Wearsiders are being urged to dig deep into their heritage with a new project. Sarah Stoner takes a look.
A RICH vein of history is being mined by volunteers in a former pit community.
Members of Elemore Colliery Banner Group have opened a museum packed with mining memorabilia at Easington Lane Community Access Point – and donations are flooding in.
“Margaret Thatcher took everything away from us, except our memories,” said Bob Moody, a former fitter at Eppleton Colliery who went on to run a plant nursery after the pits closed.
“Pigeon racing, rabbit shows, quoits and vegetable competitions all disappeared along with the pits, which makes it all the more important to keep our memories of those days alive.”
The development of the community museum has its roots in the 1980s, when individual members of the Banner Group started collecting photographs of the fast-changing area.
Several exhibitions at local venues followed, but it took the arrival of Susan Brown – the new project manager at Access Point – to pave the way for a permanent heritage exhibition.
“It is my job to bring in funding for the centre, a task which is obviously getting harder and harder these days,” she said. “But you can’t put a price on what the volunteers are doing here.
“They are extremely passionate about the area, as are the residents. The exhibition is already proving very popular and visitors are even asking for projects like clippy map sessions too.”
Easington Lane Community Access Point, a charity “run by local people for local people,” is housed in the former Miners Welfare Hall in Brickgarth - which was built in 1928.
The hustle and bustle of free training and education sessions fill the ground floor but, just one flight up, a rather more tranquil trip down memory lane is offered by the museum.
Old photos by the dozen are on show, together with pit helmets painted by blacksmith George Westgarth. A miners’ lamp cabin packed with pit artefacts has even been built by volunteers.
“There was nothing here until the pits were sunk. Easington Lane is a village built on coal, and it is important we never forget that,” said former surface manager Harold Watson MBE.
“I often give talks to local children about heritage and mining, explaining to them how the village started. The exhibition is an extension of that – preserving our history for the future.”
Other museum highlights include vintage maps, wartime memorabilia, bottles produced by local breweries and diagrams used at the inquest into the Elemore Colliery explosion of 1886.
A case filled with embroidered cards, sent from France by Private Alexander Jobey, of the Second Yorkshires, to his in family in Easington Lane during World War One is also on show.
Tragically, the 30-year-old former Elemore Colliery pitman was killed in action on October 23, 1917. He was one of more than 150 local soldiers to lose their lives during the conflict.
“All sorts of things have been donated so far, from battleship grey pit underwear, to boots, sandals and a piece of unused pit bath soap. The help we’ve had has been great,” said Bob.
Volunteer John Cook, a former electrical design engineer, added: “Easington Lane was an amazing place in the early years; completely self-sufficient with everything you ever needed.
“We had tinsmiths, breweries, blacksmiths and butchers – there were more than 100 shops and businesses, as well as a tram service and one of the biggest war cenotaphs in Britain.
“It was, and still is, a very special place. That is why we want to keep memories of this area alive, and our exhibition will help.”
l The museum is open from 9am until 4pm Monday to Thursday, and from 9am-2pm on Fridays. Entrance is free and further details are available from 526 1071.