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1899 to 1951

1899: Mining Begins!

First sinking. First sod cut by Miss Barwick

First sinking.
First sod cut by Miss Barwick

On the 11th of April, 1899, Easington began sinking its first shafts with the help of German contractors and their freezing methods. [1] Owned by Easington Coal Co., the colliery was built in what used to be a vast piece of farm land dotted with cottages and quarries. [2]

1904-1907: The Tale of R. Atkinson

Water breaks into shaft. Sinker R. Atkinson drowned

Water breaks into shaft
Sinker R. Atkinson drowned

Sinking casualties were not uncommon. In 1904, sinker R. Atkinson drowned following an inrush of water that had broken through the shaft. That same year, Easington Coal Co. went bankrupt, and sinking was brought to a halt. [3]

In order to avoid the constant flooding of pumps and shafts, sinking was replaced by freezing in 1905. However, the workers soon discovered that freezing would not enable them to reach the bottom of the shafts. [4]

Sinking resumed by German engineers Body of R. Atkinson recovered frozen in ice

Sinking resumed by German engineers
Body of R. Atkinson recovered frozen in ice

By 1907, Weardale Steel, Coal & Coke Co. Ltd. had taken over Easington Coal Co. [5] The German engineers resumed sinking and subsequently found the body of R. Atkinson frozen in ice.

1910-1912: Firsts



After a decade of problems arising from passing through water-bearing strata, the miners finally found coal in 1910.

First Easington coal shipped from Seaham

First Easington coal shipped from Seaham

On the 15th of January, 1912, the first of Easington’s coal was shipped from Seaham Harbour via the North Eastern Railway (NER) connecting Hartlepool with Seaham. [6]

1926: General Strike

For nine days, 1 million miners protested against the owners’ decision to reduce wages by 13% while increasing the duration of a typical work day from seven to eight hours. To support the miners, about 1.75 million people from various industries across the UK (i.e., gas, chemicals, steel, iron) also participated in what came to be known as the General Strike.

After nine days of fights between the policemen and strikers, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which had originally called for the strike, abruptly ended it without any concessions to the miners. The miners had no choice but to come to terms with longer hours and smaller wages. [7]

The terms submitted and the terms settled can both be viewed here.

1931: Under the Sea

Aerial flight starts to tip colliery waste into sea

Aerial flight starts to tip colliery waste into sea

A giant ropeway and conveyer belt [8], the aerial flight terminal began tipping colliery waste into the North Sea in 1931. This method of waste removal continued until the pits were closed toward the end of the century.

Coast of Easington

Coast of Easington

Coast 2

Coast of Easington

The beaches and coasts near the former pits still show signs of decades and decades of colliery waste disposal.

1935: Miners’ Strike

In 1935, approximately 3500 miners participated in a strike for the fillers’ rights to the quarterly ballot, which was designed to evenly spread the “good” and “bad” jobs and sites among the miners. Earlier that year, the fillers were allotted their job via the ballot, but the management refused to do so once again. The miners were unsuccessful and returned to work after one week. [9]

1939-1945: World War II

Wartime bombing Bevon Boys

Wartime bombing
Bevan Boys

The 1940 bombing of Easington’s pit sidings killed eight miners [10]. Responsible for Great Britain’s coal supply, the coal pits were surefire targets for the Axis powers.

In 1943, during the middle of the war, the Secretary of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain delivered a speech in Easington, calling for greater coal production. In his speech, Mr. Ebby Edwards noted that from 1942 to 1943, there was a huge decrease in Britain’s coal output despite the increase in manpower. Appealing to British patriotism during the midst of war, Edwards warned, “Do not let it be said that the miners in the day of need did not play their part.” [11]

By 1944, miners were notified that they would be transferred to other collieries unless production could be maintained. There was talk of closing the entire colliery, and up to 450 men received a fortnight’s notice to stop work. [12]

1945: Nationalisation

Nationalisation Unionism


In 1945, Clement Attlee succeeded Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. With the Labour Party in power, Minister of Fuel & Power Emanuel Shinwell was able to provide miners with a five-day work week. Shinwell also presided over the nationalisation of the mines, which would now be owned by the National Coal Board (NCB). [13]

Though welcome at the time, the nationalisation would later serve as one of the main arguments for the Thatcher administration’s decision to close the mines.

The following information and photos are all from the People’s Collection at Beamish Museum.

For more photos of Easington Colliery in the early 20th century, please visit the Durham County Council website. For photos of the actual machinery and coal pits, please visit the Durham Mining Museum website.

Maps of British collieries in 1928 and 1947 can be found on the museum’s website as well. For the box containing Easington Colliery on the 1928 map, please click here.

Durham Mining Museum’s website also features photos from previous Durham Miners’ Galas. To view them, please click here.

A special thanks to ED RAW

Page written by Stephanie Tsai

Page written by Stephanie Tsai

Allison, Andrea, Carol, Claire, Ian, and Rob –

I really enjoyed the four weeks I spent working in Easington. ED RAW has been such a source of support, warmth, and hope in both the Easington community and in my life as well. I have learned so much about British politics, Easington’s mining history, and the spirit of the community. Most importantly, however, ED RAW has showed me how optimism and positivity can transcend all boundaries (even the pond).

Thank you for a great summer!


2 responses »

  1. beautifully done!

  2. Mary Nightingale Bell

    R. Atkinson’s great grand daughter got in touch with me from New Zealand and came to visit me we found R. Atkinson was buried In Easington Village cemetery and we visited.She came once more for a visit to UK. Sadly her son sent a letter to tell me she died at beginning of thus year. Wish I had met you when you came to Easington. I now live between Anglesey and my place of birth


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