Remembering Dawdon’s pit pond

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DAWDON Colliery was once hailed as the “Jewel in the Crown” of the mining industry, where 3,000 pitmen produced more than a million tonnes of coal each year.

The terraced streets around the colliery were home to a close-knit community – and generations of youngsters learned to swim while tied to a rope at Dawdon pit pond.

Dawdon pit pond - August 7, 1974.

Dawdon pit pond - August 7, 1974.

Today, however, it has all disappeared. The pit closed in July 1991, and the pool disappeared with it. As redundant miners moved out, so absentee landlords moved in.

But this snapshot of pit pond life back in August 1974 – exactly 40 years ago – should bring back memories for the thousands who enjoyed making a splash each summer.

“I used to visit the pit pond regularly as a young girl, and learned to swim using the rope – just like everyone else did back then,” said Echo archivist Susan Swinney.

“The water was always warm, even on cold days – but it was very deep. I remember it was black, and kind of slimey, if you tried to put your feet on the bottom!”

Dawdon Colliery, just south of Seaham Harbour, was sunk by the Marquis of Londonderry between 1900 and 1907 – to exploit undersea reserves of coal.

The rural hamlet of Dawdon rapidly expanded to accommodate the new workforce, with 3,300 miners housed in 20 streets of new homes just before the Great War. But it would take until 1951 for the colliery to open its now famous pit pond – equipped to Olympic standards and featuring diving boards up to 10metres high.

“It started life as the pit cooling pond, but then got revamped,” said Susan. “The warm water had been used to cool the engines at the pit – and was always lovely.

“I still remember the terraced seating for spectators, as well as the band stand and diving boards. It was an amazing place to visit – and right on our doorsteps.”

One regular visitor to the pit pond’s was Thornley youngster Charmian Welsh – who went on to compete in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games as a diver in the 1950s.

Indeed, she spent day after day, and month after month, perfecting her technique at Dawdon – putting in hours of practise in wind, rain, snow and thunder.

“The wind used to twist me, to turn me, it didn’t actually make me go over or short but it used to turn me. I’ve dived in snow,” she later recalled.

“In the olden days, when we had woollen swim suits, the wool used to rub the skin and make it sore – because that’s what the soft water used to do.”

Scores of prestigious diving competitions were also held at Dawdon over the years, and the pond was home to Dawdon Colliery Amateur Swimming Club for years too.

But for most people – such as the youngsters pictures here – the pool was simply “the place to be” when the sun shone done on the East Durham coast.

“It was a great facility – and is still much-mourned,” said Susan. “We were very, very lucky to have somewhere like that to swim – now there’s just the North Sea!”