Wearside Echoes toast a new business with historic roots.
THE daughter of a Seaham pitman is hoping to strike gold – rather than coal – with her new business venture.
Melanie Wood, who has just opened a coffee house in the former mining town, drew inspiration from her colliery roots when choosing a name for the venue – The Lamp Room.
And she has now launched a competition to find a vintage mining photograph to decorate the main wall of the café – to help celebrate Seaham’s birth from coal in the 19th century.
“My family all worked down the mines, including my father, uncles and grandfather,” said Melanie. “Although Seaham is changing, it is still full of people who remember the mines.
“I just thought it would be a nice idea to pay tribute to the industry on which Seaham was built. Mining is something local people relate to. It is something still talked about every day.”
Melanie’s new business, at 20 North Terrace, is based at a former dental surgery – next door to where Britain’s first female serial killer Mary Ann Cotton once lived.
The street – one of the first in Seaham – dates to around 1831. The houses, according to old adverts, were “adapted for marine residence” and offered “extensive views of the German Ocean.
“It’s not far from where Vane Tempest Colliery used to be, and just a mile of so from Seaham and Dawdon pits,” said Melanie, who is swapping life as a housewife for a career in catering.
“Mining was a big part of Seaham, and a big part of my family’s life. Grandad had a couple of pit accidents over the years, and we were all involved in the Miners’ Strike in the 1980s.
“Naming my coffee house The Lamp Room just seemed like the right thing to do. I thought it would be a nice way to open a new business, by honouring the heritage of Seaham.”
Melanie is now putting the finishing touches to the venue, which specialises in home-cooked food, but needs just one more decoration – a vintage mining photo.
“What I want is to find a picture which really sums up Seaham’s mining heritage, taken any time from the early days right up until the closure of the pits,” she said.
“I’ll know the right photo when I see it, and I’m planning to blow it up on canvas and put it up on display. It could be anything, from people to places – whatever catches the eye.”
Melanie is offering a free afternoon tea to whoever supplies the winning picture, and she is keeping her fingers crossed that dozens of people will come forward with old images.
“It will certainly be fascinating to look through the photos.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.
* Photographs can be posted to the shop, or dropped in. They can also be emailed to Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Further details available on 0773 8965512. The closing date is the end of September.
Search for ‘black gold’ first began in medieval times
GENERATIONS of miners once toiled beneath East Durham in search of ‘black gold.’
Coal operations can be traced to medieval times when, thanks to the rich seams provided by the area’s geological nature, dozens of drift mines were built.
Deep pits became more popular – and profitable – in the mid-19th century, with many of the county’s towns and villages, such as Seaham and Murton, born out of coal.
And by 1947, when the industry was nationalised, there were more than 130 collieries operating within the Durham coalfield, providing jobs for 100,000-plus men.
But the 1950s saw cheap oil, natural gas and nuclear power all begin to take their toll on King Coal. Castle Eden and Wingate Grange were among the early pit casualties.
More than 30 pits between Bishop Auckland and South Shields survived into the 1970s, including Blackhall Colliery – which played a starring role in the film Get Carter in 1971.
By 1985, however, numbers had dropped dramatically. Wearmouth, Dawdon, Westoe, Herrington, Vane Tempest, Seaham, Murton and Easington were among the last survivors.
The arrival of the 1990s saw the rearguard of Durham’s coalfield dwindle still further. Only Dawdon, Westoe, Easington, Vane Tempest, Murton and Wearmouth remained operational.
Dawdon was the first to fall, closing its doors on July 25, 1991, followed by Murton Colliery on November 29 the same year. Vane Tempest, Easington and Wearmouth shut in 1993.
Wilf Moralee, the last man out of Vane Tempest – whose picture made national news as he left the pit for the final time – later recalled: “A friend’s daughter recently asked him: ‘What is coal?’ It is a crying shame that children grow up not knowing what it is.
“When the last miners die out, that will be it; there will be no-one left to remember coal. Yet, the North East was built on it.”
* This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wearmouth pit. Any former miners interested in sharing their memories should contact Sarah Stoner on email@example.com.