Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Centre www.houghtonlespring.org.uk
[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Houghton Colliery > Colliery Time Line ]


Houghton Colliery Remembered 1827 - 1981

September 2011 sees the 30th anniversary since the closure of Houghton Colliery - but it is still an important part of Houghton-le-Spring’s heritage – and must be remembered accordingly. It is estimated that there are about fifty Houghton miners still alive in Houghton and as the years go by, this number decreases, taking away a unique way of life (and the pitmatic language) that will probably never be seen again in this area. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

A drawing of Houghton Pit at bank

The Colliery was obviously a major source of employment in the area but it was also a focal point in the community and the life force behind the growth of the village. Close knit communities, something not seen very often nowadays, stemmed from the colliery houses which surrounded the pit. We must also remember that the Colliery was a dirty, dark and dangerous place to work and Houghton saw its fair share of disasters and the loss of many lives in the Colliery’s early years. The site of the Colliery is now grassed over and home to wild rabbits, but the shaft tops can still clearly be seen as two large concreted circles.

Let us remember the many people who worked hard or lost their lives in the effort of mining coal in Houghton.

This Time Line is a guide to the development of Houghton Colliery along with dates of important events and happenings. Several conflicting dates were uncovered in the compilation of the Time Line. In these instances the authors have used the date which appeared most often in their research. Therefore, no responsibility can be held for any errors contained herein. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

14th Century - Coal was mined in Burnmoor, Lumley and Rainton districts.

1795 - The first collieries in the Houghton and district areas were owned by John Nesham, bonds dating back to 1795 show.

1818 - John Nesham's collieries were sold to Lord Durham for £70,000.

1823 - Work started on the sinking of Houghton Pit on April 29th 1823.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

Houghton Pit in the early 1900s

1827 - The shaft was completed to the Hutton seam in April 1827. Much trouble was encountered, sinking through ground and water bearing strata.

1828 - Three men and four boys lost their lives in an explosion on September 1st 1828. At this time the colliery was referred to as the “new pit”. The incident was recorded in The Local Historian's Table Book of Remarkable Occurrences, Vol III, 1843, as follows:

An explosion took place in the new pit at Houghton-le-Spring, belonging to Lord Durham, when three men and four boys were burnt to death. The accident was attributed to the sufferers themselves having incautiously left open a door in the mine on the Saturday. The foul air had by this means accumulated in the workings, and on the return of the pitmen on the morning with their lights, it immediately exploded and occasioned the fatal result.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

1831 - At this time the Colliery was owned by Earl Durham.

c.1832 - On October 15th, a section of cast iron tubbing (metal sections used in the shaft to prevent water flowing in) burst and led to the flooding of the pit. No human lives were lost although the pit's horses all drowned.

1838 - Houghton Pit abandoned.

1842 - The Coal Mines Act of 1842 prohibited the underground employment of women and children under thirteen.

1849 - Houghton Pit was reopened in December 1849. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

1850 - Explosion at ripped through the Hutton seam at Houghton Pit on November 11th 1850 between 5 and 6 o'clock. 26 men and boys were lost, 20 of them under the age of 21. About 150 men were working underground at the time of the disaster. The survivors were rescued after 4 hours exertion and many were insensible. Most of the men who died passed through chokedamp. The Times newspaper described in great detail that many of those killed were found without heads and limbs, indicating the ferocity of the explosion. The inquest returned a verdict that the explosion of firedamp was caused by a naked lamp which had been improperly used by pitman John Watchman "either contrary to orders given to him, or in consequence of William Hunter, the overseer, not having given such orders". The Hutton seam was approx 800 ft below ground. Afterwards, a lecture took place in aid of the disaster victims' families. The disaster was reported across the country and even in Asutralia, as this extract from the November 18th 1850 Spectator shows:

Houghton Pit, near Newbottle, in Durham, the property of the Earl of Durham, has been the scene of a deeper tragedy. The colliery is said to have been in good general condition. One Monday, while one hundred and fifty miners were in the workings, a very violent explosion of fire-damp occurred; many of the people were blown to pieces or destroyed by the flames, but the great majority were in a safe spot. They occupied a position where the air was respirable, while they were hemmed in on all sides by the fatal choke damp. Some who attempted to gain the shaft perished by suffocation, and others with difficulty regained their refuge. Here one hundred and twenty persons remained for hours in utter darkness, and momentarily expected to be suffocated by foul air. Fortunately, a communication was at length opened, and all the living miners were got to the shaft. It was found that no fewer than twenty-six men and boys had been killed. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

c.1853 - Work started on another shaft for use as a furnace upcast shaft (some sources say this was sunk in 1865).

1857 - The pit became known as Houghton Colliery. On May 19th, the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) to Houghton Colliery. The Royal party accompanied by Mr RT Morton, Chief Agent, and Mr Heckles, colliery manager, descended into the shaft and were transported in coal tubs to the coal face, where the Prince tried his hand at coal hewing! (In 1887 the pickaxe was pointed out to the Prince when he visited the North of England Institute of Mining & Mechanical Engineers’ stand at the Royal Agricultural Show Jubilee Exhibition in Newcastle.) Billy Moran who was then a boy drove the pony and tub which conveyed his Royal Highness through the dark mine was proud to say "I was once Coachman for the Prince of Wales". The Prince's visit was reported far and wide, as seen in this report from the Derbyshire Times of Saturday May 30th 1857:

"The Prince of Wales in a Coalpit. The Prince of Wales arrived at Newcastle on Tuesday; and visited Houghton Pit, the property of the Earl of Durham, which his Royal Highness descended, and was conducted through some of the workings. The royal party were
conveyed from the bottom of the shaft down "the engine plane", into the workings, in coal tubs, and remained in the pit about an hour and a half. The young prince was shown the mode of working the coal, etc. He evinced no symptoms of trepidation at the prospect of being let down the yawning abyss, and in this respect his conduct strikingly contrasted with that of the late Emperor Nicholas, who after preparing to descend a coalpit in this neighbourhood, his heart failed him when he reached the mouth of the shaft, and he declined the perilous journey, declaring that it was like looking down into the infernal regions."
Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

1860 - On March 2nd an explosion at Burradon Colliery, Northumberland, claimed seventy-six lives. Donations from local collieries were collected and given to the Burradon Disaster Fund. A collection took place on March 30th at Houghton Colliery and raised the equivalent of £18.17 in today's money.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

1866 - The water supply system was established with a reservoir on Millers Hill, the water was pumped from a fresh water feeder in the shaft at Houghton Colliery. December 20th, Henry Brownless, a pitman, was sentenced to death at the Durham Assizes for the murder of Anne Reid, a little girl at Houghton, by blowing up their house with gunpowder.

Houghton Colliery Mechanics Football Team, 1953

1870 - The colliery's private railway line was connected to the North Eastern Railway at Penshaw and Fence Houses.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

1872 - Building of Lambton National School, the pit school, in Newbottle Street. Houghton Colliery banner (1st) was described in the Durham Chronicle as having an arbitration scene on one side, while the other had a picture of a group of miners engaged in conversation.

1874 - On Monday May 4th 1874, ten thousand miners gathered in a field at Houghton-le-Spring following a reduction in the wages of Durham miners. Around 17,000 miners were on strike and agreed not to return to work until the ten percent reduction was reconsidered.

[Northern Echo, Tues May 5th 1874]

1876 – Houghton Miners’ Lodges on Robinson Street was purchased in 1876. It was formerly used as a Primitive Methodist Chapel but was vacated when a new chapel was built on Mautland Street. The Miners’ Hall contained a lecture hall (seating 500) and committee rooms.

1877 – On Saturday February 10th 1877, a fire broke out in the old engine house of Houghton Colliery. The fire, which attracted hundreds of spectators, damaged the machinery inside, “...causing the men working in the Maudlin Seam to be idle”.

[Newcastle Courant, Friday February 16, 1877]

1878 - An incident occurred at the Earl of Durham's Houghton Colliery when a set of pumps was lost when a rope broke while the bucket was being changed. The water rose twenty five feet above the door, but the pumps were successfully recovered by Henry Watts, a diver for the River Wear Commissioners. Mr Watts was renowned for his dangerous work. On Monday September 9th 1878, two men wanted for a four-year old murder charge were arrested while living at Houghton Colliery. Thomas Weeks, known as Dummy, and George Perrin or Perry, admitted murdering a miner at Abergalerey and were handed over to the South Wales police. They were living under the aliases of Brown and Edwards.

1881 - At this time, Houghton Colliery manager, Joseph Stokoe, lived in Gilpin House, The Quay, Church Street. He was presented with a golden coach clock with the following inscription:

"Presented to Joseph Stokoe Esq, Viewer, on the attainment of his 50Th year by the officials of the Houghton Colliery as a mark of esteem July 30th, 1881"
The clock now belongs to Joseph's great-great grandson, Mike Preiss, in South Africa, and still keeps good time.

1884 - November - St Michael's Church raised £10 10s 10d for the Sunderland Distress Fund (for the Victoria Hall Disaster, in which 183 children died), with £12 - £14 from Houghton. The men and boys of Houghton Colliery were to contribute: “3d (men) and 1 1/2d (boys) every fortnight as long as the workmen and officials shall deem the distress warrants it (£14 was sent by them last fortnight)”.

1885 - On Sunday April 1st 1885, Daniel Coyles, a pitman at Houghton Colliery, attempted to murder his wife. He had imagined she was trying to poison him, so attacked her with a poker, fracturing her skull and cutting her throat. She was left in a critical condition.

1885 - An explosion at Houghton Colliery saw twelve lives lost, on June 3rd.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

1891 - On February 23rd 1891, four hundred and fourteen miners went on strike at Houghton Colliery in support of six thousand miners at Silksworth Colliery who were on strike. In March the Houghton miners were sued; Joseph Stokoe, manager, gave evidence of the damage to the colliery, estimated to be 5 shillings per man. The court found in favour of the colliery. On September 4th, Robert Bell killed himself by jumping down the pit shaft (720 feet). His body was said to be shockingly mutilated and initial reports described the victim as "a man about 30 years of age, but of unknown name.."

1893 - On Friday March 24th 1893, 240 men and boys received 14 days’ notice to terminate their engagements at Houghton Colliery owing to a depression in the coal trade.

1894 - The following seams are worked: the Hutton, 4 feet; Maudlin, 4½ feet and Main Coal, 6 feet in thickness, at a depth of 130, 105, and 96 fathoms. The other seams not working are the Five Quarter and Low Main. There are two shafts, and the pit is ventilated by a Guibal fan, circulating nearly 200,000 cubic feet of air per minute through the workings. The output is 1,600 tons per day, employing 1,020 hands. The colliery manager was Joseph Stokoe and the under-manager was W Coburn. John James Stokoe was the cashier. [From History, Topography and Directory of the County of Durham, 1894, by William Whellan] Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

1896 - The Earl of Durham sold his collieries, including Houghton Pit, to James Joicey (later Lord Joicey), and the firm became known as Lambton Collieries Ltd. On July 14th, a roof fall at the Rector's Main coal seam resulted in the death of Nicholas Cowie, a well-known Houghton man. The colliery remained closed the next day. An inquest was held in the Newcastle Arms public house (where Best Wishes card shop is now) and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

1898 - A hewer and shot firer received injuries to the eyes, face, neck and chest after a missed charge exploded.

1899 - A steam-powered Waddle fan was installed into the colliery.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

1900 - On May 25th the Hutton seam was abandoned, as the coal was exhausted.

1904 - Charles Blake was killed in a stone fall at the Main coal seam.

1910 - A new banner (2nd) for Houghton Lodge was purchased.

1911 - The firm that owned the colliery became known as Lambton & Hetton Collieries upon the purchase of Hetton Coal Co.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

1913 - Houghton Mines Rescue Station opened on Hetton Road in 1913 and was maintained by the Durham & Northumberland Colliery Owners Association. Houghton’s rescue station, known as the Old Fire Station, is the last of the original four to still be in operation and is now a training centre for the Mines Rescue Service Ltd.

1914 - Houghton Colliery employed 1900 men and boys, with a daily output of 2000 tons of coal. It was reported in a newspaper at the time: "The men have experienced considerable trouble both in the meeting of large faults or dislocations in the seams and a considerable amount of water".

1916 - a fatal accident occurred at Houghton Pit as a result of a fall of stone. The inquest reported that when the miner was brought to bank, there were no bandages in the colliery ambulance station. A question about this was raised in Parliament on March 8th 1916, to which the Undersecretary of State for the Home Department, Mr Brace, replied:

"I have received a report on this case. There was no shortage of surgical appliances at the pit, and the injured man was bandaged and attended to before being brought to bank in a manner which earned the commendation of the doctor, who was waiting on the surface. The doctor thought some further bandaging advisable before removal, and, unfortunately, the key of the cupboard where the supply was kept was not immediately forthcoming. Improvised bandages, however, were used instead. Better arrangements have now been made to ensure that the key shall always be immediately available. I do not think that any further action on my part is called for." Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Houghton Colliery train trucks, 1940s

1921 - Thomas Husband was badly injured at Houghton Colliery. He died on February 3rd 1921 and was buried at Houghton Cemetery, Durham Road.

1923 - Houghton Colliery banner was replaced with one made by G. Tutill of London. This banner (3rd) featured a portrait of Thomas Husband and the Newtown Aged Miners’ Homes (located on Seaham Road).

1924 - The firm that owned the colliery became known as Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries Ltd.

1926 - From May 3rd to 12th, the General Strike called in support of the miners. The coal mine stoppage continued until November that year.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

1927 - Archived footage in the British Pathe collection show that the "Miners' Annual Demonstration" took place in Houghton le Spring on September 22 1927. The demonstration featured parading banners, a brass band and a meeting in the Rectory Gardens and was attended by large crowds of adults and children.

1928 - Houghton Colliery Welfare opened a bowling green, tennis courts, and bandstand. The Trust Deed was dated October 23rd 1928 and was registered as a charity on June 3rd 1964; on April 20th 1993 it ceased to exist.

1931 - The Colliery Welfare Hall opened.

1932 - Another Houghton banner (4th) was unveiled by a James Robson on July 21st 1932, featuring a coastal sunrise design by Houghtonian Vera Nichols.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

1934 - A deputy was killed after being struck in the back by a piece of coal.

1936 - The cages were stuck in the shaft for half an hour as 27 men and boys were being lowered in one cage and one man being raised in the other, due to a problem with the winding engine.

1938 - In April, Durham Coal Owners' Association issued a 'Holidays with Pay Agreements' booklet. The booklet stated that: The existing recognised public holidays shall not exceed eight, and the observance of local holidays, such as Race Week and Houghton Feast shall be discontinued. It is still suggested by local people that some miners still unofficially observed the Houghton Feast Monday holiday for many years.

1941 - June. Miners no longer called up to join the Armed Forces.

1942 - 1945 - Statistics show: Houghton Colliery, output 7500 tons, 1350 men, manager Mr CM Martin, undermanager Mr GT Bell.

Former miner George Davison on the upcast shaft cap, 2003

1947 - The colliery became owned by the National Coal Board upon the nationalisation of the mines on January 1st.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

c1948 – Houghton Miners’ Lodge was sold and meetings subsequently took place in the Welfare Hall.

1950s – Miners, who were training underground at Houghton Colliery, went into the old workings of Rainton Hazard Pit (which had closed in the early 1930s) and discovered old papers and equipment.

???? – A 5th Houghton banner existed and was described as having been made by Tutill's of London and featured scenes showing the bundle of sticks fable and injured miners seeing a doctor. It measured around 10 ft square and was made from blue and silver Damask silk with an orange border. This banner can be seen in a 1956 photo of Houghton Miners’ May Day march up Church Street.

1957 - Houghton Colliery banner was replaced with an NUM banner (6th) previously used by Westerton Lodge, Spennymoor. This banner is thought to have perished in a fire at Houghton Comrades Club around 1988, though some debate this.

1958 - Opening of pit head baths at Houghton. Before the opening of the baths, miners had to travel home in their pit clothes and helmet. Miners would have to take care in not soiling fellow passengers if they had to travel by public transportation!

A view of Houghton Colliery from the Hillside

1960 - Houghton Colliery Welfare Cricket Club was formed and ran from the Lambton Arms pub, Newbottle Street.

1964 - On October 20th, Ray Pickering was killed in an accident. He was the last person to die underground at the Colliery. A book of names exists in Durham Cathedral in memorandum of all those who have died in collieries throughout the region. Houghton Colliery Training Centre closed and relocated to Seaham Colliery.

1965 - On July 17th 1965, Houghton Colliery banner (6th) was draped in black and paraded at Durham Miners' Gala in memory of Ray Pickering.

c.1965 - A local dispute at the colliery led to a strike involving three tail gate caunchmen. [tbc]

1967 - Houghton Pit won the Production Banner competition for efforts to improve performance and output. It was won again in 1971.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

c1972 - A national strike took place at the colliery.[tbc]

A pit pony hoof from Houghton Colliery, 1910

1973 - The pit ponies were taken out of Houghton Colliery and replaced with conveyor belts. Some of the ponies names included: Bart, Beauty and Boxer.

1974 - A national strike occurred due to wage issues [tbc]. Upon the reorganisation of local goverment and the formation of the Borough of Sunderland, the Colliery Welfare Hall was purchased by Sunderland for £12,000, and a new sports complex was erected at a cost of £350,000.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.

1975 - The Houghton Colliery Railway closed and coal was transported in lorries to the coal washers.

1977 - On June 30th, a celebration was held to commemorate the 150th anniversary since the first shaft was completed. The colliery employed 280 men and was managed by Mr J Martin. A mock layout of a district was set up on the surface as part of a competition. Miners had to note the faults and were entered into the competition. Houghton miner George Davison won £5 and had his prize presented to him by Mr Whitwell at the commemorative party in Houghton Comrades Club. Mr Walter Malt, then Secretary of the Durham Miners Association, congratulated the workforce and described Houghton as a pit which still had a future. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

The remnants of Houghton Colliery - an electrical sub-station
The Colliery substation remains at Houghton

1981 - The last underground shift was completed at the Colliery on Thursday September 24th. Colliery staff who had not opted for voluntary redundancy were transferred to Seaham, Vane Tempest, Eppleton and Wearmouth pits, and the Philadelphia Workshops and Herrington Colliery (New Pit). The workforce at this time was circa 250 and the pit was classed as the 'oldest in the county'. The powder house was demolished and rebuilt at Beamish Museum; Tory Thatcher demolished the coal industry, never to be rebuilt. The electrical sub-station (pictured above) and former pit canteen are the only remaining Colliery buildings still in Houghton. After the pit closed, commemorative pit lamps were presented to Houghton's churches. Lamp number 255733 can be found inside St Michael & All Angels Parish Church, while two others can be found in Houghton Methodist Church.

Houghton Colliery's Powder House, now at Beamish Museum
The reconstructed Powder House at Beamish Museum

c1988 – The former-Westerton Lodge/Houghton banner (6th) is thought to have perished in a fire at Houghton Comrades Club, though some debate this.

Houghton Colliery banner in 2000.  This appears to be banner no. 6

2000 – A Houghton Colliery banner was displayed in St Michael’s Church during the Millennium Houghton Feast. It is currently unknown as to which banner this was.

2004 – A new Houghton Colliery banner (7th) was commissioned using funds raised by George Rowe, Pat Simmons and their team at the Houghton & Lambton Banner Group. The banner was made by Dr Aidan Doyle of Great Northern Banners and featured icons from the 1957 version, including the book, ruler, pen and ink, set-square and compass, accompanied by a miner (based on George Rowe) and two children (George’s grandchildren). Paul Lanagan, grandson of Houghton Miner George Davison, helped to carry the banner in the Durham Miner’s Gala on July 10th 2004 and on several other occasions, including the unveiling at Bernard Gilpin Primary School, the Houghton Feast Parade & Civic Service 2004, Feast Parade 2005, and Durham Miners’ Gala 2005. The banner was dedicated twice – once in Durham Cathedral and again at the Feast Civic Service on October 10th at St Michael’s Church.

2007 – Royle Family star, Ricky Tomlinson, accompanied the Houghton and Lambton Banners at Durham Miners’ Gala, following an invitation from George Rowe, who had met Ricky when he was an extra. Ricky joined the banners again at the Gala in 2008.

2008 – George Rowe, the Bannerman, of Houghton Banner Group, sadly died on October 15th 2008 after many years of battling cancer and emphysema. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012.

2010 – A plaque was unveiled on a memorial at Houghton Hillside Cemetery, dedicating it in memory of those who lost their lives at Houghton Colliery between 1823 and 1981 (sic).

A view of the Colliery site in 2007

2011 – An article appeared in the local press in June 2011 echoing claims from 2001 and 2010 that the former colliery site was to be redeveloped into a supermarket. The 5th Houghton Durham Miners Association Banner was put on permanent display in an ornate case inside Wetherpoon’s The Wild Boar, Sunderland Street, alongside a large collection of vintage views of Houghton-le-Spring.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2012. This Time Line is commercially available. It has taken hundreds of hours to compile. Please do not reproduce without permission.


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

If you have enjoyed this article and would like to make a donation towards the website's costs please click below:


Paul Lanagan wishes to place on record his thanks to the following:

:: Thanks for assistance go to: Mr George Rowe and Mrs Patrica Simmons of Houghton & Lambton Banner Group; Dr Aidan Doyle of Great Northern Banners; George Davison; Alan Vickers; Pam Stokoe; Rodney Bickerstaffe; and Tony Benn.
:: Durham Mining Museum, www.dmm.org.uk
:: 1894 quote from: ‘History, Topography and Directory of the County of Durham, 1894, by William Whellan’.
:: 1938 quote from: ‘Holidays with Pay Agreements' booklet by Durham Coal Owners’ Association.
:: 1988 banner fire information from Sunderland Echo article dated Friday May 28th 2004.
:: Details of Houghton’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th banners from ‘Banners of the Durham Coalfield by Norman Emery’, 1998.




[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Houghton Colliery > Colliery Time Line ]


Copyright © 2012 - All Rights Reserved | About this site

PAGE UPDATED: 08/06/2012

Houghton's mining heritage
I was sent to a pit at Houghton- le- Spring in Durham. Houghton was to be a real eye- opener, as this was no modern pit such as where our training had taken place. There were no pit-head baths, so we had to walk home through the streets, a distance of about two-miles, in all our dirt. Arriving back at the lodgings we had to wait our turn to have a bath. There was myself and another 'Bevin Boy', and the landlord. There was no bathroom, only a galvanised bath in the scullery in which a small amount of hot water was placed. Just enough to get you clean, and that was all. The landlady and landlord treated us very well, the food was good and we had no complaints. Life in the mine was another thing altogether. For the first few days we worked on the surface. The work was terrible, it involved us in separating stone from the coal as it passed along a moving belt. The work appeared to be carried out by young boys, and old or injured men who could no longer work underground. I am afraid I took badly to this kind of work, refusing or pretending to be doing something. As you can guess the miners’ opinion of me was low. Although I was not alone in this behaviour. Miners as a whole had little respect for the 'Bevin Boys'. You had to be born to be a miner! In later years they did see us playing a useful part in the mine, although whether I was included among them is very doubtful as my opposition to doing the work got me a bad name among some of the men. Work was over six days. The Saturday morning shift was the worst, as it involved getting up at two-thirty in the morning, walking to work as there were no buses, and while I was there it snowed, which made life harder still. I remember being very tired those mornings not being used to getting up at such an early hour. I remained at Houghton colliery for about four weeks, when I managed to obtain a transfer to a mine in Kent. My reason for requesting the transfer was to make it possible to get home occasionally. However unlike the Forces, we did not receive any free passes.
Houghton le Spring: Lecture poster in aid of disaster victims, 1850 (unlisted) [2077] Photograph, 1950's [UD.HS/61/16] Viewers reports, 1800-38 [DF.WF/28/1-2]
Renew the banners I WAS at the Durham Miners’ Gala as usual on July 12 – and I have to say this was the most successful gala since the closure if the Durham coalfield. An estimated 50,000 people were in attendance. Everywhere there were happy faces and proud men walking in with their banners. It took 3hr 45min from the first banner to the last to march past the County Hall to the Racecourse. More and more mining villages are now forming committees with a view to renewing their banners and getting their new banners blessed in the Cathedral. This is happening all over the coalfield and making the gala such a great day. I would implore someone from the Fence Houses area to give some thought to renewing the Lambton D colliery banner. It would just take two or three people to organise a banner committee and have collections, raffles and social evenings at the local clubs. Lambton banners are lying in poor condition at Beamish Hall, much the worse for wear. So let us go for a new one to our own design. I would think the family of that great union secretary Michael Doyle would love to see his portrait on a new banner, as would many more proud old pitmen who worked at Lambton D. One feature of the gala is the number of young people coming in with their banners – obviously the children and grandchildren carrying on the tradition of their villages, none more so than the following for the Murton banner. Young and old, busloads of them, they bring the spirit of the gala to life – dancing, singing, bringing a smile to the faced of everyone and no sign of any trouble. So come on let us get Lambton D Banner renewed. Also, why not Lumley Sixth Pit, Houghton and Silksworth pits? Surely there are people in these villages who could do as I suggested above. Let us have a go and keep our heritage going. There must be some ex-miners out there who would be very proud to march in with their new banner. It can be done. Anyone interested, please ring me on 0191 5842351 and I will help any way I can, as will your union officials at Redhills. George Rowe, Burns Avenue North, Houghton
Colliery Accident (Houghton Pit, Durham).HC Deb 08 March 1916 vol 80 c1545 1545 § 41. Mr. WING asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has been informed that on the 28th of February a fatal accident occurred at the Houghton Pit, county Durham, as a result of a fall of stone, and that it was reported at the inquest that, on bringing the miner to bank to the colliery ambulance station, there were no bandages; and if he will call the attention of the district inspector to this fact with a view to remedying such a state of affairs, and see that a similar shortage of surgical appliances does not exist at any other pit in the northern district? § The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Brace) I have received a report on this case. There was no shortage of surgical appliances at the pit, and the injured man was bandaged and attended to before being brought to bank in a manner which earned the commendation of the doctor, who was waiting on the surface. The doctor thought some further bandaging advisable before removal, and, unfortunately, the key of the cupboard where the supply was kept was not immediately forthcoming. Improvised bandages, however, were used instead. Better arrangements have now been made to ensure that the key shall always be immediately available. I do not think that any further action on my part is called for.

In loving memory of Thomas dearly beloved husband of Susannah Husband who died through injuries received at Houghton Colliery Feb 3rd 1921 aged 53 years also the above Susannah died Mar 18th 1930, aged 64 years also George Henry Moody adopted son of the above died Nov 18th 1929 aged 24 years

The Colliery Explosion At Houghton as reported in The Times newspaper of November 23rd 1850. Houghton, Thursday. The inquest was resumed this day, before Mr. Maynard, the coroner for the county. Mr. Tremenhere, having been appointed by the Government to investigate the circumstances attending this melancholy sacrifice of human life, was present. Thomas Crawford, a viewer under the Earl of Durham, stated that he was well acquainted with the Houghton Colliery, which was commenced in the year 1828 ; it was "laid in," or stopped, in 1838, and reopened in December, 1849. He was last down the pit about six months previous to the explosion. He examined the state of the ventilation at that time, and found quite sufficient air going through both for the ventilation of the workings and the safety of the men. The whole coal was worked with candle ; the pillars, or "broken," with the Davy-lamp. He produce a plan of the mine. The "goaf" consisted of four plots, two of 18 acres in extent, one of seven acres, and one of four acres. One goaf is at the eastern extremity of the pit, another at the southern, another at the western, and the small one, of four acres, in the centre. Most of the men at the time of the explosion were working on the west side of the western goaf. By Mr. Tremenhere. — It was his usual habit only to visit the pit once in six months, and he considered that sufficient, with the communications made from time to time by the resident viewer. The pit was not in a more dangerous state since it was reopened in December, 1849, than it was before it was closed in 1838. The ventilation was kept up all the time the colliery was laid in. By the Coroner. — I have no stated periods of receiving reports from the resident viewer, Mr. Rutherford, but I generally saw him once or twice a week. By Mr. Forster, who, at the request of Mr. Tremenhere, examined this and other witnesses. — If there had been anything extraordinary in the working of the pit, he should have expected a special report from Mr. Rutherford. He received no such communication. John Rutherford, resident viewer of the Houghton pit, did not consider it a dangerous pit. He had never observed gas oozing from the edge of the goaf into the pit. Never measured the air passing through the mine, but he knew there was a sufficiency from never having received any complaints. He was at home on Monday, the 11th inst., when he heard of the explosion. He immediately proceeded to the mine. It was about 7 o'clock ; three or four men were down then. He went down and joined them ; they proceeded up the south incline, which is in the direction of the workings. Found the first body near the top of the incline ; it was John Kelty‘s ; he was alive when found but is since dead. That would be between 20 and 30 yards from the shaft. He died about 18 hours after being brought out. He continued to proceed along the main air course till he came to a large fall of stone from the roof, which stopped his progress ; they then got more assistance, and commenced making a road through it. It extended between 70 and 80 yards. They got through the fall in about 20 minutes afterwards ; and then they found a number of men alive. Beyond the fall the road was clear. About 120 yards beyond the fall they found a horse dead. They repaired the crossing so that the air resumed its natural course. They then proceeded onward, and found several dead bodies ; they appeared to have been killed by the afterdamp. He could not form any opinion, from what he saw, as to the cause of the explosion. By Mr. Tremenhere. — Though he did not measure the quantity of air, he examined the velocity of the current every time he went down. He did this by holding a candle in the current. When they measured the velocity of the air yesterday they found it about 3 feet per second at the cross-cut. Examined it about three weeks before the explosion. When down on the 31st was not near that part ; there was no working there. Between the 31st of October and the 11th inst. He was not down so frequently as usual ; was not down in that interval. Did not consider the place where Watchman was to be more dangerous than where the rest of the men were. The rest of the men were working nearer to the edge of a goaf than Watchman was. By the Coroner. — Believed if the man working there had been working with a lamp the explosion would not have taken place. It was his opinion the explosion did occur there from being unable to find any indications of its having taken place elsewhere. By Mr. Tremenhere. — Had great confidence in Hunter. Cannot account for his having allowed the neglect apparent in this instance. Ralph Elliott was called and examined. — Lives at Pensher Colliery, and is a viewer for the Marquis of Londonderry. Has had nearly 40 years' practice in ventilating mines. On Monday the 11th inst., received a special message from Mr. Rutherford. Went down the pit along with Mr. Rutherford, and could corroborate all that he had stated with respect to the condition in which they found the workings. Agreed with him that the explosion took place where Watchman was working. The mine does not generate much gas. Had much gas been in the mine at the time of the explosion, none of the men could have been saved. Should say the general ventilation of the mine was good. Was of opinion the explosion arose either from a naked candle or a broken Davy-lamp. Did not think any one so likely to have been the cause of the explosion as Watchman himself. The gas fired at his light. By a Juror. — He had known Mr. Rutherford, the viewer of the colliery, for about 10 years, and considered him decidedly competent to have charge of the pit. By the Coroner. — This explosion might have taken place in the hands of the most experienced viewer. In reply to questions, the witness stated that the current of air after it was split was not sufficient to prevent the gas escaping from the goaf, and therefore lamps were used as a precaution ; but that, although the air was not sufficient to prevent the gas escaping, it was quite sufficient, under ordinary circumstances, to carry the gas off into the return drift. John Coar. — I was lamp-keeper at Houghton Pit. The lamps are kept in a cabin near the bottom of the shaft. I went down the pit at 12 o'clock on the Sunday night before the accident. Between that time and 2 o'clock I supplied 19 lamps to different workmen, but did not supply one to the deceased Watchman. He could not have got one himself without breaking the cabin open, and it had not been broken open when he left the pit, about a quarter past 4 o'clock. He had a naked candle. He had his candle by the side of him when witness left. The candle was burning quite bright and clear. He was working two or three yards from the Mothergate board, where the air is split. I know the deceased overman John Hunter. I saw him at about 1 o'clock with a person of the name of Parkinson. He asked me for a candle. I gave him one, and told him a lamp was ordered. He went away with it. He went towards a back drift, where a person of the name Parkinson was to work. On returning he said there was no need for the lamp, but as it was ordered the person was to have it. A boy of the name of Anderson was there, and by Hunter‘s direction, witness told him to go and assist Watchman. I was about seven minutes in conversation with Hunter. He was quite sober. He bore a good character with the men, and was considered a careful steady man. By Mr. Tremenhere. — I afterwards saw the boy Anderson working along with Watchman, taking the coal away. I made no remark to Watchman about his working with a candle. The place felt quite pleasant. Ralph Mackintosh. — Is an "onsetter" in Houghton pit. Went down about a quarter before 2 o'clock on the morning of the accident. All went well till about half-past 5 o'clock, when there was a "break up" of waggons on the incline. After putting it right he went to the top of the incline, and there saw Edward Hodgson, and Hunter, the overman. They went together into the cabin, and he returned to the shaft. While there, shortly after 6 o'clock, there was a strong gust of wind from the workings, which showed that an explosion took place. Hunter was perfectly sober. Anthony Winship. — Is a wasteman in Houghton pit. His duty is to examine the various places where the men are going to work previous to their going. Was in the pit on Sunday night, and found all the places in a good state. Was present when Mr. Rutherford pointed out where the cross-cut was to be made. Hunter was also present. Mr. Rutherford said the men working it were to use lamps. That is about a month ago. Had some men employed at the Mothergate-end, about 40 yards from where the cross-cut was to be made. The men had both candles and lamps. There were no indications of gas. They had lamps as well as candles, because, if they should have occasion to go any further in beyond that point where the air is divided, they might have the lamps ready. It was perfectly safe to work with candles up to that point. By Mr. Tremenhere. — They use the Davy lamp, and they are always locked when given to the men. William Parkinson. — Is a pitman, and was working at Houghton-pit, at the end of where it is split, in the eastern district, on the Sunday night. The air was perfectly good. They had both lamps and candles. They used the lamps when we went further in. Past the first boarding there were no indications of gas. By Mr. Jude. — Was assisting in preparing the way for this working, and they used candles then. That was about a week ago. By Mr. Tremenhere. — Never went past the first board with the naked candle, or saw any one else do so. William Errington. — Worked with Parkinson at the Mothergate-end on the Sunday night, and gave similar evidence as to the state of the mine at that part. At this point the inquiry was adjourned until the following day. (By Electric Telegraph.) Friday Night. After the examination of several other witnesses, whose evidence seemed to show that the system of ventilation adopted is sufficient for the working of the mine and the safety of the works, The Jury retired, and, after an absence of about 20 minutes, returned a verdict to the effect that John Watchman and others, all pitmen in the Houghton pit, came to their deaths by the effect of an explosion of firedamp ; that such explosion took place at a naked lamp which had been negligently or improperly used by the said John Watchman, either contrary to orders given to him, or in consequence of William Hunter, the overseer, not having given such orders.

The Houghton Miners Project aims to record the details, memories and recollections of all the remaining living miners who worked at the colliery in Houghton-le-Spring. The Colliery opened in 1827 and when it closed in 1981 was known as the oldest colliery in County Durham. The site of Houghton Colliery is now a landscaped area, covered in grass and home to wild rabbits, and the occasional graffiti artist. Find out more online at: www.houghtonheritage.co.uk