WEARSIDERS in their thousands flocked to see award-winning blockbuster Theory of Everything - but few have mined the history books to unearth the star’s local links.
Eddie Redmayne won worldwide praise for his “performance of a lifetime” as scientist Stephen Hawking, scooping a Golden Globe, Bafta and Oscar for his “stunning” acting.
Just three generations ago, however, his family could never have dreamed of such success - as Eddie’s great-grandfather, Richard, was a hard-working apprentice at Hetton Collieries.
“From the pits of Hetton to Hollywood glory - the Redmayne family has certainly seen some changes. Indeed, the story would make a great film!” said local historian Bill Hawkins.
“But what makes the tale even more interesting are the Royal connections. Richard worked at the same pit as Kate Middleton’s ancestors - while Eddie went to Eton with William. It all seems to tie together.”
Eddie’s great-grandfather Richard was born at Low Fell, Gateshead, in 1865 - the fifth child of alkali manufacturer John Marriner Redmayne and his wife Jane Anna Fitzgerald.
A cook, housemaid, waiting maid and laundry maid were all on hand to see to see to the family’s every need and, for a time, John Redmayne served as the Mayor of Gateshead.
“Young Richard was educated at Durham College of Science in Newcastle, before being apprenticed to mining engineer William Armstrong at Hetton Colliery in 1883,” said Bill.
“The Duchess of Cambridge’s great-great-great grandfather, John Harrison, was working as a miner at the pit at the same time, but died of tuberculosis in 1889 - at the age of 54.”
Richard’s own time at the colliery was hard, too, with several hours spent below ground each day in order to obtain a First Class Certificate of Competency as a Manager of Mines in 1887.
“My chief was a strict disciplinarian and hard task-master, insisting on apprentices learning by actual participation most of the practical work carried out in the mine,” he later wrote.
“At one period of my apprenticeship I used to rise at 2.30am, walk to the mine a mile-and-a-half away, descend at 3.30am and remain underground travelling the works until 10.30am.”
Richard’s hard work paid off, however, and he won promotion to under-manager at Hetton - remaining until 1891, when he transferred to South Africa as a manager of a mine in Natal.
Just four years later, another of Kate Middleton’s ancestors - Anthony Harrison - was killed in a pit accident. By that time, though, Richard was already fighting for workers’ rights.
“Anthony was a father-of-two, who worked as a hewer at Eppleton. He was hailed as a hero for trying to rescue two of his colleagues following the accident in 1895,” said Bill.
“But it wasn’t the incident involving Anthony which inspired Richard to start campaigning for better pit safety - it was the Elemore Pit disaster of December 2, 1886, in which 28 miners died.
“By 1899 Richard was serving on Government committees fighting for shorter hours and better workers’ rights. He went on to become the first Home Office Chief Inspector of Mines.”
Despite his work, however, Richard could never forget Elemore - as his biography revealed: “This was my baptism of fire. I was, for the first time, brought into touch with death.
“Later in life, in the capacity of Chief Inspector of Mines, I had to investigate many colliery explosions, but the memory of this, my first experience, is still the most vivid.”
Richard travelled to Canada following his retirement, eventually returning home on the same ship as - and dining with - Prince George and his brother; the future Edward VIII.
“Just a few decades later, his great-grandson Eddie was in the same class at school as Prince William - their families, and in-laws, having been entwined in the same history,” added Bill.
“It all goes to show just how many people have their roots firmly planted in Wearside soil, from mining safety campaigners to Royalty and Hollywood stars.”