Easington Colliery Pit and miners houses
At 2.am on the 29th of May 1951, 81 men died in the Easington Colliery coal mine disaster. Two more were to die trying to rescue the miners trapped underground and affected by methane gas. Eight days before, I had been born to Eileen May and Warren Parkin. My cousin Warren was born on that actual night. The pit disaster is an event remembered still to this day by the 5,000 inhabitants of this once flourishing village in County Durham. Today, there is no mine and consequently little or no employment.
The injured and the dead miners being carried through the streets
We lived at a place called Grant’s Houses, near to the colliery. There used to be a textile factory here with workers’ accommodation for about 20 families. The ‘houses’ were semi circular, single story, tin roofed constructions called Nissen Huts, which were very basic and installed cheaply after the war. I revisited the site in 1996 when I returned to England to see my Mum, who was dying of lung cancer. The site had disappeared without leaving a trace of it having ever existed.
About 1 or 2 miles away, was the North Sea and a coal beach. All the slate waste and coal smalls were taken from the pit and deposited into sea via a moving bucket system. Each full bucket went on overhead steel cables to a big pile in the sea and returned empty back to the pit. We kids would stand on the slag heap and jump up and catch hold of the bucket as it returned to the pit. You had to let go before it got too high otherwise you had to ride it all the way to the cliffs and that was too much for any of us.
They showed Easington Colliery beach and the coal buckets in the Michael Caine movie “Get Carter”.
The lighter coal would be washed back onto the beach by the tide, leaving dark wavy lines on the slate and rocky beach. Men and boys, including me, collected this coal into bags and transported them back up the beach cliffs on their shoulders or on bikes to sell for half a crown, or sometimes a dollar to people in the village. That would be equivalent to about 10 or 20 pence or cents today.
All families who had men working in the pit received free coal, but there were some people who had no one down the pit, usually because they had died of coal dust disease or pneumonoconiosis. At that time, there was no compensation for work related diseases. Twenty or thirty years later, in the 1980s, it was recognized as an occupational hazard and men received compensation. However, it didn’t help those who had died earlier.
The back streets of Easington Colliery were also featured in the movie, “Billy Elliot”, which was a story of a young boy who wanted to be a ballet dancer. His dad was a miner, his grandad was miner and “no son of mine is going to be a cissy ballet dancer!” You can actually see my street in one clip of the movie.
Today, the village flourishes on dole payments or government hand outs. The once proud area, which supported the coal mines, the steelworks and ship builder yards, has been decimated by the lack of employment, caused by the closure of these industries.
It always makes me sad whenever I return to my roots.