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Houghton Hall, Hall Lane, Houghton-le-Spring

Houghton Colliery Remembered

Houghton Colliery Remembered
A time line for Houghton Colliery 1827 - 1981

Colliery Banners
Details of Houghton's 7 colliery banners

Colliery Lamps
Commemorative lamps located in Houghton's Churches

Pit Pony Hoof
An unusual antique from 1910

Houghton Miners Project
Aiming to document the memories of the last remaining miners

Houghton Colliery Photos
Exclusive photographs of the colliery over the years


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PAGE UPDATED: 20/05/2012

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