The Wearside man who feared something terrible was going to happen - and died in a huge explosion with 163 others

Tributes have been paid to the victims of a horrific disaster that led to one-in-10 males being killed in their tight-knit community.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 7:00 am
The memorial to the 1880 pit disaster which happened 140 years ago on Tuesday, September 8.
The memorial to the 1880 pit disaster which happened 140 years ago on Tuesday, September 8.

Tragic pitman Thomas Hindson had a horrible feeling something bad was going to happen on the day he set out for work – and sadly became one of 164 men and boys to die.

And his is not the only heart-rending story shared by Wearside author Fred Cooper on the 140th anniversary of the Seaham pit disaster.

There was Michael Smith who used a nail to scratch a message to his wife on his tin water bottle. It said: “Dear Margaret – God save you and the children and pray for me. My last thoughts are of you and the children”.

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The Seaham pit disaster memorial.

Another man, heroic George Dixon, refused to dash to safety. Instead, he stayed with a boy who was injured in the explosion. George was later found with his arm around the boy - both dead from the effect of afterdamp.

Sunderland author Fred Cooper has paid tribute to the men and boys of the village who went to work at Seaham pit on September 8, 1880 – but only 67 would emerge alive.

‘At 10pm on a tranquil Tuesday evening 231 men and boys went down the mine to begin their shift. Four hours later at 2.20am, an explosion ripped through the Hutton and Maudlin seam destroying everything in its path,” said Fred.

Thomas Hindson twice started out for work but returned home feeling an uneasy premonition. But then set off again never to return. He was a Corporal in the 2nd Durham (Seaham) Artillery Volunteers and had only recently returned.

The front cover of the book.

In some streets, there were as many as six or seven pitmen known to be either dead or still missing and presumed dead.

One of the victims was a chock drawer named John Sutherland. He left a grief stricken widow and nine children. In another house a father, five sons and two lodgers all died.

And one man called Watson, a shifter, had only worked eight shifts at the pit when he died in the explosion.

Incredibly, though, others owe their lives to fate that day. Joseph Birkbeck, was due on shift that fateful night. He slept through and missed his shift.

Fred Cooper.

Thomas Johnson was rescued from the Main Coal level. He had survived four earlier explosions at the pit.

And John Hutchinson, was ill when he left his house to start his shift at 10pm but got worse.

Overman, Walter Murray, came across him at 2am half asleep and ordered him to get home to bed. Just two minutes after he stepped out, the explosion happened.

Fred added: “Ten per cent of the male population of Seaham Colliery perished in the tragedy.

The names of those who died in the pit disaster.

“The memorial to that fateful day is preserved in Christchurch graveyard at Seaham. No one from Seaham will forget the sacrifice of those poor men and boys.”

Sunderland author Fred Cooper was born in Seaham.

“One Year of Hell” is available in eBook (£2.99) from Amazon or paperback (£7.99) from East Durham Heritage and Lifeboat Centre at the Seaham Marina, and Seaham Family History Group at Seaham Library.

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