Coalminers struggled to keep pits safe
Coal mining... past and present
Coal was once the lifeblood of industry and a key part of life in the North East. After the 1980s miners' strike, 156 collieries closed nationwide, some merged... only to be axed as 'uneconomic'. The last North East deep mine closed in 2005.
Coal was King and it fuelled industries like steel and heavy engineering.
At its peak in 1913, the Great North Coalfield employed almost 250,000 men, producing over 56m tons of coal every year from about 400 pits.
The North East produced 25% of Britain's coal in 1913, and the nation was heavily dependent on 'carboniferous capitalism'.
Pit ponies were used to haul coal bogies
A dangerous profession
Mining was a dangerous profession with terrible working conditions especially in the early 19th century.
In the early days the miners used hand picks, and conditions were cramped with little health and safety provision.
There were hazards and dangers everywhere from explosions, fires and roof falls, to suffocating gases and flooding.
Miners laboured in cramped conditions and some developed bandy legs.
There were many disasters such as the West Stanley pit disaster in 1909 in which 160 men were killed.
The whole mine shook from two devastating blasts caused by illegal lamps.
The funerals of the victims were terrible with many of the men being buried in trenches.
Fifty-nine of the victims were under 20 years of age and their families received minimal compensation.
During the 1920s there were several miners' strikes. In 1926 the miners were starved back to work.
Pit owners controlled many of the colliery houses and during times of strike they employed 'candymen' to put the families of striking miners out onto the streets.
Conditions improved with nationalisation in 1947, but many miners continued to suffer from health problems such as lung conditions and arthritis.
Ellington colliery was closed in 2005
Many towns such as Seaham Harbour, Easington Village, Bedlington and Ashington owed their existence to coal, and mining was the focus for the whole community.
Engine houses and their wheels dominated the skylines of the pit villages.
The communities were close-knit with their own social clubs, community facilities and brass bands.
A common sight were the pit cottages. Pits were often isolated, and the homes were built near them.
A typical collier's cottage consisted of two to four rooms and sometimes had a pitman's garden nearby.
Coal was moved from the pithead by railway. Many collieries had their own systems with lines connecting to the main rail network.
Miners at play
The miners' galas were a great social occasion, and a chance for the workers to enjoy a day out with their families.
They met everyone from the surrounding villages, many of whom they only saw once a year.
Durham Miners Gala... social and political event
The biggest of all was the Durham Miners' Gala which has become a national institution, and is still an important date in the North's calendar.
Archive film footage
Watch miners enjoying a day out a the Gala in the film "Like A Candyman's Trumpet" which also features scenes of miners relaxing with their families at Durham Racecourse.
Join the Bedlington Miners' Picnic in 1960 in a remarkable film made by Ken Russell.
Join Pegswood Brass Band as it tunes up and rehearses for its big day, and competes with bands from neighbouring villages.
Today the coal mining industry is almost extinct in the North with only a handful of pits still producing what was once called 'the black diamond'.
last updated: 06/08/2008 at 16:43