Almost 200 years of history went up in flames when fire swept through a derelict East Durham hotel last week.
But although the Harbour View in North Terrace, Seaham, was left in rubble after the blaze on September 13, memories of its importance to the town live on.
“The place has played a significant role in the history of Seaham Harbour at various times,” said former harbour pilot John Edward Foreman, of North Road.
Only the bravest of smugglers and fiercest of pirates once haunted the rocky and stormbound coast of Seaham – drawn by the rich pickings from wrecks.
Scores of ships sank without trace in the shadow of Daldon Ness cliffs – but that was exactly the site chosen for a harbour by colliery owner Lord Londonderry. Work on the “visionary and absurd” plan began on September 13, 1828. As engineers carved out the port, so builders set about creating new homes in North Terrace.
“In the original plan, Londonderry wanted the whole of North Terrace built in the same style as the Harbour View – then known as the Lord Seaham Inn,” said John.
I still remember dignitaries standing on the hotel’s balcony and taking the salute during official services and parades in 1940s and 50s. The place has played a significant role in the history of Seaham Harbour.Former harbour pilot John Edward Foreman.
“But this vision proved larger than his purse, so he had to sell or rent out the rest of North Terrace to private developers – hence the varied buildings today.”
The Lord Seaham played its first major role in Seaham’s history on August 25, 1931, when it hosted a dinner marking the shipping of the harbour’s first coals.
It was also used as a coaching inn from 1834, when a daily coach bound for Sunderland and South Shields left at 10am – and a return coach arrived around 3-4pm.
“The service’s main purpose was to serve the shipping industry. There were vast numbers of colliers taking coal from the North East to the South,” said John.
“Ship-owners, agents and captains would make use of the service. The stables were at the rear of the hotel, approached under an archway formed by the building.”
Just a few years later, when the potato famine of 1845-1852 saw dozens of Irish Catholics seek new lives in Seaham, the pub was given another important role.
“The Catholics sought land to build a church and school but Londonderry, a Protestant Irish landowner, was not disposed to sell or rent to them,” said John.
“Instead, they were given permission to attend Mass in an upstairs room at the Lord Seaham each Sunday – until Londonderry finally had a change of heart.
“He was very keen to establish himself among ‘the great and the good’, and one of his noble guests while in Seaham was the Duke of Norfolk, who was a Catholic.
“The Catholic community took the opportunity to approach the Duke about setting up a church and school. Not long after this Londonderry granted permission.”
Archive documents reveal builder Thomas Prosser was landlord of the Lord Seaham at the time of the Sunday services, living on site with his wife and sons.
During the weekdays, however, he rented out rooms to an Anglican vicar – the Reverend Angus Bethune – who held magistrate court hearings there from 1846-61.
“This was before there was a police station in the town. The magistrates sat in the hotel’s upper rooms, and the cellars were used as prison cells,” said John.
Elections were fought, troops rallied and inquests held at the pub over the decades and, for a short while, mass-murderer Mary Ann Cotton even lived close by.
In the 1970s, however, it was re-named the Harbour View and, for the next four decades, it served up good beer and cheer to generations of Seaham folk.
“I still remember dignitaries standing on the hotel’s balcony and taking the salute during official services and parades in 1940s and 50s,” said John.
“The Harbour View was an important part of Seaham for decades, and I’m sad to see it gone - even though it had been empty for a while.”
l Do you have fond memories, or old photographs, of the Harbour View Hotel/Lord Seaham Inn? Email your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org