart, 38, a filler from Wordsworth Road.
*BLEVINS, Matthew, 27, a filler from Inchape Terrace.
*BRENKLEY, George, 20, a filler.
*BRENKLEY, Thomas, 32, a filler from Dean Avenue.
*BRENNAN, Louis, 49, a stoneman from Cuba Street.
*BROWN, George Miller, 50, a datal from Cook Street.
*BURDESS, Henry, 43, a rescue worker overcome by gas on June 1, 1951.
*BURN, Bertram, 25, a filler from Thorpe Street.
*CAIN, Emmerson, 63, a stoneman from Ashton Street.
*CAIRNS, Frederick, 23, a filler from Station Road.
*CALVERT, George, 50, a stoneman from Clifton Street.
*CALVIN, James, 51, a conveyor maintenance man from Laburnum Crescent.
*CARR, Frederick, 50, an electrician from Leachmere Terrace, Ryhope.
*CARR, George William, 45, a timber drawer from Cook Street.
*CARR, James, 38, a timber drawer from Vincent Street.
*CHALLONER, John Edwin (Teddy), 53, a deputy from Boston Street.
*CHAMPERLEY, Richard, 43, a cutter from Hazel Terrace, Shotton.
*CHAPMAN, Albert Kerr, 44, a stoneman from Attlee Crescent.
*CHARLTON, Joseph, 42, a master shifter from Baldwin Street.
*CLOUGH, John, 27, a shifter from West Crescent.
*DRYDEN, William Arthur, 27, a filler from Tower Street.
*ELLISON, John, 19, a datal from Wear Street.
*FISHBURN, Charles, 54, a shifter from Cardiff Street.
*FISHBURN, Henry, 23, a filler from Station Road.
*GARSIDE, Thomas, 20, a datal from Oak Road.
*GODSMAN, Joseph, 41, a cutter from North Road, Wingate.
*GOULBURN, George, 57, a mason's labourer from Station Road.
*GOWLAND, Albert, 51, a deputy from Bradley Street.
*GOYNS, Ernest, 60, a stoneman from Stokoe Crescent.
*GOYNS, Herbert, 56, a stoneman from Fifteenth Street, Wheatley Hill.
*HARKER, John, 53, a shifter from Glebe Avenue.
*HENDERSON, John, 56, a shifter from The Cottage, Hawthorn.
*HEPPLE, Thomas, 31, a filler from Easington Street.
*HUNT, Daniel, 54, a datal from Castle Street.
*HUNT, Stephen, 24, a filler from The Crescent.
*HUNT, William, 43, a datal from West Crescent.
*HUTTON, Arthur Chambers, 42, a filler from Oak Road.
*JEPSON, Frederick, 68, a shifter from Abbot Street.
*JONES, Lawrence, 36, a filler from Attlee Crescent.
*JONES, Thomas, 35, a deputy from Station Road.
*JOPLING, Herbert, 57, a shifter from Ashton Street.
*KELLY, John, 57, a datal from Clifton Street. Father of William, below.
*KELLY, William, 28, a filler from Clifton Street.
*LAMB, John Edward Armstrong, 43, a datal from Butler Street.
*LINK, Jesse Stephenson, 44, a datal from Anthony Street.
*LIPPEATT, Joseph Fairless, 37, a filler from Oak Road.
*LYNCH, Peter, 20, a filler from Stephenson Square.
*MCROY, Denis, 23, a filler from Bolam Street.
*MCROY, William James, 31, a filler from Tower Street.
*MILBURN, Robert, 26, a filler from George Avenue.
*NELSON, Harold, 49, a stoneman from Bradley Street.
*NEWCOMBE, Albert, 67, a stoneman from Beatty Street.
*NICHOLSON, Norman, 29, a filler from Oak Road.
*NOBLE, Robert, 45, a shifter from Austin Street.
*PARKIN, William, 24, a filler from Thorntree Gill, Peterlee.
*PARKS, William, 62, a shifter from Raby Avenue.
*PASE, Robert, 63, a shifter from The Crescent.
*PEACEFUL, Stanley, 37, a stoneman from South Street, Thornley.
*PENMAN, Alexander, 42, a cutter from Oak Road.
*PORTER, James, 32, a filler from George Avenue.
*PORTER, John, 23, a filler from Alnwick Street.
*RICE, Thomas, 53, a shifter from Beattie Street.
*ROBINSON, John, 50, a stoneman from Carol Street.
*ROBSON, John, 25, a filler from East View.
*SCOTT, George, 53, a datal from Burns Street.
*SEYMOUR, Albert, 64, a datal from Oak Road.
*SILLITO, Frederick, 52, a shifter from Angus Street.
*STUBBS, George, 60, a shifter from Alma Street.
*SURTEES, Hugh, 36, a datal from Bevan Crescent.
*SURTEES, Matthew, 61, a shifter from Alma Street.
*THOMPSON, Laurence, 54, a datal from Boyd Street.
*THOMPSON, Thomas, 28, an underground bricklayer from Wickham Street. TRISNAN, Thomas, 43, a stoneman from Oak Road.
*TURNBULL, Robert, 64, a master wasteman from Ascot Street.
*WALLACE, John, 26, a rescue worker from Seaham, overcome by noxious gas.
*WILKIE, George, 63, a shifter from Argent Street.
*WILKINSON, Reginald, 40, a stoneman from Hart Lane, West Hartlepool..
*WILLIAMS, Matthew, 18, a datal from Ashton Street. He was pulled out alive, but died the same day.
*WILLINS, Robert, 45, a fore overman from Byron Street.
*WILSON, John, 62, a hauling engineman from Baldwin Street.
*WILSON, Stephen, 60, a shifter from Anthony Street.

Other information

Easington provided the setting for the 2000 film Billy Elliot.

Bob Taylor of West Bromwich Albion and Bolton Wanderers fame is from Easington.

In 1971, members of the rock band "The Who" shot the cover photograph for the album "Who's Next" at a concrete piling protruding from a slag heap in the area. This cover was voted by the [http://www.vh1.com/shows/dyn/the_greatest/67956/episode.jhtml VH1 network] as the second greatest album cover of all time.


* http://ww2.durham.gov.uk/community/easington/colliery.htm
* http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5299510.stm


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