AN appeal for help in tracing the forgotten history of a lost village is making banner headlines.
The roots of the Silksworth evictions date to an argument in 1890 – when pit deputies were allowed to decide whether or not to join Durham Miners’ Association.
Many suspected that those who refused to join “enjoyed special management favour.” However, there were counter claims of violence being used to force people to sign up.
“Feelings grew in bitterness and, in November, hewers downed tools, saying they would work no longer under black-leg deputies,” said local historian Douglas Smith.
By the end of the month the pit was almost idle – with just a few deputies reporting for work. Even the 70 pit ponies were allowed to “frolic in unaccustomed freedom.”
One month later, and growing ever more impatient at the stoppage, pit owner Lord Londonderry applied for hundreds of court eviction warrants for his striking miners.
“Some suggested that the miners pay rent instead of being evicted, but Londonderry declared he paid the rent himself – as houses were part of pit wages,” said Douglas.
Miners at several Londonderry collieries, including Adventure and Seaham, opted to strike in support of their Silksworth comrades, but the situation remained at deadlock.
Eventually, after a recruitment drive in Hartlepool for eviction bailiffs – known locally as candymen – the first 11 families were evicted on February 19, 1891.
Daily evictions followed across Silksworth for the next few weeks – with streets including Maria, Quarry, West, Londonderry, Stewart and Hill all targeted.
Jeers and boos greeted the candymen as they arrived, flanked by police, at each house – with villagers banging pots, singing and playing accordions to show their contempt. Many of the evicted families camped in Silksworth Methodist Chapel, braving freezing conditions. Luckier ones squeezed into the homes of friends or relations.
Finally, on March 20, a deal to end the strike was signed – with the owners agreeing to withdraw aggressive policies and deputies once again allowed union choice.
But, although work resumed at the mine, and families were allowed to return to their old homes, life was never to be quite the same in Silksworth after the strike.
“The dispute brought the residents of the new village together, turning it into a close-knit community,” said Douglas, president of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.