The Collieries of North East England
The term ‘Coals to Newcastle’ used in the same context as the pointless irony of ‘selling sand to the Arabs’ was first recorded in 1538 yet today it’s easy to overlook the importance that coal once had as a virtual lifeblood to the region’s economy. Whole communities were shaped by its impact both directly through the emergence of mining villages and also through the growth of mining communities along the Tyne and Wear and the associated heavy industries that sprung up nearby.
The North East Collieries map by Tangled Worm commemorates hundreds of mines throughout Northumberland and Durham and is a lovely keepsake and proud memento of the region’s mining legacy and identity. Today there is only a scattering of open cast coal mines (not shown on our map) but the real collieries that once dominated most of County Durham, Tyneside and much of south east Northumberland employing thousands upon thousands of men are no more.
Our map features an inset showing the last of the collieries that closed across the region from the 1960s onward including the very last at Ellington, in Northumberland which closed in 2005 and of course Wearmouth (closed 1993) which was the very last mine in the populous Durham coalfield, where the Sunderland Stadium of Light now stands today.
The main map on our print shows around 600 collieries. Now, we don’t claim that this is an absolute complete list, as mining history is complex and thousands of pits were associated with individual collieries in the region over a period of history spanning hundreds of years. This main map does identify some of the main collieries that closed before the year of Nationalisation in 1947 and is colour-coded to identify all the collieries that remained active after that year.
Collieries are noticeably absent from the very south of the region around Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Darlington which all lay outside the coalfield yet mining still had a significant impact on the industry and history of those towns in the form of the related industries of railways, engineering, iron and steel and chemicals.
In the dales of West Durham coal mines were absent too, yet Teesdale and Weardale were mining centres, though here it was lead mines (not shown on our map) that dominated the landscape. Surprisingly, the far northern and north western corners of our region were also impacted by the mining of coal in the form of the outlying Scremerston coalfield near Berwick and other outlying coalfields in the Roman Wall country of South Tynedale with mines and mining settlements extending as far north as Kielder on the North Tyne.
An interesting historic feature of North East coal mining were the early wooden railways or horse-drawn colliery wagonways, mostly of the eighteenth century and known as ‘Newcastle Roads’ which were arguably the world’s first railways. They developed in a complex network of routes around the rivers Tyne and Wear that formed the hub of the early coalfield. These wagonways feature in another fascinating inset map on our collieries print.
Though mining created lively, close-knit communities and sustained the livelihoods of thousands of North Easterners, it was not of course without is tragic side. Thousands of men and boys had their lives taken while simply doing their daily job and it was not just in major colliery disasters. If we take the example of Ryhope Colliery, near Sunderland, which operated for 109 years from 1857 to 1966 it claimed the lives of over 290 men during its history. This was not an exceptional figure in the story of North East mining, but we should consider that there was never a single incident at this mine in which more than five men were killed.
Of more dramatic consequence were the major mining disasters that claimed the lives of sometimes a hundred or more men and boys in single tragic events. Another of the featured inset maps on our print shows the major disasters of the North East coalfield over three centuries, including that at New Hartley near Seaton Delaval in which 204 lives were taken after the mine collapsed in January 1862. Not all such disasters were in such distant times. There will no doubt be many still around today who remember the awful tragedy at Easington in May 1951 which claimed the lives of 85 men.
Our map was created with the intention of creating a visually pleasing and commemorative record recalling the importance of mining in our region and some of the mines and communities associated with them. It has proved popular with people across the region – and there are of course many – whose family members and ancestors worked in the mines of Northumberland and Durham.
The North East Collieries A2 poster print is available from Tangled Worm at this link for £15.95