A mining mystery from the mists of time

OLD BANNER: The 1900 Marsden banner - but do you know what the earliest banner looked like?
OLD BANNER: The 1900 Marsden banner - but do you know what the earliest banner looked like?
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WEARSIDERS are being urged to dig deep into their memories and help unearth information on a long-gone mining banner.

Details of the first lodge banner adopted by Marsden Colliery have vanished into the mists of time and even the design of the flag is today a mystery.

But members of Marsden Banner Group are hoping Echo readers may be able to solve the puzzle – with the help of old photos, drawings or family anecdotes.

“Our group was launched last year to preserve the mining heritage of Marsden and the industrial heritage of its coastline,” said chairman Brian Cauwood.

“We’ve already managed to restore the final banner and put it on display at Whitburn Library. Now we want to find out more about the first banner, but need some help.”

Whitburn Coal Company began sinking Marsden Colliery in 1874, but the first bore-hole proved a failure. No coal was found and seawater flooding proved problematic.

Three years later, however, Belgian engineers pioneered a process of lining the shafts with iron tubing – with great success. Coal production finally commenced in 1882.

“The village of Marsden was built within the shadow of Souter lighthouse by Whitburn Coal Company to house the workforce of the new Marsden pit,” said Brian.

“Dozens of mining families lived in nine streets of back-to-back cottages, while three rows of rather more substantial homes were built for colliery officials.

“Behind them, on the lower reaches of the hillside, were allotments where miners grew both flowers and fresh vegetables – vital in hard times and strikes.”

By the 1890s almost two thousand men and boys were employed at the new colliery, producing nearly 1,500 tons of coal each day – “chiefly for household purposes”.

As the pit became more prosperous, so miners had more to spend at their local Co-op store, as well as with traders such as greengrocers George Moody and Dick Gray.

But, when times were hard – such as during the eviction of striking Silksworth miners in 1891 – the men of Marsden were swift to show their support for their pit brothers.

“The earliest Marsden banner we have images for was unfurled by Lord Robson of Jesmond, the MP for South Shields, on June 20, 1900,” said Brian.

“However, we know there was an earlier banner as reports by the Sunderland Echo on the mass evictions which took place at Silksworth in February 1891 mentioned it.

“Dozens of miners from Marsden Colliery marched across Sunderland to Silksworth, to show their support for the pitmen being evicted from their homes.

“According to the Echo, the group was headed by a brass band and carried a ‘large lodge banner.’ Unfortunately, there is no description of what the banner looked like.”

The miners of Marsden went on to have at least three more lodge banners over the next 70 years – all featuring Marsden Rock and the words “Firm as a rock we stand.”

It is not known, however, if the original banner was decorated in the same way – and the Marsden historians are keen to track down further details to add to their archives.

“It is pure curiosity on our part, really,” said Brian. “I’m Marsden born and bred and this kind of local historical detail is something I just find fascinating.”

Marsden pit – later known as Whitburn Colliery – continued to flourish through two world wars and the Great Depression. The year 1968, however, saw it close.

Coastal erosion had already made in-roads into Marsden by this time and, when the loss of the pit was announced, it proved the death knell for the village as well.

“Although both Marsden and the pit have now gone, we are keen to preserve the history of the area,” said Brian. “Finding details about the first banner would help.

“Obviously, no-one from the 1890s is going to still be around, but we are hoping anecdotes and stories may have been handed down through families – or old photos.”

l Anyone with information can contact Brian on 529 3733 or via email at: cauwood@btinternet.com